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Music perception and cognition student colloquium series 2013/2014 - fourth meeting

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  • Music Perception and Cognition Student Colloquium
When Apr 10, 2014
from 05:00 PM to 06:00 PM
Where A832, New Music Building, 527 Sherbrooke St. West.
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Fourth colloquium meeting of the 2013/2014 academic year

Presentations by Dominique Vuvan and Jason Noble.

Dominique Vuvan, Post-doctoral researcher, BRAMS, UdM

Title: Meta-Analysis of Pitch Modularity in Congenital Amusia


A major theme driving research in congenital amusia is related to the modularity of this musical disorder, with two possible sources of the amusic pitch perception deficit. The first possibility is that the amusic deficit is due to a broad disorder of acoustic pitch processing that has the effect of disrupting downstream musical pitch processing, and the second is that amusia is specific to a musical pitch processing module. To interrogate these hypotheses, we performed a meta-analysis on two types of effect sizes contained within 43 studies in the amusia literature: the performance gap between amusics and controls on tasks of pitch discrimination, broadly defined, and the correlation between specifically acoustic pitch perception and musical pitch perception. To augment the correlation database, we also calculated this correlation using data from 106 participants tested by our own research group. We found strong evidence for the acoustic account of amusia. The magnitude of the performance gap was moderated by the size of pitch change, but not by whether the stimuli were composed of tones or speech. Furthermore, there was a significant correlation between an individual’s acoustic and musical pitch perception. However, individual cases show a double dissociation between acoustic and musical processing, which suggests that although most amusic cases are probably explainable by an acoustic deficit, there is heterogeneity within the disorder. Finally, we found that tonal language fluency is associated with a smaller performance gap between amusics and controls, and that there was no evidence that amusics fare worse with pitch direction tasks than pitch discrimination tasks. These results constitute a quantitative review of the current literature of congenital amusia, and suggest several new directions for research, including the experimental induction of amusic behaviour through transcranial magnetic stimulation and the systematic exploration of the developmental trajectory of this disorder.


Jason Noble, PhD Student in Music Composition, McGill

Title: Reconsidering Musical Timelessness: Semiotic Time in Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps and Grisey’s Vortex Temporum (Winner of the 2014 Schulich School of Music Dean's Essay Prize)


Composers and theorists frequently claim that music affects our experience of time, and that we must therefore distinguish between time as measured (chronological) and time as felt (phenomenological). Many go so far as to speak of timelessness and claim that this is something music can convey. Research into deep listening has found that physiological changes associated with altered time experience can occur in some music listening situations, but that there is no causal relation between this experience and the type or characteristics of the music. Therefore, if we wish to claim that some music better embodies “timelessness” than other music, this cannot be grounded solely in the notion of phenomenological time.

I propose the addition of a third category: time as signified, semiotic time, in which musical stimuli relate directly to properties of the psychology of time such as the perceptual present, duration, periodicity, grouping, information density, and expectation. By creating stimuli that play on such properties, composers can signify temporal scales or structures that depart from the normal human experience of time, such as the “end of time” in Messiaen’s Quatuor Pour la Fin du Temps and the times of whales and birds in Grisey’s Vortex Temporum. I argue that music can signify such alternate temporalities through its internal organization, regardless of whether or not it induces a feeling of timelessness in any given listener. This approach is preferable for the purposes of musical study and discourse because it appeals to intersubjectively available properties of music itself, rather than individually subjective responses to music, while remaining grounded in the human experience of time.   

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