Perception of Musical Cooperation in Jazz Duets Is Predicted by Social Aptitude

By Pesquita, Ana; Corlis, Timothy et al. | Psychomusicology, April 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Perception of Musical Cooperation in Jazz Duets Is Predicted by Social Aptitude


Pesquita, Ana, Corlis, Timothy, Enns, James T., Psychomusicology


The origins of music have been linked to the ability to communicate emotions through acoustic signals in early hominids (Mithen, 2006). This social feature of music is still central to the way we produce and experience music today, as seen in the popularity of musical performances that involve some degree of spontaneous collaboration (e.g., jazz, folk, rock).

Previous studies have investigated the cognitive mechanisms supporting ensemble music production (Keller, 2008). Yet there is little systematic research focusing on ensemble music perception. Anecdotal observation of audiences during live musical performances suggests that listeners greatly appreciate the expressive exchanges that occur between musicians. But to what extent are listeners sensitive to the degree of musical interaction that occurs in these performances?

Before describing how we approached the study of ensemble music perception, we briefly review evidence characterizing the affective, cognitive, and motor processes sustaining ensemble music production. This will help set the stage for our approach to studying perception in these settings.

A central component of ensemble music performance is affective synchronization (Phillips-Silver & Keller, 2012). It is commonly believed that musicians engage in affective exchanges that are mediated by expressive instrumental sounds. Musicians also collaborate to construct and achieve a shared musical goal. This implies a high degree of interpersonal coordination. To achieve a unified sound, the musical actions performed by each musician must be guided by the continuous anticipation and monitoring of their own sounds, the sounds produced by other musicians, and the resulting overall sound. Thus, joint musical production can be described as a sensorimotor loop in which individual performers dynamically adapt their musical actions with the aim of creating a joint auditory Gestalt (Keller, 2007, 2008).

Experimental evidence indicates that an effective joint performance is predicated on the musicians' ability to flexibly adapt to each other's sounds. Using transcranial magnetic stimulation methodology, Novembre, Ticini, Schütz-Bosbach, and Keller (2012) showed that musicians represent their own actions as well as the actions of their coperformers. Interestingly, for our interest in perception, these authors observed that cortical excitability associated with the representations of coperformers' actions was positively correlated with selfreported empathy. This suggests that the ability to adopt another's perspective may play an important role in joint musical production.

In addition to forming internal representations of individual musical actions (i.e., one's own and the coperformers' actions), musicians also seem to monitor the overall sound outcome. For example, Goebl and Palmer (2009) showed that the temporal dynamics of each musician in a duet is dependent on auditory and visual cues coming from the other musician. Loehr and Palmer (2011) also observed that performers in a duet corepresented their partner's musical actions to modulate the temporal features of their own performance. In a study measuring event-related potentials in musicians playing piano duets, Loehr, Kourtis, Vesper, Sebanz, and Knoblich (2013) showed that the P300 signal in event-related potentials was larger when an experimentally induced pitch alteration disrupted the joint harmonic outcome, in comparison with when it did not. These results imply that musicians attend closely to the overall product of their musical interactions.

This literature on ensemble production strongly suggests that ensemble musicians produce a joint auditory Gestalt through continuous cooperation. Here we ask the complementary question of whether listeners are sensitive to the auditory outcomes of this cooperative exercise. To test this question, we developed an experimental design inspired by the notion of configural perception in Gestalt theory. …

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