Tracking the beat

Dr. Poudrier

Dr. Poudrier

By Michelle Keong

The UBC School of Music welcomes Assistant Professor Ève Poudrier. Formerly at Yale University, Poudrier focuses her research on music cognition, an area of study that brings together various disciplines including psychology, musicology, linguistics and computer science.

Poudrier is particularly interested in rhythms and their potential impact on cross-cultural understanding and medical sciences among possible applications. By building a database of 800 excerpts of pieces from 1900-1950, she hopes that analyzing the structure of complex rhythms and how people perceive them will help uncover how cognitive mechanisms interact with musical practice and the communication of specific affects. High Notes caught up with Poudrier to learn about her work and what inspired her to move across the continent.

What excites you about your field of research?

I am interested in uncovering the psychological mechanics of perceiving rhythm.

With the development of brain sciences, neuroscientists are very interested in taking music as a topic of study for learning about the brain. Music and language are two human inventions that all humans share are that are very complex.

By studying language and music, you can actually learn about the brain in sophisticated ways. It has potential applications in the medical sciences, for example, to help stroke patients recover their gait.

How did you get into this field? Why rhythms?

When I was doing my PhD, I was really interested in 20th century composers, especially Elliott Carter who spent a great deal of time developing the rhythmic aspect of his work and aimed to express his vision of life by manipulating rhythms in some interesting ways. In many of Carter’s compositions, each portion of the ensemble represents a character and he defines those characters in very specific terms musically. One of those ways is by giving each character different rhythmic gestures—played together. And that really spoke to me–this idea that you could have all these different speeds at the same time.

Earlier when I was playing piano, I always liked music that was more rhythmic. I liked the passionate style of the Russians and I also played some South American music that had more syncopated rhythms.

What are you hoping to discover through polyrhythms?

You find polyrhythm in many different cultures and I think studying how these rhythmic patterns are perceived and how they come to take different meanings in different cultures is a way to appreciate diversity.

I’m very interested in cross-cultural studies as a way to understand human creativity more deeply but also to appreciate the diversity that different musical cultures have to offer.

What attracted you to UBC?

These days, there’s a lot of talk about diversity, of people from different cultures and also people with different abilities. I have a daughter with disabilities. It has been a very difficult experience for us because she was critically ill for so long, but now she is doing really well. It made me discover that there is this whole other part of society that I never thought of before.

I feel that through my research, which is not directly about disability, I’m trying to be inclusive of people who come from different backgrounds. By asking questions about music that comes from different places, I’m contributing to making the world a more inclusive place. That’s something that is really important for me. It’s really something that has come out from my personal experience with my daughter.

I thought that UBC was a good place for this kind work, a place that is multicultural with people who seem to be thinking about these issues and creating a society for everybody. I was also very attracted to the collaborative research on rhythm in world music that was coming out of the UBC School of Music, particularly in the work done by John Roeder and Michael Tenzer.

What are you looking forward to most this academic year?

I am really looking forward to teaching an introduction to Schenkerian analysis. Schenker was interested in finding the fundamental structure that was the basis of masterpieces. Schenkerian analysis is a different way to think about musical creativity and in some ways it also addresses questions of auditory perception.