Impressions from the Sound – Traces – Moves Symposium in Salzburg

sound_traces_moves-logoFrom 18th to the 20th November I was at the annual symposium of the Gesellschaft für Tanzforschung (Society for dance research) at the famous Orff-Institute in Salzburg. It was a very pleasant and exciting event. The participants consists of a perfect mixture of active dancers, musicians, practical and theoretical researches and scientists.

The full slogan of the symposium was “Sound – Traces – Moves. Soundtraces in Motion”. No question, this seemed to be the perfect place to present Alexander Truslit’s motion curves and so I was very glad that I was invited to make a performance lecture.

I presented a quick overview about Truslit’s method and focused on practically trying his motions together with the audience. I also presented many motion animations and discussed my ideas for Truslit lines to piano music I played. The feedback and discussion were exciting. I had the impression that everybody understood the main goal of Truslits method very well and many agreed that his method is an interesting way to embody music. In the last part of the presentation I introduced the new version of my App Music Moves and animated to participate in my motion study. I am looking forward receiving the first drawn musical lines from other people!

There were a lot of exciting lectures, performances and workshops at the symposium. For example the lecture performance of Hannah Park and Carol Shansky, a flutist and a dancer from New York. The titles of their sessions were Body, musical language and the creative process: Evoking meaning through collaboration” and “Listen and attune! The embodiment of music through movement”. They reported from their ongoing exchange and practical research about the connections and potential influences between musical parameters and bodily responses to them. They play and dance together and discuss the phenomena on each other. E.g. how a pitch change or a change in dynamics influences the dancer or how the corporal reaction of the dance to the start or ending of a tone influences the musical perception of the flutist. They speak a lot about their terminology and thereby try to gain a systematical approach which is indeed very interesting. So far they unfortunately did not discuss tension and relaxation, but plan to do this. I hope to hear more about their project soon!


Music Moves Updated

iconThe new version 1.5 of my App Music Moves is now available in the Apple App Store. It offers the new feature to participate in my empirical study of motion curves by sending your animations to me. I will analyze the motions and publish some of them together with the results and, of course, I will report about this project in this blog.

The App includes two short music pieces without motions. Your are invited to draw their motions and to send them to me. Of course you can also draw to any music and send me any motion you made.

Before the sending off you will be asked to answer some questions about you, your musical or dance experience and your motion. There is a field to enter a research code. I am giving out special codes, e.g. in presentations and courses, to assign the sent motions with certain groups of participants.

Have fun with the App Music Moves!



Some words to the recent empirical investigation of Hohagen and Wöllner

Jesper Hohagen and Clemens Wöllner started a very interesting research project called “The sound of movements: Motion capture of musical gestures and sonification”. They want to discuss how people perceive gestural qualities in different musical interpretations and “attempt to highlight a common perceptual basis that is grounded in human movements and lies beyond individual percepts of music.”  The project refers to Truslit’s work and they recently published a conference proceeding about their empirical investigation in Truslit’s theory.

In their study they tested how participants move their right index finger to some of Truslit’s original music examples and compared free movements with the ability of following the graphical trajectory suggested by Truslit before and after a verbal and visual instruction. As well they looked at self-other judgements after some month and made sonifications of recorded motion trajectories.

In short, they found no significant differences between the movements of their participants before and after the Truslit-based instruction instruction. Also musical experience had no effect on the movement characteristics and they found large inter-individual differences in the movement trajectories.

As far as I can see, the right conclusion at this point would be that their “Truslit-based instruction” was not efficient at all.

Because the conference proceeding does not offer much detailed informations, I took the chance and visited their presentation at the 13th Sound & Music Computing Conference in Hamburg last month. There, I became a little more to see and to hear: videos of two of their participants, some trajectories and an example sonification. But unfortunately, I became no further information about their “Truslit-based” instruction. The answer to my question regarding this was something like: “We used descriptions like Truslit used them”. Well, Truslit only used a short explanation in his experiment about the influence of motion curves on musical performances. He made it very clear that a sole verbal instruction is not enough to follow the motions convincingly with your body and suggested therefore his special bodymusical training.

Despite that I see other difficult points in the study of Hohagen and Wöllner:

Why should the participants use the index finger of the right arm? I can tell from my experience that you can do the motions with every arm, finger or foot IF you have a physical understanding of their content. But if you have no physical and musical perception of the motion’s content, just using your right arm once or twice will bring you non.

They paired their participants in terms of musical experience and body characteristics. Which body characteristics? This would be crucial and important to know. Unfortunately musical experience and even a degree in music does not say much about the body technique of a participant. To make this clear: You can have e.g. a degree in piano playing and become serous musicians illnesses after some time because of the wrong technique you are playing with.

In the video recordings that I have seen, the lack of bodily understanding was obvious. One man was trying to move his arm according to Truslit’s curve without any connection to his torso. The free motion of a woman showed a good bodymusicality but her performance was very exaggerated. She tried to point out every tone instead of a calm musical line.

