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Cognitive research and South Asian music

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact David Greatrex.

I will report briefly on three ongoing lines of investigation that seek to relate aspects of South Asian music with specific human cognitive capacities:

(1) The capacity to learn a melodic grammar (that of raga) incidentally, that is, without intending to do so. This has been demonstrated empirically using Western subjects unfamiliar with Indian classical music, and musical stimuli derived from ecologically valid performance materials.

(2) The capacity to structure music recursively, that is, by embedding one structure inside another, especially another of the same kind (as in linguistic syntax). This can be demonstrated with reference to alap, the improvised exposition of a raga, and is also observable in visual and other domains of South Asian culture.

(3) The capacity to organize musical performance according to schemas that also underlie other aspects of culture and experience. This can be inferred from performance schemas of Newar temple singing in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal.

(1) and (2) are the subjects of ongoing projects in collaboration with Dr Martin Rohrmeier (Technical University, Dresden) and Dharambir Singh. (3) is based on my ethnographic and analytical study of dapha in Bhaktapur (R. Widdess: Dapha: sacred singing in a South Asian city, Asghate 2013).

This talk is part of the The Centre for Music and Science (CMS) series.

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