RMA Study day session 2 – Laudan Nooshin, Joe Bennett, Nikki Moran


(Chair: Ruth Herbert, University of Oxford)

Laudan Nooshin (City University London)

Between a rock and a hard place: discourse, practice and the unbearable lightness of analysis. Methodological challenges in studying creative process in Iranian (classical) music

Since the late 1980s, an important strand of my research has sought to understand the underlying creative processes of Iranian classical music, a tradition where the performer plays a central creative role and which is therefore often described as ‘improvised’, both in the literature and – since the mid-20th century and drawing on concepts initially adopted from European music – by musicians themselves. Methodologically, perhaps the greatest challenge is tracing the relationships between musicians’ verbal discourses – usually taken by ethnomusicologists as evidence of cognitive processes – and what happens in practice. Of course, the relationship is a complex one and the dual ethnomusicological methods of (a) ethnography and (b) transcription and analysis don’t always tell the same story. In the case of my work, there was a disjuncture between musicians’ discourse of creative freedom, albeit underpinned by the central memorised repertoireknown as radif, and the analytical evidence which showed the music to be highly structured around a series of what could be termed ‘compositional procedures’, but which are not explicitly discussed by musicians.

More recently, I have been working with younger performers – university-educated and cosmopolitan – who are developing discursive frameworks for their creative practice, including an explicit articulation of compositional intent and an intellectual-analytical approach to performance which is quite new to Iranian music. From the researcher’s point of view, such changes have made it easier to talk to musicians about detailed aspects of creative process, and the relationship between verbal discourse and musical practice has ostensibly become more straightforward. In this paper, I focus on the work of two musicians, Amir Eslami and Hooshyar Khayam, and explore both the broader ramifications of these changes for creative practice in Iranian music, and the methodological implications for those seeking to understand creative processes.

Laudan Nooshin is Senior Lecturer in Ethnomusicology at City University London. Her research interests include creative processes in Iranian music; music and youth culture in Iran; music and gender; neo/post-colonialism and Orientalism; and music in Iranian cinema. Recent publications include the edited volume Music and the Play of Power in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia (Ashgate). Her forthcoming monograph is
entitled Iranian Classical Music: The Discourses and Practice of Creativity (Ashgate).

Joe Bennett (Bath Spa University)
Documenting collaborative songwriters’ creativity using Linear Event Analysis

[edit – some of this work was published in the Journal On The Art Of Record Production #8, December 2013. Download pdf]

Psychologist John Sloboda identified the methodological challenges in understanding composers’ creativity, and concluded that the best evidence of compositional decision- making was found in real-time reporting of composing as it occurs. Such ‘verbal protocol analysis’ has been attempted by a small number of researchers (e.g. Collins ) but such methods are necessarily interventionist and risk subjecting the composer to the observation effect.

Collaborative songwriting is immanently communicative, so some methodology problems can be solved through ‘linear event analysis’. Audio recordings are compared to computer- assisted iterative documentation such as ‘track changes’ edits and ‘save as’ audio files. These can then be compared with the finished song, and creative behaviours and motives can be inferred. In this paper the author will describe his emergent research into observation methodologies for songwriting, and outline the techniques he has used to try to answer the question ‘what do collaborative songwriters do’ in a musically meaningful way.

Keywords: songwriting, popular musicology, music psychology, creativity studies.

Joe Bennett’s research focuses on the creative practice and psychology of collaborative songwriters. Joe teaches on the MMus Songwriting at Bath Spa University, and director of the the UK Songwriting Festival. His guitar tuition books, articles and compositions are published worldwide by Music Sales, Rockschool, Total Guitar Magazine and others. As an expert witness forensic musicologist, Joe advises music lawyers, publishers, artists and songwriters on matters of plagiarism and musical similarity.

Nikki Moran (University of Edinburgh)
The ‘Improvising Duos’ Project: studying music in and as social interaction

This paper presents the methodology and some results from a British Academy-funded collaboration, the ‘Improvising Duos’ project. We recorded video, audio and kinematic data from 24 improvising musicians in 12 duo pairings, with the aim of analysing emergent properties of their joint performance. We set out to explore the extent to which observers could demonstrably judge ‘real’ versus ‘fake’ musician duos, thus making the behavioural manifestation of the musical interaction process into the object of analysis. We used 3D motion-capture animations of the duos to create a set of stimuli. These ten-second excerpts of duo performance included both authentic (‘real’) duos and but also ‘fake’ duos spliced from two different duo pairs. In an experiment, participants watched the animations and judged the authenticity of the improvising duo. Formally-trained musician participants were able to discriminate reliably between genuine versus synthetic duos.

Nikki Moran is Lecturer in Music at Edinburgh University. Her research and PhD supervision deals with empirical approaches to music and social interaction. Nikki’s teaching includes modules for the BMus degree and the MSc Music in the Community. She is also Programme Director for the new undergraduate degree, MA Music (Sep 2014). 

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