MusicLab5 Copenhagen 2020: The Danish String Quartet

Playing and listening to music increases our quality of living. To analyze why this is so, it is advantageous to understand how body and mind is engaged when expert musicians perform.

The Danish String Quartet playing.

The Danish String Quartet in action. Photo: Caroline Bittencourt.

The idea

Working with one of the world’s best chamber ensembles, The Danish String Quartet (DSQ), a team of researchers from Oslo (RITMO Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Rhythm, Time and Motion), Copenhagen (Centre for Subjectivity Research), Århus (Interacting Minds Center), and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics are hosting this science concert to understand how the mind and body is engaged in musicians and audience members in intense states of shared musical absorption.

This event is a unique chance to combine music, science and science-communication in a novel format. We will give the audience a high-quality concert, an unusual peak into the mind of expert musicians and an understanding of the sciences of mind and body, all the while  conducting experiments with performers and audience.

The concert

On May 24 2020 the DSQ has agreed to transform one of their concerts into a science-concert in the Copenhagen Philarmonic Concert Hall in Frederiksberg. Based on our 2 years of pilot testing and celebrating the grand event of Beethoven’s 250 birth year, we will have the DSQ perform a real concert, with some of the most absorbtive music, not least the late Beethoven string quartets, while measuring and analyzing their sense of shared absorption and its impact on the audience.

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The science

We measure heart-rate variability and breath synchronization not only between the four DSQ members, but also with selected audience members, to check for indicators of “a shared zone of musical absorption”, which seem to characterize some of the greatest concerts. We also intend to measure the relation between absorption, attention and mind-wandering through pupillometry as well as micro-movements of the audience.

Image may contain: Music, Musical instrument, Musician, String instrument, Orchestra.
A similar experiment with the Borealis Quartet, albeit on a smaller scale. Photo: Annica Thomsson.

The various researchers using their respective area of expertise, ranging from phenomenology to musicology, music technology, and experimental psychology will be able to work on important questions such as:

  • What is musical complexity?
  • What is the relation between musical absorption and empathy?
  • Is there such a thing as a shared zone of absorption and is it measurable?
  • How can musical texture be rendered visually?

These questions will be tested through a range of methods ranging from theoretical philosophy, to qualitative interviews, to quantitative physiological measures and music technology.

The science communication

In days of fake-news and pseudo-science, it is essential that ordinary, and especially younger, citizens get a more practical understanding of what science is and how it works.

Before the concert, in the break and after the concert, the researchers will give short talks explaining the experiment taking place, presenting what art does to the human being and how art and science can be combined in innovative ways.

We particularly want to target a younger audience of university students and high school students participating in extracurricular science programs (e.g. forsker spire) and invite them for free to join the experiments and we hope for live transmission in Danish broadcasting media.

The Philosophical Foundations

“The most accomplished musicians can play without thinking”

In Norwegian: «De dyktigste musikerne kan spille uten å tenke».

Published Jan. 24, 2020 1:41 PM - Last modified Feb. 27, 2020 8:39 AM