ashley walton
research & publications


Musical Collaboration


My research at University of Cincinnati’s Center for Cognition, Action and Perception explored how improvised musical performance emerges within a context of social collaboration, where musicians simultaneously engage in both musical perception and action to construct and negotiate the flow of the performance from moment-to-moment. 

 



Key publications

• van der Schyff, D., Schiavio, A.,Walton, A., Velardo, V., Chemero, A. (2018). Musical Creativity and the Embodied Mind Exploring the possibilities of 4E Cognition and Dynamical Systems Theory. Music and Science. (download)

• Walton, A., Richardson, M. J., Langland-Hassan, P., Chemero, A., & Washburn, A. (2018). Creating time: affording social collaboration in music improvisation. Topics in Cognitive Science. (download)

• Walton, A., Richardson, M.J., Langland-Hassan, P., & Chemero, A. (2015). Improvisation and the self-organization of multiple musical bodies. Frontiers in Psychology: Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. (download)



Self-organization of multiple musical bodies

Walton et al. (2015) considers the principles of dynamical self-organization as a way to understand how improvising musicians spontaneously coordinate their musical actions without a rehearsed score or script. Musicians are understood as constituting a self-organized system, where each improviser allows their activity to be constrained by the sonic and kinesthetic results of the actions of their co-performers. When coupled together during musical performance, their signal-producing and signal-receiving processes not only overlap, but serve as constraints on one another– allowing for the emergence of more complex dynamics of musical meaning. 


From Improvisation and the self-organization of musical bodies (Walton et al., 2015).



Freedom and constraint in musical improvisation

Walton et al. (2018) is an empirical investigation of how the structure of the musical context affords and shapes the interactions that emerge between improvising musicians. Pairs of piano players improvised with two different backing tracks that differed in rhythmic and harmonic structure. The music they produced as well as the movement of their heads, left arms, and right arms was recorded. Differences in movement coordination and playing behavior were evaluated using the mathematical tools of complex dynamical systems, and their experience coordinating with their co-performer was captured using qualitative analysis of post-session interviews.

Collectively, the findings indicated that each backing track afforded the emergence of different patterns of coordination with respect to how the musicians played together, how they moved together, as well as their experience collaborating with each other. Specifically, when improvising within a performance context with less structure, musicians’ playing behavior and movements were more similar, more constrained. At the same time they reported experiencing more freedom in the performance, claiming the lack of limitation provided space to more freely engage with their coperformer. 



Creating time

When describing his experience improvising with the backing track with less structure, one musician explains:

There’s no time, it’s just a steady tone, ... we created time between us.”

A lot of research aims to understand the power in our ability to synchronize, or keep time together. Yet when it comes to understanding music performance as a social interaction, it is more important how we create time together. Talking about how performers’ musical actions “overlap,” how they “fill in gaps” or “compensate” for one another is still considering them first as individual entities who then must find a way to coexist through the coordination of their playing. But when musicians create time together, they are no longer behaving as individuals but as a single, collective unit—flexibly navigating the shared temporal landscape conceived by their musical actions.

Collective musical improvisation demands openness and adaptation and also an immense trust in the collective ability to build a foundation from which the performance will be developed, despite the possible wariness or anxiety that this may induce. But “mistakes” or “surprises” are defined by how their actions deviate in relationship to this foundation performers create together. And in the concession, adjustment, and opposition to this codetermined “time” is where each performer’s individuality, their different personalities create the possibility for something truly novel and unexpected.



The sounds of collaboration

An exciting finding from this work is that the coordination that emerged in the body movements of the musicians was found to be significantly related to listeners’ experiences when asked to rate audio recordings of the improvised performances.

We consider how the creation of time is about the creation of the beat, and the beat is felt physically with every key press, foot tap, breath, and head sway. Musicians’ movements define the structure and can also stretch, obscure or accentuate its parts, the minor but powerful temporal deviations from the force of the rhythm are considered to be the source of “groove” in music (Iyer, 2002). It seems the physical rigor of creating this structure, and the ways musicians engage in the freedom to deviate from it, is salient to listeners.



