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Research projects

ACTOR — Analysis, Creation and Teaching of ORchestration

Team at the Faculty of Music: 

Caroline Traube, institutional representative at Université de Montréal
Jean-François Rivest

Michel Duchesneau
Jonathan Goldman
Jean-Michaël Lavoie
Jimmie Leblanc
Pierre Michaud
Robert Normandeau
Ana Sokolovic 

International research partnership supported by the SSHRC

The international partnership ACTOR ‒ Analysis, Creation and Teaching of Orchestration ‒ gathers together 13 North American and European academic institutions and 8 partners from the musical community, including the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and the Orchestre Métropolitain. This partnership is dedicated to teaching, creating, and studying the practice of orchestration, understood in its broadest sense as the selection, combination and juxtaposition of sounds to achieve a specific sound effect. It aims to stimulate the development of new digital tools, to transform music pedagogy by integrating innovative sound-oriented analysis methods that can be applied to notated and non-notated music, and to enrich the fields of musicology, in particular musical analysis, where the role of timbre in music is only rarely discussed. The Université de Montréal Faculty of Music is actively participating in the research projects of this partnership, which is led by Professor Stephen McAdams at McGill University. In 2017, Jean-François Rivest and Caroline Traube, co-researchers in the partnership, championed the organization of an ambitious research project on orchestral sound, the ODESSA project ‒ Orchestral Distribution Effects in Sound, Space and Acoustics ‒ based on a multitrack recording of the Orchestre de l’Université de Montréal under the direction of Jean-François Rivest. In 2019, Jean-Michaël Lavoie, Pierre Michaud and Caroline Traube participated in the inter-institutional project CORE ‒ Composer-Performer Research Ensembles ‒ by setting up a contemporary orchestration research ensemble made up of graduate students in composition and performance from the Faculty of Music who work together collaboratively and interactively to conceive and solve orchestration-related problems for the ensemble.

How does the musical allows for “togetherness”? The place and function of music in Montreal communities of immigrant backgrounds.

Nathalie Fernando, principal investigator
Insight Grant from the SSHRC (2016-2021)

How does what is musical participate in “togetherness”? That is what we would like to better understand by taking stock of and then carrying out an in-depth analysis of musical practices that are identified as traditional. In this project we direct our research at a number of communities of immigrant backgrounds. Our attention is focused on the musical repertoires whose practice has survived the migratory process, on the reasons these repertoires have been preserved in a new context, and in what form. The research is based on the hypothesis that the musical plays an essential role in maintaining a sense of belonging to an identity while at the same time being the support of a necessary transition to another culture.

Our research problem has two sides to it: what is entailed by the relationship, individually and collectively, between the musical and the feeling of having an identity, this latter possibly, and for multiple reasons – the distant country, the new territory, and its cultural diversity ‒ being plural, even ambivalent. Then, taking off from there, how does musical practice constitute or not a form of clinging to one`s identity, or, on the contrary, an invitation to “togetherness”?

Our questions place at center stage the study of the musical while at the same time having a particularly social dimension. It is a question of defining the functions of the musical in this context and of delineating its contribution to the process of adaptation to the host country. Because it stresses the dynamic transformation processes of the musical in the migration context and strives to understand the share of the musical in “togetherness,” our study may potentially touch on all the city’s migrant communities, and consequently the Montreal host society.

From musicians’ experiential knowledge to biomechanical-acoustic simulation of gestures to sound

Caroline Traube, head
Mickael Begon, co-researcher at the Université de Montréal Faculty of Medicine’s École de kinésiologie et des sciences de l’activité physique (EKSAP)
Jean Saulnier, co-researcher-creator at the Faculty of Music
Felipe Verdugo, lecturer in piano at the Faculty of Music and postdoctoral fellow at McGill University
Justine Pelletier, lecturer in piano at the Faculty of Music and postdoctoral fellow at UQAM

Cross-sectoral research project supported by the FRQSC’s Audace Program.

Professional musicians are faced with a repetitive and lengthy daily instrumental practice that makes them vulnerable to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), particularly in the muscles that mobilize fingers and wrists.. The project addresses this problem by means of a co-creation process between pianists and researchers in biomechanics and acoustics, on the one hand, and the multiphysical simulation of the complex system made up of the pianist’s body, the mechanics of the piano and the sound produced, on the other. 

The goal is to find the best holistic gestures for minimizing the risk of MSDs while ensuring precise control of sound production. Based on optimal control theory, a modeling of piano performance from gesture to sound will be carried out with a multi-body biomechanical model combined with a model of sound production through the mechanism of the piano (key-hammer-strings interaction). What will have to be done next is define the known space of what is possible: that is, a representative set of strategies of gesture and sound adopted by different pianists.

