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Durham University

Interpersonal Entrainment in Music Performance

Interpersonal Entrainment in Music Performance

Interpersonal Entrainment in Music Performance (IEMP) is an interdisciplinary research project, based on a large-scale international collaboration between a group of scholars with a common interest in interpersonal coordination and synchrony in music-making. It is funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for two years from April 2016.


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The project is led by Martin Clayton and Tuomas Eerola at Durham, with international co-investigators Antonio Camurri (Casa Paganini – InfoMus, Genoa) and Peter Keller (MARCS Institute, Western Sydney University). These investigators will collaborate with a wider international group of researchers with interests in musical entrainment and expertise in a wide variety of musical traditions, supported by lead technician Simone Tarsitani (Durham). Researchers will be appointed in all three locations in 2016 to work on different aspects of the project.

Contact: Professor Martin Clayton,

Project summary

Group music-making is a distinctive mode of human social interaction: it is a widespread activity that showcases the remarkable capacity for precision and creativity demonstrated in the coordination of rhythmic behaviour between individuals. Such coordination entails interpersonal entrainment, a process whereby two or more individuals interact with each other in a manner supporting the synchronization of body movements and musical sounds. Although musical entrainment is prevalent across the world's cultures, the way in which it is manifested appears to vary as a function of differences in social, ritual and musical conventions. A better understanding of the process of interpersonal entrainment and its cultural variation is therefore imperative. The main objective of this project is to investigate key aspects of interpersonal musical entrainment in a comparative study of a variety of cultural settings; it does so through the establishment of an international and interdisciplinary team, and by creating a shared corpus of prepared and annotated performance data.

Understanding musical entrainment requires contributions from several disciplines, in particular ethnomusicology, music cognition and computing. This project combines perspectives from each of these disciplines: it focuses on better understanding of culture- and genre- specific variations in interpersonal musical entrainment, addressed through both objective measures of entrainment and investigation of subjective perceptions of this coordination, interpreted in the light of ethnographic information about the functions and effects of the music and local aesthetic values. This ground-breaking, international and interdisciplinary project integrates three complementary approaches. First, we will apply and extend existing methods for the empirical study of interpersonal coordination in music-making. We will emphasize methods for analysing audio and video recordings, in order to carry out comparative analyses from several contrasting cultural settings - including India, Mali, Tunisia, Uruguay and Cuba - rather than being limited to laboratory studies. Secondly, we will conduct a series of experiments to measure listeners' perceptions and judgements of temporal coordination in recorded music extracts. The aim here is to measure both observers' sensitivity to variations in coordination, and their preferences, and to explore how these measures vary between cultures. Finally, we will explore all of these measures in relation to qualitative culture-specific factors: for instance, differences in preference for close coordination as opposed to individual freedom in group activities. The integration of these research strands will give us a much clearer picture of the shared and culturally-varying components of interpersonal musical entrainment.