Social eMotions – the performance

social emotions in Planet SuvilahtiOur Social eMotions project combines science and art, also in that the outcomes are both scientific and artistic. The science part is taking shape, we are writing up a paper on the kinematic analysis, as well as the perceptual experiments. At the same time, the artistic oven has been red hot, as the dance performance has been taking shape.

Our amazing dancers and musicians worked very hard during the first weeks of June to put together this ambitious and novel performance. There is choreographed movement and composed musical material, but the performance is improvised in the sense that the emotional dynamics and emotional contagion will change and mutate the materials. There is a very interesting set of interactions going on, as both dancers influence each other, as do both cellists, and of course the dancers are influenced by the music, and vice versa.

To keep things even more open, the audience will get to vote for the emotions that the performers work on. The audience gets this chance a few times during the performance, and as the full cycle will be performed twice, they can make different choices and thus experiment on emotional processes, using live dancers and musicians!

We already trialled this in an open rehearsal during the Helsinki Day, as a part of “Planet Suvilahti“. As the pic shows, there were a lot of people attending, and we got really nice feedback! Communicating the results of the online vote to performers was done in an old-fashioned way by showing the emotions on pieces of paper. By the actual performance, we’ll figure out a smoother way of doing it, hopefully integrating them to the interactive projections.

There is now also a trailer of the performance, it can be viewed below. The next public showcase of the work will be presented in Duesseldorf during the Tanzmesse on 2nd September, and the premiere will take place in Oulu on the final day of the OuDance Festival (Sunday 18th September). That performance will (weather permitting) be outdoors on the Rotuaari promenade. See you there?

Social eMotions trailer from Jarkko Lehmus on Vimeo.



Social eMotions update

Sample animation

It’s been a busy beginning of the year in the Social eMotions research project. We’ve been working on a number of things, so I thought it would be nice to have an update on where we are, including introductions of new members in our project team!

On the scientific side, the main theme has been perceptual experiments. We’ve been running experiments showing people animated clips such as the GIF above, and asking them to rate the dancers movements and their relationship along various scales. We are currently analysing data, and have just started to write up our movement analysis paper, so there’ll be published results soon.

On the artistic side, we are working full steam toward the première in Oulu in September. Jarkko and Johanna have been working on the movement material, and we now have also a composer and two musicians working on the music for the show! Jussi Lampela will compose music for the piece, and it will be performed live by two cellists, Iida-Vilhelmiina Laine and Ulla Lampela. We are very excited to have these stars join our team!

As the final performance starts to take shape, its key aspects are being planned and put to their places one by one. We are working on ways to let the audience influence the performance as it happens, and on ways to include the scientific results in it. For the latter purpose, we are getting help from Dr Roberto Pugliese in visualisations and projections. We visited Roberto’s studio yesterday and Jarkko took this snapshot of us dancing and Roberto’s system capturing it on Kinect and producing a live visualisation on screen.

This will (continue to) be great!

Communication in a string quartet

Casa Paganini, Uni of Genoa

As I mentioned in the earlier post from the International Symposium on Performance Science, string quartets seem to be fashionable in music psychology, and for good reasons. They are perhaps the prototype of a chamber music ensemble, with lots of great pieces written for them, they are of an optimal size for such studies, and of course there are many professional quartets that have worked together for years, making them extremely interesting topics for research on coordination and interaction. A new study from Genoa looks at communication in a string quartet, using a cool setup.

Continue reading

Synchronisation and schnitzels – International Symposium on Performance Science

MCW Courtyard

The fourth international symposium on performance science (ISPS for short) convened in Vienna at the University of Music and Performing Arts. The theme for this four day meeting was “Performing together”, which of course fits my research interests perfectly. So, I gave two talks but was mainly looking forward to hearing what the “state of the art” in ensemble research and joint action, entrainment etc. is. Continue reading

Eine Kleine Yachtmusic – some fishy research

Rainbow trout

You might remember the famous salmon study by Bennett et al. (2009) (pdf), the classic demonstration of why corrections for multiple comparisons are vital in fMRI research. Yes, the one where the researchers found significant activation in parts of a salmon’s brain. Dead salmon’s brain to be exact.

