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Slow motion: Transformations of musical time in perception and performance

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - SloMo (Slow motion: Transformations of musical time in perception and performance)

Reporting period: 2021-10-01 to 2022-09-30

Mediated slow motion is widely employed in popular media such as emotional movie scenes or in the broadcasting of momentous bodily and physical actions. Performed slow motion is used as a beneficial rehearsal strategy in music, yet slow movements are more constrained by the need for balance and momentum in larger movements such as dance. Music consists of structured time at different hierarchical levels and deeply “moves” people – it may allow the passing of time in new terms. By investigating these topics, and by focusing on slow in comparison to fast tempi in action and perception, this ERC research project contributes to knowledge on how time is shaped and experienced in real-life situations, affecting motor skills, cognitive load, memory, emotion and imagination.

The project, as demonstrated by open-access publications in leading international journals and a book entitled "Performing Time. Synchrony and Temporal Flow in Music and Dance" (Oxford University Press, 2023), has made substantial contributions a) to how attentional processes and cognitive load influence time perception differently for the same music, b) disentangled the contributions of auditory and visual information on multimodal perception of tempo and time, c) investigated the effects of chronotypes and circadian rhythms on internal tempo, d) analysed the effects of movement speed in dance patterns on observers and on the dancers themselves, e) scrutinised the impact of slow movements on kinematic dimensions and the potential challenges for consistency in the motor system, f) found out about the benefits of a somatic/external focus of attention for slow performance movements, g) investigated the prevalence and benefits of slow practice among musicians, h) analysed the effects of tempo in performed and imagined music with regard to emotion, prediction, and synchrony. Taken together, key facets of temporality in perception and performance have been elucidated that will further scientific knowledge on time, movement and psychophysicality, and may inspire the performing arts.
Key research achievements of project SloMo include the following:

(1) Music shapes time
• Music shapes subjective time differently, in accordance with how listeners perceive the meter.
• These processes, as we found out in follow-up experiments with hip-hop music, are mainly caused by the attentional focus.
• Our research into the multimodal perception of films has shown that slow-motion film scenes often depict particularly emotional situations, and film music facilitates judgments of time. While viewers of slow-motion film scenes had reduced levels of emotional arousal in peripheral physiology or pupil size, they also showed more varied eye movements compared to real-time motion.
• Disco music at original and slightly manipulated tempi resulted in longer duration reproductions for slower/longer versions, but not in longer duration estimations. These findings suggest a rather low level mechanism for small tempo differences, and a tempo change of at least 20 BPM is needed for effects on perceived duration differences.

(2) Circadian rhythms affect internal tempo
• Results of a large-scale international online experiment indicated that preferred motor tempo depends both on age and time of the day: older participants tap more slowly, and tapping in the morning is slower. These results may have consequences for preferred tempi and executive functions that are related to it.
• A subsequent experience-sampling study revealed that individual chronotypes and arousal had an impact on internal tempo, showing effects of circadian rhythms that had not been investigated in such a way before despite the magnitude of studies of this subject.

(3) Movement speed affects time perception
• Watching faster dance movements leads to longer duration estimations compared to seeing the same movements at slower tempi. However, this effect was reduced for watching one’s own movements, suggesting effects of agency.
• A bisection experiment showed that visual information of point-light dance movements provided more cues to tempo judgments than auditory beats at the same rate. Individuals differ in their responses by auditory, visual, or audiovisual preference types.

(4) Slow movements can be challenging for the motor system
• Musicians, potentially due to their bilateral training, are more consistent in performing repetitive circular movements compared to nonmusicians. For both groups, keeping the performance velocity consistent proofed to be more difficult at faster tempi. These findings indicate that performing slowly may require a different attentional focus.
• Focus of attention, that is concentrating on the arm movements (internal), the sound outcome (external) or the string resistance (somatic focus) affects muscle activity and performance in a violin task. For the somatic focus, the spectral centroid was higher in playing compared to the other foci. In another task, violinists showed lower EMG activity in the triceps with a somatic focus, and experienced players had fewer bow slips.

(5) Nearly everyone practices their instrument slowly
• Musicians of classical genres (99.45%) and non-classical genres (89.12%) all employ slow practice, which is the most common single strategy in instrumental practice even for highly experienced musicians. Our survey showed that expressive and technical goals are pursued, and both are related to self-regulated learning for classical musicians.
• In a further paper, qualitative insights show that musicians use slow practice in order to manage information load, build a foundation for motor learning, solve problems in a creative way, and regulate emotional, mental and perceptual states. This is achieved by reducing cognitive load. At the same time, there are biomechanical differences between slow and fast practice, and slow practice can also be seen to be cognitively challenging.

(6) Physiology and emotional responses in imagined and real musical stimuli
• Our further research suggests that internal time keeping as well as temporal prediction is reflected in the dilations of the pupil; and that participants differ in their ability to imagine and anticipate musical beats according to different tempi.
• There are effects on expressiveness and time when perceiving a professional percussionist at different speeds, and on emotions when watching original and tempo-manipulated dance patterns.
• Our research was the first to show that the same music can be experienced quite differently in terms of time, in accordance with the listeners’ attentional focus. Research before had only investigated different music.
• We were the first to investigate slow-motion film scenes in a multi-faceted and experimentally controlled way, including physiology, eye movements, perceptual ratings. Previous research had mainly described slow-motion scenes.
• To our knowledge, our research is the first to study different performed tempi matched with different mediated/manipulated tempi.
• We used motion capture and EMG in an innovative way, overcame challenges in relation to synchronisation, and could provide highly relevant findings regarding the movements when playing the violin, both for novices and experts.
• While widely used and employed, no previous research had looked at musicians’ slow practice in detail.
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