Modelling music with grammars

Jim Kippen & Bernard Bel

Modelling music with gram­mars: for­mal lan­guage rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the Bol Processor. In A. Marsden & A. Pople (eds.): Computer Representations and Models in Music, London, Academic Press, 1992, p. 207-238.


Improvisation in North Indian tabla drum­ming is sim­i­lar to speech inso­far as it is bound to anun­der­ly­ing sys­tem of rules deter­min­ing cor­rect sequences. The par­al­lel is fur­ther rein­forced by the fact that tabla music may be rep­re­sent­ed with an oral nota­tion sys­tem used for its trans­mis­sion and, occa­sion­al­ly, per­for­mance. Yet the rules are implic­it and avail­able only through the musi­cians’ abil­i­ty to play cor­rect sequences and recog­nise incor­rect ones. A lin­guis­tic mod­el of tabla impro­vi­sa­tion and eval­u­a­tion derived from pat­tern lan­guages and for­mal gram­mars has been imple­ment­ed in the Bol Processor, a soft­ware sys­tem used in inter­ac­tive field­work with expert musi­cians. The paper demon­strates the abil­i­ty of the mod­el to han­dle com­plex struc­tures by tak­ing real exam­ples from the reper­toire. It also ques­tions the rel­e­vance of attempt­ing to mod­el irreg­u­lar­i­ties encoun­tered in actu­al performance.

Download this paper

Pattern grammars

Bernard Bel

Pattern gram­mars in for­mal rep­re­sen­ta­tions of musi­cal struc­tures. 11th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Workshop on AI & Music, 20 August 1989, pp.113-42


This paper intro­duces sev­er­al for­mal mod­els of pat­tern rep­re­sen­ta­tion in music. Polyvalent mul­ti­modal gram­mars describe par­tial­ly over­lap­ping sound events as found in poly­phon­ic struc­tures. Bol Processor gram­mars are char­ac­ter­i­sa­tions of sequen­tial events in terms of sub­string rep­e­ti­tions, homo­mor­phisms, etc. Parsing tech­niques, sto­chas­tic pro­duc­tion and recent devel­op­ments of BP gram­mars are briefly described.

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Time-setting of sound-objects

Bernard Bel

Time-setting of sound-objects: a constraint-satisfaction approach. Invited paper, Workshop on Sonic Representations and Transforms. INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL FOR ADVANCED STUDIES (ISAS), Trieste, 26-30 October 1992.


This paper deals with the sched­ul­ing of “sound-objects”, here­by mean­ing pre­de­fined sequences of ele­men­tary tasks in a sound proces­sor, with each task mapped to a time-point. Given a struc­ture of sound-objects com­plete­ly ordered in a phase dia­gram, an “instance” of the struc­ture may be obtained by com­put­ing the dates at which each task should be exe­cut­ed. Time-setting the struc­ture amounts to solv­ing a sys­tem of con­straints depend­ing on (1) met­ric and topo­log­i­cal prop­er­ties of sound-objects, (2) con­texts in which they are found, and (3) para­me­ters relat­ed to the per­for­mance itself (“smooth” or “stri­at­ed” time, speed, etc.). This may require relocating/truncating objects or delay­ing part of the sound-object struc­ture. A constraint-satisfaction algo­rithm is intro­duced, the time com­plex­i­ty of which is O(n.k) in most cas­es, where n is the num­ber of sequences and k the max­i­mum length of a sequence. In the worst case it remains bet­ter than O(n2.k3). Other fields of appli­ca­tions are pro­posed, includ­ing mul­ti­me­dia per­for­mance and computer-aided video editing.

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The Well-tempered Clavier

The fol­low­ing is the com­plete set of pre­ludes and fugues by J.S. Bach known as The Well-tempered Clavier, books II and II pub­lished cir­ca 1722 and 1742 respectively.

What did he mean by “well tempered”?

All musi­cal scores of this cor­pus have been con­vert­ed from MusicXML to Bol Processor syn­tax — read Importing MusicXML scores. This paved the way to a tonal analy­sis by Bol Processor’s tonal batch-processing tool dis­cussed in detail on page Bach Well-tempered tonal analy­sis.

Each musi­cal work was matched against a set of tun­ing schemes imple­ment­ed on the Bol Processor. These com­prise tem­pera­ments doc­u­ment­ed by Pierre-Yves Asselin ([1985], 2000) and “nat­ur­al” scales con­struct­ed sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly — read pages Microtonality and Creation of just-intonation scales.

The match­ing algo­rithm select­ed the tun­ing scheme(s) most com­pli­ant with def­i­n­i­tions of “con­so­nant” and “dis­so­nant” melod­ic and har­mon­ic inter­vals. Two sets of def­i­n­i­tions have been enlist­ed: “stan­dard” and “alter­nate”. Evidently, each hypoth­e­sis ren­ders some tun­ing schemes more eli­gi­ble than oth­ers for achiev­ing the com­poser’s pre­sumed per­cep­tion of “con­so­nance”. Therefore, the fol­low­ing sound pro­duc­tions of pre­ludes and fugues with their “best” tun­ing schemes should not be tak­en as a defin­i­tive answer to the issue of tem­pera­ment dis­cussed by Bach’s pupils and fol­low­ers. Nonetheless it might be clos­est to what the com­pos­er had in mind, with­in the lim­its of ear’s dis­crim­i­na­tion of tonal intervals.

Note that when sev­er­al tun­ing schemes ranked first for their com­pli­ance with a piece, only one of them was used for the demo. It is pos­si­ble that a dif­fer­ent one sounds better.

Settings of an audio unit for the post-processing

All pieces have been played and record­ed on a Csound instru­ment resem­bling a harp­si­chord, there­by allow­ing a clear appre­ci­a­tion of tonal inter­vals. This kind of “mag­ni­fy­ing glass” of tonal inter­vals pro­duced harsh sound­ing ver­sions avail­able in fold­ers Standard (raw) and Alternate (raw). These have been post-processed with a lit­tle bit of rever­ber­a­tion yield­ing soft­er attacks. Post-processed sound files are the ones accessed in tables below. Readers con­ver­sant with sound pro­cess­ing are invit­ed to down­load the raw files and sug­gest bet­ter options of post-processing.

The last two columns of each table con­tain the record­ings of human inter­pre­ta­tions of the same musi­cal works by out­stand­ing harp­si­chord play­ers. These explore dimen­sions of musi­cal­i­ty which the mechan­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tion of the score with per­fect tonal inter­vals could not reach. It remains that the chal­lenge of accu­rate tonal­i­ty was of pri­or impor­tance for this cor­pus, as evi­denced by the title “well-tempered” assigned by its composer.

Book I sound examples

These Bol Processor + Csound record­ings may be reused under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) licence. Attribution includes links to the present page, Csound and the author/editor of its MusicXML score (list­ed on page Bach Well-tempered tonal analy­sis).

Listen with ear­phones or a very good sound system!

Wanda Landowska’s (1879-1959) record­ings are bor­rowed from Youtube. Other inter­pre­ta­tions belong to Wikimedia Commons.

As explained on page Bach Well-tempered tonal analy­sis, D’Alambert-Rousseau tem­pera­ment rat­ed equiv­a­lent to H.A. Kellner’s BACH in terms of scale intervals.

(favourite: Sauveur)
(favourite: D’Alembert-Rousseau)
1BWV 846CmajSauveurSauveurRameau en sibMarpurgMartha GoldsteinMartha Goldstein
2BWV 847CminSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauWanda LandowskaMartha Goldstein
3BWV 848C#majAbmajZarlino nat­ur­alD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
4BWV 849C#minWerckmeister 4Werckmeister 4CminCminWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
5BWV 850DmajSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauRameau en doMartha GoldsteinMartha Goldstein
6BWV 851DminSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauMartha GoldsteinMartha Goldstein
7BWV 852E♭majRameau en sibRameau en sibRameau en sibD’Alambert-RousseauWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
8BWV 853E♭min/D#minEbminMarpurgEbminDminWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
9BWV 854EmajSauveurWerckmeister 4EmajD’Alambert-RousseauWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
10BWV 855EminSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
11BWV 856FmajSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
12BWV 857FminZarlino nat­ur­alSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
13BWV 858F#majMarpurgF#majD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
14BWV 859F#minSauveurSauveurFminD’Alambert-RousseauWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
15BWV 860GmajSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
16BWV 861GminSauveurSauveurRameau en sibRameau en sibWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
17BWV 862A♭majAbmajZarlino nat­ur­alD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
18BWV 863G#minGminAbminGminDminWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
19BWV 864AmajSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
20BWV 865AminSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
21BWV 866B♭majSauveurSauveurRameau en sibMarpurgMartha GoldsteinWanda Landowska
22BWV 867B♭minSauveurMarpurgAminAminWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
23BWV 868BmajBmajMarpurgD’Alambert-RousseauEbmajWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
24BWV 869BminSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauWanda LandowskaWanda Landowska
➡ Click a scale or a per­former’s name to lis­ten to the recording

Book II sound examples

Ottavio Dantone’s record­ings are bor­rowed from Youtube.

As explained above, D’Alambert-Rousseau tem­pera­ment rat­ed equiv­a­lent to H.A. Kellner’s BACH.

(favourite: Sauveur)
(favourite: D’Alembert-Rousseau)
1BWV 870CmajSauveurSauveurMarpurgD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
2BWV 871CminRameau en sibSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
3BWV 872C#majMarpurgDbmajD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
4BWV 873C#minSauveurWerckmeister 4D’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
5BWV 874DmajSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
6BWV 875DminSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
7BWV 876E♭majRameau en sibRameau en sibRameau en sibRameau en sibOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
8BWV 877D#minMarpurgMarpurgD’Alambert-RousseauDminOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
9BWV 878EmajSauveurWerckmeister 4Werckmeister 4Werckmeister 4Ottavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
10BWV 879EminSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
11BWV 880FmajSauveurSauveurMarpurgD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
12BWV 881FminZarlino nat­ur­alZarlino nat­ur­alD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
13BWV 882F#majF#majBmajD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
14BWV 883F#minSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
15BWV 884GmajSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
16BWV 885GminSauveurSauveurRameau en sibD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
17BWV 886A♭majZarlino nat­ur­alAbmajD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
18BWV 887G#minAbminAbminD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
19BWV 888AmajSauveurSauveurRameau en doD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
20BWV 889AminSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
21BWV 890B♭majSauveurSauveurMarpurgMarpurgOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
22BWV 891B♭minBbminMarpurgAminAminOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
23BWV 892BmajBmajBmajD’Alambert-RousseauD’Alambert-RousseauOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
24BWV 893BminSauveurSauveurD’Alambert-RousseauBbminOttavio DantoneOttavio Dantone
➡ Click a scale or a per­former’s name to lis­ten to the recording

More examples?

Interestingly, sim­i­lar clas­si­fi­ca­tions of tun­ing sys­tems apply to anoth­er famous cor­pus by J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations (1741). Read page Bach well-tempered tonal analy­sis.

Listen to the syn­the­sis of Goldberg Variations with Sauveur’s mean­tone tem­pera­ment.
Listen to the syn­the­sis of Goldberg Variations with D’Alembert-Rousseau tem­pera­ment.
Listen to the Aria on a harp­si­chord tuned with Werckmeister III mean­tone temperament.

At the same epoch (1730), French musi­cian François Couperin com­posed Les Ombres Errantes for which our tonal analy­sis sug­gests a Rameau en sib temperament:

François Couperin’s “Les Ombres Errantes” inter­pret­ed by the Bol Processor + Csound
with a “Rameau en sib” tem­pera­ment ➡ Image
Source: MusicXML score by Vinckenbosch in the MuseScore com­mu­ni­ty

Conclusive remarks

The title of this cor­pus, The Well-tempered Clavier, sug­gests that its com­pos­er intend­ed to demon­strate the ade­qua­cy of temperament(s) for the per­for­mance of musi­cal works in every tonal­i­ty. As ear­li­er sug­gest­ed, this does not imply that all of them should match the same unique solu­tion, although one is tempt­ed to believe that the same instru­ment and the same tun­ing scheme have been used for the whole set. This has led to spec­u­la­tions by J.S. Bach’s dis­ci­ples who had not been instruct­ed how to pro­ceed. Part of the rep­u­ta­tion of great artists, in those days, relied on things kept secret…

It would not make sense in “real life” (human musi­cians and phys­i­cal instru­ments) to play a pre­lude on a cer­tain tun­ing and retune the instru­ment just to play the fugue… Therefore, these sound exam­ples do not aim at mim­ic­k­ing a real per­for­mance. They may only help eval­u­at­ing the tune­ful­ness of a pre­sum­ably favourite tun­ing scheme for each musi­cal work.

A “deaf musi­col­o­gist’s” way of appre­ci­at­ing tonal­i­ty lies on mea­sur­ing melod­ic and har­mon­ic inter­vals in terms of fre­quen­cy ratios. Results depend on val­ues (weights) assigned a pri­ori to cer­tain ratios. We have shown that equal­ly mean­ing­ful sets of hypothe­ses lead to utter­ly dif­fer­ent find­ings which only trained ears might dif­fer­en­ti­ate. Piling up hypothe­ses may not clar­i­fy the sit­u­a­tion: an appar­ent “pref­er­ence” for a tun­ing scheme might be the out­come of a numer­ic arte­fact rather than a proof of its validity.

Carefully lis­ten­ing to the set of record­ings — and ignor­ing inel­e­gant ren­der­ings of fast trills in the low­er octave — high­lights a musi­cal dimen­sion that may not be reduced to “inter­vals”. Each piece is like a pre­cious stone dis­play­ing an amaz­ing reg­u­lar­i­ty in its struc­ture. The lis­ten­er is dri­ven by the artist to explor­ing all sides of the crys­tal and appre­ci­ate its puri­ty: a “tonal land­scape”. In this approach, the slight­est defect — maybe a few cents up/down — is ampli­fied by the struc­ture. In short, the most rel­e­vant fea­ture may be less the choice of a struc­ture than its con­sis­ten­cy for the ren­der­ing of each musi­cal phrase.

If J.S. Bach had a spe­cif­ic unique musi­cal tem­pera­ment in mind when com­pos­ing The Well-tempered Clavier, this might not even be one rat­ing high­est in terms of inter­vals. This ques­tion remains open (to art his­to­ri­ans and music experts). The only point made clear by sound exam­ples is that play­ing this reper­toire on improp­er­ly tuned instru­ments amounts — in terms of con­so­nance — to expos­ing plas­tic imi­ta­tions of diamonds!

Musicians inter­est­ed in con­tin­u­ing this research and relat­ed devel­op­ment may use Bol Processor BP3’s beta ver­sion to process musi­cal works and imple­ment more tun­ing pro­ce­dures. Follow instruc­tions on page Bol Processor ‘BP3’ and its PHP inter­face to install BP3 and learn its basic oper­a­tion. Download and install Csound from its dis­tri­b­u­tion page.

Bernard Bel — January 2022

Please join the BP users help forum , BP open dis­cus­sion forum and/or the BP devel­op­ers list to stay in touch with work progress and dis­cus­sions of relat­ed the­o­ret­i­cal issues.

Bach well-tempered tonal analysis

Harpsichord jacks in a com­plet­ed harp­si­chord
Source: Material Matters

The fol­low­ing is a “com­pu­ta­tion­al” tonal analy­sis of musi­cal works by J.S. Bach known as The Well-tempered Clavier, books II and II, pub­lished cir­ca 1722 and 1742 respec­tive­ly, and Goldberg Variations (1741).

All musi­cal scores have been con­vert­ed from MusicXML to Bol Processor syn­tax — read Importing MusicXML scores. This tonal analy­sis is pro­duced by Bol Processor’s tonal batch-processing tool.

The aim of this exer­cise was to match each musi­cal work against a set of tun­ing schemes described and imple­ment­ed on the Bol Processor. These com­prise all tem­pera­ments doc­u­ment­ed by Pierre-Yves Asselin ([1985], 2000) and “nat­ur­al” scales con­struct­ed sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly — read Creation of just-intonation scales.

It was assumed that the best match for a scale points at the tun­ing scheme fit for the inter­pre­ta­tion of a musi­cal work. This assump­tion is based on the hypothe­ses that (1) musi­cians and com­posers of the Baroque peri­od aimed at achiev­ing opti­mum “con­so­nance”, and that (2) this notion implied a pref­er­ence for cer­tain inter­vals expressed as inte­ger ratios. These state­ments are dis­cussed on this page. Accurately tuned sound exam­ples are pro­posed for an audi­tive assess­ment of results.

The inter­est of this tonal analy­sis goes beyond the com­pre­hen­sion of music the­o­ry and prac­tice. Its epis­te­mo­log­i­cal dimen­sion is the trust­wor­thi­ness of math­e­mat­i­cal “pre­dic­tive mod­els” in vogue today. We show that, giv­en a set of hypothe­ses, the solu­tion of an opti­mi­sa­tion prob­lem — find­ing the best tun­ing scheme for all musi­cal works in a reper­toire — is not unique as it depends on ini­tial con­di­tions. Further, the same ini­tial con­di­tions may pro­duce a cloud of seem­ing­ly iden­ti­cal solu­tions, even though each of them points at utter­ly dif­fer­ent pro­ce­dures for its real­i­sa­tion in the “real world” — here, tun­ing a harpsichord.

The give­away mes­sage is that sci­en­tists should not be impressed by the accu­ra­cy and appar­ent con­sis­ten­cy of solu­tions pro­duced by machines. They need to crit­i­cal­ly exam­ine ini­tial con­di­tions and the com­pu­ta­tion­al process itself.

In the end, lis­ten­ing to the audio ren­der­ing of results is the only accept­able way to (in)validate a com­po­si­tion­al model.

“Standard” analysis

The Well-tempered Clavier com­pris­es two books, each enlist­ing 24 pre­ludes and 24 fugues in all con­ven­tion­al key sig­na­tures. In sum, this analy­sis cov­ered 96 musi­cal works (pre­sum­ably) com­posed by the same com­pos­er in (pre­sum­ably) sim­i­lar conditions.

Our first analy­sis relies on the fol­low­ing set­tings of inter­vals esti­mat­ed con­so­nant or dis­so­nant:

Settings for “stan­dard” analysis

The analy­sis of ascend­ing and descend­ing melod­ic inter­vals checks for com­mon fre­quen­cy ratios close to 3/2 (Pythagorean fifths) and 5/4 (har­mon­ic major thirds) which are wide­ly esti­mat­ed “con­so­nant”. It also includes ratios 6/5 (har­mon­ic minor thirds) and 9/8 (Pythagorean major sec­onds) which may be con­sid­ered opti­mal. Other ratios are often rat­ed “dis­so­nant”: 40/27 (wolf fifth), 320/243 (wolf fourth) and 81/64 (Pythagorean major third). These dis­so­nant inter­vals are 1 com­ma (ratio 81/80) high­er or low­er than their “con­so­nant” neigh­bours — read page Just into­na­tion: a gen­er­al frame­work.

Consonant inter­vals have been assigned pos­i­tive weights, for instance ‘1’ for a har­mon­ic major third and ‘2′ for a Pythagorean fifth. Dissonant inter­vals are assigned neg­a­tive weights, for instance ‘-2′ for wolf inter­vals and ‘-1’ for Pythagorean major thirds. These weights can be mod­i­fied; indeed, the mod­i­fi­ca­tion will in turn alter the rat­ings of tun­ing schemes.

Each melod­ic inter­val found in the musi­cal work will be sized as per the same inter­val in the tonal scale assessed for com­pat­i­bil­i­ty. For instance, when try­ing to match the D’Alambert-Rousseau tun­ing scheme (see image), a note sequence ‘C’ - ‘Eb’ will be sized 290 cents, which is close to 294 cents or ratio 32/27 (Pythagorean minor third). Should this ratio appear in the set­tings, the score of the scale will be incre­ment­ed by the weight of the ratio mul­ti­plied by the (sym­bol­ic) dura­tion of the inter­val — read Tonal analy­sis of musi­cal works for details of this procedure.

The same method is applied to har­mon­ic inter­vals, here assigned the same weights as melod­ic inter­vals, except ratio 9/8 which is ignored.

Scores for ascend­ing and descend­ing melod­ic inter­vals are then added with the score for har­mon­ic inter­vals, with respec­tive weights 1, 1, and 2. This weigh­ing can also be mod­i­fied if “con­so­nance” is more expect­ed on melod­ic ver­sus har­mon­ic inter­vals, or if ascend­ing and descend­ing melod­ic inter­vals are not esti­mat­ed of equal importance.

Every tonal scale is grat­i­fied with a mark when found the best match for a musi­cal item. Counting these marks over the whole reper­toire indi­cates the best tun­ing scheme(s) for this repertoire.

Results are stored in tables that can be down­loaded in both HTML and CSV for­mats. The ini­tial set­tings are remind­ed at the bot­tom of the “all results” HTML page.

Each cell in the “all results” table indi­cates the rank of a giv­en tun­ing scheme (scale) matched against a giv­en musi­cal work. For instance, in the fugues of book I, Corette’s tem­pera­ment (col­umn cor­rette) ranked 6th for the 5th fugue, and the best match for this piece was Sauveur’s tem­pera­ment (col­umn sauveur).

The line labelled Ranked first (times) dis­plays the num­ber of times each tun­ing scheme ranked first in the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of this cor­pus. The line labelled Average score dis­plays the aver­age glob­al (melod­ic + har­mon­ic) score com­put­ed for this tun­ing scheme, as explained on our page Tonal analy­sis.

Abstract tables dis­play the list of tun­ing schemes rank­ing first for each musi­cal work.

The com­plete set of scale images is avail­able on this page.

Discussion of the standard analysis

The scale of Sauveur’s temperament

Out of these 96 musi­cal works, 56 opt­ed for ‘sauveur’ as their favourite tun­ing scheme, plus 9 as next to favourite. This tem­pera­ment strik­ing­ly dom­i­nates the clas­si­fi­ca­tion because of its pro­fi­cien­cy in almost per­fect Pythagorean fifths (ratio 3/2), har­mon­ic major thirds (ratio 5/4) and har­mon­ic minor thirds (ratio 6/5).

Note that it also con­tains a wolf fourth ‘Eb’ - ‘G#’ close to 477 cents (or ratio 320/243) per­ceived as a dis­so­nant inter­val. The guess is that these two notes are nev­er (or rarely) found in melod­ic or har­mon­ic inter­vals on this reper­toire. This illus­trates the fact that there no one-fits-all solu­tion to the prob­lem of tun­ing an instru­ment for this type of music. In a “reverse engi­neer­ing” turn of mind, we may say that the com­pos­er explored melod­ic and har­mon­ic pleas­ant effects to build this reper­toire: play­ing on the instru­ment before notat­ing on sheets of musi­cal scores.

As sug­gest­ed in our tuto­r­i­al, there is no evi­dence of J.S. Bach’s aware­ness of the the­o­ret­i­cal work by French physi­cian Joseph Sauveur, but the the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work of this tem­pera­ment — a sin­gle sequence of fifths dimin­ished by 1/5 com­ma (see image and read Asselin, 2000 p. 80) — sug­gests that any com­pos­er might fig­ure it out inde­pen­dent­ly. This process has been record­ed as fol­lows on Bol Processor’s Scale page:

Created meantone downward notes “do,fa,sib,mib” fraction 3/2 adjusted -1/5 comma
Created meantone upward notes “do,sol,re,la,mi,si,fa#,do#,sol#” fraction 3/2 adjusted -1/5 comma

Interestingly, “nat­ur­al scales” with names equat­ing the key — for instance Abmin (i.e. G#min) for the Fugue 18 in G♯ minor, book II (BWV 887) — often came on top of the favourite tun­ing schemes, yet in most cas­es out­raced by sev­er­al tem­pera­ments. Read our page Creation of just-intonation scales for more details on these scales.

In all cas­es, the scor­ing of equal-temperament (see image) was among the low­est due to its use of major and minor thirds close to Pythagorean. This con­tra­dicts the pop­u­lar belief that Bach’s series of pre­ludes and fugues aimed at equat­ing “well-tempered” with “equal-tempered”…

This first result also sug­gests that tem­pera­ments often pro­vide a bet­ter tonal struc­ture for achiev­ing max­i­mum con­so­nance than the so-called just into­na­tion scales.

Temperaments are based on empir­i­cal tun­ing pro­ce­dures guid­ed by per­ceived inter­vals (read Asselin, 2000) where­as “just into­na­tion” is the out­come of spec­u­la­tions on num­ber ratios — a deduc­tive process. This takes us back to a dis­cus­sion of the ancient Indian approach of tonal­i­ty, read page The two-vina exper­i­ment.

“Alternate” analysis

At this stage, it is tempt­ing to con­clude that J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier was meant to be per­formed on instru­ments tuned as per Sauveur’s tem­pera­ment. However, the result of an analy­sis always need to be exam­ined for bias­es in its hypothe­ses. In the present case, we need to revise the choice of cer­tain fre­quen­cy ratios as cri­te­ria for eval­u­at­ing the “con­so­nance” of melod­ic and har­mon­ic intervals.

The minor third — either har­mon­ic (6/5) or Pythagorean (32/27) — is at stake because the Pythagorean minor third appears in some tem­pera­ments. For instance, the Cmaj nat­ur­al scale (see image) uses 32/27 for its inter­val ‘C’ - ‘Eb’. Therefore, it makes sense to ignore all minor thirds in the eval­u­a­tion of har­mon­ic inter­vals and accept both ratios 6/5 and 32/27 with equal pos­i­tive weights in melod­ic inter­vals. This option will be illus­trat­ed by sound exam­ples, read fur­ther. A mean­ing­ful vari­ant would be dif­fer­ent ratios in ascend­ing and descend­ing har­mon­ic intervals.