A transdisciplinary method in which musicians truly take part in the research, the project aims to identify the advantages and disadvantages of the principles already being applied by different technical approaches, and also to propose gestural strategies until now unexplored. The project concerns itself with the specific case of the piano, but it may touch on all sectors of musical performance, by applying its approach to various instruments. It may also expand to take in all activities requiring muscular strength.

eMusicorps – Digital immersion in the musician’s body through a multimodal artistic performance

Principal investigator
Felipe Verdugo (Faculty of Music and École de kinésiologie et des sciences de l’activité physique at Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Medicine)

Mickaël Begon (École de kinésiologie et des sciences de l’activité physique at Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Medicine)
Thomas O. Fredericks (Collège Montmorency)
Guillaume Arseneault (Collège Montmorency)

Collaborators – Université de Montréal Faculty of Music
Myriam Boucher
Justine Pelletier 
Caroline Traube

The aim of this project is to establish an implementation that draws together various types of expertise: the Faculty of Music’s in piano performance and in digital music, that of Université de Montréal’s Laboratory of Simulation and Movement Modeling, and that of the Collège Montmorency’s Department of Multimedia Integration Techniques.

The eMusicorps implementation proposes an immersion in the body of the musician through a multimodal exploration that couples artistic approaches in musical interpretation and in digital creation thanks to an exploitation of pianists’ biomechanical data picked up in real time By way of visual creations through lighting and on-screen, and vibrotactile stimuli that interweave with the musical performance, eMusicorps opens a window on the intimate relationship involving gesture, sound and expression developed by performers over years of daily experience on their instruments.

The creation process is adopted in an embodied perspective according to which perception and interaction with music are inseparable from the body’s experience, and where the musician’s physical experience (and that of the audience) is essential to musical expression. eMusicorps draws its inspiration specifically from the dichotomy between effort and abandonment, a dichotomy found as much in musical discourse itself as in its amalgamation by the performer’s gestures. Pianists’ gestural data understood in terms of resistance and of letting go thus serve as raw material for articulating dialogue between digital creation and musical expressive content.

Partnership-based study on music mediation (EPM2)

Michel Duchesneau, principal investigator
SSHRC Partnership Development Grant (2020-2023)

The Partnership-based study on music mediation (EPM2) falls within a global context where cultural mediation is considered one of the foundations of the redefinition of educational, cultural and diversity policies. Through the mobilization of investigators and professionals, the aim of the EPM2 partnership-based project on the role of the teaching and practice of music mediation in the contemporary reconfiguration of the music profession is to:

  1. Identify and analyze ways of integrating music mediation into the world of higher education in music and into the professional environment
  2. Jointly construct with these same worlds creation and evaluation supports for music mediation activities that will guide mediators, as well as musicians, at all stages of their careers

This innovative project builds on a pooling of the strengths of teachers, of investigators, and of students from Cegeps through university who work in close collaboration with the professional music community (broadcasters, producers, musicians). The team constituted in this way allows for an interdisciplinary approach that combines musicology, cultural history, sociology of culture, cultural management and arts marketing, cultural mediation, music education and social intervention.

The partners in the project:

Research group in spatial immersion (GRIS)

Robert Normandeau, director and principal investigator

Projet de recherche-création soutenu par le FRQSC (2019-2024)
Programme Savoir du CRSH (2020-2024)

This project embodies a balanced combination of the development of computer tools and the multidimensional creation of immersive musics. The design of original and innovative tools, integrated into composition software, allows immersive musics to be created in a real-life setting, in adapted studios and performance areas. The tools developed by the Research group in spatial immersion are open source, therefore available free of charge so that they can be modified and redistributed to the community. This practice fosters creation and collaboration at the international level, as well as the circulation of musics.

The creation and development perspective adopted by the GRIS is based on the fact that, on the one hand, composers for the most part are using audio sequencers to create their music; and secondly on the premise that management of the space needs to be integrated into the composition process as an autonomous parameter, not carried out only at the end of the process itself.  