Despite my critique, I highly appreciate the empirical investigation with the latest technology of Hohagen and Wöllner and I am looking forward reading or seeing more of their work. In my opinion it is necessary to deeply understand Truslit’s aim – what means to have own practical experience with his method – to develop insightful research designs that may reveal a lot about the possibility of a general connection of music, motion and the body.


Poster Session at the GfM Conference

Michael Haverkamp and I made a poster session at the XVI. International Congress of the Society of Musicology (Gesellschaft für Musikforschung, GfM) in Mainz. I like poster sessions, because they offer the opportunity to get in a personal talk with everyone coming by. Almost all visitors already knew about Truslit and one student reported that Truslit recently was a topic in her class at the university.

Here is the English translation of our poster:

Alexander Truslit: Mapping and Mediation of Musical Motion.

Left column (my part):gfm-2016-truslit-poster-a0-hb-c

Truslit’s theory of musical motion is primarily a holistic technique of music making. The question, whether his motion curves focus ontological structures of music perception, is of concern in musicology.

Truslit claims that an expressive shaping of music is based on three physical patterns which can be freely combined. The motions describe specific, not presuppositionlessly states of physical tension, based on a special type of “wringing” body motions. Such motions activate the lower muscles of the torso which are the more or less conscious pillar of a holistic music playing.

To increase the understanding of Truslit’s theory, it seemed necessary to individually test the possibility of reliving his method. With this practical, introspective engagement it was possible to gain ensured knowledge about his theory and method.

Result: Truslit’s curves are a practical notation of a holistic playing technique which is very closely coupled with musical expressiveness. This phenomenological “view from inside” at Truslit’s method makes it possible to develop empirical research designs for further investigation in the physical encoding of musical expression.

The iPad app Music Moves had been developed to draw with music synchronized motion lines. It is used in an experimental study about Truslit’s graphical notation.

Investigation in Truslit’s method can help to understand expressive structures in music as interindividual patterns of tension and relaxation that can be notated with lines of motion.

Right column (Michael Haverkamp’s part):

Truslit’s concept links to basic aspects of motion in music that manifest between auditory, visual and motor perception.

He was anxious to make his concept plausible by means of the juxtaposition of his intuitive motion curves with synaesthetic pictures. These pictures had been drawn independently of Truslit’s studies and had been published in the context of the colour-tone-research (Truslit 1931/38).

According to Truslit all suitable motion forms for musical interpretations can be reduced to three basic shapes: open, closed and winding Motion (b-d). The simple string together of tones does, as expected, not lead to an impactful interpretation (a).

Truslit’s motion curves vary according to the agogik and the dynamik of an interpretation. He used a filmgramophone to project the audio signal with a try of light to film. Thereby he was able to objectively study the influence of the dynamo-agogik to the motional content of the music. Ton durations and amplitudes were measurable up to 10kHz. A time resolution of 0.001s was archived (Truslit 1938, S.85f).

Truslit tried to proof the significance of his method with very different technical and didactic means. For his time they were quite innovative and are worth a deepening analysis.


Talk about Music and Motion

210116vortrag (002)On January 21th I had a talk in Berlin about Truslit’s life and work. My lecture was part of a cultural program for international academics temporarily working in Berlin. I often make concerts and events at the IBZ, the atmosphere is always nice and the audience very interesting.

To motivate the topic, I started with an overview about Truslit’s work and its historical predecessors from the Baroque music theorist Johann Mattheson to the modern dancer Isadora Duncan.

In my introduction of Truslit’s method, I motivated the audience not only to bodily perform his motion exercises together with me, but also played many audio examples from Truslit’s book. Before presenting the related motion curves, I asked, on which of his three motion types a recording may be based on. The association worked very well and stable among the listeners.

In the last part, I presented my efforts to continue Truslit’s line notation of musical motion. I played piano music and showed the video animations I made to the music. Referring to my interpretation and to musical and physical phenomena in Truslit’s bodymusical method, I explained, why I painted these and not other shapes of motion.


Abstract Score Animation

In his article „Contour, Motion and Gesture in Abstract Score Animation: A first Approach“ Moshammer introduces a straightforward method for visualizing musical motion. After giving an overview and a critique of contemporary studies in expressive timing, motion and gesture, he systematizes with analytical brilliance principles of gestural motion and works out theoretical components of motion visualizations.  

Arguing with neurological findings, Moshammer states that “it appears … justified to say that music literally expresses movement” (p. 12) and concludes that “if there is motion in music, it should be possible to point out a particular movement it makes” (p. 13). In several linked videos he then presents and discusses different types of his own motion animations set to music from Bach to Brahms.

Truslit with his “classical text about music and motion” (p. 3) was clear a pioneer for Moshammer. He follows him in his concept that motion in music is not reducible to tempo changes alone and borrows his focus on curved lines with loops as an essential characteristic. However, a criticism he makes is that Truslit’s “intuitive differentiation … lacks a reasonable criterion” and states that his approach is “not merely solving the problems raised by Truslit’s speculations, but rather allowing for their better formulation” (p. 23). Further, he sees in Truslit’s concept a limitation to a special musical idiom and a lack of rhythmical diversity because of his postulation of three basic motion forms. It is true that Truslit noticeably focused on, e.g., Wagner’s music in his book, but in his classes he worked with all styles and epochs of traditional played music. Likewise, it was more important for Truslit to achieve his body-musical goal to “capture the big motion forms originating from the body” (Truslit 1938, p. 172) than to focus on smaller motional aspects.