Same remark regard­ing major thirds: even though ratio 5/4 (har­mon­ic) sounds cer­tain­ly bet­ter than 81/64 (Pythagorean) in har­mon­ic inter­vals, there is no strong rea­son to pre­fer the for­mer in melod­ic inter­vals — again with a pos­si­ble dis­tinc­tion between ascend­ing and descend­ing movements.

Let us start again the entire analy­sis with these mod­i­fied settings:

Settings for “alter­nate” analysis

Results are the following:

Discussion of the alternate analysis

Results con­tra­dict the con­clu­sion of the “stan­dard” analy­sis: Sauveur’s tem­pera­ment might not be such a good choice, giv­en the alter­nate choice of ratios for consonant/dissonant melod­ic and har­mon­ic intervals.

According to these set­tings, the best tun­ing schemes might be D’Alambert-Rousseau tem­pera­ment (see image and read Asselin, 2000 p. 119) and H.A. Kellner’s BACH tem­pera­ment (see image and read Asselin, 2000 p. 101). Both have been designed after J.S. Bach’s death, but sim­i­lar or iden­ti­cal tun­ing pro­ce­dures could be fig­ured out by the composer.

Comparing the images and cent posi­tions (equal with­in ± 7 cents) explains why these two tem­pera­ments pro­duced iden­ti­cal match­es despite their utter­ly dif­fer­ent tun­ing pro­ce­dures. Look at the pro­ce­dures (traced by the algo­rithm) and lis­ten to short note sequences pro­duced with these scales:

D'Alembert-Rousseau temperament
Created meantone upward notes “do,sol,re,la,mi” fraction 3/2 adjusted -1/4 comma
Created meantone downward notes “do,fa,sib,mib,sol#” fraction 3/2 adjusted 1/12 comma
Equalized intervals over series “sol#,do#,fa#,si,mi” approx fraction 2/3 adjusted 2.2 cents to ratio = 0.668

Sequence of notes accord­ing to D’Alembert-Rousseau temperament

Kellner's BACH temperament
Created meantone upward notes “do,sol,re,la,mi” fraction 3/2 adjusted -1/5 comma
Added fifths down: “do,fa,sib,mib,lab,reb,solb” starting fraction 1/1
Created meantone upward notes “mi,si” fraction 3/2

Sequence of notes accord­ing to Kellner’s BACH temperament

As a reminder, the same sequence of notes with an equal-tempered scale:

Sequence of notes accord­ing to equal temperament
D’Alembert-Rousseau tun­ing scheme (Asselin, 2000 p. 119)

These tun­ing pro­ce­dures do not repro­duce pre­cise­ly the ones described by Asselin (2000 p. 120 and 102) but they yield the same tonal positions.

In these tem­pera­ments, inter­vals such as ‘C’ - ‘Eb’ are ren­dered as Pythagorean minor thirds (32/27), and many Pythagorean major thirds (ratio 81/64) are encoun­tered. This jus­ti­fies their choice, giv­en the new con­di­tions of analysis.

Again, these tem­pera­ments dom­i­nate the clas­si­fi­ca­tion, rank­ing 65 times in first posi­tion and 15 times in sec­ond posi­tion, where­as equal-temperament ranked first only 21 times despite its pro­fi­cien­cy in Pythagorean major thirds. Compared with Sauveur’s tem­pera­ment in the stan­dard analy­sis (56 first posi­tions and 9 sec­ond posi­tions) these tun­ing schemes look “bet­ter”, yet this com­par­i­son is irrel­e­vant since the two analy­ses focussed on dif­fer­ent ratios.

The 33 pre­ludes and fugues uncom­pli­ant with these tem­pera­ments often pre­ferred a just-intonation scale in the same key, for instance Prelude 8 in E♭ minor of book I (BWV 853) selects the Ebmin scale, and Prelude 9 in E major of book I (BWV 854) selects the Emaj scale. However, this match­ing is less fre­quent in “dis­si­dent” fugues.

More advanced analy­ses are required. Keep in mind that chang­ing the weights of inter­vals or weights in the sum­ming of melod­ic and har­mon­ic scores may rad­i­cal­ly mod­i­fy the classification.

In this dis­cus­sion, we only exam­ined tun­ing schemes at the top of the clas­si­fi­ca­tion. Other schemes may be prefer­able when look­ing sep­a­rate­ly at melod­ic or har­mon­ic scores — read our tuto­r­i­al Tonal analy­sis.

Sound examples

The auto­mat­ic tonal analy­sis of a large reper­toire matched against the whole set of tun­ing schemes imple­ment­ed in the Bol Processor did not solve the prob­lem of find­ing “the best tun­ing scheme” for this reper­toire, as it depends on ini­tial con­di­tions: fre­quen­cy ratios esti­mat­ed “con­so­nant” or “dis­so­nant”, plus the com­poser’s pre­sumed focus on opti­mal con­so­nance. Nonetheless, two analy­ses select­ed 2 (or 3) tun­ing schemes as dom­i­nant in the clas­si­fi­ca­tion. More analy­ses would be required to refine this result, if of any significance.

All sound exam­ples are found, com­pared with human inter­pre­ta­tions play­ing (not so well-tempered ?) phys­i­cal instru­ments, on page The Well-tempered clavier.

These sound exam­ples are use­ful to hear the dif­fer­ence between tun­ing schemes select­ed on the basis of the “stan­dard” and “alter­nate” set­tings. For exam­ple, Fugue 8 of book I may sound more tune­ful with a Dmin tun­ing (see image) than with Marpurg (see image). The dif­fer­ence might reside in the choice of con­ve­nient ratios for minor thirds.

Is this method reliable?

As sug­gest­ed by results dis­played in the 4 tables for each book (see above), a few pre­ludes and fugues ranked sev­er­al tun­ing schemes as their favourite ones: num­ber ‘1′ coloured red in “all results” tables. Despite this, we pro­duced record­ings for only one of the win­ners. How far does this matter?

Take for exam­ple Prelude 12 of book I. In “alter­nate” set­tings, five scales ranked first: Emin, Cmaj, BACH, d_alembert_rousseau, bethisy. We already showed that BACH and d_alembert_rousseau are almost iden­ti­cal despite dif­fer­ences in their tun­ing pro­ce­dures. Emin and Cmaj are strict­ly iden­ti­cal. This leaves us with the fol­low­ing choice:

Three scales rank­ing 1st for Prelude 12 of book 1 as per “alter­nate” settings

Tonal posi­tions only dif­fer by a few cents, which may not be noticed in melod­ic and har­mon­ic inter­vals. Below are record­ings using these three scales:

Prelude 12 of book I, Emin tun­ing scheme
Prelude 12 of book I, Bethisy temperament
Prelude 12 of book I, Kellner’s BACH temperament

This exam­ple sug­gests that dif­fer­ences in scales rank­ing first may be inaudi­ble if the widths of accept­able melod­ic and har­mon­ic inter­vals have been set small enough to pro­vide a well-focussed solu­tion set. 

Listen to minor thirds

Appreciating by ear the sizes of com­mon minor thirds may clar­i­fy the point of decid­ing which one is more “con­so­nant”. Lucky users of Bol Processor BP3 only need to cre­ate the fol­low­ing data file:


// Harmonic minor third
_scale(2_cycles_of_fifths,0) DO3 RE#3 DO3 RE#3 DO3 RE#3 {4,DO3,RE#3}

//Pythagorean minor third
_scale(2_cycles_of_fifths,0) DO3 MIb=RE#-c3 DO3 MIb=RE#-c3 DO3 MIb=RE#-c3 {4,DO3,MIb=RE#-c3}

// Sequence harmonic then pythagorean
_scale(2_cycles_of_fifths,0) DO3 RE#3 DO3 MIb=RE#-c3 DO3 RE#3 DO3 MIb=RE#-c3 -{2,DO3,RE#3} {2,DO3,MIb=RE#-c3} {2,DO3,RE#3} {2,DO3,MIb=RE#-c3} {2,DO3,RE#3} {2,DO3,MIb=RE#-c3}

These items pro­duce sequences of ‘C’ - ‘D#’ melod­ic and har­mon­ic inter­vals using har­mon­ic (6/5) and Pythagorean (32/27) minor thirds:

Harmonic minor thirds in sequence then superposed
Pythagorean minor thirds in sequence then superposed
Alternance of har­mon­ic then Pythagorean minor thirds

Listening to these exam­ples sug­gests that both 6/5 and 32/27 are eli­gi­ble ratios for minor thirds as “con­so­nant” melod­ic inter­vals, where­as 6/5 sounds “soft­er” than 32/27 as a har­mon­ic interval.

The “2_cycles_of_fifths” scale

This demo makes use of scale “2_cycles_of_fifths” described by Asselin (2000, p. 62) and imple­ment­ed on a Scale page of Bol Processor — read pages Microtonality and Just into­na­tion: a gen­er­al frame­work.

The names of notes (inspired by the book, ibid.) sound bizarre but they make posi­tions explic­it. For instance, “Mib=RE#-c” indi­cates a posi­tion that is usu­al­ly called mi bémol (E flat) and iden­ti­cal to ré dièse (D sharp) minus one comma.

This scale — and the even more com­pli­cat­ed “3_cycles_of_fifths” — is not prac­ti­cal to write music… It is used to visu­alise (and hear) tonal posi­tions cre­at­ed by var­i­ous tun­ing schemes com­pli­ant with the just into­na­tion paradigm.

Listen to tempered fifths

Readers unfa­mil­iar with tun­ing pro­ce­dures may need to appre­ci­ate tiny dif­fer­ences in inter­vals pro­duced by tem­pera­ments cre­at­ed with the meth­ods intro­duced on page Microtonality and ful­ly described in Asselin (2000).

Let us lis­ten to Pythagorean fifths in three forms: pure (fre­quen­cy ratio 3/2 = 702 cents), equal-tempered (700 cents), dimin­ished by 1/5 com­ma (697.3 cents) and dimin­ished by 1/4 com­ma (696.2 cents).

Pure fifth (702 cents)
Equal-tempered fifth (700 cents)
Fifth dimin­ished by 1/5 com­ma (697.3 cents)
Fifth dimin­ished by 1/4 com­ma (696.2 cents)
Sequence of fifths: pure, then equal-tempered, then dimin­ished by 1/5 com­ma, then dimin­ished by 1/4 comma

Below is the Csound score of the last example:

i1 0.000 4.000 261.630 90.000 90.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 ; do4
i1 0.000 4.000 392.445 90.000 90.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 ; sol4
i1 4.000 4.000 261.626 90.000 90.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 ; C4
i1 4.000 4.000 391.996 90.000 90.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 ; G4
i1 8.000 4.000 261.630 90.000 90.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 ; do4
i1 8.000 4.000 391.399 90.000 90.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 ; sol-1|5c4
i1 12.000 4.000 261.630 90.000 90.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 ; do4
i1 12.000 4.000 391.137 90.000 90.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 ; sol-1|4c4

Goldberg Variations

The same exer­cise has been tried on J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations (1741). The aria and its thir­ty vari­a­tions were per­formed in a sin­gle sequence, obvi­ous­ly with the same instrument/tuning. For this rea­son, we checked a unique MusicXML score con­tain­ing all variations.

With the “stan­dard” hypoth­e­sis of con­so­nance, the result is the following:

(As expect­ed) Sauveur’s mean­tone tem­pera­ment won the game, fol­lowed with Kellner’s BACH. The equal-tempered scale ranked 28th on this clas­si­fi­ca­tion… (Note that the com­pu­ta­tion of this table took 3 1/2 hours on an old MacBook Pro…).

Listen to the syn­the­sis of Goldberg Variations with Sauveur’s mean­tone temperament.

The “alter­nate” mod­el of con­so­nance yields the fol­low­ing classification:

Favourite tun­ing schemes, accord­ing to this mod­el, would be D’Alembert-Rousseau (see image) and Kellner’s BACH (see image) mean­tone tem­pera­ments, both with equal rat­ings since their tonal inter­vals are almost identical.

Listen to the syn­the­sis of Goldberg Variations with D’Alembert-Rousseau temperament.

Source: Wikipedia

These favourite tun­ings are the same ones best fit to the set of pre­ludes and fugues in The Well-tempered Clavier.

These sound exam­ples may be com­pared with human per­for­mances, for exam­ple the Aria on a harp­si­chord tuned with Werckmeister III mean­tone tem­pera­ment — lis­ten to this record­ing. Indeed, musi­cians dis­play a more flex­i­ble tim­ing com­pared with Bol Processor stick­ing to para­me­ters of the MusicXML score. Nonetheless, a com­par­i­son focussing on tonal inter­vals remains possible.

The fact that Werckmeister III (see image) ranked low in the auto­mat­ic tonal analy­sis does not sug­gest an improp­er choice. This tun­ing scheme might rank high­er against a spe­cif­ic mod­el of “con­so­nance”.

Let us fig­ure out with cal­cu­la­tions its main dif­fer­ence with D’Alembert-Rousseau and Kellner’s BACH. We may restrict the analy­sis to mea­sures #1 to #32 (the Aria) expos­ing most melodic/harmonic inter­vals; this Aria works sim­i­lar to the ini­tial sec­tion (ālāp) in North Indian clas­si­cal music… We notice that nei­ther D - F# (397 cents) nor G - B (398 cents) in Werckmeister III are accu­rate har­mon­ic major thirds (390 cents), inter­vals with high occur­rence as shown on the table of inter­val frequencies:

Interval fre­quen­cies in the Aria of Goldberg Variations

The fol­low­ing is a com­par­i­son of scales Werckmeister III and D’Alembert-Rousseau in terms of match­ing melod­ic inter­vals (in the “alter­nate” mod­el of con­so­nance) over the 32 first mea­sures of Goldberg Variations:

Matching two scales with the melod­ic inter­vals of the Aria in Goldberg Variations:
Werckmeister III (left) and D’Alembert-Rousseau (right)

The widths of yel­low lines are pro­por­tion­al to the occurrence/durations of melod­ic inter­vals in this part of the cor­pus. The pic­ture con­firms the absence of an accu­rate har­mon­ic major third D - F# in the Werckmeister III scale, and the same mis­match of major third G - B. Another mis­match is on minor third E - G, here aim­ing at ratio 6/5 (315 cents) or 32/27 (294 cents).

Sources of MusicXML scores

Links point at MusicXML scores used for this analy­sis. These links must be men­tioned in the attri­bu­tion part of Creative Commons licences. Upgraded ver­sions are welcome.

Our thanks to edi­tors of these scores in the MuseScore community!

The (pub­lic domain) score of Goldberg Variations has been edit­ed by MuseScore lead devel­op­er Werner Schweer.

Book I sources

1BWV 846CmajPreludeFugue
2BWV 847CminPreludeFugue
3BWV 848C#majPreludeFugue
4BWV 849C#minPreludeFugue
5BWV 850DmajPreludeFugue
6BWV 851DminPreludeFugue
7BWV 852E♭majPreludeFugue
8BWV 853E♭min/D#minPreludeFugue
9BWV 854EmajPreludeFugue
10BWV 855EminPreludeFugue
11BWV 856FmajPreludeFugue
12BWV 857FminPreludeFugue
13BWV 858F#majPreludeFugue
14BWV 859F#minPreludeFugue
15BWV 860GmajPreludeFugue
16BWV 861GminPreludeFugue
17BWV 862A♭majPreludeFugue
18BWV 863G#minPreludeFugue
19BWV 864AmajPreludeFugue
20BWV 865AminPreludeFugue
21BWV 866B♭majPreludeFugue
22BWV 867B♭minPreludeFugue
23BWV 868BmajPreludeFugue
24BWV 869BminPreludeFugue

Book II sources

1BWV 870CmajPreludeFugue
2BWV 871CminPreludeFugue
3BWV 872C#majPreludeFugue
4BWV 873C#minPreludeFugue
5BWV 874DmajPreludeFugue
6BWV 875DminPreludeFugue
7BWV 876E♭majPreludeFugue
8BWV 877D#minPreludeFugue
9BWV 878EmajPreludeFugue
10BWV 879EminPreludeFugue
11BWV 880FmajPreludeFugue
12BWV 881FminPreludeFugue
13BWV 882F#majPreludeFugue
14BWV 883F#minPreludeFugue
15BWV 884GmajPreludeFugue
16BWV 885GminPreludeFugue
17BWV 886A♭majPreludeFugue
18BWV 887G#minPreludeFugue
19BWV 888AmajPreludeFugue
20BWV 889AminPreludeFugue
21BWV 890B♭majPreludeFugue
22BWV 891B♭minPreludeFugue
23BWV 892BmajPreludeFugue
24BWV 893BminPreludeFugue


Asselin, P.-Y. Musique et tem­péra­ment. Paris, 1985, repub­lished in 2000: Jobert. Soon avail­able in English.

Tonal analysis of musical works

Musical works encod­ed on the Bol Processor (using “sim­ple notes” as per English, Italian/Spanish/French and Indian con­ven­tions) can be analysed in terms of har­mon­ic or melod­ic intervals.

Musical aspects are dis­cussed after a descrip­tion of the process. 

In the final sec­tion, we present a single-click method for eval­u­at­ing the ade­qua­cy of all doc­u­ment­ed tun­ing sys­tems to a giv­en musi­cal work. A demo of this analy­sis is on page Bach well-tempered tonal analy­sis.

Basic process

This com­pu­ta­tion is launched by but­ton ANALYZE INTERVALS at the bot­tom of the ‘Data’ window:

The machine found a ‘-cs.tryTunigs’ dec­la­ra­tion on top of the data con­tent, indi­cat­ing that it should pick up def­i­n­i­tions of tonal scales con­tained in that Csound resource. These def­i­n­i­tions are only acces­si­ble if ‘-cs.tryTunigs’ has been opened less than 24 hours ago: these files are stored in the ‘temp_bolprocessor’ fold­er auto­mat­i­cal­ly cleaned up of old stor­age. Click the ‘open’ link if necessary.

The ana­lyt­i­cal process will be demon­strat­ed with a sin­gle phrase of François Couperin’s Les Ombres Errantes import­ed from a MusicXML score — read page Importing MusicXML scores. This exam­ple is small enough for a visu­al check of the tech­ni­cal process, although too short to derive any mean­ing­ful musi­cal inter­pre­ta­tion of the result.

The musi­cal item reads as fol­lows in Bol Processor nota­tion (English con­ven­tion) — read page Polymetric struc­tures.


_rndtime(20) {_tempo(13/15) _vel(64){3, _legato(20) C5 _legato(0) {1/4,C5 B4 C5}{3/4,B4} _legato(20) Eb5,{1/2,Eb4}{5/2,G4 D4 F4 C4 Eb4},Eb4 D4 C4}} {_tempo(13/15) _vel(64){4, _legato(0) {1/4,Eb5 D5 Eb5}{3/4,D5} _legato(20) C5 _legato(0) {1/4,C5 B4 C5}{3/4,B4}{1/8,C5 B4}{7/8,C5},{4,B3 F4 Eb4 G4 D4 F4 C4 Eb4},B3 Eb4 D4 C4}}

Beginning of “Les Ombres Errantes”
Scale “Rameau en sib”

Sound pro­duc­tion made use of the Csound resource file ‘-cs.tryTunings’ in which the tonal scale ‘rameau_en_sib’ is found — read page Comparing tem­pera­ments. This scale pre­sum­ably pro­vides the best tun­ing for this piece when per­formed on a “harpsichord-like” Csound instrument.

The machine picked up a def­i­n­i­tion of the tonal scale in a tem­po­rary copy of ‘-cs.tryTunings’. The sig­nif­i­cant con­tent of this def­i­n­i­tion is the set of tonal posi­tions in the scale shown on the pic­ture — read page Microtonality.

Clicking the ANALYZE INTERVALS but­ton yields the fol­low­ing display:

Analysis of melod­ic and har­mon­ic inter­vals in a brief frag­ment of “Les Ombres errantes”

The table above con­tains a sum­ma­ry of match­ing inter­vals: pairs of notes played in sequence (melod­ic) or super­posed (har­mon­ic), with a dis­tinc­tion between ascend­ing and descend­ing melod­ic inter­vals. These match­ings may be ver­i­fied on the graph­ic dis­play of this item:

Intervals are list­ed in decreas­ing order of rel­e­vance. Thus, melod­ic inter­val ‘C’ down to ‘B’ occured dur­ing 20.3 beats, scored high­est. Ascending melod­ic inter­vals ‘B’ to ‘F’ and ‘D’ to ‘B’ are the least fre­quent ones. Scores below 5% of the max­i­mum one in the col­umn will be ignored in the graph­ic display.

Harmonic (left) and melod­ic (right) intervals

Interestingly, the high­est scores of har­mon­ic inter­vals in this musi­cal phrase are minor thirds such as ‘D’/‘B’ and ‘C’/‘Eb’. The fifth ‘C’/‘G’ is scored only 1.6 beats, which is 18% of the high­est score.

The detec­tion of a “har­mon­ic inter­val” is based on com­par­isons of their start and end dates with options that can be mod­i­fied. Let us call $start1, $end1, $start2 and $end2 the tim­ings of two notes. We assume $start2 >= $start1 owing to a pre­lim­i­nary chrono­log­i­cal sort­ing of the list of notes. Function matching_intervals() does the fol­low­ing to assess har­mon­ic intervals:

$duration1 = $end1 - $start1;
$duration2 = $end2 - $start2;
$overlap = $end1 - $start2;
$smallest_duration = $duration1;
if($duration2 < $duration1) $smallest_duration = $duration2;

if($smallest_duration < $min_dur) return FALSE;
if($start1 + ($duration1 / 2.) < $start2) return FALSE;
if($overlap < ((1 - $ratio) * $smallest_duration)) return FALSE;
return TRUE;

This func­tion elim­i­nates brief over­laps of time inter­vals, as cre­at­ed for instance by slurs inter­pret­ed as _legato() per­for­mance con­trols when import­ing MusicXML scores — read details. It also elim­i­nates notes with dura­tions less than $min_dur option­aly set to 500 mil­lisec­onds. Thus, for instance, brief notes such as ‘C5’, ‘B4’, ‘Eb5’ etc. will be dis­card­ed. Finally, it checks that $over­lap is greater than a frac­tion of the small­est dura­tion, with $ratio set to 0.25 by default. Another option which is not shown here is the max­i­mum tonal dis­tance berween two notes, set to 11 semi­tones by default.

The con­di­tions for match­ing melod­ic inter­vals are similar:

if($start2 > ($end1 + $max_gap)) return FALSE;
if($start1 + ($duration1 / 2.) >= $start2) return FALSE;
if($overlap >= ($ratio * $smallest_duration)) return FALSE;
return TRUE;

Parameter $max_gap (typ­i­cal­ly 300 mil­lisec­onds) is the max­i­mum delay between the end of the first note and the begin­ning of the next one.

All para­me­ters can be mod­i­fied before launch­ing again the process. These set­tings will be dis­cussed later:

Default set­tings for tonal analysis


Detailed tonal analysis

To check the sequence of time inter­vals in great detail it is pos­si­ble to acti­vate the “Display all dates” option yield­ing a detailed analysis.

All match­ing inter­vals are list­ed. It is not prac­ti­cal to use this option on large musi­cal items…

Dates are in sec­onds, round­ed to 0.1 s, although more accu­rate val­ues are tak­en into account. In fact, all time cal­cu­la­tions are per­formed on inte­ger ratios, just as in Bol Processor’s console.

The result is always arguable. For instance, some melod­ic or har­mon­ic inter­vals may appear “acci­den­tal” rather than significant.

For this and oth­er rea­sons, it may be nec­es­sary to fig­ure out more options asso­ci­at­ed with musi­cal and per­for­mance styles.

Graphic display

Melodic and har­mon­ic tonal inter­vals are dis­played with the back­ground of the tonal scale used for the per­for­mance. Here it would be ‘rameau_en_sib’, although an equal-tempered scale would be used by default.

Clicking the links to har­mon­ic inter­val images (see above pic­ture) yields the fol­low­ing three graphs — in sep­a­rate and resiz­able windows:

Display of har­mon­ic inter­vals. The ‘rameau_en_sib’ scale is in the middle.

Intervals are shown as gold high­light­ings with widths pro­por­tion­al to their rel­a­tive scores. On the left­most pic­ture, these gold­en seg­ments are drawn behind fifths, major and minor thirds marked on the scale. For this rea­son the yel­low high­light­ing of link between Eb and G, behind the green link of a har­mon­ic major third, is less vis­i­ble on the full picture.

Minor thirds (ratio 6/5) have been added in the set­tings. For this rea­son, the ones avail­able on this scale are dis­played as black seg­ments. These addi­tion­al ratios are list­ed on the top right of each picture.

Restricted analysis

If a MusicXML file has been import­ed along with mea­sure num­bers (notat­ed [—1—], [—2—] etc.), these can be used to restrict the analy­sis to a sub­set of the score.

Below is the set­ting of mea­sures #1 to #32 (the Aria) in J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations:

Restricting the tonal analy­sis to the Aria in Goldberg Variations makes sense because oth­er vari­a­tions, due to their high speed, do not dis­play har­mon­ic inter­vals longer than the min­i­mum dura­tion fixed in the set­tings (500 ms).

