The Empirical Musicology Group UNSW was formed in 2004 for the purpose of studying emotion and expression in music using continuous respond methods (2004-2008).
The group was established after the founders, Emery Schubert and Dorottya Fabian, received an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant. Since then the research group has expanded in membership to encompass both staff and research students.
The philosophy which draws the members of the group together is that to understand music (1) it must be studied with the idea that it is listened to via the brain, rather than an object that can be understood in isolation from mental processing and (2) a variety of methodologies should be embraced, rather than the contemplations of the lone expert. For example, in our studies of baroque music performance practice, the treatises of historical theorists and modern day scholars are systematised and tested to see if new insights can be gleaned into what makes a piece of baroque music work aesthetically. This research also leads to specific tips about how performers can achieve particular kinds of aesthetic content, and what listeners are able to extract from the listening experience, for example, how to play dotted patterns in baroque music and how the listener perceived these patterns.
We also embrace a wide variety of methodologies such as continuous response methodology (which exploits the fact that music is necessarily a temporally dependent phenomenon). In general, we prefer to determine the response of a typical listener or performer or composer by using experimental designs and surveys, and using statistical techniques to make assertions about the typical response and the non-typical response.
We, therefore, can answer questions such as:
- Which performer is the most successful at conveying a particular expressive character to the typical listener?
- Are there important differences in the way that experienced and novice listeners experience music? What about the responses of expert performer?
- Is one performance of a piece more preferable to the typical listener than an other? If so, why?
- Is the process of composition influenced by the tools available to the composer?
- Can musical features be used to predict emotional response?
We apply various methods found in science, psychology, mathematics and engineering, and believe that aesthetic and affective issues (such as emotion in music) can be studied empirically. They are not purely subjective phenomena. Active collaboration with other disciplines occurs regularly in the EM Group and seeks novel ways of addressing important and interesting issues in music and music perception.