About the Rhythm Research Cluster

The research interests of six UBC faculty members in the fields of music theory and ethnomusicology converge on the study of musical time, and more specifically on aspects of the production and experience of musical rhythm, timing, and periodicity.

This convergence has arisen organically over a period of several years and has mainly been developed through sole- and joint-authored analytical case studies on aspects of rhythmic production and experience in diverse repertories and traditions. The recent hiring of a specialist in music cognition has added a new dimension to our endeavors and opened new opportunities for research collaboration and cross-fertilization within the School of Music and beyond. To that end, the UBC Rhythm Research Cluster was formally established in 2017 with seed funding from the Office of the Vice President, Research & Innovation, in the form of a Grant for Catalyzing Research Clusters.

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Inaugural 2017-2018 Event Series: “Exploring Musical Time”

The distinctly human capacity for sophisticated rhythmic play is engaged in diverse musical traditions found the world over.

“Exploring Musical Time” is a series of three symposiums that will investigate three questions fundamental to our understanding of musical rhythm and rhythmic play:

  1. What is the impact of technologies of musical coordination (from the metronome to the click track) upon our collective engagement with music as a temporal art?
  2. How do the perceptual processes and cognitive limits governing human rhythmic behavior interact with musical creativity and expression?
  3. What is the relationship between small-scale rhythmic variations (measureable at the millisecond level) and the embodied experience of musical motion?

To pursue these questions, the cluster will bring together scholars from the fields of music theory, ethnomusicology, music cognition, and computational musicology, as well as practitioners from the applied fields of composition, performance, and music production.


September 14-15, 2017

This symposium explores strategies for externalizing and regulating an entraining agent: first the invention of clocks, later the metronome, and now click tracks in recordings and live concerts. The symposium supports a research project that builds on recent cognitive studies, exploring the historical and technological motivations for "playing in time," and assessing their impact on our collective engagement with music as a temporal art. Initially the project will focus on musicians and studio producers, but then on the experiences of average listeners and their awareness and appreciation of the human-technology interface.



Thursday, September 14, 2017

Lecture: “The Numerical Mediation of Tempo”

Roger Mathew Grant

Assistant Professor of Music, Wesleyan University

3:30-5:00 PM, Dodson Room, Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (FREE)

This talk narrates the many vexed efforts to find a universal numeric language for tempo during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Composers, theorists, and performing musicians during this period began to express a deep anxiety about their ability to communicate and record the phenomenon of musical tempo. They also endeavored to distinguish tempo from the concept of meter, with which it had once been tightly associated. This talk elaborates the fate of tempo notation after its conceptual divorce from meter during a period that saw a great expansion in the distribution of printed music. It establishes how—through a novel use of numerical measure and machinery—a device associated with Johann Maelzel was able to capture the attention of the entire European musical world. Using number to regulate and generate musical tempo and feeling, the metronome occupied a curious place in the artistic imaginary—one it continues to hold in the present day. The talk will close with a consideration of the aesthetic afterlife of the metronome, a device that continues to intrigue and haunt us.

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About Dr. Roger Grant

Dr. Grant is an expert in eighteenth-century music, the history of music theory, Enlightenment aesthetics, early modern science, and theories of the affects and the passions. His journal articles have appeared in Critical InquiryMusic Theory SpectrumEighteenth-Century Music, and the Journal of Music Theory. His first book, Beating Time and Measuring Music in the Early Modern Era, was published in the Oxford Studies in Music Theory series by Oxford University Press (2014) and won the Emerging Scholar Award from the Society for Music Theory. Dr. Grant is a former junior fellow of the University of Michigan Society of Fellows, and earned his PhD in music from the University of Pennsylvania.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Lecture-Demonstration: “Who Grooves to What? Differences in Guitarists’ and Drummers’ Metric Entrainment”

Dr. Brad Osborn

Assistant Professor of Music Theory, University of Kansas

3:30-5:00 PM, Gessler Hall, Room 116, Music Building (FREE)

Long considered the rhythmic backbone of the group, the drummer often has less flexibility in metric interpretation than other players. Because of standard rock drumming practice, which entails playing the fastest subdivision on the hi-hat or ride cymbal, drummers are virtually forced to entrain with the fastest metric level available. This is, however, unnecessary for guitarists, who usually provide slower melodic or harmonic layers. To test this difference in levels, a guitarist and I recorded a metrically complex groove (Radiohead’s “15 Step”) several times while entraining to various metronome settings. These five distinct metronomic stimuli emphasized either the quickest subdivision, the slower odd-cardinality beats, the maximally even hyperbeats, or some combination of these. In this presentation, I will share the video footage from these performances and reflect on how the various metronome settings affected rhythmic accuracy for both the drummer and the guitarist. I will also discuss some implications for metric theory that follow from these observations. 

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About Dr. Brad Osborn

Brad Osborn is Assistant Professor of music theory at the University of Kansas. He is the author of the monograph Everything in its Right Place: Analyzing Radiohead (Oxford University Press, 2016). Adapting a psychology-based approach known as ecological perception, the book demonstrates how Radiohead’s music means what it does to listeners with varying degrees of prior experiences in common practice tonal music and post-millennial rock. Dr. Osborn has also published articles on Radiohead and other recent rock music in Music Theory SpectrumPerspectives of New MusicMusic AnalysisMusic Theory OnlineGamut, and in several edited collections. He writes and records atmospheric rock music under the artist moniker, D’Archipelago.


Lecture-Demonstration by DJ Miss M

7:30-9:30 PM, Barnett Hall, Music Building (FREE)

Audience members will be granted hands-on access to various DJ technologies (LP, CD, computer software), followed by a short set by DJ Miss M.