Musical discussion

Tonal analy­sis with the help of Bol Processor aims at sup­port­ing the choice of a tun­ing sys­tem best fit­ting a musi­cal piece — a tem­pera­ment as fig­ured out by Baroque musi­cians. This issue is addressed on page Comparing tem­pera­ments.

We first describe a visu­al method for esti­mat­ing (rather than mea­sur­ing) the ade­qua­cy of a tun­ing sys­tem for the per­for­mance of musi­cal works import­ed from MusicXML scores — read the page on this sub­ject. In the next sec­tion, we will show how to com­pare all can­di­date scales in an auto­mat­ic way, tak­ing into account rel­e­vant para­me­ters revealed in this section.

Take for instance J.S. Bach’s Prelude 1 in C major for which some his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion (report­ed by Asselin, 2000 p. 142) sug­gest­ed the choice of a Kirnberger tem­pera­ment. Which one? 

Harmonic tonal inter­vals of Bach’s 1st pre­lude ver­sus Kirnberger II and Kirnberger III tun­ing systems

The full rep­re­sen­ta­tion of har­mon­ic tonal inter­vals is shown above and matched against two dif­fer­ent scales described by Kirnberger (Asselin, 2000 p. 90, 93). The match­ing looks bet­ter on the right one (Kirnberger III). For instance, inter­val ‘D’ - ‘A’ is clos­er to a “pure” fifth (702 cents) on Kirnberger III (697) than on Kirnberger II (691). Another sig­nif­i­cant match­ing is the har­mon­ic major third ‘F’ - ‘A’. Other inter­vals are sim­i­lar with respect to these scales.

A care­ful lis­ten­ing to both ver­sions might con­firm this mechan­i­cal analysis:

Kirnberger II
Kirnberger III

The same crude analy­sis does not yield a notice­able result for François Couperin’s Les Ombres Errantes. Harmonic inter­val analy­sis may be of less rel­e­vance because this item is glob­al­ly more per­ceived as sequences of melod­ic inter­vals, includ­ing minor thirds and major sec­onds. This is vis­i­ble on the graph of melod­ic intervals:

Melodic inter­vals of “Les Ombres Errantes” (full performance)

Matching this graph with the ‘rameau_en_sib’ scale does not reveal inter­est­ing pat­terns for the sim­ple rea­son that nei­ther minor thirds nor major sec­onds have been tak­en into account on this scale in terms of “just into­na­tion” — read page Just into­na­tion: a gen­er­al frame­work. Even though we may assume that a Pythagorean major sec­ond (ratio 9/8) sounds more “con­so­nant” than a har­mon­ic one (ratio 10/9), there is no rea­son for sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly assert­ing that the har­mon­ic minor third (ratio 6/5) is “bet­ter” than the Pythagorean one (ratio 32/27).

The pic­ture on the left side reveals that fre­quent melod­ic inter­vals of major thirds do high­light har­mon­ic major thirds (ratio 5/4) of this scale.

We need to check inter­vals small­er than major thirds on tonal scales. If we instruct the machine to check inter­vals close (with­in ± 10 cents) to the har­mon­ic minor third (ratio 6/5), the pre­ced­ing graphs are dis­played as follows:

Melodic inter­vals of “Les Ombres Errantes” (full per­for­mance) with black mark­ings of “good” minor thirds (6/5) on a ‘rameau_en_sib’ temperament

The pic­ture on the left side reveals that all minor thirds used in this per­for­mance coin­cide with­in ± 10 cents with har­mon­ic minor thirds (ratio 6/5) of the scale, which is an incen­tive to admit that the ‘rameau_en_sib’ scale would be a fair (if not the best) tun­ing option for Les Ombres Errantes.

A counter-example is the match­ing of Les Ombres Errantes with a pure-minor-thirds tem­pera­ment designed dur­ing the 16th cen­tu­ry (Asselin 2000 p. 82, see image). Below are the graphs of match­ing melod­ic (left) and har­mon­ic (right) inter­vals, along with black lines mark­ing har­mon­ic minor thirds (ratio 6/5):

Melodic (left) and har­mon­ic (right) inter­vals of “Les Ombres Errantes” against a pure-minor-thirds temperament
“Les Ombres Errantes” with a pure minor thirds tem­pera­ment (16th century)

The main draw­back of this ‘pure_minor_thirds’ tem­pera­ment is the very low posi­tion of ‘Ab’ meant to pro­duce a con­so­nant sequence of minor thirds: ‘Ab’ - ‘B’ - ‘D’ - ‘F’. Yet ‘Ab’ - ‘B’ is not a melod­ic inter­val found in this piece, nor ‘Db’ - ‘E’ and ‘E’ - ‘G’ which are well ren­dered by the ‘pure_minor_thirds’ tem­pera­ment. Mismatches are also vis­i­ble on har­mon­ic inter­vals — and easy to detect by lis­ten­ing. We may con­clude that the pure minor thirds tem­pera­ment is nei­ther the best not the worst tun­ing sys­tem for this musi­cal work, although com­par­ing sound pro­duc­tions sug­gests that it is sig­nif­i­cant­ly less good than the ‘rameau_en_sib’ scale.

Comparing graphs is easy with the detached resiz­able pic­tures pro­duced by the Bol Processor.

A “deaf musicologist’s” approach

The analy­sis shown so far replaced a com­par­i­son of sound ren­der­ing — read page Comparing tem­pera­ments — with a visu­al pattern-matching issue. We made it clear that musi­cians and instru­ment tuners of the Baroque peri­od were try­ing to achieve con­so­nance in terms of sim­ple fre­quen­cy ratios for fifths (close to 3/2) and har­mon­ic major thirds (close to 5/4). This approach and its under­ly­ing assump­tions are dis­cussed on page Just into­na­tion: a gen­er­al frame­work.

Further, one might be tempt­ed to assert that a “just-intonation” minor third should be har­mon­ic (ratio close to 6/5), yet the deci­sion should stay open. To this effect, it is pos­si­ble to enter an addi­tion­al set of melod­ic and har­mon­ic inter­vals which the ana­lyst esti­mates sig­nif­i­cant for the eval­u­a­tion of tonal scales. Each inter­val is set by an inte­ger ratio — which may be as com­plex as necessary.

A com­par­a­tive pat­tern match­ing will assign a numer­ic score to every scale assessed for its fit­ting with the musi­cal work. This makes it pos­si­ble to sort can­di­date scales. Still, two sep­a­rate scores are required, one for melod­ic and the next one for har­mon­ic inter­vals. A weighed sum of scores is there­fore used for sort­ing the list of scales.

This method has been imple­ment­ed in the Tonal analy­sis process. We com­pared all scales defined in ‘-cs.tryTunings’ — con­tain­ing notably all tem­pera­ments doc­u­ment­ed by Pierre-Yves Asselin — in terms of their ade­qua­cy for the ren­der­ing of melod­ic and tonal inter­vals in François Couperin’s Les Ombres Errantes:

Matching scales for “Les Ombres Errantes”

Great result! The machine con­firms that scale ‘rameau_en_sib’ is the best can­di­date for the inter­pre­ta­tion of Les Ombres Errantes. Its scores are sig­nif­i­cant­ly bet­ter for both melod­ic and har­mon­ic inter­vals. (Altogether, 45 tun­ing schemes have been tried.) 

By default, the scor­ing of melod­ic and har­mon­ic inter­vals only takes into account per­fect fifths (3/2) and har­mon­ic major thirds (5/4) as “good” inter­vals, with respec­tive weights of 2 and 1, and wolf fifths (40/27), wolf fourths (320/243) and Pythagorean major thirds (81/64) rat­ed as “bad” inter­vals weigh­ing respec­tive­ly -2, -2 and -1. All these weights can be mod­i­fied as shown on the above picture.

We repeat the com­par­i­son with the addi­tion­al option of har­mon­ic minor thirds (6/5) as melod­ic intervals:

Matching scales, includ­ing har­mon­ic minor thirds (ratio close to 6/5) for melod­ic intervals

Expectedly, all melod­ic scores increased but the win­ner remained. If we add the Pythagorean major sec­ond (ratio close to 9/8) we get the following:

Matching scales, includ­ing ratios 6/5 and 9/8 for melod­ic intervals

The ‘rameau_en_sib’ scale is now chal­lenged by ‘sauveur’ for melod­ic inter­vals, but its har­mon­ic score remains lower.

Note that scales Abmaj and Cmin are iden­ti­cal, which explains their equal scores.

A visu­al com­par­i­son of scales with melod­ic inter­val high­light­ings shows that there is lit­tle dif­fer­ence between these tem­pera­ments with respect to the per­for­mance of Les Ombres Errantes. Since ‘sauveur’ tem­pera­ment had been designed in 1701 by the (hear­ing impaired?) French math­e­mati­cian Joseph Sauveur, it is not unlike­ly that it could be used for the com­po­si­tion of Les Ombres Errantes in 1730.

Comparison of ‘rameau_en_sib’ and ‘sauveur’ tem­pera­ments for melod­ic inter­vals in “Les Ombres Errantes”, with addi­tion­al ratios 6/5 and 9/8 dis­played as black lines.

Scale ‘rameau_en_sib’ again scores as good as ‘sauveur’ if the Pythagorean minor third (ratio close to 32/27) is tried as a melod­ic inter­val (both ascend­ing and descend­ing) in replace­ment of ratio 6/5… This is due to the usage of ‘F’ - ‘Ab’ ren­dered as a Pythagorean minor third by ‘rameau_en_sib’, yet not by ‘sauveur’.

Many more checks can be done by chang­ing the weights assigned to occur­rences of melod­ic and har­mon­ic ratios. Finding the best set­tings requires a thor­ough study of the musi­cal score — this is where human musi­col­o­gists come back to the scene!

Ears (plus exper­tise of the score) might make a final decision:

“Les Ombres Errantes”, Rameau en sib temperament
“Les Ombres Errantes”, Sauveur temperament

The ana­lyt­i­cal process we are fol­low­ing is a kind of reverse engi­neer­ing… Evidently, com­posers did not look for a suit­able tem­pera­ment after cre­at­ing a musi­cal work. It is more real­is­tic that they com­posed works on exist­ing instru­ments, with the effect that sets of pieces pro­duced by the same com­pos­er (using the same instru­ment) at a giv­en peri­od obeyed implic­it melod­ic and har­mon­ic con­straints best fit­ting the tun­ing of their instrument(s).

Comparative study

Let us exam­in again J.S. Bach’s Prelude 1 in C major for which Kirnberger III had (visu­al­ly) been elect­ed as a bet­ter match than Kirnberger II. Including ratios 6/5 and 9/8 in eli­gi­ble melod­ic up/down inter­vals, and 6/5 as a har­mon­ic inter­val, yields the fol­low­ing clas­si­fi­ca­tion of tun­ing schemes:

Classification of scales for the inter­pre­ta­tion of J.S. Bach’s Prelude 1 in C major

The win­ner is undoubt­ed­ly ‘sauveur’ although the har­mon­ic score is iden­ti­cal for six tem­pera­ments, yet ‘kirnberger_3′ rates much less.

Keep in mind that this has been obtained by declar­ing ratios close to 6/5 as eli­gi­ble con­so­nant melod­ic and har­mon­ic inter­vals. Read page Bach well-tempered tonal analy­sis for a dis­cus­sion of this hypothesis.

Sauveur’s tem­pera­ment is the best fit because of its high pro­fi­cien­cy in har­mon­ic minor thirds (6/5) and Pythagorean major sec­onds (9/8). It also has a com­plete set of per­fect fourths and fifths (3/2) except for the wolf fourth ‘D#’ - ‘G#’ which is close to 477 cents (instead of 498). Fortunately, this inter­val is nev­er used in Bach’s piece:

Matching melod­ic inter­vals of J.S. Bach’s Prelude 1 in C major against Sauveur’s temperament
J.S. Bach’s Prelude 1 in C major per­formed by Bol Processor + Csound with Sauveur’s temperament

This ren­der­ing can be com­pared (in terms of tune­ful­ness) with a human per­for­mance on a real harpsichord:

J.S. Bach’s Prelude 1 in C major played on the copy of an instru­ment built by Hans Moerman in Antwerpen (1584). Source: Wikipedia licence CC BY-SA.

Unsurprizingly, J.S. Bach’s Fugue 1 in C major shares the same pref­er­ence for ‘sauveur’, with oth­er tun­ing schemes fol­low­ing in a dif­fer­ent order. All fugues in this series of works (books I and II) have been asso­ci­at­ed with pre­ludes of the same key.

The tonal analy­sis of J.S. Bach’s Prelude 2 in C minor again selects ‘sauveur’ under the same eval­u­a­tion cri­te­ria — includ­ing ratios 6/5 (melod­ic and har­mon­ic) and 9/8 (melod­ic up/down). The clas­si­fi­ca­tion is utter­ly dif­fer­ent but the win­ner is unchanged, even though it is chal­lenged by ‘rameau_en_sib’ for its har­mon­ic score.

J.S. Bach’s Prelude 2 in C minor per­formed by Bol Processor + Csound with Sauveur’s temperament

Note that the Cmin scale has a bad rate due to melod­ic inter­vals. It beats Sauveur’s tem­pera­ment with respect to har­mon­ic inter­vals, but these are rel­a­tive­ly less fre­quent in this pre­lude. This clas­si­fi­ca­tion might be quite dif­fer­ent if some ratios (such as 9/8) are ignored for eval­u­at­ing melod­ic inter­vals. Even ratios close to Pythagorean thirds (81/64) might sound accept­able in quick melod­ic move­ments — read page Bach well-tempered tonal analy­sis.

J.S. Bach’s Fugue 2 in C minor again selects ‘sauveur’.

We get the same result with J.S. Bach’s Prelude 6 in D minor (ran­dom choice). Note the strik­ing­ly high melod­ic scores of ‘sauveur’:

J.S. Bach’s Prelude 6 in D minor per­formed by Bol Processor + Csound with Sauveur’s temperament

J.S. Bach once claimed that he could play his entire reper­toire on the instru­ment he had tuned by him­self. This sounds like squar­ing the cir­cle, and many hypothe­ses have been advo­cat­ed to solve this prob­lem for das Wohltemperierte Clavier.

These exam­ples sug­gest that Sauveur’s tem­pera­ment could be Bach’s choice. Although there is lit­tle chance that the German com­pos­er (1685-1750) had heard about research work of the French physi­cian (1653-1716), the sys­tem­at­ic con­struc­tion of this tem­pera­ment — a sin­gle sequence of fifths dimin­ished by 1/5 com­ma (see image and read Asselin, 2000 p. 80) — sug­gests that any com­pos­er might fig­ure it out independently.

In order to check (and chal­lenge) this hypoth­e­sis we com­plet­ed the tonal analy­sis of 24 pre­ludes and fugues in books I and II of The Well-Tempered Clavier using the same set­tings. Read page Bach Well-tempered tonal analy­sis. This large-spectrum analy­sis requires a device for batch pro­cess­ing which we describe now.

Batch processing

In order to analyse the tonal­i­ty of a large num­ber of musi­cal works we need to cre­ate a Data page con­tain­ing the names of all pages con­tain­ing the Bol Processor scores of these items. For instance, page “-da.index_preludes_book_I” reads as follows:

// All Bach preludes



When read­ing this page, the Tonal analy­sis pro­ce­dure opens each data file and picks up the Bol Processor score it con­tains. To facil­i­tate this, option Batch pro­cess­ing may be checked in the settings.

In the batch-processing mode, the machine will not dis­play the whole set of tonal scales for each analysed musi­cal work. If the score con­tains a spec­i­fi­ca­tion for a tonal scale — a _scale(some_scale, 0) instruc­tion — the list of pref­ered scales is dis­played down to the spec­i­fied one. If the spec­i­fied scale comes first in the clas­si­fi­ca­tion, the fol­low­ing next 2 fol­low­ing scales are list­ed. If no scale is spec­i­fied, only the 10 best-matching scales are listed:

Batch pro­cess­ing of “-da.index_preludes_book_I
Items #2 and #3 con­tain the spec­i­fi­ca­tions of tonal scales sauveur and Dbmaj respec­tive­ly.
This pref­er­ence is con­firmed by the analy­sis of item #2 but it is not the case with item #3.

At the bot­tom of the page, a but­ton SHOW RESULTS dis­plays a HTML file — which can be down­loaded — con­tain­ing all results:

End of batch pro­cess­ing. Clicking SHOW RESULTS dis­plays the entire result set.

The HTML page also dis­plays the set­tings of the analy­sis and it can be down­loaded, along with a CVS file of the same fig­ures which lends itself to sta­tis­ti­cal graph­ic display.

Results for the analy­sis of all pre­ludes and fugues of The Well-tempered Clavier are pub­lished and dis­cussed on page Bach well-tempered tonal analy­sis.

Does it apply to Western classical music?

The analy­sis of tonal inter­vals and of match­ings with doc­u­ment­ed tun­ing sys­tems (tem­pera­ments) makes sense with respect to Baroque music, tak­ing for grant­ed that com­posers and instru­ment tuners were try­ing to achieve a max­i­mum con­so­nance in the per­for­mance of their musi­cal reper­toire. The ques­tion remains open whether it pro­duces an equal­ly reli­able (and use­ful) analy­sis of musi­cal works in more recent periods.

Indeed, launch­ing the ana­lyt­i­cal process is tech­ni­cal­ly pos­si­ble once the score has been import­ed to the Bol Processor. Let us try Beethoven’s Fugue in B flat major (cir­ca 1830). We may set up har­mon­ic major thirds (6/5) and Pyhagorean major sec­onds (9/8) as sig­nif­i­cant melod­ic inter­vals for the eval­u­a­tion. This yields the following:

Matching Beethoven’s Fugue in B flat major against doc­u­ment­ed scales

The best score — once again — is that of Sauveur’s tem­pera­ment, notably owing to ascend­ing melod­ic inter­vals. In case per­form­ers do attempt to achieve ratios 9/8, 6/5, 5/4 and 3/2, then ‘sauveur’ might be the best rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the “tun­ing scheme” they have in mind.

The equal-tempered scale comes last with scores of 3529, 1680 and 240 for ascend­ing melod­ic, descend­ing melod­ic and har­mon­ic inter­vals respec­tive­ly. Part of the expla­na­tion lies in the com­par­i­son of both scales as back­grounds of har­mon­ic intervals:

Comparing the equal-tempered scale (left) and Sauveur’s tem­pera­ment (right) for the per­for­mance of Beethoven’s Fugue in B flat major

The most vis­i­ble dif­fer­ence is the usage of almost per­fect har­mon­ic major thirds (ratio 5/4) on Sauveur’s scale (see image) instead of Pythagorean major thirds (approx. ratio 81/64) on the equal-tempered scale (see image). The for­mer have been assigned weighs (+1) and the lat­ter (-1). Background yel­low lines indi­cate that these inter­vals are used quite often.

Melodic inter­vals in Beethoven’s Fugue in B flat major

A draw­back of Sauveur’s scale is the wolf fourth ‘D#’ - ‘G#’ (approx. 477 cents), yet this inter­val is not fre­quent on the score.

Many oth­er remarks could be done com­par­ing the scores of melod­ic inter­vals, and the entire process (which took almost 8 min­utes) could be launched again with dif­fer­ent set­tings of weighs assign­ing more or less impor­tance to par­tic­u­lar inter­vals. After all, we do not know whether an expert play­er of a stringed instru­ment would per­form minor thirds at inter­vals 6/5, 32/27, tem­pered, or any oth­er val­ue, and even more whether these val­ues depend on the harmonic/melodic con­text of each musi­cal phrase.

This sug­gests that we should­n’t be too enthu­si­as­tic of a (still prim­i­tive) tonal analy­sis tool when it comes to sophis­ti­cat­ed tonal material…


Asselin, P.-Y. Musique et tem­péra­ment. Paris, 1985, repub­lished in 2000: Jobert. Soon avail­able in English.

Musicians inter­est­ed in con­tin­u­ing this research and relat­ed devel­op­ment may use Bol Processor BP3’s beta ver­sion to process musi­cal works and imple­ment more tun­ing pro­ce­dures. Follow instruc­tions on page Bol Processor ‘BP3’ and its PHP inter­face to install BP3 and learn its basic oper­a­tion. Download and install Csound from its dis­tri­b­u­tion page.

Time resolution and quantization

These para­me­ters are saved in ‘-se’ set­tings files asso­ci­at­ed with gram­mars and data. They are expressed in milliseconds.

Time res­o­lu­tion is the min­i­mum dif­fer­ence of dates between two events sent to a MIDI device or writ­ten on a Csound score. By default is is set to 10 ms but in some cas­es it may be nec­es­sary to dimin­ish this val­ue. This is already a type of quan­ti­za­tion because sev­er­al events occur­ing with time off­sets low­er than the res­o­lu­tion will be sent or writ­ten with iden­ti­cal dates.

Time quan­ti­za­tion is an option allow­ing the poly­met­ric expan­sion algo­rithm to reduce the size of the phase dia­gram con­struct­ed to frame out the sym­bol­ic tim­ing of events — in fact, rela­tions of prece­dence or simul­tane­ity. Read page Complex ratios in poly­met­ric expres­sions for a detailed expla­na­tion. In brief, it is a method for sav­ing mem­o­ry space and speed­ing up the computation.

In many cas­es, the pro­duc­tion of a piece would sim­ply be impos­si­ble with a quan­ti­za­tion reduced to the time res­o­lu­tion. This is due to the fact that all Bol Processor time cal­cu­la­tions are per­formed with inte­ger ratios to reach the best accu­ra­cy com­pat­i­ble with lim­i­ta­tions of the machine. However, for instance, stor­ing two notes dis­tant by a few mil­lisec­onds requires two dis­tinct columns on the phase dia­gram although (in gen­er­al) this dif­fer­nce is not audible.

Even though it is pos­si­ble to set the time quan­ti­za­tion to a val­ue low­er than the time res­o­lu­tion, it would increase the size of the phase dia­gram (i.e. mem­o­ry and com­pu­ta­tion time) with no effect on the out­put because the time res­o­lu­tion is the low­est val­ue of the actu­al quan­ti­za­tion. This incon­sis­ten­cy is sig­naled on the Data or Grammar window:

Randomisation of dates

The Bol Processor has a per­for­mance tool notat­ed “_rndtime(x)” for ran­dom­iz­ing the dates of events, in which ‘x’ is half the range in mil­lisec­onds. For instance, fol­low­ing “_rndtime(100)”, all dates will be recal­cu­lat­ed with­in a ± 100 ms range.

Randomisation is often used by poor com­po­si­tion devices to “human­ize” computer-made pieces. This is a ridicu­lous approach based on the belief that human inter­preters must be will­ing­ly impre­cise in their per­for­mance… or that music is implic­it­ly a “fuzzy” construction.

The _rndtime tool may oth­er­wise be used to com­pen­sate unwant­ed effects when sev­er­al dig­i­tal­ly syn­the­sized sounds are super­posed, as explained on page Importing MusicXML scores. In this case, the range is very small and the val­ue of the time res­o­lu­tion may need to be adjust­ed accord­ing­ly. For instance, “_rndtime(20)” should be asso­ci­at­ed with a time res­o­lu­tion of 1 mil­lisec­ond so that 40 dif­fer­ent val­ues will be ran­dom­ly picked up in a ± 20 ms range. Note that this has no inci­dence on the time quan­ti­za­tion.

The effect of a ± 20 ms time ran­domi­sa­tion can be noticed by care­ful­ly lis­ten­ing to the fol­low­ing two examples:

Non-randomized begin­ning of “Les Ombres Errantes”
20 mil­lisec­ond ran­dom­ized begin­ning of “Les Ombres Errantes”

Flags in grammars

Flags may be used in gram­mars to activate/deactivate rules accord­ing to sim­ple numer­ic and log­ic evaluations.

Let us look at the ‘-gr.tryFlags’ gram­mar:
// First create string of ‘a’
gram#1[1] S --> X /Num_total = 20/
gram#1[2] /Num_total - 1/ X --> a X
// Create flags counting 'a' and 'b'
gram#2[1] X --> lambda /Num_a = 20/ /Num_b = 0/
// Now replace 'a' with 'b' until they are in equal numbers
gram#3[1] /Num_a > Num_b/ a --> b /Num_b + 1/ /Num_a - 1/

This gram­mar cre­ates a string of 20 ter­mi­nal sym­bols (Num_total) con­tain­ing an equal num­ber of (ran­dom­ly posi­tioned) ‘a’ and ‘b’, for instance:

b b a a a b a a b a b a b b b a b b a a

In a gram­mar rule, flags are sur­round­ed with ‘/’. The first occur­rence of a flag nor­mal­ly sets its ini­tial val­ue (an inte­ger num­ber), for instance /Num_total = 20/.

Additive/substractive oper­a­tions (on inte­gers) can then be per­formed to decrease or decrease the val­ues of flags, e.g. /Num_b + 1/ or /Num_a - 1/.

Flags appear­ing before the left argu­ment of a rule are eval­u­at­ed and used to con­trol the rule. For instance,

/myflag/ X --> Y

will only be a can­di­date rule if ‘myflag’ is strict­ly pos­i­tive. This eval­u­a­tion may also be a con­trol of the val­ues of two flags. For instance, rule:

/flag1 > flag2/ /flag3 = flag2/ /flag4 = 50/ X --> Y

will only stay can­di­date as long as the three con­di­tions are met.

This tech­nique may be com­bined with oth­er con­trol pro­ce­dures, such as (positive/negative, proximate/remote, left/right) con­texts, rule weights etc. An exam­ple of using flags is found in “-gr.trial.mohanam”, com­bined with rule weights and pat­tern con­texts. Read page Computing ‘ideas’.