Well, the trouts are back in town. This time the rainbow variety, and the study is about the good old Mozart effect. Continue reading

Return of the Mozart Effect

In the early 90’s, American researchers caused a stir when they reported a study where they’d showed that listening to Mozart boosts your performance in a subsequent IQ test (eg. Rauscher, Shaw & Ky 1995). The term “Mozart effect” was coined, then trademarked and rapidly monetised by a musician called Dan Campbell, and peddling “brain cd’s” for students, children and even preborn babies has been a growth industry ever since. Clearly this study ticked all the boxes: intelligence, music by a mystery genious, providing an easy fix and a shortcut for a competitive edge for your children. Too bad the study also ticked many of the boxes of inadequate experimental study, including small N, badly chosen controls and some very liberal interpretation of the results (although the authors themselves didn’t claim that Mozart increased intelligence, they only went so far as to say it improved performance in a spatio-temporal task).

Follow-up studies that were done by people with better knowledge of how music works (a number of studies by Glenn Schellenberg, for example) first of all pointed out that comparing music with silence (the control group in the original study spent an equivalent time sitting in silence, when the experimental group listened to music by Mozart) isn’t actually fair. Also, the proposed explanation of the mechanism behind this effect is somewhat dubious. Many of the replications of this study have also failed to reproduce the finding.

There is an effect, however, but it is much less mysterious. According to the explanation that makes most sense (as the mechanism is well-known, robust and well-documented) listening to music adjusts your state of arousal, and valence. In other words, music can affect your feelings and mood. The piano sonata K448 by Mozart (the one used in the original study) is a happy, uptempo piece that is likely to set you up for an IQ test better than sitting in dull silence. Later, this effect has been produced with user-selected music, and dubbed humorously as “Blur Effect”. There is a bit more to it than that, as the performance increase was specific to the spatio-temporal tasks, but given that music unfolds temporally and that melodies and rhythms are often described as having spatial characteristics (starting from “low” and “high” notes”, melodies being described as (virtual) movement, rhythmic patterns being similar than sounds of locomotion etc.) it is possible that music primes the participant (probably activating the relevant parts of brain) for those kinds of tasks. However, these effects are general for music, not something that would be specifically encoded in the music by Mozart the Mystery Man.

Now that the scientific community has dealt with this sensational study (and of course learned a lot in the process, received attention, funding and general interest that it wouldn’t have if Rauscher and others had been less eager to promote their findings), the second wave of Mozart Effect is on our doorstep. An Israeli study claims that Mozart helps babies to gain weight.

The researchers are specialists of pediatrics, but clearly not of music. They found that 30 minutes of Mozart makes the babies expend less energy afterwards and this helps them gain weight – an important thing especially for prematurely born babies. While being experts on fat content of mothers’ milk, they admit not knowing anything on music cognition, as they say that the mechanism of the music’s effect is unknown. I don’t understand why they didn’t ask someone who knows anything about how music affects the body – any music therapist or music psychologist would have been able to tell them about this. It’s not a mystery, a world beyond our reach, or a treacherous, uncharted sea where be dragons. Google Scholar search for keywords “music” and “physiology” gives 64 000 hits. Reading any of those links would have helped. Would it be possible that music calms the babies down? We all know music has this effect, this is why lullabies are used in all cultures.

The most shocking point of that press release (I’m taking this with a pinch of salt as it is a document written by a press office, not the original paper, which I haven’t found yet) is that while the study only compared Mozart with silence, the authors still speculate on why Mozart is special, and how for example Beethoven wouldn’t work. How do they know without even testing it?

They guess it is the repetitiveness, and someone has therefore ventured a guess that hip hop would work well, too. All I’m hoping is that they’d contact a music researcher (they’d find some in their own university, even someone specialised in music cognition) to give them a hand in really figuring out what this effect is about, before we find another wave of Mozart CD salesmen on our doorsteps.

(I edited this post somewhat to correct the error that Mozart Effect was trademarked by the authors of the original study – it was done by Dan Campbell who has no connection to the authors. Also, the original paper says nothing about increased intelligence, that was a shortcut taken by the press (and people like Campbell), as “improving performance in a spatio-temporal task” was too complicated a term. TH 11.1.2010)