Complex dynamical systems methods

This work has revealed the significant potential of complex dynamical systems methods to capture the turn-taking dynamics that characterized both the social exchange of the music improvisation and the sounds of collaboration more generally. Specifically, the spatiotemporal processes of musicians’ bodily coordination and playing behavior have been investigated using cross wavelet analysis (Walton et al., 2015; Walton, 2016), recurrence analysis (Walton et al., 2018), principal component analysis (Walton, 2016), and fractal analysis (ICMPC, 2016). Matlab toolboxes are available at: http://xkiwilabs.com/software-toolboxes/.  

See the cited publications for more information about these anlayses, or contact me at ashley_walton@fas.harvard.edu.
 




Publications

Walton, A., Richardson, M. J., Langland-Hassan, P., Chemero, A., & Washburn, A. (2018). Creating time: affording social collaboration in music improvisation. Topics in Cognitive Science. (download)

Walton, A. (2016). Music Improvisation: Spatiotemporal Patterns of Coordination. (Master’s Thesis). Available from OhioLink Electronic Theses and Dissertation Center. (http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=ucin1457619683).

Walton, A., Richardson, M.J., Langland-Hassan, P., & Chemero, A. (2015). Improvisation and the self-organization of multiple musical bodies. Frontiers in Psychology: Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. (download)

Walton, A., Richardson, M. J., Langland-Hassan, P., Chemero, A., & Washburn, A. (2015) Musical improvisation: Multi-scaled spatiotemporal patterns of coordination. Paper submitted for the 38th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Pasadena, CA.

Walton, A., Richardson, M.J., & Chemero, A. (2014). Self-organization and Semiosis in Jazz Improvisation. International Journal on Signs and Semiotics Systems.



Presentations

Walton, A., Riehm, C., Washburn, A., Ferris-Morris S., West, J. & Chemero, A.(December, 2016). Musical movement: spatiotemporal patterns of coordination and embodied listening. Body of Knowledge Conference, University of California Irvine, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, Irvine, CA.

Walton, A., Washburn, A., Chemero, A., & Richardson, M.J. (Sept., 2016). Creating time: social collaboration in music improvisation. In Jelle Bruineberg’s (Chair), Skilled Action as a Complex System: Affordances and Social Coordination. Symposium conducted at the Conference on Complex Systems, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Walton, A., Washburn, A., Langland-Hassan, P., Chemero, A., & Richardson, M.J.(July, 2016). Affording social interaction and collaboration in musical joint action. International Conference for Music Perception and Cognition, San Francisco, CA.

Walton, A., Washburn, A., Langland-Hassan, P., Chemero, A., & Richardson, M.J.(July, 2016). Patterns of Complexity in Improvisational Jazz Performance. International Conference for Music Perception and Cognition, San Francisco, CA.

Walton, A., Washburn, A., Langland-Hassan, P., Chemero, A., & Richardson, M.J. (Nov., 2015). Music Improvisation: Spatiotemporal Patterns of Coordination. Joint Improvisation Meeting, Centre Pouchet, Paris, France.

Walton, A., Washburn, A., Coey, C., Langland-Hassan, P., Chemero, A., & Richardson, M.J (Aug., 2015). Music Improvisation: Spatiotemporal Patterns of Coordination. Guy Van Orden Cognitive Dynamics Workshop X, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, Hartford, Connecticut.

Walton, A., Washburn, A., Coey, C., Langland-Hassan, P., Chemero, A., & M.J. Richardson. (July, 2015). Music Improvisation: Spatiotemporal Patterns of Coordination. 4th Annual Society for Complex Systems in Cognitive Science meeting, Pasadena, CA.

Walton, A., Richardson, M.J., Langland-Hassan,P., Washburn, A., Coey, C. (July, 2015). Music Improvisation: Spatiotemporal Patterns of Coordination. Joint Action Meeting VI, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.

Walton, A., Richardson, M.J., Langland-Hassan, P., Chemero, A. (March, 2015). Self-organization and Spatiotemporal patterns of Coordination in Music Improvisation. In Dr. Heidi Kloos (Chair), Emergence of Novel Behavioral Stability: Defining the Necessary Context of Self-Organization. Symposium conducted at the International Convention of Psychological Science, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Walton, A., Richardson, M.J., Chemero, A. (Sept., 2014). Self-organization and Semiosis in Jazz Improvisation. Collective Intentionality IX, Bloomington, IN.

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Copyright © 2018 Ashley Walton