Note that oper­a­tors ‘≤’, ‘≥’ and ‘≠’ are not yet accept­ed in the cur­rent ver­sion of BP3 as it does not han­dle multi­byte Unicode characters.

Au cœur des rythmes indiens

Entretien avec James Kippen
English ver­sion

Par Antoine Bourgeau 

James Kippen est un des spé­cial­istes incon­tourn­ables de la musique hin­dous­tanie. Sa ren­con­tre en 1981 avec Afaq Hussain, alors doyen d’une des grandes lignées de joueur de tablā, est le point de départ d’importantes recherch­es sur cet instru­ment et sur les rythmes indi­ens. Il a occupé de 1990 à 2019 la chaire d’ethnomusicologie de la Faculty of Music de l’Université de Toronto (Canada). Formé à l’école de John Blacking et de John Baily, il acquiert par­al­lèle­ment au cours de ses recherch­es la maîtrise de cer­taines langues indo-persanes. Cette habil­ité lui per­met l’analyse de pre­mière main de nom­breuses sources (traités de musique, man­u­scrits de musi­ciens, généalo­gies, icono­gra­phies…) et d’appréhender les dif­férents con­textes socio-culturels indi­ens et leurs muta­tions depuis le XVIIIe siè­cle (cours indo-persanes, empire colo­nial bri­tan­nique, mon­tée du nation­al­isme, post-colonialisme).  Son tra­vail (voir la liste de ses pub­li­ca­tions en fin d’entretien) s’impose comme une con­tri­bu­tion majeure à la com­préhen­sion des pra­tiques rel­a­tives au rythme et au mètre en Inde. J’ai com­mencé à cor­re­spon­dre avec James Kippen lors de mes pro­pres recherch­es sur le tablā à la fin des années 1990. Toujours prompt à partager ses con­nais­sances et son expéri­ence avec ent­hou­si­asme, il me don­na de nom­breux con­seils et encour­age­ments et ce fût un grand hon­neur de le compter par­mi les mem­bres de mon jury de thèse lors de ma sou­te­nance en 2004. C’est avec la même envie de trans­met­tre qu’il a répon­du favor­able­ment à ma propo­si­tion d’entretien. Réalisé à dis­tance entre juil­let et décem­bre 2020, cet échange, à l’origine en anglais, relate près de quar­ante années de recherch­es ethnomusicologiques.

Traduction : Olivia Levingston et Antoine Bourgeau – Octobre 2021.

➡ Source = doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.26071.80804
➡ English ver­sion = doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.12650.03522

La voie de l’Inde et du tablā

Comment en es-tu venu à t’intéresser aux musiques de l’Inde et au tablā en particulier ?

J’ai gran­di à Londres, et déjà enfant j’é­tais fasciné par les dif­férentes langues et cul­tures qui étaient intro­duites pro­gres­sive­ment en Grande-Bretagne par les immi­grants. J’étais par­ti­c­ulière­ment séduit par les petites épiceries regorgeant de pro­duits exo­tiques et par les restau­rants indi­ens qui dégageaient des arômes épicés alléchants. Mon père me par­lait sou­vent de ses aven­tures pen­dant les sept années qu’il avait passées en Inde en tant que jeune sol­dat, et j’ai donc dévelop­pé une image très attrayante, bien qu’orientaliste, du sous-continent indi­en. Pendant ma licence de musique à l’Université de York (1975-78), mon ami et cama­rade Francis Silkstone m’a fait con­naître le sitār. J’ai égale­ment eu la chance de suiv­re un cours inten­sif de musique hin­dous­tanie avec le con­férenci­er Neil Sorrell, qui avait étudié la sāraṅgī avec le renom­mé Ram Narayan. La lit­téra­ture disponible à cette époque était rel­a­tive­ment rare, mais deux textes en par­ti­c­uli­er étaient tout de même très influ­ents : « Tabla in Perspective » de Rebecca Stewart (UCLA, 1974), qui a nour­ri en moi un intérêt musi­cologique pour les var­iétés et les com­plex­ités du rythme et le jeu des per­cus­sions et « The Cultural Structure and Social Organization of Musicians in India : the Perspective from Delhi » de Daniel Neuman (Université de l’Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 1974), un aperçu socio-anthropologique du monde des musi­ciens tra­di­tion­nels et hérédi­taires indi­ens et de leurs points de vue.

 J’ai donc com­mencé à appren­dre le tablā à par­tir des dis­ques 33 tours et des livrets de Robert Gottlieb appelés « 42 Lessons for Tabla », et après quelques mois, j’avais appris suff­isam­ment de tech­niques de base pour accom­pa­g­n­er F. Silkstone lors d’un réc­i­tal. J’ai ensuite été l’élève de Manikrao Popatkar, un excel­lent joueur de tablā pro­fes­sion­nel qui venait d’immigrer en Grande-Bretagne. J’étais « accro » ! De plus, la pen­sée que je pour­rais entr­er dans ce monde socio-musical du tablā en Inde en qual­ité de participant-observateur m’a motivée à chercher des pro­grammes d’é­tudes supérieures où je pour­rais dévelop­per mes con­nais­sances et com­pé­tences tout en com­bi­nant les approches musi­cologiques et anthro­pologiques de R. Stewart et D. Neuman. Sur les con­seils de N. Sorrell, j’ai donc écrit à John Blacking au sujet de la pos­si­bil­ité d’é­tudi­er à l’Université Queen’s de Belfast, et John a été très encour­ageant, en m’of­frant une entrée directe au pro­gramme de doc­tor­at. Il a égale­ment souligné que son col­lègue John Baily avait récem­ment écrit un texte : « Krishna Govinda’s Rudiments of Tabla Playing ». J’avais trou­vé le pro­gramme d’é­tudes supérieures idéal et des guides parfaits.

Approches méthodologiques

« How Musical Is Man » de J. Blacking est un texte fon­da­men­tal paru en 1973, à contre-courant de la pen­sée de l’époque, refu­sant les fron­tières entre musi­colo­gie et eth­no­mu­si­colo­gie ain­si que les oppo­si­tions stériles entre les tra­di­tions musi­cales. J. Blacking avance égale­ment l’idée essen­tielle que la musique, même si ce mot n’existe pas partout, est présente à tra­vers toutes les cul­tures humaines, en ce qu’elle résulte du « son humaine­ment organ­isé ». Sais-tu s’il con­nais­sait les pro­pos d’E. Varèse ? Voulant lui aus­si se démar­quer de la sig­ni­fi­ca­tion occi­den­tale du con­cept de « musique », bien que pour d’autres raisons, il avait avancé en 1941 l’expression de « son organisé ».

Je ne me sou­viens pas que J. Blacking ait men­tion­né Varèse ou ses réflex­ions sur la nature de la musique. John était par con­tre un excel­lent musi­cien et pianiste qui avait sans doute ren­con­tré et étudié beau­coup de musique d’art occi­den­tal, et il est donc pos­si­ble qu’il ait con­nu la déf­i­ni­tion de Varèse. Cependant, alors que la philoso­phie de Varèse est née de la con­vic­tion que les machines et les tech­nolo­gies seraient capa­bles d’or­gan­is­er le son, J. Blacking a voulu porter l’attention sur la musique comme fait social : une activ­ité où la mul­ti­tude des façons dont les êtres humains pro­duisent leurs sons, à la fois comme inter­prètes et surtout comme audi­teurs, per­me­t­trait de révéler beau­coup de choses sur leur struc­ture sociale.

En quoi tes études uni­ver­si­taires ont-elles ori­en­té tes recherches ?

J’ai eu la chance d’avoir non pas un mais deux men­tors : J. Blacking et J. Baily, tous deux très dif­férents. J. Blacking regorgeait d’idées, grandes et inspi­rantes, qui ont défié et révo­lu­tion­né la façon dont on pense la musique et la société, tan­dis que J. Baily a mis l’ac­cent sur une approche plus méthodique et empirique fondée sur la per­for­mance musi­cale et sur la ges­tion scrupuleuse de l’ac­qui­si­tion et la doc­u­men­ta­tion des données.

Il ne faut pas oubli­er que j’é­tais jeune et inex­péri­men­té lorsque j’ai entre­pris ce tra­vail de ter­rain, et donc l’ex­em­ple de J. Baily, axé sur la musique et la col­lecte de don­nées, m’a servi de guide pra­tique dans ma vie quo­ti­di­enne pen­dant mes années en Inde. Et lorsque j’avais en ma pos­ses­sion un énorme cor­pus de don­nées, j’ai pu pren­dre du recul et, inspiré par J. Blacking, j’ai pu iden­ti­fi­er cer­tains des grands mod­èles que ces don­nées met­taient en lumière. J’ai donc été frap­pé par le réc­it cohérent du déclin cul­turel lié à la nos­tal­gie d’un passé glo­rieux et artis­tique­ment abon­dant, et la tra­di­tion musi­cale du tablā de Lucknow était l’un des derniers liens vivants avec ce monde per­du. Cela est devenu l’un des thèmes clés de ma thèse de doc­tor­at et de cer­tains des autres travaux qui ont suivi. Quant à ma car­rière d’en­seignant, j’ai essayé au fil des ans de com­bin­er les meilleures qual­ités de mes deux maîtres, tout en pro­mou­vant tou­jours l’idée que, dans les recherch­es por­tant sur la musique et la vie musi­cale, la théorie devrait naître à par­tir de don­nées solides et ne jamais ignor­er le dia­logue avec la réal­ité ethno­graphique afin de préserv­er ain­si sa valeur heuristique.

Dans « Working with the Masters » (2008), tu décris avec détails et fran­chise (ce qui est assez rare dans la pro­fes­sion !…) ton expéri­ence de ter­rain dans les années 1980 avec Afaq Hussain. Cette expéri­ence, et le réc­it que tu en fais, appa­rais­sent comme un mod­èle pour toute recherche en eth­nolo­gie et en eth­no­mu­si­colo­gie avec la par­tic­u­lar­ité de l’apprentissage musi­cal. Tu rends compte ain­si des phas­es d’approche, de ren­con­tre, de test et, enfin (et heureuse­ment dans ton cas) d’acceptation au sein de l’environnement étudié et de la con­fi­ance accordée per­me­t­tant de déploy­er pleine­ment ses inten­tions de recherche et d’apprentissage musi­cal. Tu abor­des aus­si les réflex­ions éthiques et déon­tologiques indis­pens­ables au chercheur : rela­tion aux autres, con­flits de loy­auté résul­tant des pos­si­bles dis­so­nances entre le rap­port à l’informateur et les objec­tifs ethno­graphique, respon­s­abil­ités vis à vis du savoir récolté et place du chercheur-musicien dans la réal­ité musi­cale de la tra­di­tion étudiée. Au-delà des par­tic­u­lar­ités du con­texte musi­cal, y a-t-il des spé­ci­ficités indi­ennes que les chercheurs occi­den­taux doivent avoir en tête pour entre­pren­dre (et espér­er réus­sir) une étude eth­nologique en Inde ?

La société sud-asiatique a énor­mé­ment changé au cours des 40 années qui se sont écoulées, c’est une évi­dence, et ce depuis que j’ai com­mencé à men­er des recherch­es ethno­graphiques. Mais cer­tains principes, ceux qui devraient guider le proces­sus d’en­quête,  demeurent inébran­lables. C’est le cas du pro­fond respect pour la dimen­sion de l’an­ci­en­neté, qu’elle soit sociale ou cul­turelle. Naturellement, l’ac­cès à une com­mu­nauté est la clef de voute, et il n’y a pas de meilleur « gate­keep­er » ou « spon­sor » (pour utilis­er les ter­mes anthro­pologiques) qu’une fig­ure d’au­torité au sein de la sous-culture que l’on étudie, puisque la per­mis­sion que l’on reçoit se réper­cute sur la hiérar­chie sociale et famil­iale. Le dan­ger, dans une société forte­ment patri­ar­cale comme celle de l’Inde, est que l’on se retrou­ve avec une vision hiérar­chique descen­dante de la vie musi­cale. Si j’avais l’oc­ca­sion de repren­dre mes recherch­es dans ce domaine, j’ac­corderais une plus grande atten­tion à ceux qui se trou­vent à dif­férents niveaux de cette hiérar­chie, en par­ti­c­uli­er aux femmes et à la musi­cal­ité quo­ti­di­enne de la vie dans la sphère domes­tique. En se con­cen­trant unique­ment sur les aspects les plus raf­finés de la pro­duc­tion cul­turelle, on peut pass­er à côté de ce qui a de la valeur dans la for­ma­tion des idées, de l’esthé­tique et des mécan­ismes de sou­tien néces­saires à la survie et à l’é­panouisse­ment d’une tra­di­tion artistique.

 Sur une note plus prag­ma­tique (et qui con­cerne plus sou­vent il me sem­ble les aspects relat­ifs au tra­vail sur le ter­rain), j’ai trou­vé que les entre­tiens formels enreg­istrés étaient rarement très fructueux parce qu’ils étaient ressen­tis comme intim­i­dants et étaient accom­pa­g­nés d’at­tentes élevées. En out­re, une sen­si­bil­ité accrue aux ram­i­fi­ca­tions poli­tiques – micro et macro – nous engageant à par­ler selon nos con­vic­tions, représen­tait sou­vent un obsta­cle à la col­lecte d’in­for­ma­tions. En vérité, offi­cieuse­ment et dans des cir­con­stances déten­dues, moins je demandais et plus j’é­coutais, plus l’in­for­ma­tion que je rece­vais était utile et intéres­sante. La mise en garde est que pour fonc­tion­ner de cette manière, il faut dévelop­per un niveau de patience que la plu­part des Occidentaux auraient du mal à accepter.

Fig. 1 : Séance d’enregistrement d’Afaq Hussain chez James Kippen, Lucknow, 1982,  pho­to de James Kippen

Tu adoptes dans les années 1980 l’« approche dialec­tique » enseignée par J. Blacking en y asso­ciant l’informatique et un pro­gramme d’IA. Le but était d’analyser les fonde­ments du jeu impro­visé des joueurs de tablā. Peux-tu revenir sur la genèse et l’évolution de cette approche ?

J. Blacking était par­ti­c­ulière­ment intéressé par le tra­vail de Noam Chomsky sur les gram­maires trans­for­ma­tion­nelles. Il théori­sait sur le fait que l’on pou­vait créer des ensem­bles de règles pour la musique – une gram­maire – avec plusieurs « couch­es » ; la pre­mière décrirait com­ment ces struc­tures sonores de sur­face étaient organ­isées. Les autres plus pro­fondes, com­prendraient des règles abor­dant des principes de plus en plus généraux sur l’or­gan­i­sa­tion musi­cale et, au niveau le plus pro­fond, la gram­maire for­malis­erait les règles régis­sant les principes de l’or­gan­i­sa­tion sociale. Si le but ultime d’un eth­no­mu­si­co­logue est de reli­er la struc­ture sociale à la struc­ture sonore, ou vice ver­sa, alors c’é­tait cette idée que J. Blacking défendait pour attein­dre cet objectif.

L’été 1981, j’ai fui la chaleur intense des plaines du nord de l’Inde et me suis réfugié près de Mussoorie dans les con­tre­forts de l’Himalaya. J’avais con­venu de retrou­ver mon ami F. Silkstone, qui à l’époque étu­di­ait le sitār avec Imrat Khan et le dhru­pad avec Fahimuddin Dagar à Calcutta. Francis est arrivé avec Fahimuddin et l’un des étu­di­ants améri­cains de Fahim, Jim Arnold. Jim et Bernard Bel (un infor­mati­cien et math­é­mati­cien qui vivait à l’époque à New Delhi) tra­vail­laient ensem­ble pour un pro­jet expéri­men­tal sur l’in­to­na­tion dans le rāga. Bernard est alors arrivé à Mussoorie, égale­ment pour échap­per à la chaleur, et pen­dant env­i­ron un mois nous avons tous vécu ensem­ble dans un envi­ron­nement riche et fer­tile de musique et d’idées. C’est là que Bernard et moi avons dis­cuté pour la pre­mière fois de la notion des gram­maires socio-musicales de J. Blacking, ain­si que de ma fas­ci­na­tion pour un type de com­po­si­tion des joueurs de tablā, avec une struc­ture offrant un thème et des vari­a­tions, con­nues sous le nom de qāi­da. J’étais très curieux d’apprendre que Bernard pou­vait con­cevoir un pro­gramme infor­ma­tique capa­ble de mod­élis­er le proces­sus de créa­tion de vari­a­tions à par­tir d’un thème donné.

L’année suiv­ante, Bernard et moi nous sommes ren­con­trés à plusieurs repris­es : il en a appris beau­coup plus sur le fonc­tion­nement du tablā et j’ai beau­coup appris sur la lin­guis­tique math­é­ma­tique. Ensemble, nous avons créé des ensem­bles de règles – des gram­maires trans­for­ma­tion­nelles – qui ont généré des vari­a­tions à par­tir d’un thème de qāi­da et traité des vari­a­tions exis­tantes pour déter­min­er si nos règles pou­vaient en tenir compte. Mais il était évi­dent que les con­nais­sances mod­élisées étaient les miennes et non celles de musi­ciens experts. Alors nous avons dévelop­pé une stratégie pour impli­quer ces experts en tant que « col­lab­o­ra­teurs et ana­lystes » (une expres­sion sou­vent util­isée par J. Blacking) dans un échange dialec­tique. Après tout, un « sys­tème expert » était des­tiné à mod­élis­er les con­nais­sances d’ex­perts, et il n’y avait pas de meilleur expert qu’Afaq Hussain.

➡ Pour plus d’informations sur ces expéri­ences, voir :

Avais-tu con­nais­sance d’autres types de démarch­es inter­ac­tives comme celle du re-recording dévelop­pée un peu plus tôt par S. Arom ?

J’étais au courant des méth­odes inter­ac­tives de S. Arom pour obtenir les pro­pres per­spec­tives des musi­ciens sur ce qui se pas­sait dans leur musique, tout comme j’é­tais au courant des travaux en anthro­polo­gie cog­ni­tive visant à déter­min­er les caté­gories cog­ni­tives sig­ni­fica­tives pour les per­son­nes que nous étudi­ions. La thèse de S. Arom selon laque­lle les don­nées cul­turelles devaient être validées par nos inter­locu­teurs a cer­taine­ment été très influ­ente. Je ne con­nais­sais pas d’autres approches. Les exi­gences de notre sit­u­a­tion expéri­men­tale par­ti­c­ulière nous ont oblig­és à inven­ter notre pro­pre méthodolo­gie unique pour ce proces­sus d’interaction homme-machine.

On con­naît la crainte des maîtres indi­ens d’une dif­fu­sion de leurs savoirs au-delà de leur gharānā, et en par­ti­c­uli­er cer­taines tech­niques et com­po­si­tions. Quelles étaient l’attitude et l’implication d’Afaq Hussain dans cette démarche qui met­tait à jour les struc­tures des qāida ?

Afaq Hussain n’é­tait pas du tout préoc­cupé par les révéla­tions con­cer­nant le qāi­da puisque l’art de les jouer dépendait de sa capac­ité à impro­vis­er. En d’autres ter­mes, il s’agissait d’une activ­ité axée sur les proces­sus et donc en con­stante évo­lu­tion. A l’inverse, les com­po­si­tions fix­es, en par­ti­c­uli­er celles trans­mis­es de généra­tion en généra­tion au sein de la famille, ne changeaient pas. Celles-ci étaient con­sid­érées comme des atouts pré­cieux et étaient soigneuse­ment gardées.

 Lorsque je repense aux expéri­ences sci­en­tifiques, je m’é­tonne que Bernard ait pu créer une gram­maire généra­tive aus­si puis­sante pour un ordi­na­teur (d’abord un Apple II avec 64k RAM, puis le portable 128k Apple IIc) avec une puis­sance de traite­ment et un espace aus­si lim­ité. Afaq Hussain s’est égale­ment éton­né qu’une machine « puisse penser », pour repren­dre son expres­sion. Nous avons com­mencé par une gram­maire de base pour un qāi­da don­né, puis généré quelques vari­a­tions, et je les ai ensuite lues à voix haute en util­isant la langue syl­labique, les bols pour tablā. De nom­breux résul­tats étaient prévis­i­bles, cer­tains étaient inhab­ituels mais néan­moins accept­a­bles, et d’autres ont été jugés erronés – tech­nique­ment et esthé­tique­ment. Nous avons ensuite demandé à Afaq Hussain de pro­pos­er ses pro­pres vari­a­tions ; celles-ci ont été intro­duites dans l’or­di­na­teur (j’ai effec­tué la saisie en util­isant un sys­tème de cor­réla­tion de clés pour gag­n­er en rapid­ité) et « analysées » pour déter­min­er si les règles de notre gram­maire pou­vaient en tenir compte. De sim­ples ajuste­ments aux règles étaient pos­si­bles in situ, mais lorsqu’une repro­gram­ma­tion plus com­plexe était néces­saire, nous pas­sions à un deux­ième exem­ple et reve­nions à l’exemple d’o­rig­ine dans une ses­sion ultérieure.

Fig. 2 : James Kippen, Afaq Hussain et son fils Ilmas Hussain, Lucknow, 1982, pho­to de James Kippen

Est-ce que ces recherch­es ont con­cerné d’autres types de com­po­si­tion comme les gat ou les tukra ?

Non. L’avantage d’observer une struc­ture de thème et de vari­a­tions comme celle des qāi­da est fondé sur le fait que chaque com­po­si­tion est un sys­tème fer­mé où les vari­a­tions (vistār) sont lim­itées aux élé­ments présen­tés dans le thème. Le but est donc de com­pren­dre les règles non écrites pour créer des vari­a­tions. Les com­po­si­tions fix­es comme les gat, ṭukṛā, paran, etc., com­pren­nent une var­iété d’élé­ments beau­coup plus large et plus imprévis­i­ble, et seraient ain­si très dif­fi­ciles à mod­élis­er. Cependant, nous avons pu expéri­menter sur le type de com­po­si­tion appelé tihāī : la phrase répétée trois fois qui agit comme une cadence ryth­mique finale. Cette dernière peut être mod­élisée math­é­ma­tique­ment afin d’obtenir une for­mule arith­mé­tique dans laque­lle on peut pro­pos­er des phras­es ryth­miques, puis être appliquée soit à un qāi­da (un frag­ment de son thème ou l’une de ses vari­a­tions), soit à des com­po­si­tions fix­es comme par exem­ple le ṭukṛā.

Est-ce que cer­taines phras­es ryth­miques générées par l’ordinateur et validées par Afaq Hussain ont inté­gré le réper­toire du gharānā de Lucknow ?

C’est une ques­tion dif­fi­cile. Lorsque nous étions au milieu d’une péri­ode inten­sive d’ex­péri­men­ta­tion avec le « Bol Processor », une sorte de dia­logue se met­tait en bran­le où Afaq Hussain alter­nait des phras­es ryth­miques générées par ordi­na­teur avec des ensem­bles de vari­a­tions qui lui étaient pro­pres. Tant de com­po­si­tions ont été générées et alternées de cette manière qu’il était sou­vent dif­fi­cile de savoir si le réper­toire qu’il jouait en con­cert prove­nait de l’or­di­na­teur ou pas. Pourtant, alors que cer­tains enseignants et inter­prètes dévelop­pent un réper­toire de vari­a­tions fix­es provenant d’un thème, Afaq Hussain lui l’a rarement fait, s’ap­puyant plutôt sur son imag­i­na­tion « dans l’in­stant ». C’est aus­si l’ap­proche qu’il a encour­agée en nous. Par con­séquent, je doute que le matériel généré par ordi­na­teur soit devenu une par­tie per­ma­nente du répertoire.

Est-ce que ce type d’approche spé­ci­fique util­isant l’IA en eth­no­mu­si­colo­gie a été pour­suivi par d’autres ?

Le terme « Intelligence Artificielle » a fait l’ob­jet d’un change­ment rad­i­cal dans les années 1980-1990 grâce au développe­ment de l’ap­proche « con­nex­ion­niste » (les neu­rones arti­fi­ciels) et de tech­niques d’ap­pren­tis­sage à par­tir d’ex­em­ples capa­bles de traiter une grande masse de don­nées. Avec le Bol Processor (BP) nous étions au stade de la mod­éli­sa­tion symbolique-numérique de déci­sions humaines représen­tées par des gram­maires formelles, ce qui exigeait une con­nais­sance appro­fondie, bien qu’in­tu­itive, des mécan­ismes de décision.

Pour cette rai­son, les approches symboliques-numériques n’ont pas été repris­es par d’autres équipes à ma con­nais­sance. Par con­tre, nous avions aus­si abor­dé l’ap­pren­tis­sage automa­tique (de gram­maires formelles) à l’aide du logi­ciel QAVAID écrit sous Prolog II. Nous avons ain­si mon­tré que la machine devait col­lecter des infor­ma­tions en dia­loguant avec le musi­cien pour effectuer une seg­men­ta­tion cor­recte des phras­es musi­cales et amorcer un tra­vail de général­i­sa­tion par inférence induc­tive. Mais ce tra­vail n’a pas été pour­suivi car les machines étaient trop lentes et nous ne dis­po­sions pas de cor­pus assez grands pour con­stru­ire un mod­èle cou­vrant une grande var­iété de mod­èles d’improvisation.