Contribution of pianists’ muscle activity to sound production and musical expression goals

Felipe Verdugo, principal investigator (Faculty of Music and École de kinésiologie et des sciences de l’activité physique at Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Medicine)
Fabien Dal Maso, co-investigator (École de kinésiologie et des sciences de l’activité physique (EKSAP) de la Faculté de médecine de l’Université de Montréal)
Caroline Traube, co-investigator (Université de Montréal Faculty of Music)
Justine Pelletier, collaborator (Université de Montréal Faculty of Music)
Marcelo M Wanderley, collaborator (Schulich School of Music of McGill University)

SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2021-2023)

Gestures represent the physical means of translating a musical idea into actual sound (sound production function) and, at the same time, they contribute to shape and clarify this idea (facilitation of musical expression function). Research on musical expression and musicians’ gestures focuses mainly on the study of movement parameters. However, the vocabulary used by performers to describe the associations between gesture and musical expression often refers to notions such as effort, energy and force, linked to the causes of movement, including muscular activity, rather than to the movement itself. At present, there are no studies allowing to differentiate pianists’ muscle activity related to sound production from muscle activity related to their musical expression needs.

The main objective of the project is to develop an analysis approach of pianists’ gestures that will help determine the contribution of muscle activity in both musical expression and sound production. The project involves two phases. First, the documentation (through explicitation interviews with pianists) of musical and extra-musical elements linked to their expressive intentions based on their experience at the instrument. Second, the evaluation of the effect of a performance with and without engagement of the elements linked to expressive intentions previously defined on:

  1. Muscle activity of different parts of the pianists' body (upper limbs, trunk, neck);

  2. The evolution of musical parameters controlled by pianists (variations in tempo and dynamics, articulation, nuances of timbre).

This project will contribute to a better understanding of musicians’ gesture as a tool that conveys the expressive content of the musical idea. It will facilitate the transfer of scientific knowledge to the music education community, thus refining the pedagogical tools used in the context of instrumental lessons. Finally, the project will highlight the need to integrate musical expression parameters into empirical research on musicians’ sound control and injury prevention strategies.

Music in the service of power, between propaganda and diplomacy: from the Third Reich to the end of the Cold War

Marie-Hélène Benoit-Otis, principal investigator
SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2019-2024)

This research project has two closely linked aims. It involves, on the one hand, shining a light on the variable – and sometimes diametrically opposed – political claims that can be applied to the same musical repertoire based on a changing sociopolitical landscape, and it does so by means of a case study that aims to show how the image and the music of the great composers in the musical canon (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, Wagner, and so on) were appropriated for political purposes during the Third Reich and the years that followed the Second World War. On the other hand and in a broader perspective, this project aims to (re)consider the distinction between musical propaganda and musical diplomacy, two categories that are generally used without a clear definition, and sometimes even interchangeably.

The musical press in France (1890-1940): discourse and ideologies

Michel Duchesneau, principal investigator
SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2015-2021)

This research project on the musical press in France between 1890 and 1940 is one of the principal projects of the Équipe de recherche sur la musique française. Its aim is to:

  1. Analyze the role of the musical press in the development of new historical, esthetic, sociological and technical perspectives on music in France in the early 20th century
  2. Study the new communications mechanisms at work in the musical sector, where discussions about music become essential as much for economic as for artistic reasons
  3. Develop theoretical models that may explain the relationships between musical practices and their mediation
  4. Make press collections assembled on the basis of these themes available to the research community and the public

The musical press in France (1890-1940): discourse and ideologies relies on an important website with many resources, including a databank containing several thousand press articles.

The trajectory of the Debussy movement (1895-1923): style, reception, institutional implantation

François De Médicis, principal investigator
SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2020-2023)

This project focuses on a musical movement influenced by Debussy and which the scientific literature has almost completely neglected. Specifically, this undertaking will concern itself with defining the scope of the trend in question by identifying the composers associated with it, whether they openly professed to, or whether they were designated as such in the press (Bardac, Büsser, Inghelbrecht, Ravel, et al.). Then, we will endeavor to measure the force and the depth of the impact this movement had by looking at it from three principle perspectives:

  1. Its reception in the press
  2. Study of the musical style of works representative of this trend
  3. Accession of its members to levers of power in the world of music (educational establishments, concert societies, Academy of Fine Arts)

This research will lead to among other matters a reconsideration of the career and music of Maurice Ravel, one of the most famous representatives of the Debussy trend, in order to position them within the movement.

The Montréal musical avant-garde (1920-1950) and its exchanges with prestigious expatriate Russian composers. Audiovisual document (documentary and concert)

François De Médicis, principal investigator
Université de Montréal Knowledge Mobilization Grant (2020-2021)

Alfred Laliberté, Rodolphe Mathieu and Auguste Descarries, three figures in Montréal’s musical avant-garde in the years 1920-1950, maintained significant ties with three Russian composers active in Europe and the United States (Scriabin, Rachmaninov and Medtner). Those exchanges called into question a prejudice according to which Québec in the Duplessis years was a cultural desert cut off from international creation. To encourage a reappropriation of that musical and historical heritage with a broad audience, this project proposes producing a video that combines a documentary and recordings of piano works that illustrate the exchanges of the six Montréal and Russian composers cited.

