The Social Formation and Cultural Variation of Musical Aesthetics

The anthropological foundations of musical aesthetics are socially and culturally constituted; historically they take consistently different form: the aesthetic relationship between receiving subjects and musical objects or processes (performances, works, media) is always bound up in social and cultural contexts. Musical-aesthetic categories are formed, mediated, handed down, and altered in the framework of cultural processes.
This research area thus examines the question of the extent to which the evident diversity of musical-cultural and socio-musical environments — the interplay of musical objects, processes, practices, and institutions — also influences variation in the musical-aesthetic formation of categories and judgments.
This work is undertaken with methods from the humanities (sociology, social/cultural anthropology, cultural studies, philology, and history) but also by drawing on the empirical methods of psychology and neuroscience.
We lay special emphasis on the development of empirical culturally and socially comparative research perspectives, hence on the systematic integration of non-European/non-Western musical forms into our empirical research. Contemporary empirical experiment-based theories of musical perception and aesthetics will here be examined in respect to their broad social and cultural scope and generalizability, and appropriate modifications made—for example by introducing experimental paradigms from psychology into the research field of musical ethnology.

Current projects

We are familiar with them from every concert and encounter them as material included with every CD—program texts and CD booklets. They offer information about a work, its composer, or its interpretation and offer listening help. In this project we will study the influence these texts have on evaluating a concert or CD and ask how they alter perception of various aspects of music. [more]

In order to gain greater understanding of the phenomenon of urban music listening in seventeenth-century England, contemporary ego documents will be empirically assessed using qualitative analysis of the texts’ contents. [more]

On the surface prefaces to printed collections of music promote or explicate singing and compositional style. This project inquires into aspects of the conceptualization of the early seventeenth century solo song embedded in these texts: the verbal mediation of the genre’s (ideal) effects, and the experience and appreciation of the performance. [more]

While the timing of musical events varies infinitely by physical standards, humans perceive but a small number of rhythmic categories. The project examines the common assumption that the prototypes of these building blocks of rhythm perception are cross-culturally constant. [more]

The project studies the aesthetic evaluation of metric timing patterns—uneven swing-timings of the metric beat subdivision—in diverse African and African-diasporic styles of music. [more]

When we listen to music, it sometimes seems that it is helping us feel stronger and more self-confident. But what music catalyzes such feelings, and what psychological processes and mechanisms are at its base? [more]

This project is focused on the form and function of language in the verbalization of the aesthetic experience of music, the qualities and characteristics manifest in that process. Using a body of texts from the field of musical aesthetics, the press, and online forums, I will explore the question of which verbal concepts, categories, and discursive factors are here effective. [more]

This research project focuses on the narrative of ‘missionization through music’ – how did Early Modern missionaries in Latin America (1523–1767) employ European music and sounds; how did they report on their actions; and what were the consequences on European discourses and practices? [more]

This project studies the performance and aesthetic evaluation of degrees, patterns and processes of ensemble synchronisation in West-African and African-diasporic percussion orchestras and rhythm sections. [more]

The “Aesthetic Effects of Liturgy” project (WæL) addresses the effects and shapes of aesthetic practices, performances and objects in the sociocultural framing of religious ritualization taking therefore by way of example Roman Catholic church services.[more]