Il se peut que des chercheurs indi­ens fassent appel à de l’ap­pren­tis­sage à par­tir d’ex­em­ples – qu’on appelle aujour­d’hui « Intelligence Artificielle » – pour traiter de grandes mass­es de don­nées pro­duites par des per­cus­sion­nistes. Cette approche « big data » a le défaut de man­quer de pré­ci­sion dans un domaine où la pré­ci­sion est un mar­queur d’ex­per­tise musi­cale, et de ne pas pro­duire des algo­rithmes com­préhen­si­bles qui con­stitueraient une « gram­maire générale » de l’im­pro­vi­sa­tion sur un instru­ment de per­cus­sion. Notre ambi­tion ini­tiale était de con­tribuer à la con­struc­tion de cette gram­maire, mais nous avons seule­ment prou­vé, avec la tech­nolo­gie de l’époque, que ce serait réalisable.

Fig. 3 : Bhupal Ray Chowdhury (dis­ci­ple de Wajid Hussain et son fils Afaq Hussain) et J. Kippen en séance d’expérimentation avec le Bol Processor, Calcutta, 1984, pho­to de James Kippen

Dans les ver­sions ultérieures, ce logi­ciel a pu pro­cur­er égale­ment de la matière et des out­ils pour le tra­vail de com­po­si­tion en musique et en danse au-delà du con­texte indi­en. On fêtera en 2021 les 40 ans de ce logi­ciel avec une nou­velle ver­sion. Quels sont les artistes qui ont util­isé le logiciel ? 

Des com­po­si­tions ryth­miques pro­gram­mées sur BP2 et inter­prétées sur un syn­thé­tiseur Roland D50 ont été util­isées pour l’œu­vre choré­graphique CRONOS dirigée par Andréine Bel et pro­duite en 1994 au NCPA de Bombay. Voir par exem­ple

A la fin des années 1990, le com­pos­i­teur néer­landais H. Visser a util­isé BP2 pour con­tribuer au développe­ment d’opéra­teurs per­me­t­tant la com­po­si­tion de musique sérielle. Voir par exem­ple

Nous avons eu des retours et deman­des d’u­ni­ver­si­taires européens et améri­cains qui utilisent BP2 comme out­il péd­a­gogique pour l’en­seigne­ment de la com­po­si­tion musi­cale. Mais nous n’avons jamais fait de cam­pagne « pub­lic­i­taire » à grande échelle pour agrandir la com­mu­nauté d’u­til­isa­teurs, étant intéressés en pri­or­ité par le développe­ment du sys­tème et la recherche musi­cologique qui lui est associée.

La prin­ci­pale lim­ite de BP2 était son fonc­tion­nement exclusif dans l’en­vi­ron­nement Mac. C’est pourquoi la ver­sion BP3 en cours de développe­ment est mul­ti­plate­forme. Elle sera vraisem­blable­ment mise en ser­vice en ver­sion « Cloud » ren­du pos­si­ble par son inter­ac­tion étroite avec le logi­ciel Csound. Ce logi­ciel per­met de pro­gram­mer des algo­rithmes per­for­mants de pro­duc­tion sonore et de tra­vailler avec des mod­èles d’in­to­na­tion micro­tonale que nous avons dévelop­pés, aus­si bien pour la musique har­monique que pour le raga indi­en – voir

Etudes de la notation, du mètre, du rythme et de leurs évolutions

Au fil de ton tra­vail, la ques­tion de la nota­tion musi­cale occupe une place impor­tante autant sur le plan de la méthodolo­gie que sur celui de la réflex­ion à pro­pos de son usage. Tu as mis en place ton pro­pre sys­tème afin de représen­ter le plus rigoureuse­ment pos­si­ble tes analy­ses des com­po­si­tions de tablā et de pakhā­vaj. Peux-tu nous par­ler de cet aspect de ton travail ? 

Toutes les nota­tions écrites sont des approx­i­ma­tions incom­plètes et leur con­tri­bu­tion au proces­sus de trans­mis­sion est lim­ité. Les représen­ta­tions orales, comme les suites de syl­labes énon­cées (bols) représen­tant des frappes de per­cus­sion, trans­met­tent sou­vent des infor­ma­tions plus pré­cis­es sur la musi­cal­ité inhérente aux mod­èles, tels que l’accentuation, l’in­flex­ion, le phrasé et la vari­abil­ité micro-rythmique. De même, une fois intéri­or­isées, ces syl­labes sont indélé­biles. Nous savons que les sys­tèmes oraux favorisent une bonne mémoire musi­cale, ce qui est par­ti­c­ulière­ment impor­tant dans le con­texte de la per­for­mance musi­cale en Inde où les inter­prètes ne com­men­cent qu’avec une feuille de route très générale, mais pren­nent ensuite toutes sortes de détours inat­ten­dus. Dans cette per­spec­tive, on pour­rait se deman­der pourquoi écrire quoi que ce soit ?

À par­tir des années 1860, il y a eu un essor des nota­tions musi­cales en Inde, inspiré il me sem­ble par la prise de con­science que la musique occi­den­tale pos­sé­dait un sys­tème de nota­tion effi­cace, et sus­cité aus­si par l’aug­men­ta­tion con­stante de l’ap­pren­tis­sage insti­tu­tion­nal­isé et d’un besoin appar­ent de textes péd­a­gogiques et de réper­toires. Pourtant, il n’y a jamais eu de con­sen­sus sur la façon de not­er, et chaque nou­veau sys­tème dif­férait grande­ment des autres. La nota­tion conçue en 1903 par Gurudev Patwardhan était sans doute la plus détail­lée et la plus pré­cise jamais créée pour les per­cus­sions comme le tablā et le pakhā­vaj, mais elle était sûre­ment trop com­pliquée pour que les étu­di­ants la lisent comme une par­ti­tion. Son objec­tif pre­mier était donc davan­tage d’être un ouvrage de référence qui préser­vait le réper­toire et four­nis­sait un pro­gramme pour un appren­tis­sage structuré.

Nous vivons dans un monde de l’écrit et les musi­ciens recon­nais­sent que leurs élèves ne con­sacrent plus leurs journées entières à la pra­tique. Comme d’autres pro­fesseurs, Afaq Hussain nous a tous encour­agés à écrire le réper­toire qu’il enseignait pour qu’il ne soit pas oublié. Pour moi, il était par­ti­c­ulière­ment impor­tant de saisir deux aspects dans mes pro­pres cahiers : la pré­ci­sion ryth­mique et les doigtés pré­cis. En ce qui con­cerne ce dernier, par exem­ple, face à la phrase keṛe­na­ga tirak­iṭa takata­ka tirak­iṭa, je m’assurais de not­er cor­recte­ment le doigté pré­cis dans la douzaine de tech­niques pos­si­bles pour takata­ka, sans par­ler des var­iétés de keṛe­na­ga, et j’indiquais égale­ment que les deux ver­sions de tirak­iṭa avaient été jouées légère­ment différemment.

Afaq Hussain a gardé ses pro­pres cahiers rangés en toute sécu­rité dans une armoire ver­rouil­lée. Il les con­sul­tait par­fois. Je pense qu’il avait con­science du fait que le réper­toire dis­parais­sait effec­tive­ment avec la tra­di­tion orale. Après tout, il y a des cen­taines, voire des mil­liers de morceaux de musique. Son grand-père, Abid Hussain (1867-1936) fut le pre­mier pro­fesseur de tablā au Bhatkhande Music College de Lucknow. Lui aus­si a noté des com­po­si­tions de tablā, et j’ai en ma pos­ses­sion des cen­taines de pages qu’il a écrites sans aucun doute pour être pub­liées sous forme de texte péd­a­gogique. Cependant, il n’a pas indiqué de rythmes ou de doigtés pré­cis, et l’in­ter­pré­ta­tion de sa musique est donc prob­lé­ma­tique, même pour le fils d’Afaq Hussain, Ilmas Hussain, avec qui j’ai passé tout son réper­toire au peigne fin. Une nota­tion pré­cise a donc de la valeur, si elle est accom­pa­g­née d’une tra­di­tion orale qui peut ajouter toutes les infor­ma­tions néces­saires pour don­ner vie à la musique.

Avec tes recherch­es récentes sur de nom­breux textes indo-persans des XVIIIe et XIXe siè­cles, tu mets en évi­dence l’évolution de la représen­ta­tion de la métrique en Inde. Ces recherch­es illus­trent l’importance de l’approche his­torique et met­tent en évi­dence pleine­ment les mécan­ismes d’évolution des faits cul­turels. Quels sont les con­cepts que tu utilis­es pour décrire ces phénomènes ?

Une facette impor­tante de notre for­ma­tion anthro­pologique était d’ap­pren­dre à fonc­tion­ner dans la langue de ceux avec qui nous nous sommes engagés dans nos recherch­es, non seule­ment pour gér­er la vie au quo­ti­di­en, mais aus­si pour avoir accès à des con­cepts qui sont sig­ni­fi­cat­ifs dans la cul­ture étudiée. Deux ter­mes sont impor­tants à cet égard, l’un dont l’im­por­tance est à mon avis exagérée, l’autre sous-estimée. Premièrement, gharānā, qui depuis sa pre­mière appari­tion dans les années 1860 sig­nifi­ait « famille » mais qui, au fil du temps, en est venu à englober toute per­son­ne qui croit partager cer­tains élé­ments de tech­nique, de style ou de réper­toire avec une per­son­ne dom­i­nante du passé. Deuxièmement, sil­si­la, un terme com­mun dans le soufisme qui sig­ni­fie « chaîne, con­nex­ion ou suc­ces­sion », et qui a une per­ti­nence spé­ci­fique dans le cas de l’enseignement dans une lignée de musi­ciens. C’est cette sil­si­la plus pré­cise qui détient, selon moi, la clé de la trans­mis­sion de la cul­ture musi­cale, et pour­tant le para­doxe est que la chaîne porte en elle une direc­tive implicite pour explor­er l’individualité créa­trice. C’est pourquoi, par exem­ple, lorsque l’on exam­ine la lignée des joueurs de tablā de Delhi à par­tir du milieu du XIXe siè­cle, on con­state des dif­férences majeures de tech­nique, de style et de réper­toire d’une généra­tion à l’autre. Il en va de même pour mon pro­fesseur Afaq Hussain, dont le jeu dif­férait grande­ment de celui de son père et enseignant Wajid Hussain. Chaque indi­vidu hérite d’une cer­taine essence musi­cale dans la sil­si­la, bien sûr, mais il doit s’en­gager et opér­er dans un monde en con­stante évo­lu­tion où la survie artis­tique néces­site une adap­ta­tion. Il est donc d’une impor­tance vitale lors de l’é­tude de toute époque musi­cale de recueil­lir autant d’in­for­ma­tions que pos­si­ble sur le milieu socio­cul­turel observé.

Comme je viens de le démon­tr­er, il est impératif de s’en­gager avec des con­cepts de la cul­ture, de les expli­quer et de les utilis­er sans recourir à la tra­duc­tion. Un autre excel­lent exem­ple est celui du terme tāla, qui est le plus sou­vent traduit par mètre ou cycle métrique. Et pour­tant, il y a une dif­férence fon­da­men­tale entre les deux. Le mètre est implicite : c’est un motif qui est dérivé des rythmes de sur­face d’une pièce, et se com­pose d’une impul­sion sous-jacente qui est organ­isée en une séquence hiérar­chique récur­rente de bat­te­ments forts et faibles. Mais, par con­traste, tāla est explicite : c’est un motif récur­rent de bat­te­ments non hiérar­chiques se man­i­fes­tant par des gestes de la main con­sis­tant en des claps, des mou­ve­ments silen­cieux de la main et des comptes sur les doigts, ou comme une séquence rel­a­tive­ment fixe de frappes de per­cus­sion. Utiliser le terme « mètre » dans le con­texte indi­en est donc trompeur, et j’en­cour­age donc l’u­til­i­sa­tion de terme tāla avec une expli­ca­tion mais sans traduction.

Tu tra­vailles actuelle­ment sur un ouvrage con­cer­nant les sources du XVIIIe et XIXe siè­cles, quel est ton objectif ?

Mon objec­tif est de retrac­er les orig­ines et l’évo­lu­tion du sys­tème du tāla actuelle­ment util­isé dans la musique hin­dous­tanie en rassem­blant autant d’in­for­ma­tions que pos­si­ble à par­tir de sources con­tem­po­raines de la fin du XVIIe siè­cle jusqu’au début du XXe siè­cle et de l’ère de l’enregistrement. Le prob­lème est que les infor­ma­tions disponibles sont frag­men­taires et sou­vent rédigées dans un lan­gage obscur : la tâche s’ap­par­ente à un puz­zle où la plu­part des pièces man­quent. De plus, les sources que l’on trou­ve ne sont pas néces­saire­ment directe­ment con­nec­tées, et donc j’ai plutôt l’impression de tra­vailler avec deux ou plusieurs puz­zles à la fois. En bref, après une analyse minu­tieuse, des déduc­tions et des hypothès­es, je pense qu’il y a eu une con­ver­gence des sys­tèmes ryth­miques au XVIIIe siè­cle qui a don­né nais­sance au sys­tème du tāla d’aujourd’hui.

 Les pra­tiques musi­cales et les con­textes soci­aux des divers­es com­mu­nautés (les Kalāwant qui chan­taient le dhru­pad, les Qawwāl qui chan­taient le khayāl, le tarā­na et le qaul, ain­si que la com­mu­nauté des Ḍhāḍhī qui accom­pa­g­naient tous ces gen­res musi­caux), doivent impéra­tive­ment être pris en compte pour com­pren­dre com­ment et pourquoi la musique et le rythme en par­ti­c­uli­er, ont évolués comme ils l’ont fait. Pourtant, il y a tant d’autres aspects impor­tants dans cette his­toire : le rôle des femmes instru­men­tistes dans les espaces privés de la vie mog­hole au XVIIIe siè­cle, et leur dis­pari­tion pro­gres­sive au XIXe siè­cle, le colo­nial­isme, le statut et l’in­flu­ence des textes anciens, les tech­niques d’im­pres­sion et la dif­fu­sion de nou­veaux textes péd­a­gogiques à la fin du XIXe siè­cle, pour n’en citer que quelques-uns.

Quelles sont les sources intéres­santes à con­sid­ér­er pour com­pren­dre l’évolution des pra­tiques et des représen­ta­tions ryth­miques de la musique hindoustanie ?

Le nord de l’Inde a tou­jours été ouvert aux échanges cul­turels, et cela était par­ti­c­ulière­ment le cas sous les Moghols. Il est impératif de com­pren­dre qui se rendait dans ces cours, d’où ils venaient et ce qu’ils jouaient. Il est tout aus­si impor­tant de com­pren­dre les doc­u­ments écrits disponibles ain­si que les dis­cours intel­lectuels de l’époque, car la con­nais­sance de la musique était cru­ciale pour l’é­ti­quette mog­hole. Ainsi, quand on sait que le traité de musique très influ­ent Kitāb al-adwār, du théoricien du XIIIe siè­cle Safi al-Din al-Urmawi al-Baghdadi, était large­ment disponible en Inde en arabe et en tra­duc­tion per­sane, et que des exem­plaires se trou­vaient dans la col­lec­tion des nobles de Delhi à par­tir du XVIIe siè­cle, on com­prend mieux pourquoi le rythme indi­en était expliqué en util­isant les principes de la prosodie arabe à la fin du XVIIIe siè­cle. Mon argu­ment est que la prosodie arabe, appliquée à la musique, était un out­il plus puis­sant que les méth­odes tra­di­tion­nelles de prosodie san­skrite, et qu’elle était donc plus effi­cace pour décrire les change­ments qui se pro­dui­saient dans la pen­sée et la pra­tique ryth­mique à cette époque.

Ces recherch­es ethno-historiques bous­cu­lent par­fois les croy­ances de cer­tains musi­ciens et chercheurs, notam­ment sur les ques­tions d’ancienneté et d’« authen­tic­ité » des tra­di­tions. Penses-tu que les musi­ciens d’aujourd’hui sont davan­tage enclins à accepter les évi­dences de la nature com­plexe des tra­di­tions musi­cales, for­mées de mul­ti­ples apports et en per­pétuelles transformations ?

Certains le sont, mais cer­tains ne le sont pas. Il y a tou­jours eu un petit nom­bre de chercheurs en Inde qui menaient des recherch­es pré­cieuses et factuelles sur la musique. Pourtant, je suis déçu de con­stater qu’il y en a beau­coup d’autres qui reposent sur le rabâchage et la dif­fu­sion d’opin­ions non fondées et non savantes. Ce qui me sur­prend peut-être le plus, c’est le manque de for­ma­tion sci­en­tifique rigoureuse dans les uni­ver­sités de musique en Inde et la per­sis­tance d’idées et d’in­for­ma­tions réfutées ou dis­créditées en dépit de tant d’ex­cel­lentes recherch­es pub­liées indi­quant le contraire.

Fig. 4 : J. Kippen, 2017, Université de Toronto. Photo de James Kippen

Depuis les années 1990, on con­state le ren­force­ment d’un nation­al­isme hin­dou au sein de la société indi­enne. Notes-tu un impact par­ti­c­uli­er sur le monde de la musique hin­dous­tanie et sur celui de la recherche ?

Il s’agit là d’un sujet com­plexe et sen­si­ble. Le nation­al­isme hin­dou n’est pas nou­veau, loin de là, et comme je l’ai démon­tré dans mon livre sur Gurudev Patwardhan, il a con­sti­tué une par­tie impor­tante de la rai­son d’être de la vie et de l’œu­vre de Vishnu Digambar Paluskar au début du XXe siè­cle. Comme de nom­breux chercheurs l’ont souligné, ce nation­al­isme avait ses racines dans le colo­nial­isme et s’est dévelop­pé en tant que mou­ve­ment anti­colo­nial axé sur la poli­tique iden­ti­taire hin­doue. Ce réc­it, basé sur des notions inven­tées d’un passé hin­dou glo­rieux, a min­imisé les con­tri­bu­tions de la cul­ture mog­hole et des grandes lignées de musi­ciens musul­mans (sans par­ler des femmes). Depuis ce temps, l’i­den­tité musul­mane indi­enne dans le domaine de la musique a con­nu un cer­tain déclin. Les chercheurs ont pris note de cette chute et ont ten­té de retrac­er cer­tains des contre-récits qui ont jusqu’à présent été ignorés, comme l’ex­cel­lent livre de Max Katz Lineage of Loss (Wesleyan University Press, 2017) sur une grande famille de musiciens-savants musul­mans, nom­mée Shahjahanpur-Lucknow gharānā. Je pense que dans de nom­breuses études actuelles qui por­tent sur la musique en Inde se trou­ve une forte moti­va­tion de ne pas omet­tre ces réc­its cul­turels impor­tants, de les réanimer et de les replac­er dans le grand réc­it de l’his­toire de l’Asie du Sud.

A la suite de R. Stewart, tu as mis en évi­dence l’intrication com­plexe des approches ryth­miques et métriques dans le jeu des joueurs de tablā en mon­trant qu’il résulte de divers apports cul­turels qui se sont suc­cédés dans le temps. Avec l’intensification des échanges cul­turels mon­di­aux depuis la fin du XXe siè­cle, as-tu observé une ou des ten­dances évo­lu­tives dans le jeu des joueurs de tablā ?

Depuis l’in­clu­sion du tablā dans la musique pop des années 1960, l’exaltante fusion jazz du groupe Shakti de John McLaughlin dans les années 1970 et l’om­niprésence aujourd’hui du tablā dans la musique sous toutes ses formes, il sem­ble tout naturel que les joueurs de tablā du monde entier aient envie d’explorer et d’expérimenter ses sons mag­iques. Zakir Hussain a mon­tré la voie en démon­trant la flex­i­bil­ité et l’adapt­abil­ité de cet instru­ment, ain­si que la véloc­ité vis­cérale et pal­pi­tante de ses motifs rythmiques.

Quant au tablā, dans le con­texte de la musique de con­cert hin­dous­tanie, j’ai remar­qué que nom­breux sont ceux qui ten­tent d’in­jecter ce même sen­ti­ment d’ex­al­ta­tion, ren­for­cé de plus en plus, semble-t-il, par une ampli­fi­ca­tion si forte qu’elle déforme le son et heurte les tym­pa­ns du pub­lic jusqu’à la soumis­sion.  J’irais jusqu’à dire que c’est mal­heureuse­ment devenu la norme. À cet égard, je me con­sid­ère comme une sorte de puriste qui aspire à un retour à une pra­tique où le joueur de tablā main­tient un rôle sub­til, dis­cret mais de sou­tien, et com­plète la ligne du soliste, en restant mod­este et sans domin­er la scène lorsqu’il est invité à faire une petite appari­tion ou un court solo. De la même manière, je désire un retour aux soli de tablā qui regor­gent de con­tenu plutôt que d’« effets sonores ». Par « con­tenu », j’en­tends des com­po­si­tions tra­di­tion­nelles de car­ac­tère, dotées de tech­niques spé­cial­isées, dont les com­pos­i­teurs sont nom­més et ain­si hon­orés. Et pour­tant, il est douloureuse­ment évi­dent qu’un tel « con­tenu » n’at­teint pas beau­coup de jeunes joueurs de nos jours.


Comme évo­qué, tes recherch­es met­tent en avant l’importance des sources his­toriques aus­si bien que la prise en compte des phénomènes plus large comme l’orientalisme ou le nation­al­isme pour com­pren­dre le présent des pra­tiques musi­cales indi­ennes. En même temps tu es très atten­tif aux intens­es phénomènes tran­scul­turels actuels et à la néces­sité de les appréhen­der. Dans la pro­fes­sion, le con­cept d’« eth­no­mu­si­colo­gie » ne fait pas tou­jours con­sen­sus. Quelle est ta posi­tion par rap­port à cette appel­la­tion et à l’objet de cette dis­ci­pline en ce début du XXIe siècle ?

Je n’ai jamais été par­ti­c­ulière­ment à l’aise avec l’é­ti­quette d’« eth­no­mu­si­colo­gie ». Comme dis­ait J. Blacking, toute musique est de la « musique eth­nique », et par con­séquent, il ne devrait pas y avoir de dis­tinc­tion entre les études sur le tablā, le game­lan, le hip-hop et celles sur Bach, Beethoven ou Brahms. Nous nous enga­geons tous dans un « dis­cours sur la musique », une « musi­colo­gie ». L’avantage de ter­mes comme « anthro­polo­gie » ou « soci­olo­gie » de la musique est qu’ils impliquent une gamme plus large d’ap­proches théoriques et méthodologiques qui nous rap­pel­lent que la musique est un fait social. Pourtant, nous devons recon­naître que le champ des études eth­no­mu­si­cologiques a évolué et que, de nos jours, une atten­tion bien plus grande est accordée à des phénomènes comme le bruit ou les sons de la vie quo­ti­di­enne. Par con­séquent (sans vouloir paraître trop cynique) bien que dans cer­tains milieux les « sound stud­ies » soient traitées avec un cer­tain mépris, ce terme très général est peut-être la déf­i­ni­tion la plus hon­nête et la plus pré­cise de ce que nous (nous tous) faisons. Je recon­nais toute­fois qu’il serait dom­mage de rejeter com­plète­ment le terme « musique », et donc j’aime con­cevoir l’eth­no­mu­si­colo­gie, la musi­colo­gie et la théorie musi­cale se réu­nis­sant sous la rubrique « musique et sound stud­ies ».


Après une courte péri­ode à Belfast, tu as enseigné à Toronto, peux tu nous par­ler de ton expéri­ence d’enseignement ?

Toronto est une ville mer­veilleuse et, selon la plu­part des témoignages, c’est la ville la plus mul­ti­cul­turelle de la planète. Elle offre un envi­ron­nement musi­cal très riche et stimulant.

Miecyzslaw Kolinski a enseigné à l’Université de Toronto de 1966 à 1978. Ses intérêts eth­no­mu­si­cologiques ont été façon­nés par sa for­ma­tion auprès de Hornbostel et Sachs, et par la vision d’un monde, partagée par tant de géants de notre dis­ci­pline. Ses pub­li­ca­tions por­tent sur les bases sci­en­tifiques de l’har­monie et de la mélodie et il a dévelop­pé des méth­odes d’analyse inter­cul­turelle. Son approche a été caté­gorique­ment rejetée dans ma pro­pre for­ma­tion avec John Blacking qui a tou­jours défendu avec véhé­mence le rel­a­tivisme cul­turel, tout comme cela était en con­tra­dic­tion avec la for­ma­tion de Tim Rice à l’Université de Washington. Tim a été embauché en 1974 et est par­ti pour l’UCLA en 1987. Comme moi à mes débuts, Tim a eu du mal à con­va­in­cre ses col­lègues de l’im­por­tance de l’ap­proche eth­no­mu­si­cologique et de la néces­sité de traiter notre dis­ci­pline avec le respect qu’elle mérite et les ressources qu’elle néces­site. Nous avons tous les deux beau­coup lut­té. Tim a créé un pro­gramme qui est devenu con­nu sous ma direc­tion sous le nom « The World Music Ensembles », et pour ma part j’ai acquis un game­lan bali­nais en 1993, aidé par mon épouse, l’eth­no­mu­si­co­logue Annette Sanger, anci­enne col­lègue de J. Blacking. De plus, Tim et moi avons réus­si à inté­gr­er davan­tage les cours d’eth­no­mu­si­colo­gie au cœur du pro­gramme pour nous assur­er que tous les étu­di­ants en musique, quels que soient leurs intérêts, soient exposés à notre approche et com­pren­nent la valeur et l’im­por­tance d’une vision sociale­ment fondée de toute musique. J’ai créé un cours d’in­tro­duc­tion d’un an inti­t­ulé Music as Culture que j’ai co-enseigné pen­dant quelques années avec un col­lègue de musi­colo­gie : nous avons alterné nos cours, illus­trant et croisant notre cor­pus et nos obser­va­tions sur nos canons occi­den­taux et le vaste monde de la musique au-delà. Mon cours Introduction to Music & Society est devenu emblé­ma­tique. Mon approche étant essen­tielle­ment mod­u­laire, les thèmes choi­sis ont changé et se sont adap­tés au fil du temps pour refléter des préoc­cu­pa­tions plus con­tem­po­raines, notam­ment la musique et l’i­den­tité, l’ex­péri­ence religieuse, la migra­tion, le genre, la guéri­son et les sound stud­ies.