Music in France 1870-1950: discourse and ideologies

Michel Duchesneau, principal investigator
FRQSC Grant (2019-2023)

The Équipe de recherche sur la musique française (ÉMF) whose program is entitled Music in France 1870-1950: discourse and ideologies, brings together 12 regular investigators and a dozen collaborators the list of which varies from project to project, but is characterized by its internationalism.

The team’s program has two main focuses:

  • Music as discourse
  • Discourse on music

The themes addressed in the framework of this program allow for:

  1. The deepening of certain areas of research (theory and practice of music criticism; study of known bodies of work – Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Saëns; reevaluation of musical trends: classicism, neoclassicism).
  2. The opening of new fields of research:  
    • Musical analysis and hermeneutics of works as discourse
    • The development of the figure of the “star” composer in the press and on the radio
    • The role of the music press in the building of modernist and traditionalist discourse
    • The history of French musicology through its journals
    • The study of performance through period recordings

    These areas of research contribute to establishing new paradigms: tradition as modernity (in resistance to economic and technical modernity) through the study of the nuances in the discourse of the period on music and through a study of sources. What is involved is designing a history of music that takes account of tradition as much as modernity in a reevaluation of the impact of works in the constitution of an artistic heritage.

  3. Participation in the development of the documentary and editorial sector (databanks, digitized access to the press, exploration of radio archives, music publishing).

The scientific programming of the ÉMF supplies a series of seminars that entail study days, colloquia and publications. The ÉMF welcomes students from all levels of study and postdoctoral fellows who participate in most projects and contribute actively to scientific activities.

A history of concert audiences in Paris, 1870-1939

Michel Duchesneau, principal investigator
SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2018-2020)

The goal of this project is to produce a history, on a sociomusicological foundation, of concert audiences in Paris during the Third Republic. It involves:

  1. Exploring in a more in-depth manner relevant archived published and unpublished evidence on concert life, pertaining to both the musicians and the artists and music lovers of the time, with the goal of constructing a series of profiles of music lovers, of identifying the motivations and social and esthetic barriers that divide up audiences, and of reconstituting the staging of concerts on the basis of genres, venues and circumstances (concert or music societies, commemorative festivals, so-called “popular” concerts, and more).
  2. Documenting concert life through an examination of the press that is complementary to that already carried out by the Équipe de recherche sur la musique en France as part of the project The musical press in France, 1890-1940 (about audiences [reception, attitude, attendance] and concerts [framework, premises, cultural relevance]).

By way of this project we hope to develop an approach that combines audience history and sociology with a view to understanding not only the social characteristics of audiences but how they are constituted and their importance for institutions in the context of a “commodification” of the concert seat combined with a movement towards democratization of culture that would continue throughout the 20th century.

Towards an esthetic of the sinusoidal wave

Nicolas Bernier, principal investigator
Caroline Traube, co-investigator
Guillaume Boutard, co-investigator
Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture grant, Research-Creation Support Program, Team Project component (2019-2022)

The sinusoidal wave is at the foundation of all audible sounds. Intimately linked to the birth of electronic music in the 1950s, it has nevertheless received little study as an esthetic object. The first section of this project is built around an online survey, a review of artistic and scientific literature and the inventory of works in which the fundamental element is the sinusoidal wave. The principles articulated in the discussions on the sinusoidal wave will then serve to guide the study of the creative processes. The second section intends to unite research and research-creation by proposing to artists that they create works based on the sinusoidal wave while providing access to the results of the studies in progress. The artists will also be invited to produce a text explaining their processes in order to enrich knowledge about the different creation approaches with regard to the sinusoidal wave and to maintain artistic discourse at the center of the project.

Towards a history and a transcultural theory of heterophony

Jonathan Goldman, principal investigator
Sandeep Bhagwati, co-investigator
Nathalie Fernando, co-investigator
François de Médicis, co-investigator
José Evangelista, collaborator
SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2020-2022) 

This research project focuses on the musical texture that consists in simultaneous variations on a single melodic material. This principal of writing can be found in a large number of music cultures around the world. Towards a history and a transcultural theory of heterophony aims to evaluate the heuristic value of an ensemble of techniques, rules, tropes and behaviors associated with heterophony applied to composition, performance and improvisation. The musical corpus is drawn from a broad range of cultures, regions and historical periods.