About DJ Miss M

DJ Miss M has proven to be one of the busiest open-format female DJ’s in the world. NYC’s 2012 Global Spin Awards Winner for International DJ of the Year, she beat out other DJs in her category including world renowned Deadmau5; World 3Style Redbull Champ, Hedspin; and World DMC Champ, Vekked. She is also a Dinah Shore Battle DJ Winner, as well as a three-time Toronto Stylus Award Nominee for “Central DJ of the Year” and “Best Female DJ of the Year.”

Miss M is also a world famous Monster DJ with members including Chris Brown’s official DJ BabeyDrew, QBert, Paul Mendez, Skribbles, Big Tigger, and many more. She is heard in 100+ countries with her “Beeps in Your Jeep” mixshow playing daily on a variety of different FM and online stations. Whether it is in the club, on the radio, or online, Miss M can rock a crowd in any genre of music.




January 23-26, 2018

This symposium will explore intersecting tools and methodologies from the fields of music information retrieval, computational analysis, and experimental psychology, for application to the study of complex rhythmic structures. The symposium theme relates closely to Poudrier’s ongoing exploration of how perceptual processes and cognitive limits interact with musical creativity and expression through the use of polyrhythm and polymeter (the superposition of competing rhythms and meters). A computational approach supported with signal processing technology and complemented by behavioural studies would not only allow for the inclusion of music from oral traditions in this study, but also allow for a cross-cultural exploration of the psychological and social mechanisms at play in the creation of meaning through specific compositional techniques.


 Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

*Lecture: Groove on the Brain: The Neuroscience of Musical Rhythm

Peter Vuust, Aarhus University, Center for Music in the Brain

5:00 pm – 6:30 pm (with reception to follow), Coach House, Green College

Workshop 1 (Peter Vuust): Predictive Coding and Rhythmic Complexity

Peter Vuust, Aarhus University, Center for Music in the Brain

Dr. Peter Vuust (Professor, Neuroscience, Aarhus University, and Director of the Center for Music in the Brain, Denmark) holds degrees in both musicology and neuroscience and is active as a composer and jazz bass player. His research combines behavioural and neuroimaging studies and explores the mental processes involved in performing and listening to complex rhythms. He has published on the music of Miles Davis and in major scholarly journals devoted to cognition.

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Workshop 2 (George Tzanetakis): Algorithms for Rhythmic Analysis

Details to be announced.

Dr. George Tzanetakis (Canada Research Chair, Computer Science, University of Victoria) specializes in computer analysis of audio signals, combining ideas from digital signal processing, machine learning, and human and computer interaction.


Thursday, January 25th, 2018

Workshop 3 (Nori Jacoby): Cross-Cultural Rhythms and Behavioural Methods

Details to be announced.

*Demonstration: Music in Conversations: Rhythmic Production, Ensemble Coordination and Creativity

Moderated by Nori Jacoby, Columbia University

8:00 pm – 9:00 pm, Piano Lounge, Green College

Dr. Nori Jacoby (Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University) applies expert knowledge of music technology and neuroscience to explore the role of culturally conditioned perceptual biases in music and speech rhythms in diverse populations ranging from Westerners to the Tsimané (an Amazonian foraging-farming society). He currently studies synchronization and entrainment in jembe drum ensembles in Mali, combining ethnography with computational modeling and behavioural experimental methods.


Friday, January 26, 2018

Roundtable: Modeling Rhythmic Complexity: Challenges and Prospects

Moderated by Ève Poudrier, University of British Columbia

12:00 pm – 1:30 pm, room 400B, School of Music

*These events are co-sponsored by Green College and Early Music Vancouver as part of the Special Lecture Series Transforming Sounds / Altered Selves.


SYMPOSIUM 3: "Microtiming"

March 5-9, 2018

A perennial challenge facing scholars of performance analysis is to find ways to conceptualize and analyze the rich reality of a skilled listener's embodied experience. This symposium explores the relationship among microtiming (millisecond-level variations in the duration of conceptually equal rhythmic units), the embodied experience of musical motion, and the representation of rhythmic experience through verbal and visual abstractions. Dodson brings ideas from recent phenomenological and empirical theories of meter to bear on the interpretation of microtiming data and is developing a new type of analytical animation. This work will benefit from engagement with the ethnographic, cognitive, and historical perspectives explored in the other two symposia, and a close encounter with the work of scholars at the leading edge of computational performance analysis and performance science.


To be announced. Confirmed speakers:

Dr. Werner Goebl (Associate Professor, Music Acoustics, University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna) leads a project on rhythmic coordination in ensemble performance, partnering with the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence. The project uses motion-capture and eye-tracking technology to examine how musicians coordinate when playing rhythmically ambiguous passages. In earlier projects he developed the "performance worm," a novel analytical animation that represents microtiming and loudness as a succession of overlapping discs moving in a two-dimensional plane.

Dr. Olivier Senn (Professor, Musicology, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, and Director of the Music Performance Studies Research Group) helped develop the most sophisticated tool currently available for microtiming analysis, the Lucerne Audio Recording Analyzer (LARA). His recent analytical projects have included empirical and perceptual studies on both classical and jazz recordings.
Dr. Richard Beaudoin (Visiting Research Fellow, Composition, Royal Academy of Music, London) has developed, in collaboration with Senn, a new compositional method that uses microtiming analyses generated by LARA as a resource for his composition, which have been performed at prestigious venues including London's Royal Festival Hall. He has taught music theory at Harvard University among other institutions, and published in leading scholarly journals. As a composer, Beaudoin offers a unique, artistic perspective on the relationship between microtiming and musical experience.