Dans mes fonc­tions d’enseignant, j’ai conçu et enseigné une var­iété de cours : Hindustani music, Music & Islam, Theory & Method in Ethnomusicology, The Beatles, Anthropology of Music, Fieldwork, Music, Colonialism & Postcolonialism, Rhythm & Metre in Cross-Cultural Perspective, Transcription, Notation & Analysis, etc. J’ai tra­vail­lé avec la com­mu­nauté sud-asiatique de Toronto pour organ­is­er des con­certs du chanteur Pandit Jasraj. Ils ont attiré des spon­sors générant des bours­es d’é­tudes fiables pour des étu­di­ants dont les recherch­es por­taient sur la musique hin­dous­tanie. J’ai aidé à met­tre en place un pro­gramme d’artiste en rési­dence, invi­tant des musi­ciens du monde entier à pass­er un trimestre avec nous à enseign­er et à jouer. J’ai con­tribué à la refonte de nos pro­grammes d’é­tudes supérieures axés sur la musi­colo­gie et j’ai intro­duit dans le pro­gramme d’étude une maîtrise et un doc­tor­at en eth­no­mu­si­colo­gie. Mais les deux réal­i­sa­tions dont je suis sans doute le plus fier sont pre­mière­ment les nom­breux et mer­veilleux doc­tor­ants que j’ai encadrés, dont beau­coup ont eux-mêmes pour­suivi une car­rière dans le milieu uni­ver­si­taire, et deux­ième­ment le suc­cès de mon ini­tia­tive d’élargissement de notre représen­ta­tion : nous sommes passés d’un seul poste de pro­fesseur à qua­tre tit­u­laires à plein-temps en ethnomusicologie.

Quelle est ta place au sein du gharānā de Lucknow ?

J’ai beau­coup appré­cié appren­dre et jouer du tablā dans ma vie et je me con­sid­ère extrême­ment chanceux d’avoir eu un lien aus­si étroit et pro­duc­tif avec l’un des joueurs de tablā les plus remar­quables de l’his­toire : Afaq Hussain. J’ai la chance d’avoir une bonne mémoire et j’ai donc encore dans ma tête un vaste réper­toire de com­po­si­tions mer­veilleuses remon­tant aux pre­miers mem­bres de la lignée Lucknow qui ont prospéré à la fin du XVIIIe et au début du XIXe siè­cle. Je suis par­ti­c­ulière­ment intéressé par la tech­nique et j’ai passé beau­coup de temps à étudi­er les mécan­ismes du jeu. Cependant, je suis avant tout un éru­dit et, en pra­tique, je ne me fais aucune illu­sion d’être guère plus qu’un ama­teur. En effet, mon intérêt pour le jeu m’a fourni des aperçus extra­or­di­naires de l’in­stru­ment et de son histoire.

Quant à ma place ou mon rôle au sein du gharānā de Lucknow, je dirais deux choses. Tout d’abord, je con­tin­ue à faire par­tie de l’échange d’idées et de réper­toire avec mes pairs aux côtés desquels j’ai étudié le tablā et qui font par­tie main­tenant, comme moi, des grandes fig­ures de la sil­si­la, la lignée directe de l’enseignement d’Afaq Hussain. Ils me con­sid­èrent comme un pro­fes­sion­nel avisé,  une autorité dans mon domaine. Parfois, on me demande si je me sou­viens d’une com­po­si­tion rare sur laque­lle il y a eu débat, et par­fois j’in­tro­duis dans notre dia­logue des infor­ma­tions et des ques­tions issues de mes recherch­es qui sus­ci­tent un vif intérêt. Par exem­ple, le fils d’Afaq Hussain, Ilmas Hussain, et moi-même avons tra­vail­lé ensem­ble pour ressus­citer les cahiers de son arrière-grand-père Abid Hussain et les plac­er dans leur con­texte, non seule­ment celui de leur tra­di­tion mais aus­si celui de la fin des années 1920 et du début des années 1930, années durant lesquelles Abid Hussain incar­nait le tout pre­mier pro­fesseur de tablā au Bhatkhande College de Lucknow. Enfin, je pense que mes travaux ont su attir­er une plus grande atten­tion sur la lignée de Lucknow. Quand je suis arrivé à la porte d’Afaq Hussain en jan­vi­er 1981, il était affaib­li – psy­chologique­ment et finan­cière­ment – et son avenir était incer­tain. D’autres étu­di­ants étrangers ont suivi mon exem­ple et ont rejoint un nom­bre tou­jours crois­sant de dis­ci­ples indi­ens venus pour appren­dre. Mon livre, The Tabla of Lucknow, ain­si que d’autres facettes de mes recherch­es ont donc bien con­tribué à attir­er l’at­ten­tion nationale et inter­na­tionale sur Afaq Hussain, son fils Ilmas et toute leur tradition.

Liste des publications


2006                   Gurudev’s Drumming Legacy : Music, Theory and Nationalism in the Mrdang aur Tabla Vadanpaddhati of Gurudev Patwardhan. Aldershot : Ashgate (SOAS Musicology Series).

2005                   The Tabla of Lucknow : A Cultural Analysis of a Musical Tradition. New Delhi : Manohar (Nouvelle édi­tion avec nou­velle préface).

1988                   The Tabla of Lucknow : A Cultural Analysis of a Musical Tradition. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press (Cambridge Studies in Ethnomusicology).

Direction d’ouvrage          

2013                   avec Frank Kouwenhoven, Music, Dance and the Art of Seduction. Delft : Eburon Academic Publishers.

Direction de revue

1994-1996        Bansuri (A year­ly jour­nal devot­ed to the music and dance of India, pub­lished by Raga Mala Performing Arts of Canada). Volume 13, 1996 (60 pp), vol­ume 12, 1995 (60 pp), vol­ume 11, 1994 (64 pp).

Articles, chapitres d’ouvrages

À paraître           « Weighing ‘The Assets of Pleasure’: Interpreting the Theory and Practice of Rhythm and Drumming in the Sarmāya-i ‘Ishrat, a Pivotal 19th Century Text. », in Katherine Schofield, dir. : Hindustani Music Between Empires : Alternative Histories, 1748-1887. Éditeur à préciser.

À paraître           « An Extremely Nice, Fine and Unique Drum : A Reading of Late Mughal and Early Colonial Texts and Images on Hindustani Rhythm and Drumming. », in Katherine Schofield, Julia Byl et David Lunn, dir. : Paracolonial Soundworlds : Music and Colonial Transitions in South and Southeast Asia. Éditeur à préciser.

2021                   « Ethnomusicology at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. » MUSICultures (Journal of the Canadian Society for Traditional Music). Vol. 48.

2020                   « Rhythmic Thought and Practice in the Indian Subcontinent. » in Russell Hartenberger & Ryan McClelland, dir. : The Cambridge Companion to Rhythm. Cambridge University Press : 241-60.

2019                   « Mapping a Rhythmic Revolution Through Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Sources on Rhythm and Drumming in North India. » In Wolf, Richard K., Stephen Blum, & Christopher Hasty, dir. : Thought and Play in Musical Rhythm: Asian, African, and Euro-American Perspectives. Oxford University Press : 253-72.

2013                   « Introduction. » In Frank Kouwenhoven & James Kippen, dir. : Music, Dance and the Art of Seduction. Delft : Eburon Academic Publishers : i-xix.

2012                   « On the con­tri­bu­tions of Pt. Sudhir V. Mainkar to our under­stand­ing of the tabla.” Souvenir Volume in Honour of Sudhir Vishnu Mainkar. Sharda Sangeet Vidyalaya : Mumbai.

2010                   « The History of Tabla. » In Joep Bor, Françoise ‘Nalini’ Delvoye, Jane Harvey and Emmie te Nijenhuis, dir. : Hindustani Music, Thirteenth to Twentieth Centuries. New Delhi : Manohar : 459-78.

2008                   « Working with the Masters. » In Gregory Barz and Timothy Cooley, dir. : Shadows in the Field : New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology (2nd Edition révisée). Oxford University Press : 125–40.

2008                   « Hindustani Tala : An Introduction. » Concise Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. New York : Garland [ver­sion con­den­sée de la pub­li­ca­tion de 2000].

 2007                  « The Tal Paddhati of 1888 : An Early Source for Tabla. » Journal of the Indian MusicologicalSociety, 38 : 151–239.

2005                   « Lucknow » Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World, Part 2, Vol. 5, Locations: Asia & Oceania. London : Continuum : 109–110.

2003                   « Le rythme: Vitalité de l’Inde. » In Gloire des princes, louange des dieux: Patrimoine musi­cal de l’Hindoustan du XIVe au XXe siè­cle. Paris : Cité de la musique et Réunion des Musées Nationaux 2003 :152–73.

2002                   « Wajid Revisited : A Reassessment of Robert Gottlieb’s Tabla Study, and a new Transcription of the Solo of Wajid Hussain Khan of Lucknow. » Asian Music, 33, 2 : 111–74.

2001                   « Asian Music [in Ontario]. » Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume 3, The United States and Canada. New York : Garland Publishing : 1215–17.

2001                   « Folk Grooves and Tabla Tals. » ECHO: a music-centered jour­nal.  III: 1 (Spring 2001). En Ligne

2000                   « Hindustani Tala. » Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume 5, South Asia: The Indian Subcontinent. New York : Garland Publishing : 110–37.

1998                   « What’s Wrong With Hindustani Music ? » Sruti (Madras), no.160 (réédi­tion de l’article parut dans Kala, 1996).

1998                   « Musings on Dhrupad, and an Interview with Falguni Mitra. » Kala, Volume 2, no.1 : 4.

1997                   « The Musical Evolution of Lucknow. » In Violette Graff, dir., Lucknow : Memories of a City. New Delhi : Oxford University Press : 181–95.

1996                   « A la recherche du temps musi­cal. » Temporalistes, 34 : 11-22 En ligne :

1996                   avec Andréine Bel « Lucknow Kathak Dance. » Bansuri (Journal of the Raga Mala Performing Arts of Canada), 13 : 42–50.

1996                   « What’s Wrong With Hindustani Music? » Kala, Volume 1, no.2, 1996 : 4–7.

1995                   Réponse à « Theory of Participatory Discrepancies » de Charles Keil Ethnomusicology, 39, 1 : 77–78.

1994                   « Computers, Composition, and the Challenge of ‘New Music’ in Modern India. » Leonardo Music Journal, 4 : 79–84.

1992                   « Tabla Drumming and the Human-Computer Interaction. » The World of Music, 34, 3 : 72–98.

1992                   « Music and the Computer : Some Anthropological Considerations. » Interface, 21, 3-4 : 257–62.

1992                   « Where Does The End Begin ? Problems in Musico-Cognitive Modelling. » Minds & Machines, 2, 4 : 329–44.

1992                   « Identifying Improvisation Schemata with QAVAID. » In Walter B. Hewlett & Eleanor Selfridge-Field, dir. : Computing in Musicology : An International Directory of Applications, Volume 8. Center for Computer Assisted Research in the Humanities :115–19.

1992                   « Bol Processor Grammars. » In M. Balaban, K. Ebcioglu, & O. Laske, dir. : Understanding AI with Music, AAAI Press : 367–400.

1992                   avec Bernard Bel « Modelling Music with Grammars : Formal Language Representation in the Bol Processor. » In A. Marsden & A. Pople, dir. : Computer Representations and Models in Music. London, Academic Press : 207–38.

1991                   avec Bernard Bel  « From Word-Processing to Automatic Knowledge Acquisition : A Pragmatic Application for Computers in Experimental Ethnomusicology. » in Ian Lancashire, dir. : Research in Humanities Computing I : Papers from the 1989 ACH-ALLC Conference, Oxford University Press : 238–53.

1991                   « Changes in the Social Status of Tabla Players. » Bansuri, 8 : 16–27, 1991. (réédi­tion de la pub­li­ca­tion de JIMS, 1989)

1990                   « Music and the Computer: Some Anthropological Considerations. » In B. Vecchione & B. Bel, dir. : Le Fait Musical — Sciences, Technologies, Pratiques, pré­fig­u­ra­tion des actes du col­loque Musique et Assistance Informatique, CRSM-MIM, Marseille, France, 3-6 Octobre : 41–50.

1989                   « Changes in the Social Status of Tabla Players. » Journal of the Indian Musicological Society, 20, 1 & 2 : 37–46.

1989                   « Can a Computer Help Resolve the Problem of Ethnographic Description? » Anthropological Quarterly, 62, 3 : 131–44.

1989                   Avec Bernard Bel « The Identification and Modelling of a Percussion ‘Language’, and the Emergence of Musical Concepts in a Machine-Learning Experimental Set-Up. » Computers and the Humanities, 23, 3 : 199–214.

1989                   « Computers, Fieldwork, and the Analysis of Cultural Systems. » Bulletin of Information on Computing and Anthropology, 7, 1989 : 1–7. En ligne :

1988                   « Computers, Fieldwork, and the Problem of Ethnomusicological Analysis. » International Council for Traditional Music (UK Chapter) Bulletin, 20 : 20–35.

1988                   Avec Bernard Bel « Un mod­èle d’inférence gram­mat­i­cale appliquée à l’apprentissage à par­tir d’exemples musi­caux. » Neurosciences et Sciences de l’Ingénieur, 4e Journées CIRM, Luminy, 3–6 Mai 1988. 

1988                   « On the Uses of Computers in Anthropological Research. » Current Anthropology, 29, 2 : 317–20.

1987                   « An Ethnomusicological Approach to the Analysis of Musical Cognition. » Music Perception 5, 2 : 173–95.

1987                   Avec Annette Sanger « Applied Ethnomusicology : the Use of Balinese Gamelan in Recreational and Educational Music Therapy. » British Journal of Music Education 4, 1 : 5–16.

1986                   Avec Annette Sanger « Applied Ethnomusicology : the Use of Balinese Gamelan in Music Therapy. » International Council for Traditional Music (UK Chapter) Bulletin, 15 : 25–28.

1986                   « Computational Techniques in Musical Analysis. » Bulletin of Information on Computing and Anthropology (University of Kent at Canterbury), 4 : 1–5.

1985                   « The Dialectical Approach : a Methodology for the Analysis of Tabla Music. » International Council for Traditional Music (UK Chapter) Bulletin, 12 : 4–12.

1984                   « Linguistic Study of Rhythm: Computer Models of Tabla Language. » International Society for Traditional Arts Research Newsletter, 2 : 28–33.

1984                   « Listen Out for the Tabla. » International Society for Traditional Arts Research Newsletter, 1 : 13–14.

Comptes ren­dus    

2012                   Elliott, Robin and Gordon E. Smith, dir. : Music Traditions, Cultures and Contexts, Wilfrid Laurier University Press,  in « Letters in Canada 2010 », University of Toronto Quarterly, 81: 3 :779–80.

2006                   McNeil, Adrian Inventing the Sarod : A Cultural History. Calcutta : Seagull Press, 2004. Yearbook for Traditional Music, 38 : 133–35.

1999                   Myers, Helen, Music of Hindu Trinidad : Songs from the India Diaspora. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1998. Notes : 427–29.

1999                   Marshall, Wolf, The Beatles Bass. Hal Leonard Corporation, 1998. Beatlology, 5.

1997                   Widdess, Richard, The Ragas of Early Indian Music: Music, Modes, Melodies, and Musical Notations from the Gupta Period to c.1250. Oxford Monographs on Music. Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1995. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 117, 3 : 587.

1994                   Rowell, Lewis, Music and Musical Thought in Early India. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology, edit­ed by Philip V. Bohlman and Bruno Nettl. Chicago and London : The University of Chicago Press, 1992. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 114, 2 : 313.

1992                   Compte ren­du CD : « Bengal : chants des ‘fous’ », par Georges Luneau & Bhaskar Bhattacharyya, and « Inde du sud : musiques rit­uelles et théâtre du Kerala », par Pribislav Pitoëff. Asian Music 23, 2 :181–84.

1992                   Witmer, Robert, dir. : “Ethnomusicology in Canada : Proceedings of the First Conference on Ethnomusicology in Canada.” (CanMus Documents, 5) Toronto, Institute for Canadian Music, 1990. Yearbook for Traditional Music, 24 : 170–71.

1992                   Neuman, Daniel M. The Life of Music in North India: The Organization of an Artistic Tradition. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1990. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 112, 1 : 171.

1988                   Qureshi, Regula Burckhardt. Sufi Music of India and Pakistan : Sound, Context and Meaning in the Qawwali. Cambridge Studies in Ethnomusicology. Cambridge : CUP, 1986. International Council for Traditional Music (UK Chapter) Bulletin, 20 : 40–45.

1986                   Wade, Bonnie C. Khyal : Creativity with­in North India’s Classical Music Tradition. Cambridge Studies in Ethnomusicology. Cambridge : CUP. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society : 144–46.


1999                   Honouring Pandit Jasraj at Convocation Hall, University of Toronto. 2 CD set. Foundation for the Indian Performing Arts, FIPA002.

1995                   Pandit Jasraj Live at the University of Toronto. 2 CD set. Foundation for the Indian Performing Arts, FIPA001.

Livrets d’album musical

2009                   Liner notes for Mohan Shyam Sharma (pakhavaj): Solos in Chautal and Dhammar. India Archive Music CD, New York.

2007                   Liner notes for Anand Badamikar (tabla): Tabla Solo in Tintal. India Archive Music (IAM•CD 1084), New York.

2002                   Pandit Shankar Ghosh : Tabla Solos in Nasruk Tal and Tintal. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1054), New York.

2001                   Shujaat Khan, Sitar : Raga Bilaskhani Todi & Raga Bhairavi. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1046), New York.

1998                   Pandit Bhai Gaitonde : Tabla Solo in Tintal. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1034), New York.

1995                   Ustad Amjad Ali Khan : Rag Bhimpalasi & Rag “Tribute to America”. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1019), New York.

1994                   Ustad Nizamuddin Khan : Tabla Solo in Tintal. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1014), New York.

1992                   Rag Bageshri & Rag Zila Kafi, played by Tejendra Narayan Majumdar (sar­od) and Pandit Kumar Bose (tabla). CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD 1008), New York.


1990                   « In Memoriam : Afaq Husain (1930-1990). » Ethnomusicology 34, 3 : 429–30.

1990                   « In Memoriam : John Blacking (1928-1990). » Ethnomusicology 34, 2 : 263–6.

➡ A new ver­sion of Bol Processor com­pli­ant with var­i­ous sys­tems (MacOS, Windows, Linux…) is under devel­op­ment. We invite soft­ware design­ers to join the team and con­tribute to the devel­op­ment of the core appli­ca­tion and its client appli­ca­tions. Please join the BP open dis­cus­sion forum and/or the BP devel­op­ers list to stay in touch with work progress and dis­cus­sions of relat­ed the­o­ret­i­cal issues.

At the heart of Indian rhythms and their evolution

An inter­view with James Kippen
Version française

by Antoine Bourgeau

James Kippen is one of the key fig­ures in the study of Hindustani music. His encounter in 1981 with Afaq Hussain, at the time the doyen of one of the great tablā-play­ing lin­eages, was the start­ing point for major research into both the instru­ment and Indian rhythm. From 1990 to 2019 he was the head of eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy at the Faculty of Music in the University of Toronto in Canada. Trained under John Blacking and John Baily, he also acquired over the course of his research a mas­tery of sev­er­al Indo-Persian lan­guages. This abil­i­ty has allowed him to analyse first-hand numer­ous sources (trea­tis­es on music, musi­cians’ own writ­ings, genealo­gies, icono­graph­ic mate­ri­als…) and to under­stand the chang­ing socio­cul­tur­al con­texts in which they were pro­duced (the Indo-Persian courts, the colo­nial British Empire, the rise of Indian Nationalism, and the post-colonial state). His work (see the select list of pub­li­ca­tions at the end of this inter­view) stands out as a major con­tri­bu­tion to the under­stand­ing of the the­o­ry and prac­tice of rhythm and metre in India.

I began cor­re­spond­ing with James Kippen dur­ing my own research on tablā at the end of the 1990s. Always quick to share his knowl­edge and his expe­ri­ence with enthu­si­asm, he gave me a lot of advice and encour­age­ment, and it was a great hon­our to count him among the mem­bers of my the­sis jury dur­ing my defence in 2004. It was with that same will­ing­ness to share that he respond­ed favourably to my pro­pos­al to inter­view him. Carried out remote­ly between July and December 2020, this exchange cov­ers near­ly 40 years of eth­no­mu­si­co­log­i­cal research.

➡ Source = doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.12650.03522
➡ Version française = doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.26071.80804

The path to India and to the tablā

– How did you become inter­est­ed in the musics of India, and in the tablā in particular?

As a child grow­ing up in London, I was fas­ci­nat­ed by the dif­fer­ent lan­guages and cul­tures that were increas­ing­ly being intro­duced by immi­grants to Britain. I was par­tic­u­lar­ly enchant­ed by the lit­tle Indian cor­ner shops brim­ming with exot­ic goods and the Indian restau­rants that emit­ted allur­ing, spicy aro­mas. My father reg­u­lar­ly regaled me with sto­ries of his adven­tures from the sev­en years he spent in India as a young sol­dier, and I devel­oped an entire­ly favourable though admit­ted­ly Orientalist impres­sion of the sub­con­ti­nent. During my music degree at the University of York (1975-78), I was intro­duced by my friend and fel­low stu­dent Francis Silkstone to the sitār. I also had the good for­tune to take an inten­sive course in Hindustani music with lec­tur­er Neil Sorrell, who had stud­ied sāraṅgī with the great Ram Narayan. The avail­able lit­er­a­ture at that time was rel­a­tive­ly sparse, but two texts in par­tic­u­lar were high­ly influ­en­tial: Rebecca Stewart’s Tablā in Perspective (UCLA, 1974), which nur­tured in me a musi­co­log­i­cal inter­est in the vari­eties and com­plex­i­ties of rhythm and drum­ming, and Daniel Neuman’s The Cultural Structure and Social Organization of Musicians in India: the Perspective from Delhi (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 1974), which offered social-anthropological insights into both the worlds and the world­views of tra­di­tion­al, hered­i­tary musicians.

Thus, I began learn­ing tablā from Robert Gottlieb’s LP record­ings and book­lets called 42 Lessons for Tabla, and after a few months I had learnt enough basic mate­r­i­al to accom­pa­ny Francis Silkstone in a recital. I lat­er stud­ied in per­son under Manikrao Popatkar, an excel­lent pro­fes­sion­al tablā play­er who had recent­ly immi­grat­ed to Britain. I was hooked. Moreover, the thought that I might enter that socio-musical world of tablā in India and become a participant-observer moti­vat­ed me to look at grad­u­ate pro­grams where I would be able to devel­op the knowl­edge and skills to com­bine the musi­co­log­i­cal and anthro­po­log­i­cal approach­es of Stewart and Neuman. On Neil Sorrell’s advice I wrote to John Blacking about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of study­ing at The Queen’s University of Belfast, and John was most encour­ag­ing, offer­ing me entry direct­ly to the doc­tor­al pro­gram. He also point­ed out that his col­league John Baily had recent­ly writ­ten a text: Krishna Govinda’s Rudiments of Tabla Playing. It seemed I had found the ide­al grad­u­ate pro­gram and the per­fect mentors.

Methodological approaches

– The book How Musical Is Man? by John Blacking is a fun­da­men­tal text that appeared in 1973 that ran counter to the think­ing of the time and refused to recog­nise the bar­ri­ers between musi­col­o­gy and eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy, as well as the fruit­less dif­fer­ences between musi­cal tra­di­tions. Blacking also put for­ward the essen­tial idea that music, even if that word does not exist every­where, is present in all human cul­tures, result­ing in his def­i­n­i­tion of “human­ly organ­ised sound.” Do you know if he knew of Edgar Varèse’s expres­sion “organ­ised sound,” which Varèse put for­ward in 1941 in an attempt to dis­tance him­self from the Western con­cept of “music,” albeit for oth­er reasons?

I have no per­son­al rec­ol­lec­tion of Blacking ever men­tion­ing Varèse or his thoughts on the nature of music. Nonetheless, Blacking was an excel­lent musi­cian and pianist who had doubt­less encoun­tered and stud­ied a great deal of Western Art Music, and so it is pos­si­ble he knew of Varèse’s def­i­n­i­tion. However, where­as Varèse’s phi­los­o­phy was born out of a con­vic­tion that machines and tech­nolo­gies would be capa­ble of organ­is­ing sound, Blacking want­ed to re-centre music as a social fact: an activ­i­ty where the myr­i­ad ways in which human beings organ­ised sound both as per­form­ers and, impor­tant­ly, as lis­ten­ers promised to reveal a great deal about their social structure.

– How did your stud­ies at uni­ver­si­ty guide your research?