These differences become obvious in watching Moshammer’s Bildschirmfoto 2015-12-01 um 20.55.46motion lines to the 3rd movement of Brahm’s Symphony No.3. His animation consists mainly of short sequences, starting without connection to the preceding sometimes from left to right, sometimes the other way round. For me, everything appears a little fragmentary. Therefore Moshammers’s motions cannot be related to a greater phrase overarching bodily or kinaesthetic experience. In contrast, Truslit’s lines can be continuously performed, with the arms moving around the body’s centre.

But despite my critique, Moshammer’s animations are very sophisticated and many small loops in his curves indeed seem to fit to the music. His whole approach is a very good step towards motion visualization based on logic and reasoning.


Forms of Vitality

In her article Shaping and Co-Shaping Forms of Vitality in Music: Beyond Cognitivist and Emotivist Approaches to Musical Expressiveness Jin Hyun Kim develops a theoretical framework for empirical investigation in expressive forms of music. Her attempt is based on the concept of “forms of vitality” by the psychologist Daniel N. Stern. According to him, experience of vitality is inherent in physical and mental movement resulting in a psychological gestalt (shape). Pointing out that these forms are essential in one’s own movements and time-based arts in general Kim comes in her analysis to the work of Alexander Truslit. I totally agree with her that Truslit’s motion forms of musical expression “can … be regarded as analog to Stern’s “forms of vitality” as applied to music” (p. 165).

Kim develops this connection to music and thereby works out many brilliant thoughts about the involvement of empathy and kinaesthetics. Among her suggestions for empirical studies I – of course – like the one of drawing continuous lines to music while listening. (Maybe my iOS App Music Moves could be valuable here?) I also highly appreciate the hypothesis that a professional performance  is “a process of going along with music, an empathic devotion of the self to the music in shaping its production toward fulfilment or perfection, largely based on automatic processes available through embodied knowledge of the piece of music”. (p.168) Although I am not sure about “automatic processes”, this description is rather close to Caland’s or Truslit’s concepts of objective interpretation. Kim’s methodical idea for contemporary studies of comparing a sight-reading performance with a practiced performance, seeing whether the passages of the first one lack musical fulfilment sounds promising.

So I am quite enthusiastic about Kim’s article but I have to mention some points that I see as missing. Her agreement with the theoretical concept of Truslit raises the question of what this may mean for his basic motion types (open, closed and winding). With his motion exercises Truslit connected these shapes with musical expressiveness and anatomy. In my opinion, Kim could have given the central role of the body more room. E.g., one central hypothesis of Truslit is that our physical disposition not only influences the shaping of a musician but the co-shaping of a listener as well. I think this aspect could be of interest in methodological discussions and experimental studies. Likewise Kim writes nothing about musical tension but Truslit’s dynamo-agogic motion shapes are patterns of tension and relaxation. Shaping and co-shaping in music is in this understanding based on the inseparability of musical and physical tension.


How everything started

In this post I will take a short look backwards and tell my personal story of how I came into contact with the work of Alexander Truslit.
Right at the beginning of my musicology study I heard about the musical-rhetorical figures of the Baroque age and spontaneously became very curious about them. But after studying the historical subject I was somewhat disappointed that there were no drawn figures at all. When I look back at how Truslit’s unique motion curves affected me this story really makes me wonder. I must have had an unconscious idea about lines and shapes in music and maybe therefore later became fascinated by Alexander Truslit’s work.
Because of my piano studies I was very interested in music psychology and performance research. Bruno Repp’s synopsis of Truslit’s book was topic in one of my classes. Being German and living in Berlin, where Truslit’s book was originally printed, I wanted to have a look at the original book and, due to the excellent historic inventory of Berlin’s libraries, I found an original exemplar.
Truslit’s book really impressed and astonished me with its motion curves, coloured synaesthetic pictures, scientific diagrams, photographs of Truslit himself swinging his motions and, not least, the three records. Everything clearly witnesses to the author’s enormous effort. Without doubt he was driven by something he wanted to prove and bring to the public. His unique attempt and the fact that even in Berlin nobody knew anything about him and his work made me even more curious and I began my historical research. The major libraries in Germany brought more articles from Truslit to light. I learned about his connection to Elisabeth Caland, the Caland Piano School, his educational film and about his teaching in the context of the Duncan-Dance. At the Duncan School in Munich I met Hannelore Schick and other former students of Alexander Truslit. Suddenly I had a full story about Truslit’s work and life in my hands that would presumably interest others, and so I had the burden of writing it down.
Finally, in 2012, my book “Bewegungslinien der Musik: Alexander Truslit und seine Lehre der Körpermusikalität, der Kinästhesie der Musik” (Motion Lines in Music: Alexander Truslit and His Teaching of Body Musicality, the Kinesthesia of Music) was published. I will soon write a special blogpost about it.