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Slow motion: Transformations of musical time in perception and performance

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SloMo (Slow motion: Transformations of musical time in perception and performance)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2021-09-30

Slow motion is widely employed in popular media such as emotional movie scenes or in the broadcasting of momentous bodily and physical actions. Slow motion offers new aesthetic experiences and intriguing insights in music, dance and sport genres. While it is used as a beneficial rehearsal strategy in music, slow movements are more constrained by the need for balance and momentum in dance. Slowing down may also function as a counterpoint to the perceived acceleration of life, with various initiatives and meditation practices promoting benefits for health and wellbeing.

We argue that music, as a temporal-motional art, is central to understand the appeal and effects of slow motion and slow movements. Music consists of structured time at different hierarchical levels and deeply “moves” people – it may allow the passing of time in new terms.

(1) So far we have found out that music shapes time differently according to perceived meter. If listeners are told to tap along slowly with half notes, they perceive the time span to be shorter compared to focusing on eights notes. These processes, as we investigated in a second study, are not caused by perceived tempo. (2) Our research into the multimodal perception of film scenes has shown that the presence of film music facilitates judgments of time. Slow motion film scenes often depict particularly emotional situations of the characters. Yet viewers of these film scenes did not show the same levels of emotional arousal in peripheral physiology or pupil size, but had more varied eye movements and thus perceived more detail of the scenes in slow motion. (3) Furthermore, preliminary results of an international large-scale online experiment indicate that preferred motor tempo is age-dependent: older participants tap more slowly. (4) Ongoing projects investigate slow practice techniques in violin playing, physiological responses in Tai Chi, and super slow motion of the power moves of break dancers.
We investigate “stretched time” in the performance and perception of music and selected dance genres. Emphasis is placed on differences between mediated slow motion and performed slow movements. Since music is multimodal at its core, involving motor, visual and auditory systems in performance, perception and imagination, strong links to other movement-based practices exist. Thus new understandings of slowness are possible by investigating these sensory modalities and processes. While the discussion of slowness in different contexts grows, not much is known yet about its effect on motor skills, cognitive load, memory, emotion or imagination.

The project consists of three phases and six large studies, each containing a number of experiments that resulted or will result in separate peer-reviewed open-access publications.

In Phase A we investigate mediated and perceived slow motion. These studies address the structural levels of musical time and the audiovisual perception of movement speed. We analyse the effects on attention, cognitive load and emotional and aesthetic responses to music and dance in relation to tempo and playback speed, including super slow motion.

Phase B analyses movement characteristics and psychological processes of moving slowly in performance. For instance, we study the imagery and affective states of dancers and musicians, including effects on agency as well as slow ensemble synchronisation. We also investigate Tai Chi practitioners using motion capture, physiological measures and mobile EEG.

Phase C integrates the outcomes of the first two phases and uses material from the research studies. Applications for movement practices will be developed and the aesthetic dimensions of slow motion will be presented to a wider audience. This should inspire creative responses and stimulate further empirical research.
Our research into the perception of commercial films, dance and sports footage has shown that slow motion leads to an underestimation of time and affects the physiological correlates of emotional responses. Using an eye tracking device, we also found that slow motion influences gaze behaviour, allowing for more attention to details in movies. Music modulates these processes strongly, for instance leading to larger pupil diameters as a measure of arousal.

In a study (in press in Music Perception) investigating the relation between sensorimotor synchronisation to different structural levels in music and time perception, we found that entrainment to higher structural levels shortens perceived duration. Music may thus lead to new experiences of time that are based on the listeners’ focus of attention. We have conducted several other experiments using motion capture, physiological measures and high-speed cameras with dancers, musicians, break-dancers and Tai Chi practitioners. We also submitted a theoretical review paper. We expect that this work will appear in peer-reviewed open-access journals soon.
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