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Eleanor Selfridge-Field: "Ear - Mind - Brain: The mysteries of musical similarity"

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A Distinguished Lecture by a guest from Stanford University, USA

  • Distinguished Lecture
When Sep 19, 2019
from 05:00 PM to 06:30 PM
Where Tanna Schulich Hall, 527 Sherbrooke St W
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The lecture will take place in TANNA SCHULICH HALL, followed by a wine and cheese reception in the lobby of the Elizabeth Wirth Building.


The concept of musical similarity seems simple. In the abstract, any listener can imagine a pair or group of pieces that resemble one another. The goal of evaluating similarity becomes immensely more complicated when specific candidates are put forward. They may be similar in genre or style, in performing medium or timbre, in length or mood, and so forth. Yet most discussion and a burgeoning amount of scholarly activity focuses on melody, the sequence of notes by which we typically identify a piece of music. To many listeners melody signifies meaning. Other characteristics provide context and support, but they do not uniquely represent a favorite piece.

This talk reviews several approaches to the understanding and evaluation of musical similarity. These include straightforward theoretical approaches, cultural and cognitive factors, tune families and tune migration, methods of masking an identifying melody, and—by way of a practical application—the role of melodic comparison in a few famous copyright disputes. The distance between approaches in judging musical similarity reflects both the stunning diversity of musical repertories and our ways of experiencing and understanding it.


Eleanor Selfridge-Field

Eleanor Selfridge-Field, director of the Center for Computer Assisted Research in the Humanities (an affiliate of the Packard Humanities Institute) at Stanford University, has published extensively in music history, digital musicology, and other disciplines. She currently serves as an editor for digital musicology for Frontiers in Digital Humanities, as a board member of the Music Encoding Initiative, and as an adjunct professor of musical informatics at Stanford University.

Her best known books are Venetian Instrumental Music from Gabrieli to Vivaldi (3rd edn., 1994), Beyond MIDI: The Handbook of Musical Codes (1997), and Song and Season: Science, Culture, and Theatrical Time (2007).  She served as editor of the series Computing in Musicology for fifteen years.  A winner of the Modern Language Association book prize in 2008 for A New Chronology of Venetian Opera (2007), she has been the recipient of numerous travel grants and has served on many grant panels in the US and Europe.  She holds a D.Phil. from Oxford University and other degrees from Columbia and Drew Universities.

[Photo credit: Brent A. Field]

Video Archive - Eleanor Selfridge-Field

APA video citation:
Selfridge-Field, E. (2019, October 7). Ear-Mind-Brain: The mysteries of musical similarity - 
CIRMMT Distinguished Lectures in the Science and Technology of Music. [Video file].
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