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.