Interview with Rolf Bader
Rolf Bader, editor of the recently published Springer Handbook of Systematic Musicology, talks about this premier reference on the scientific foundations of music.
Why is systematic musicology of importance, especially for people outside the field?
Systematic Musicology is highly interdisciplinary. As such, people outside the field will find some of their methods, problems or topics within Systematic Musicology, but probably in a new and often extended form, with inspiring connections to other topics or expanded into a broader view. Especially the relation between physics and psychology, mathematics and perception, all within the endless examples from music all around the world, can offer new insights into how the conscious content is related to physical and physiological phenomena. As such, Systematic Musicology, as founded by Pythagoras 2500 years ago, has always combined emotions, politics and economy with astronomy, mathematics and geometry.
What, in your opinion, has been the most significant advance in this field and why?
In recent years Musical Acoustics and Signal Processing have seen major advances in terms of Physical Modeling, Microphone Array measurements and Music Information Retrieval, both in terms of new and complex algorithms and in experimental insights that were not possible before. It is becoming increasingly clear that musical instruments are self-organizing systems. Instrument builders have begun building their instruments virtually on the computer before building them using wood. Music Psychology has seen tremendous progress in brain research and neurophysiology, especially concerning music and language, emotion and motion, music therapy e.g. in combating the effects of Parkinson’s disease. But we have also seen exciting improvements of tools for music production, enhancing new markets in sensor technology or high-performance computing.
What are the biggest challenges for the field still ahead?
Big Data and Artificial Intelligence in Computational Music and Sound Archives is a big challenge. The modern music market is extremely diversified and more and more global, especially with the advances in the Chinese, Brazilian or Southeast Asian creative music industries. This extreme diversity, this ‘buzzing’ in the internet makes it harder and harder for both, listeners to find interesting new music and for producers, musicians and record companies to make themselves visible. Here new search engines based on complex musical features need to be developed, ones that cope with this Big Data using Artificial Intelligence. Another challenge is the detailed modeling of the human auditory and cortical neural system based on the diversified knowledge about neural connections to understand music perception and production using large-scale neural networks. Yet another challenge will be the replacement of wood in musical instruments and the development of new materials, meta-materials and other small-scale geometrical issues for the instrument building industry, including 3D printing.
Which application of systematic musicology do you, personally, find most exciting?
I personally find the tools for instrument builders most exciting, e.g. the Digital Guitar Workshop, where guitar builders can modify existing guitars geometrically and listen to what the new model would sound like. It’s exciting to see how much builders benefit from these tools both by learning more and more about their instruments and as inspiration for new models. Another wonderful application is the Computational Music and Sound Archive (COMSAR) or the Music Information Retrieval (MIR) musicethnological archive of the Musée de l’Hommes, where everyone cannot only browse through thousands of recordings from all over the world, but can also analyze and compare the music online. People find new musical styles they’d never have heard of, and come to understand the connections between ethnic groups. This helps us to understand more what we all have in common rather than what sets us apart.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in the field?
I wanted to understand the world in all its aspects and yet I found that Systematic Musicology connected the different views, physical, psychological, philosophical, ethnological and also political and economic together, as music is there in all of these fields. I still find it the most rewarding approach!
What is the most exciting part of your current research?
At present I find it most exciting to invent new material for musical instruments by designing frequency-dependent internal damping spectra using viscoelastic physical models, and deriveing their properties from molecular behavior – also at the quantum level. In addition, the 3D printing of small-scale structures to build metamaterials is very exciting. As internal damping is the most crucial part of how a musical instrument sounds, this is a very promising way to invent new musical instruments.
How would you describe the experience of editing the book?
The book was a challenge in many ways! The different fields within Systematic Musicology have different publishing traditions when it comes to dealing with manuscripts and deadlines or understanding the field in different ways. As such, compiling the book was also an update on what the field is doing today and bought aspects up even I didn’t know about. The process therefore was highly interesting for me and it is great to see that the Handbook now indeed covers the whole field in terms of content but also as a great balance between ‘veterans’ and new, promising talents, aspects and future work to do.
What was your personal highlight during the process?
Of course in the end to see it right there was the most amazing thing, to hear all the enthusiastic replies from colleagues, friends and those not too familiar with the field. Hearing sentences like ‘This is a milestone in the history of the field!’ – something I can’t possibly judge – is still most rewarding. Another highlight was the reaction of students to whom we presented the content beforehand, who were stunned by the range of topics covered and what the field is really all about. And of course it was just great to see that all the big players in the field were immediately willing to contribute!
For whom is this book a ‘must-read’?
It’s a ‘must-read’ for all students of course, first and foremost. There is nothing comparable in the field and anyone studying the discipline can find first-hand information about the state-of-the-art in the field right away. But I truly also feel it is a ‘must-read’ to all those in other fields concerned with music. We sometimes see physicists, psychologists, anthropologists, etc. decide that they want to work with music somehow, and are not at all aware about what has been done before. Now communicating with them about musical topics would make it much easier for us if they started by reading up on the state-of-the-art in the field.
Anything else you would like to add?
I really want to thank all the people at Springer, especially Veronika Hamm, Ursula Barth and Thomas Ditzinger but also Werner Skolaut for all their support, hard work and patience. Without such a great publisher and all those enthusiasts the Handbook would never have been possible! And of course I want to thank all the authors for their invaluable contributions; I very much hope their work will help many people to better understand the complexity and beauty of our field!
More about the Springer Handbook of Systematic Musicology