I was lucky enough to have not one but two men­tors in John Blacking and John Baily, and they were very dif­fer­ent from one anoth­er. Blacking was full of grand and inspir­ing ideas that chal­lenged and rev­o­lu­tion­ized the way one thinks about music and soci­ety, where­as Baily empha­sized a more method­i­cal and empirically-based approach ground­ed in per­for­mance and the care­ful acqui­si­tion and doc­u­men­ta­tion of data. One should remem­ber that I was young and inex­pe­ri­enced when I under­took field­work, and so Baily’s exam­ple, focussed on doing music and on gath­er­ing data, served as a prac­ti­cal guide in my dai­ly life dur­ing my years in India; yet once I was armed with a huge cor­pus of infor­ma­tion I was able to stand back and, hope­ful­ly like Blacking, see some of the grand pat­terns which that data spelled out. I was struck there­fore by the con­sis­tent nar­ra­tive of cul­tur­al decline linked to a nos­tal­gia for a glo­ri­ous and artistically-abundant past, and the tablā music of Lucknow was one of the last liv­ing links to that lost world. This became one of the key themes in my doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion, and in some of the oth­er work that fol­lowed. As for my career as a teacher, I have tried over the years to com­bine the best qual­i­ties of both my men­tors, always pro­mot­ing the idea that the­o­ry should grow out of sol­id data about music and musi­cal lives so that it does not lose its heuris­tic val­ue by aban­don­ing its dia­logue with ethno­graph­ic reality.

– In Working with the Masters (2008), you describe in detail and with frank­ness (some­thing that is fair­ly rare in the pro­fes­sion!) your field­work expe­ri­ence with Afaq Hussain in the 1980s. This expe­ri­ence, and your account of it, appear to be a mod­el for any research in eth­nol­o­gy and eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy, par­tic­u­lar­ly as it applies to learn­ing music. Thus, you account for the phas­es of approach­ing, meet­ing, being test­ed and, final­ly (and for­tu­nate­ly in your case), accep­tance with­in the research con­text; the trust you were grant­ed allowed you to pur­sue in full your research and music-learning goals. You also tack­le the eth­i­cal and deon­to­log­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions essen­tial to any researcher: one’s rela­tion­ship to oth­ers, con­flicts of loy­al­ty result­ing from pos­si­ble incon­sis­ten­cies between that rela­tion­ship and one’s ethno­graph­ic objec­tives, respon­si­bil­i­ty to the gath­ered knowl­edge, and the place of the researcher-musician with­in the musi­cal real­i­ty of the tra­di­tion stud­ied. Beyond the par­tic­u­lar­i­ties of the musi­cal con­text, are there any spe­cif­ic fea­tures of Indian cul­ture that Western researchers need to bear in mind in order to under­take (and hope­ful­ly suc­ceed with) an eth­no­log­i­cal study in India?

It goes with­out say­ing that South Asian soci­ety has changed enor­mous­ly in the 40 years since I first began con­duct­ing ethno­graph­ic research, but cer­tain prin­ci­ples stead­fast­ly remain that should guide the inves­tiga­tive process, such as a deeply ingrained respect for social and cul­tur­al senior­i­ty. Naturally, access to a com­mu­ni­ty is key, and there is no bet­ter “gate­keep­er” or “spon­sor” (to use the anthro­po­log­i­cal terms) than an author­i­ty fig­ure with­in the sub­cul­ture one is study­ing, since the per­mis­sion one receives trick­les down through the social and famil­ial hier­ar­chy. The dan­ger, in a heav­i­ly patri­ar­chal soci­ety like India’s, is that one ends up with a top-down view of musi­cal life. If I had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to revis­it my field I would pay greater atten­tion to those at dif­fer­ent lev­els with­in that hier­ar­chy, espe­cial­ly to women and to the every­day musi­cal­i­ty of life in the domes­tic sphere. By focussing only on the most refined aspects of cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion, one may miss much that is of val­ue in the for­ma­tion of ideas, of aes­thet­ics, and in the sup­port mech­a­nisms nec­es­sary for an artis­tic tra­di­tion to sur­vive and thrive.

Fig.1: Recording ses­sion with Afaq Hussain at the home of James Kippen. Lucknow, 1982. Photo by James Kippen.

On a more prac­ti­cal note – some­thing that applies I think rather more gen­er­al­ly in the field­work endeav­our – I found that for­mal, record­ed inter­views were rarely very insight­ful because they were felt to be intim­i­dat­ing and were accom­pa­nied by lofty expec­ta­tions. Furthermore, a height­ened sen­si­tiv­i­ty to the polit­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions – micro and macro – of speak­ing one’s mind on record was also often an imped­i­ment to gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion. In truth, the less I asked and the more I lis­tened – off the record and in relaxed cir­cum­stances – the more use­ful and insight­ful the infor­ma­tion I received. The caveat is that to oper­ate in that way one must devel­op a lev­el of patience that would be dif­fi­cult for most Westerners to accept.

– In the 1980s you adopt­ed the “dialec­ti­cal approach” taught by John Blacking and com­bined it with com­put­er sci­ence and an Artificial Intelligence pro­gram. The aim was to analyse the fun­da­men­tals of impro­vi­sa­tion by tablā play­ers. Can you go over the gen­e­sis and evo­lu­tion of this approach?

John Blacking was par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in Noam Chomsky’s work on trans­for­ma­tion­al gram­mars. He the­o­rized that one could cre­ate sets of rules for music – a gram­mar – with the top­most lay­er describ­ing how those sur­face sound struc­tures were organ­ised. At deep­er lev­els the lay­ers of rules would address increas­ing­ly more gen­er­al prin­ci­ples of musi­cal organ­i­sa­tion, and at the very deep­est lev­el the gram­mar would for­malise rules gov­ern­ing prin­ci­ples of social organ­i­sa­tion. If an eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gist’s ulti­mate aim is to relate social struc­ture to sound struc­ture, or vice ver­sa, then this was Blacking’s idea of how one might achieve that goal.

In the sum­mer of 1981, I escaped the intense heat of the North Indian plains and head­ed to Mussoorie in the foothills of the Himalayas. I had agreed to meet up again with my friend Francis Silkstone, who at the time was study­ing sitār with Imrat Khan and dhru­pad vocal music with Fahimuddin Dagar in Calcutta. Francis arrived with Fahimuddin and one of Fahim’s American stu­dents named Jim Arnold. Jim was col­lab­o­rat­ing on some exper­i­men­tal work on rāga into­na­tion with Bernard Bel, who at that time was liv­ing in New Delhi. Bernard then arrived in Mussoorie, also to escape the heat, and for about a month we all lived togeth­er in a rich and fer­tile envi­ron­ment of music and ideas. It was there that Bernard and I first dis­cussed Blacking’s notion of socio-musical gram­mars as well as my fas­ci­na­tion with tablā’s theme-and-variations struc­tures known as qāi­da. I was intrigued when Bernard sug­gest­ed that he could design a com­put­er pro­gram capa­ble of mod­el­ling the process of cre­at­ing vari­a­tions from a giv­en theme.

Over the fol­low­ing year, Bernard and I met sev­er­al times: he learnt much more about how tablā works and I learnt much more about math­e­mat­i­cal lin­guis­tics. Together we cre­at­ed sets of rules – trans­for­ma­tion­al gram­mars – that gen­er­at­ed vari­a­tions from a qāi­da theme and processed exist­ing vari­a­tions to deter­mine if our rules could account for them. Yet it was also clear that the knowl­edge being mod­elled was my own and not that of expert musi­cians. Therefore, we devel­oped a strat­e­gy to involve those experts as “co-workers and ana­lysts” (a phrase Blacking often used) in a dialec­ti­cal exchange. After all, an “expert sys­tem” was intend­ed to mod­el expert knowl­edge, and there was no bet­ter expert than Afaq Hussain.

➡ For more infor­ma­tion about these exper­i­ments, vis­it:

– Were you aware of oth­er types of inter­ac­tive approach­es, such as Simha Arom’s “re-recording” devel­oped a few years earlier?

I was aware of Simha Arom’s inter­ac­tive meth­ods of elic­it­ing musi­cians’ own per­spec­tives on what was hap­pen­ing in their music, much as I was aware of work in cog­ni­tive anthro­pol­o­gy aimed at deter­min­ing cog­ni­tive cat­e­gories mean­ing­ful to the peo­ple we stud­ied. Arom’s insis­tence that cul­tur­al data had to be val­i­dat­ed by our inter­locu­tors was cer­tain­ly very influ­en­tial. I did not know of oth­er approach­es. The exi­gen­cies of our par­tic­u­lar exper­i­men­tal sit­u­a­tion forced us to invent our own unique method­ol­o­gy for this human-computer interaction.

– We know of the fear Indian mas­ters have of their knowl­edge being spread beyond their own gharānā, in par­tic­u­lar, cer­tain tech­niques and com­po­si­tions. What was Afaq Hussain’s atti­tude regard­ing this, and what was his involve­ment in this method that updat­ed the soft­ware for exam­in­ing qāi­da structures?

Afaq Hussain was not remote­ly con­cerned about rev­e­la­tions regard­ing qāi­da since the art of play­ing them depend­ed on one’s abil­i­ty to impro­vise. In oth­er words, this was a process-oriented and there­fore ever-changing endeav­our. On the con­trary, play­ing fixed com­po­si­tions, espe­cial­ly those hand­ed down over gen­er­a­tions with­in the fam­i­ly, were product-oriented, and the pieces did not change. Those were con­sid­ered pre­cious assets, and were care­ful­ly guarded.

Fig.2: James Kippen, Afaq Hussain, and his son Ilmas
Hussain. Lucknow, 1982. Photo by James Kippen.

 When I reflect on the exper­i­ments, I mar­vel that Bernard Bel was able to cre­ate such a pow­er­ful gen­er­a­tive gram­mar for a com­put­er (first­ly an Apple II with 64k RAM, then the portable 128k Apple IIc) with such lim­it­ed pro­cess­ing pow­er and space. Afaq Hussain also mar­velled that a machine could “think,” as he put it. We began with a basic gram­mar for a giv­en qāi­da, gen­er­at­ed some vari­a­tions, and I then read those out loud using the syl­lab­ic lan­guage, the bols, for tablā. Many results were pre­dictable, some were unusu­al but nonethe­less accept­able, and oth­ers were deemed to be wrong – tech­ni­cal­ly, aes­thet­i­cal­ly. We then asked Afaq Hussain to offer a few vari­a­tions of his own; these were fed into the com­put­er (I typed using a key-correlation sys­tem for rapid entry) and “analysed” to deter­mine if the rules of our gram­mar could account for them. Simple adjust­ments to the rules were pos­si­ble in situ, but when more com­plex repro­gram­ming was required we would move on to a sec­ond exam­ple and return to the orig­i­nal exam­ple in a lat­er session.

Did this research ever involve oth­er types of com­po­si­tion such as gat or ṭukṛā?

No. The advan­tage of look­ing at a theme-and-variations struc­ture like qāi­da is that each com­po­si­tion is a closed sys­tem where vari­a­tions (vistār) are restrict­ed to the mate­r­i­al pre­sent­ed in the theme. Relā (rapidly-articulated strings of strokes) is anoth­er struc­ture that fol­lows sim­i­lar prin­ci­ples. The aim is there­fore to under­stand the unwrit­ten rules for cre­at­ing vari­a­tions. Fixed com­po­si­tions such as gat, ṭukṛā, paran, etc., com­prise a far wider and more unpre­dictable vari­ety of ele­ments, and would be very hard to mod­el. However, one thing we did exper­i­ment with was the tihāī, the thrice-repeated phrase that acts as a final rhyth­mic cadence. These can be mod­elled math­e­mat­i­cal­ly and applied to a qāi­da (based on frag­ments of its theme or one of its vari­a­tions) or to fixed com­po­si­tions like, say, ṭukṛā as an arith­metic for­mu­la into which one can pour rhyth­mic phrases.

– Did any of the rhyth­mic phras­es gen­er­at­ed by the com­put­er and val­i­dat­ed by Afaq Hussain Khan make it into the reper­toire of the Lucknow gharānā?

That is a hard ques­tion to answer. When we were in the mid­dle of an inten­sive peri­od of exper­i­men­ta­tion with the Bol Processor, there would devel­op a kind of dia­logue where Afaq Hussain would play mate­r­i­al gen­er­at­ed by the com­put­er and then respond with sets of vari­a­tions of his own. So many were gen­er­at­ed and exchanged in this way that it was often hard to tell whether some­thing he played in con­cert orig­i­nat­ed in the com­put­er. Yet, where­as some teach­ers and per­form­ers devel­op a reper­toire of fixed vari­a­tions for a theme, Afaq Hussain rarely did, rely­ing instead on his imag­i­na­tion “in the moment.” This is also the approach he encour­aged in us. Therefore, I doubt computer-generated mate­r­i­al became a per­ma­nent part of the repertoire.

Fig.3: Bhupal Ray Chowdhury (a dis­ci­ple of Wajid Hussain and his son Afaq Hussain) and James Kippen in an exper­i­men­tal ses­sion with the Bol Processor. Calcutta, 1984. Photo by James Kippen.

– Has this spe­cif­ic type of approach using Artificial Intelligence in eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy been pur­sued by others?

The term “Artificial Intelligence” under­went a rad­i­cal change in the years 1980-1990 thanks to the devel­op­ment of the “con­nec­tion­ist” approach (arti­fi­cial neu­rons) and learn­ing tech­niques from exam­ples with the capa­bil­i­ty of pro­cess­ing a large amount of data. With the Bol Processor (BP) we were at the stage of symbolic-numerical mod­el­ling of human deci­sions rep­re­sent­ed by for­mal gram­mars, which required in-depth, although intu­itive, knowl­edge of deci­sion mechanisms.

 For this rea­son, symbolic-numerical approach­es have not to my knowl­edge been tak­en up by oth­er teams. On the oth­er hand, we had also tack­led machine learn­ing (of for­mal gram­mars) using the QAVAID soft­ware writ­ten in Prolog II. We also showed that the machine had to col­lect infor­ma­tion by dia­logu­ing with the musi­cian in order to car­ry out a cor­rect seg­men­ta­tion of musi­cal phras­es and to begin gen­er­al­is­ing by induc­tive infer­ence. But this work was dis­con­tin­ued because the machines were too slow and we did not have a large enough body of data to build a mod­el capa­ble of cov­er­ing a wide vari­ety of impro­vi­sa­tion models.

It is pos­si­ble that Indian researchers will use learn­ing from exam­ples – now called Artificial Intelligence – to process large amounts of data pro­duced by per­cus­sion­ists. This “big data” approach has the draw­back of lack­ing pre­ci­sion in a field where pre­ci­sion is a mark­er of musi­cal exper­tise, and it does not pro­duce under­stand­able algo­rithms which would con­sti­tute a “gen­er­al gram­mar” of impro­vi­sa­tion on a per­cus­sion instru­ment. Our ini­tial ambi­tion was to con­tribute to the con­struc­tion of this gram­mar, but we only proved, using the tech­nol­o­gy avail­able at the time, that it would be feasible.

In lat­er ver­sions, this soft­ware was also able to pro­vide mate­r­i­al and tools for music and dance com­po­si­tion beyond the Indian con­text. We will be cel­e­brat­ing 40 years of this soft­ware next year with a new ver­sion. Who are the artists that have used this software?

Rhythmic com­po­si­tions pro­grammed on BP2 and per­formed on a Roland D50 syn­the­siz­er were used for the chore­o­graph­ic work CRONOS direct­ed by Andréine Bel and pro­duced in 1994 at the NCPA in Bombay. See, for exam­ple,

At the end of the 1990s, the Dutch com­pos­er Harm Visser used BP2 to help devel­op oper­a­tors for ser­i­al music com­po­si­tion. See, for exam­ple,

We have had feed­back (and requests) from European and American aca­d­e­mics who use BP2 as an edu­ca­tion­al tool for teach­ing musi­cal com­po­si­tion. However, we have nev­er car­ried out a large-scale adver­tis­ing cam­paign to enlarge the user com­mu­ni­ty because we are pri­mar­i­ly inter­est­ed in the devel­op­ment of the sys­tem itself and in the musi­co­log­i­cal research asso­ci­at­ed with it.

The main lim­i­ta­tion of BP2 was its exclu­sive oper­a­tion with­in the Macintosh envi­ron­ment. This is why the BP3 ver­sion under devel­op­ment is cross-platform. It will prob­a­bly be imple­ment­ed in a Cloud ver­sion made pos­si­ble by its close inter­ac­tion with Csound soft­ware. This soft­ware makes it pos­si­ble to pro­gram high-performance sound pro­duc­tion algo­rithms and to work with micro­ton­al into­na­tion mod­els that we have devel­oped, both for har­mon­ic music and for Indian rāga. See, for exam­ple,

Studies of notation, metre, rhythm, and their evolution

– Over the course of your work, the ques­tion of musi­cal nota­tion has occu­pied an impor­tant place both in terms of method­ol­o­gy and also in con­sid­er­a­tions of how it is used. Can you speak to this aspect of your work?

All writ­ten nota­tions are incom­plete approx­i­ma­tions, and their con­tri­bu­tion to the trans­mis­sion process is lim­it­ed. Oral rep­re­sen­ta­tions, like the spo­ken strings of syl­la­bles rep­re­sent­ing drum strokes, often con­vey more accu­rate infor­ma­tion about the musi­cal­i­ty inher­ent in pat­terns, such as stress, inflec­tion, phras­ing, and micro-rhythmic vari­abil­i­ty. By the same token, once inter­nalised, those spo­ken strings are indeli­ble. We know that oral sys­tems pro­mote a healthy musi­cal mem­o­ry, which is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant in the con­text of the per­for­mance of music in India where per­form­ers begin with only a very gen­er­al road map but then take all man­ner of unex­pect­ed twists and turns along the way. That being the case, one might ask why write any­thing down at all?

From the 1860s onwards, there was a bur­geon­ing of musi­cal nota­tions in India inspired, I believe, by an aware­ness that Western music pos­sessed an effi­cient nota­tion sys­tem, and prompt­ed too by the steady increase in insti­tu­tion­alised learn­ing and the per­ceived need for ped­a­gog­i­cal texts and asso­ci­at­ed reper­toire. Yet there was nev­er any con­sen­sus on how to notate, and each new sys­tem dif­fered great­ly from the oth­ers. The nota­tion devised in 1903 by Gurudev Patwardhan was arguably the most detailed and pre­cise ever cre­at­ed for drum­ming, yet it was sure­ly too com­pli­cat­ed for stu­dents to read as a score. Therefore, its pur­pose was more as a ref­er­ence work that pre­served reper­toire and pro­vid­ed a syl­labus for struc­tured learning.

We live in a lit­er­ate age, and musi­cians recog­nise that their stu­dents no longer devote their wak­ing hours to prac­tis­ing. Like oth­er teach­ers, Afaq Hussain encour­aged us all to write down the reper­toire he taught so that it would not be for­got­ten. For me, it was espe­cial­ly impor­tant to cap­ture two aspects in my own note­books: rhyth­mic accu­ra­cy and pre­cise fin­ger­ing. Regarding the lat­ter, for exam­ple, when faced with the phrase – keṛe­na­ga tirak­iṭa takata­ka tirak­iṭa – I want­ed to ensure that I notat­ed the cor­rect intend­ed fin­ger­ing from the dozen or so pos­si­ble tech­niques for takata­ka, not to men­tion the vari­eties of keṛe­na­ga, and I would also indi­cate that the two instances of tirak­iṭa were played slight­ly differently.

Afaq Hussain kept his own note­books safe­ly stored in a locked cup­board. He some­times con­sult­ed them. I think he recog­nised that reper­toire does indeed dis­ap­pear in the oral tra­di­tion – after all, there are many hun­dreds, if not thou­sands of pieces of music. His grand­fa­ther, Abid Hussain (1867-1936) was the first pro­fes­sor of tablā at the Bhatkhande Music College in Lucknow. He too notat­ed tablā com­po­si­tions, and I have hun­dreds of pages he wrote that were almost cer­tain­ly intend­ed to be pub­lished as a ped­a­gog­i­cal text. However, he did not indi­cate pre­cise rhythms or fin­ger­ings, and so inter­pret­ing his music is prob­lem­at­ic, even for Afaq Hussain’s son Ilmas Hussain with whom I combed through the mate­r­i­al. A pre­cise nota­tion, then, does have val­ue, but only along­side an oral tra­di­tion that can add the nec­es­sary lay­ers of infor­ma­tion that can bring the music to life.

– In your recent research on numer­ous Indo-Persian texts from the 18th and 19th cen­turies, you high­light the evo­lu­tion of the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of musi­cal metre in India. This research illus­trates the impor­tance of the his­tor­i­cal approach and ful­ly demon­strates the mech­a­nisms of the evo­lu­tion of cul­tur­al facts. What con­cepts do you use to describe these phenomena?

An impor­tant facet of our anthro­po­log­i­cal train­ing was learn­ing to func­tion in the lan­guage of those we engaged with in our research, not mere­ly to man­age life on a day-to-day basis but rather to have access to con­cepts that are mean­ing­ful with­in the cul­ture stud­ied. Two terms are sig­nif­i­cant in this regard, one whose impor­tance is, I think, over­stat­ed, the oth­er under­stat­ed. Firstly, gharānā, which from its first appear­ance in the 1860s orig­i­nal­ly meant “fam­i­ly” but which over time has come to encom­pass any­one who believes they share some ele­ments of tech­nique, style, or reper­toire with an api­cal fig­ure of the past. Secondly, sil­si­la, a term com­mon in Sufism which means chain, con­nec­tion, or suc­ces­sion, has spe­cif­ic rel­e­vance to a direct teach­ing lin­eage. It is this more pre­cise sil­si­la that I believe holds the key to the trans­mis­sion of musi­cal cul­ture, and yet the para­dox is that the chain car­ries with­in it an implic­it direc­tive to explore one’s cre­ative indi­vid­u­al­i­ty. That is why, for exam­ple, when one exam­ines, say, the lin­eage of Delhi tablā play­ers from the mid 19th cen­tu­ry onwards, one finds major dif­fer­ences in tech­nique, style, and reper­toire from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. The same is true for my teacher Afaq Hussain, whose play­ing dif­fered great­ly from that of his father and teacher Wajid Hussain. Each indi­vid­ual inher­its some musi­cal essence in the sil­si­la, for sure, but they must engage with and oper­ate in an ever-changing world where artis­tic sur­vival requires adap­ta­tion. It is there­fore vital­ly impor­tant when study­ing any musi­cal era to gath­er as much infor­ma­tion about the socio-cultural milieu as possible.

 As I have shown above, it is imper­a­tive to engage with native con­cepts, and to explain and use them with­out recourse to trans­la­tion. Another prime exam­ple is tāla, which most com­mon­ly gets trans­lat­ed as metre or met­ric cycle. And yet there is a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence. Metre is implic­it: it is a pat­tern that is abstract­ed from the sur­face rhythms of a piece, and con­sists of an under­ly­ing pulse that is orga­nized into a recur­ring hier­ar­chi­cal sequence of strong and weak beats. On the oth­er hand, tāla is explic­it: it is a recur­ring pat­tern of non-hierarchical beats man­i­fest­ed as hand ges­tures con­sist­ing of claps, silent waves, and fin­ger counts, or as a rel­a­tive­ly fixed sequence of drum strokes. To use metre in the Indian con­text is there­fore mis­lead­ing, and I there­fore encour­age the use of tāla with an accom­pa­ny­ing expla­na­tion but with­out translation.

– You are cur­rent­ly work­ing on a book about 18th and 19th cen­tu­ry sources. What is your goal?

My goal is to trace the ori­gins and evo­lu­tion of the tāla sys­tem cur­rent­ly in use in Hindustani music by gath­er­ing as much infor­ma­tion as pos­si­ble from con­tem­po­rary sources begin­ning in the late 17th cen­tu­ry through to the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry and the era of record­ed sound. The prob­lem is that the avail­able infor­ma­tion is frag­men­tary and often couched in obscure lan­guage: the task is akin to doing a jig­saw puz­zle where most of the pieces are miss­ing. Moreover, the pieces one does find are not nec­es­sar­i­ly direct­ly con­nect­ed, and so the task might be bet­ter described as work­ing with two or more puz­zles. In brief, through care­ful analy­sis, infer­ence, and some guess­work, I believe that there was a con­ver­gence of rhyth­mic sys­tems in the 18th cen­tu­ry that gave rise to the tāla sys­tem of today.

The musi­cal prac­tices and social con­texts of the com­mu­ni­ties of Kalāwants who sang dhru­pad and Qawwāls who sang khayāl, tarā­na, and qaul, along with the Ḍhāḍhī com­mu­ni­ty that accom­pa­nied all these gen­res, are cru­cial to under­stand­ing how and why music – and rhythm in par­tic­u­lar – evolved the way it did. Yet there are so many oth­er impor­tant aspects to this sto­ry: the role of women instru­men­tal­ists in the pri­vate spaces of Mughal life in the 18th cen­tu­ry, and their grad­ual dis­ap­pear­ance in the 19th cen­tu­ry; colo­nial­ism; the sta­tus and influ­ence of ancient texts; print­ing tech­nol­o­gy and the dis­sem­i­na­tion of new ped­a­gog­i­cal texts in the late 19th cen­tu­ry – to name but a few.

– What are some of the inter­est­ing sources to con­sid­er in order to under­stand the evo­lu­tion of prac­tices and rhyth­mic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Hindustani music?

