Musical motives in performance: a study of absolute timing patterns

Spiro, N. and Gold, N. and Rink, J. (2016) Musical motives in performance: a study of absolute timing patterns. In: Mathemusical Conversations: Mathematics and Computation in Music Performance and Composition. Lecture Notes Series, Institute for Mathematical Sciences, National University of Singapore (32). World Scientific, Singapore, pp. 109-128. ISBN 978-981-3140-09-7 (hardback) 978-981-3140-11-0 (e-book)


Musical motives are short melodic, rhythmic and/or harmonic patterns repeated either exactly or in varied form. They have long been recognised as important elements of musical structure. Less well-explored is how musical motives are manifested in performance, and how they are perceived in that context. Expressive motives originating in performance—which we term “performance motives”—are also of considerable interest, but they have received scant theoretical attention despite their potential significance in music performance and perception. Performance motives may go some way to addressing questions of listener preference for particular performers' interpretation of the same work over others. In this chapter, we discuss a method that seeks to locate and to characterise performance motives. It combines a simple pattern-matching approach with Formal Concept Analysis to allow the exploration of repeated absolute timing patterns in performance. We present the results obtained by applying this method to timing data from publicly available, audio-recorded performances of a work by Chopin. We conclude that repetition types can be related to specific motivic, structural and temporal factors as well as more general characteristics and combinations thereof that might be overlooked in a study focused primarily on the score.

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