LICA Seminar Series 2009: Alan Marsden

Date:18 February 2009
Time:4.30 pm

LICA Seminar Series 2009.

Speaker: Alan Marsden, Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts, Lancaster University.

Analysing Musical Structure by Computer.

Venue: Lancaster University, Institute for Advanced Studies, Meeting Room 1.

Since the early nineteenth century, a strand of musicology has aimed to explicate the structure of pieces of music, both to increase our understanding of music and to enable composers to learn the means of making pieces effective and coherent. This research has often used systematic or even quasi-scientific methods in the belief that music follows a logical system. In the early 20th century, the Austrian theorist Heinrich Schenker developed a system of expressing musical structure in musical terms, through a process of reduction. Schenker spoke often of musical 'laws', and some have built on correspondences between linguistic grammars and Schenkerian theory to make of it a system similar to a formal grammar. It is not surprising therefore that researchers should begin early in the era of computers to write computer software with the objective of automating the process of Schenkerian analysis. However, it proved to be a difficult task. In this paper I present research which has, for the first time, resulted in software capable of deriving a quasi-Schenkerian analysis from actual music, but which also indicates severe limits on systematic Schenkerian theory. Currently, only small extracts can be analysed (four to six bars) and the massive number of possible analyses which are consistent with the 'laws' indicates that those laws have a weaker role than previously thought in determining musical structure: clearly other factors, yet to be fully investigated, are involved in our perception of musical structure. Music might follow a system, but it is a less logical one than we thought.

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Who can attend:Anyone

Further Information

Organising departments and research centres:Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts
  • Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts (LICA)
  • The LICA Building, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YW, UK