Northern India has always been open to cul­tur­al exchange, and this was espe­cial­ly true under the Mughals. It is imper­a­tive that we under­stand who trav­elled to the courts, from where, and what they played. It is equal­ly impor­tant to under­stand the writ­ten mate­ri­als avail­able as well as the intel­lec­tu­al dis­cours­es of the time, for knowl­edge of music was cru­cial to Mughal eti­quette. Thus, to know that the high­ly influ­en­tial music trea­tise Kitāb al-adwār, by the 13th cen­tu­ry the­o­rist Safi al-Din al-Urmawi al-Baghdadi was wide­ly avail­able in India both in Arabic and Persian trans­la­tion, and that copies were in the col­lec­tion of Delhi nobles from the 17th cen­tu­ry onwards, helps us to under­stand why Indian rhythm was explained using the prin­ci­ples of Arabic prosody in the late 18th cen­tu­ry. I have argued that, as applied to music, Arabic prosody was a more pow­er­ful tool than the tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of Sanskrit prosody, and thus it was more effec­tive in describ­ing the changes that were occur­ring in rhyth­mic thought and prac­tice in that period.

This ethno-historical research some­times clash­es with the beliefs of cer­tain musi­cians and researchers, espe­cial­ly on ques­tions of the age and “authen­tic­i­ty” of tra­di­tions. Do you think the younger gen­er­a­tions are more inclined to accept the obvi­ous facts of the com­plex nature of musi­cal tra­di­tions made up of mul­ti­ple con­tri­bu­tions and in per­pet­u­al transformation?

Some are, but some are not. There has always been a small num­ber of schol­ars in India who con­duct valu­able, evidence-based research on music. Yet it dis­ap­points me to note there are many more that rely on the regur­gi­ta­tion and prop­a­ga­tion of unfound­ed, unschol­ar­ly opin­ion. What per­haps sur­pris­es me most is the lack of rig­or­ous schol­ar­ly train­ing in Indian music col­leges and the per­sis­tence of dis­proven or dis­cred­it­ed ideas and infor­ma­tion in spite of so much excel­lent pub­lished research to the contrary.

Fig 4: James Kippen, University of Toronto, 2017. Photo by James Kippen.

– Since the 1990s, one notices the strength­en­ing of a Hindu nation­al­ism with­in Indian soci­ety. Have you not­ed a par­tic­u­lar impact on the world of Hindustani music and on research?

This is a com­plex and sen­si­tive top­ic. Hindu nation­al­ism is not new, far from it, and as I demon­strat­ed in my book on Gurudev Patwardhan, it formed a sig­nif­i­cant part of the ratio­nale for the life and work of Vishnu Digambar Paluskar in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. As many schol­ars have point­ed out, it had roots in colo­nial­ism, and devel­oped as an anti-colonial move­ment focussed on Hindu iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics. That nar­ra­tive, based on invent­ed notions of a glo­ri­ous Hindu past, down­played the con­tri­bu­tions of Mughal cul­ture and the great lin­eages of Muslim musi­cians (not to men­tion women), and Indian Muslim iden­ti­ty with­in the sphere of music has suf­fered a decline ever since. Scholars have tak­en note of this dynam­ic and have attempt­ed to trace some of the coun­ternar­ra­tives that have hith­er­to been ignored, such as Max Katz’s excel­lent book Lineage of Loss (Wesleyan University Press, 2017) about an impor­tant fam­i­ly of Muslim scholar-musicians, the so-called Shāhjahānpūr-Lucknow gharānā. I sus­pect that a moti­va­tion­al force in much mod­ern schol­ar­ship on music in India is the desire not to omit impor­tant cul­tur­al nar­ra­tives but to ani­mate them and frame them with­in the grand sweep of South Asia’s history.

– Following on from Rebecca Stewart’s work, you too have high­light­ed the com­plex inter­weav­ing of rhyth­mic and met­ric approach­es in tablā play­ing by show­ing that it results from var­i­ous cul­tur­al con­tri­bu­tions which have fol­lowed one anoth­er over time. With the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of glob­al cul­tur­al exchanges since the end of the 20th cen­tu­ry, have you observed one or more evolv­ing trends in tablā playing?

Since the inclu­sion of tablā in pop music in the 1960s, the excit­ing jazz fusion of John McLaughlin’s group Shakti in the 1970s, and the ubiq­ui­ty of tablā ever since in music of every kind, it seems only nat­ur­al that tablā play­ers the world over should explore and exper­i­ment with its mag­i­cal sounds. Zakir Hussain has led the way in demon­strat­ing the flex­i­bil­i­ty and adapt­abil­i­ty of these drums, and the thrilling, vis­cer­al veloc­i­ty of its rhyth­mic pat­terns. As for tablā with­in the con­text of Hindustani con­cert music, I have noticed that there are many who attempt to inject that same sense of excite­ment, enhanced increas­ing­ly, it seems, by ampli­fi­ca­tion so loud that it dis­torts the sound and beats the audi­ence’s eardrums into sub­mis­sion. I would go so far as to say that this has unfor­tu­nate­ly become the norm.

In this regard, I count myself as some­thing of a purist who longs for a return to a prac­tice where the tablā play­er main­tains a sub­tle, under­stat­ed yet sup­port­ive role, com­ple­ments the mate­r­i­al pre­sent­ed by the soloist, and is mod­est and not over­pow­er­ing when invit­ed to con­tribute a short flour­ish or cameo solo. By the same token, I crave a return to tablā solos that are packed with con­tent rather than “sound effects.” By “con­tent,” I mean tra­di­tion­al, char­ac­ter­ful com­po­si­tions fea­tur­ing spe­cialised tech­niques, whose com­posers are named and thus hon­oured. And yet it is painful­ly obvi­ous that such “con­tent” is not reach­ing many younger play­ers these days.


– As men­tioned, your research high­lights the impor­tance of his­tor­i­cal sources as well as the con­sid­er­a­tion of broad­er phe­nom­e­na such as Orientalism or Nationalism in order to under­stand Indian musi­cal prac­tices in the present. At the same time, you are very atten­tive to the intense cur­rent tran­scul­tur­al phe­nom­e­na and to the need to com­pre­hend them. In the pro­fes­sion, the con­cept of “eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy” does not always achieve con­sen­sus. What is your posi­tion with regard to this name and the sub­ject of this dis­ci­pline at the start of the 21st century?

I have nev­er been par­tic­u­lar­ly com­fort­able with the label “eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy.” As John Blacking used to say, all music is “eth­nic music,” and there­fore there should be no dis­tinc­tion between stud­ies of tablā, game­lan, or hip-hop and those of Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms. We all engage in a “dis­course on music”: in oth­er words, “musi­col­o­gy.” The advan­tage of terms like the “anthro­pol­o­gy” or “soci­ol­o­gy” of music is that they imply a broad­er slate of the­o­ret­i­cal and method­olog­i­cal approach­es that remind us that music is a social fact. Yet we must recog­nise that the purview of eth­no­mu­si­co­log­i­cal stud­ies has evolved, and nowa­days far greater atten­tion is paid to phe­nom­e­na like noise or the mun­dane sounds of every­day life. Therefore – with­out wish­ing to sound too cyn­i­cal – although in some quar­ters the term “sound stud­ies” is treat­ed with a degree of con­tempt, per­haps that very gen­er­al term is the most hon­est and accu­rate def­i­n­i­tion of what we (all of us) do. However, I acknowl­edge that it would be a shame to reject the term “music” alto­geth­er, and so I could imag­ine eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy, musi­col­o­gy, and music the­o­ry com­ing togeth­er under the rubric “music and sound studies.”


– After a short peri­od in Belfast, you taught in Toronto. Can you tell us about your teach­ing experience?

Yes, Toronto is a won­der­ful city, and by most accounts it is the most multi-cultural city on this plan­et. It offers a very rich and stim­u­lat­ing musi­cal environment.

 Miecyzslaw Kolinski taught at the University of Toronto from 1966 until 1978. His eth­no­mu­si­co­log­i­cal inter­ests were shaped by his train­ing under Hornbostel and Sachs, and by the world­view shared by so many of the ear­ly giants of our dis­ci­pline. He pub­lished on the sci­en­tif­ic basis of har­mo­ny and melody, and devel­oped meth­ods for cross-cultural analy­sis – an approach emphat­i­cal­ly reject­ed in my own train­ing with John Blacking who argued vehe­ment­ly for cul­tur­al rel­a­tivism, much as it was at odds with Tim Rice’s train­ing at the University of Washington. Tim was hired in 1974 and left for UCLA in 1987. Like me dur­ing my ear­ly days, Tim strug­gled to per­suade col­leagues of the impor­tance of the eth­no­mu­si­co­log­i­cal approach and the need to treat our dis­ci­pline with the respect it deserved and the resources it required. We both fought hard. Tim intro­duced a pro­gram that came to be known under my watch as the World Music Ensembles, and I acquired a Balinese game­lan in 1993, which was taught by my wife, eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gist Dr Annette Sanger, for­mer­ly a col­league of John Blacking. Moreover, both Tim and I suc­ceed­ed in draw­ing eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy class­es fur­ther into the core of the cur­ricu­lum to ensure that all music stu­dents, what­ev­er their inter­ests, were exposed to our approach and under­stood the val­ue and impor­tance of a socially-grounded view of all music. One ini­tia­tive I cre­at­ed was a year-long intro­duc­to­ry course called Music as Culture which for a few years I co-taught with a musi­col­o­gy col­league: we alter­nat­ed our pre­sen­ta­tions, illus­trat­ing and cross-referencing our mate­r­i­al and obser­va­tions from the Western canon and the vast world of music beyond. Later incar­na­tions of this course includ­ed our flag­ship Introduction to Music & Society. Essentially mod­u­lar in approach, the cho­sen themes shift­ed and adapt­ed over time to reflect more con­tem­po­rary con­cerns, includ­ing music and iden­ti­ty, reli­gious expe­ri­ence, migra­tion, gen­der, heal­ing, and sound studies.

I devised and taught a vari­ety of cours­es dur­ing my time: Hindustani music; Music & Islam; Theory & Method in Ethnomusicology; The Beatles; Anthropology of Music; Fieldwork; Music, Colonialism & Postcolonialism; Rhythm & Metre in Cross-Cultural Perspective; Transcription, Notation & Analysis, etc. I worked with the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty in Toronto to put on con­certs by vocal­ist Pandit Jasraj that drew spon­sor­ship that gen­er­at­ed healthy schol­ar­ships for stu­dents study­ing Hindustani music. I helped insti­tute an Artist-in-Residence pro­gram, invit­ing musi­cians from all over the world to spend a term with us teach­ing and per­form­ing. I helped to over­haul our musicology-oriented grad­u­ate pro­grammes and intro­duced an MA and PhD in eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy. But per­haps the two achieve­ments of which I am most proud are first­ly the many won­der­ful doc­tor­al stu­dents I men­tored, many of whom have them­selves gone on pur­sue to careers in acad­e­mia, and sec­ond­ly my suc­cess in expand­ing our rep­re­sen­ta­tion from a sin­gle fac­ul­ty posi­tion to four full-time posi­tions in ethnomusicology.

– What is your posi­tion with­in the Lucknow gharānā?

I have great­ly enjoyed learn­ing and play­ing tablā in my life, and I con­sid­er myself extreme­ly for­tu­nate to have had such a close and pro­duc­tive asso­ci­a­tion with one of the most remark­able tablā play­ers in his­to­ry: Afaq Hussain. I am blessed with a good mem­o­ry and there­fore still have in my head a vast reper­toire of won­der­ful com­po­si­tions dat­ing all the way back to the ear­ly mem­bers of the Lucknow lin­eage who flour­ished in the late 18th and ear­ly 19th cen­turies. I am par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in tech­nique, and have spent a good deal of time study­ing the mechan­ics of play­ing. However, I am first and fore­most a schol­ar, and in prac­ti­cal mat­ters I have no illu­sions about being any­thing more than a tablā hob­by­ist. Indeed, my inter­est in play­ing has pro­vid­ed me with extra­or­di­nary insights into the instru­ment and its history.

As for my place or role with­in the Lucknow gharānā, I would say two things. Firstly, I con­tin­ue to be part of the exchange of ideas and reper­toire with my peers along­side whom I stud­ied tablā and who now are, like me, senior fig­ures with­in the sil­si­la, the direct teach­ing lin­eage of Afaq Hussain. I am con­sid­ered by them to be knowl­edge­able: an author­i­ty, if you will. On occa­sions I am asked if I remem­ber a rare com­po­si­tion over which there has been some debate, and some­times I intro­duce into our dia­logue infor­ma­tion and ques­tions aris­ing from my research that spark a live­ly inter­est. For exam­ple, Afaq Hussain’s son Ilmas Hussain and I have been work­ing togeth­er to res­ur­rect the note­books of his great-grandfather Abid Hussain, and place them in the con­text not only of his tra­di­tion but also of the ear­ly years of Lucknow’s Bhatkhande College where Abid Hussain served as the first pro­fes­sor of tablā in the late 1920s and ear­ly 1930s. Secondly, I believe that my work has brought greater atten­tion to the Lucknow lin­eage. When I arrived at Afaq Hussain’s doorstep in January 1981 he was frankly at a low ebb in his life – psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly and finan­cial­ly – and much about the future was uncer­tain. Other for­eign stu­dents fol­lowed my lead and joined an ever-growing num­ber of Indian dis­ci­ples who came to learn. My book, The Tabla of Lucknow, as well as oth­er facets of my research helped to bring nation­al and inter­na­tion­al atten­tion to Afaq Hussain, his son Ilmas, and their entire tradition.

When I came to Toronto I made a deci­sion not to teach tablā out­side of my duties at the University of Toronto, since I did not wish to risk depriv­ing local tablā play­ers (of whom there were sev­er­al very good ones) of the oppor­tu­ni­ty to earn income. Within the uni­ver­si­ty itself, I did run occa­sion­al work­shops and cours­es for stu­dents, plus indi­vid­ual lessons, and some of them (par­tic­u­lar­ly per­cus­sion­ists) became quite com­pe­tent players.

List of publications


2006                   Gurudev’s Drumming Legacy: Music, Theory and Nationalism in the Mrdang aur Tabla Vadanpaddhati of Gurudev Patwardhan. Aldershot: Ashgate (SOAS Musicology Series).

2005                   The Tabla of Lucknow: A Cultural Analysis of a Musical Tradition. New Delhi: Manohar (New edi­tion with new preface).

1988                   The Tabla of Lucknow: A Cultural Analysis of a Musical Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Cambridge Studies in Ethnomusicology).

Edited books   

2013                   with Frank Kouwenhoven, Music, Dance and the Art of Seduction. Delft: Eburon Academic Publishers.

Edited jour­nals       

1994-1996        Bansuri, vol­umes 11-13 (A year­ly jour­nal devot­ed to the music and dance of India, pub­lished by Raga Mala Performing Arts of Canada).

Articles, chap­ters in books

Forthcoming     “Weighing ‘The Assets of Pleasure’: Interpreting the Theory and Practice of Rhythm and Drumming in the Sarmāya-i ‘Ishrat, a Pivotal 19th Century Text” in Katherine Schofield, ed.: Hindustani Music Between Empires: Alternative Histories, 1748-1887. Publisher TBA.

Forthcoming     “An Extremely Nice, Fine and Unique Drum: A Reading of Late Mughal and Early Colonial Texts and Images on Hindustani Rhythm and Drumming” in Katherine Schofield, Julia Byl et David Lunn, eds: Paracolonial Soundworlds: Music and Colonial Transitions in South and Southeast Asia. Publisher TBA.

2021                   “Ethnomusicology at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.” MUSICultures (Journal of the Canadian Society for Traditional Music): Vol.48.

2020                   “Rhythmic Thought and Practice in the Indian Subcontinent” in Russell Hartenberger & Ryan McClelland, eds: The Cambridge Companion to Rhythm. Cambridge University Press: 241-60.

2019                   “Mapping a Rhythmic Revolution Through Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Sources on Rhythm and Drumming in North India” in Wolf, Richard K., Stephen Blum, & Christopher Hasty, eds: Thought and Play in Musical Rhythm: Asian, African, and Euro-American Perspectives. Oxford University Press: 253-72.

2013                   “Introduction” in Frank Kouwenhoven & James Kippen, eds: Music, Dance and the Art of Seduction. Delft: Eburon Academic Publishers: i-xix.

2010                   “The History of Tabla” in Joep Bor, Françoise ‘Nalini’ Delvoye, Jane Harvey and Emmie te Nijenhuis, eds: Hindustani Music, Thirteenth to Twentieth Centuries. New Delhi: Manohar: 459-78.

2008                   “Working with the Masters” in Gregory Barz and Timothy Cooley, eds:Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology (2nd revised edi­tion). Oxford University Press: 125–40.

2007                   “The Tal Paddhati of 1888: An Early Source for Tabla.” Journal of The Indian Musicological Society, 38: 151–239.

2003                   “Le rythme: Vitalité de l’Inde.” Gloire des princes, louange des dieux: Patrimoine musi­cal de l’Hindoustan du XIVe au XXe siè­cle. Paris: Cité de la musique et Réunion des Musées Nationaux 2003:152–73.

2002                   “Wajid Revisited: A Reassessment of Robert Gottlieb’s Tabla Study, and a new Transcription of the Solo of Wajid Hussain Khan of Lucknow.” Asian Music, 33, 2: 111–74.

2001                   “Folk Grooves and Tabla Tals.” ECHO: a music-centered jour­nal.  III: 1 (Spring 2001).

2000                   “Hindustani Tala.” Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume 5, South Asia: The Indian Subcontinent. New York: Garland Publishing: 110–37.

1997                   “The Musical Evolution of Lucknow” in Violette Graff, dir., Lucknow: Memories of a City. New Delhi: Oxford University Press: 181–95.

1996                   “A la recherche du temps musi­cal.” Temporalistes, 34: 11-22

1994                   “Computers, Composition, and the Challenge of ‘New Music’ in Modern India.” Leonardo Music Journal, 4: 79–84.

1992                   “Tabla Drumming and the Human-Computer Interaction.” The World of Music, 34, 3: 72–98.

1992                   “Music and the Computer: Some Anthropological Considerations.” Interface, 21, 3-4: 257–62.

1992                   “Where Does The End Begin ? Problems in Musico-Cognitive Modelling.” Minds & Machines, 2, 4: 329–44.

1992                   “Identifying Improvisation Schemata with QAVAID” in Walter B. Hewlett & Eleanor Selfridge-Field, eds: Computing in Musicology: An International Directory of Applications, Volume 8. Center for Computer Assisted Research in the Humanities:115–19.

1992                   “Bol Processor Grammars” in M. Balaban, K. Ebcioglu, & O. Laske, eds: Understanding AI with Music, AAAI Press: 367–400.

1992                   with Bernard Bel “Modelling Music with Grammars: Formal Language Representation in the Bol Processor” in A. Marsden & A. Pople, eds: Computer Representations and Models in Music. London, Academic Press: 207–38.

1991                   with Bernard Bel “From Word-Processing to Automatic Knowledge Acquisition: A Pragmatic Application for Computers in Experimental Ethnomusicology” in Ian Lancashire, ed.: Research in Humanities Computing I: Papers from the 1989 ACH-ALLC Conference, Oxford University Press: 238–53.

1990                   “Music and the Computer: Some Anthropological Considerations” in B. Vecchione & B. Bel, eds: Le Fait Musical – Sciences, Technologies, Pratiques, pré­fig­u­ra­tion des actes du col­loque Musique et Assistance Informatique, CRSM-MIM, Marseille, France, 3-6 Octobre: 41–50.

1990                   “In Memoriam: Afaq Husain (1930-1990).” Ethnomusicology 34, 3: 429–30.

1990                   “In Memoriam: John Blacking (1928-1990).” Ethnomusicology 34, 2: 263–6.

1989                   “Changes in the Social Status of Tabla Players.” Journal of the Indian Musicological Society, 20, 1 & 2: 37–46.

1989                   “Can a Computer Help Resolve the Problem of Ethnographic Description?” Anthropological Quarterly, 62, 3: 131–44.

1989                   with Bernard Bel “The Identification and Modelling of a Percussion ‘Language’, and the Emergence of Musical Concepts in a Machine-Learning Experimental Set-Up.” Computers and the Humanities, 23, 3: 199–214.

1988                   with Bernard Bel “Un mod­èle d’inférence gram­mat­i­cale appliquée à l’apprentissage à par­tir d’exemples musi­caux.” Neurosciences et Sciences de l’Ingénieur, 4e Journées CIRM, Luminy, 3–6 Mai 1988. 

1987                   “An Ethnomusicological Approach to the Analysis of Musical Cognition.” Music Perception 5, 2: 173–95.

1987                   with Annette Sanger “Applied Ethnomusicology: the Use of Balinese Gamelan in Recreational and Educational Music Therapy.” British Journal of Music Education 4, 1: 5–16.

1986                   with Annette Sanger “Applied Ethnomusicology: the Use of Balinese Gamelan in Music Therapy.” International Council for Traditional Music (UK Chapter) Bulletin, 15: 25–28.

1986                   “Computational Techniques in Musical Analysis.” Bulletin of Information on Computing and Anthropology (University of Kent at Canterbury), 4: 1–5.

1985                   “The Dialectical Approach: a Methodology for the Analysis of Tabla Music.” International Council for Traditional Music (UK Chapter) Bulletin, 12: 4–12.

1984                   “Linguistic Study of Rhythm: Computer Models of Tabla Language.” International Society for Traditional Arts Research Newsletter, 2: 28–33.

1984                   “Listen Out for the Tabla.” International Society for Traditional Arts Research Newsletter, 1: 13–14.


2012                   Elliott, Robin and Gordon E. Smith, eds: Music Traditions, Cultures and Contexts, Wilfrid Laurier University Press,  in “Letters in Canada 2010”, University of Toronto Quarterly, 81: 3:779–80.

2006                   McNeil, Adrian Inventing the Sarod: A Cultural History. Calcutta: Seagull Press, 2004. Yearbook for Traditional Music, 38: 133–35.

1999                   Myers, Helen, Music of Hindu Trinidad: Songs from the India Diaspora. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. Notes: 427–29.

1999                   Marshall, Wolf, The Beatles Bass. Hal Leonard Corporation, 1998. Beatlology, 5.

1997                   Widdess, Richard, The Ragas of Early Indian Music: Music, Modes, Melodies, and Musical Notations from the Gupta Period to c.1250. Oxford Monographs on Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 117, 3: 587.

1994                   Rowell, Lewis, Music and Musical Thought in Early India. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology, edit­ed by Philip V. Bohlman and Bruno Nettl. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 114, 2: 313.

1992                   CD: review “Bengal: chants des ‘fous’”, par Georges Luneau & Bhaskar Bhattacharyya, and “Inde du sud: musiques rit­uelles et théâtre du Kerala”, par Pribislav Pitoëff. Asian Music 23, 2:181–84.

1992                   Witmer, Robert, ed.: “Ethnomusicology in Canada: Proceedings of the First Conference on Ethnomusicology in Canada.” (CanMus Documents, 5) Toronto, Institute for Canadian Music, 1990. Yearbook for Traditional Music, 24: 170–71.

1992                   Neuman, Daniel M. The Life of Music in North India: The Organization of an Artistic Tradition. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1990. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 112, 1: 171.

1988                   Qureshi, Regula Burckhardt. Sufi Music of India and Pakistan: Sound, Context and Meaning in the Qawwali. Cambridge Studies in Ethnomusicology. Cambridge: CUP, 1986. International Council for Traditional Music (UK Chapter) Bulletin, 20: 40–45.

1986                   Wade, Bonnie C. Khyal: Creativity with­in North India’s Classical Music Tradition. Cambridge Studies in Ethnomusicology. Cambridge: CUP. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society: 144–46.


1999                   Honouring Pandit Jasraj at Convocation Hall, University of Toronto. 2 CD set. Foundation for the Indian Performing Arts, FIPA002.

1995                   Pandit Jasraj Live at the University of Toronto. 2 CD set. Foundation for the Indian Performing Arts, FIPA001.

Liner notes

2009                   Mohan Shyam Sharma (pakhavaj): Solos in Chautal and Dhammar. India Archive Music CD, New York.

2007                   Anand Badamikar (tabla): Tabla Solo in Tintal. India Archive Music (IAM•CD 1084), New York.

2002                   Pandit Shankar Ghosh: Tabla Solos in Nasruk Tal and Tintal. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1054), New York.

2001                   Shujaat Khan, Sitar: Raga Bilaskhani Todi & Raga Bhairavi. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1046), New York.

1998                   Pandit Bhai Gaitonde: Tabla Solo in Tintal. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1034), New York.

1995                   Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: Rag Bhimpalasi & Rag “Tribute to America”. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1019), New York.

1994                   Ustad Nizamuddin Khan: Tabla Solo in Tintal. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1014), New York.

1992                   Rag Bageshri & Rag Zila Kafi, played by Tejendra Narayan Majumdar (sar­od) and Pandit Kumar Bose (tabla). CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD 1008), New York.


1990                   “In Memoriam: Afaq Husain (1930-1990).” Ethnomusicology 34, 3: 429–30.

1990                   “In Memoriam: John Blacking (1928-1990).” Ethnomusicology 34, 2: 263–6.

➡ A new ver­sion of Bol Processor com­pli­ant with var­i­ous sys­tems (MacOS, Windows, Linux…) is under devel­op­ment. We invite soft­ware design­ers to join the team and con­tribute to the devel­op­ment of the core appli­ca­tion and its client appli­ca­tions. Please join the BP open dis­cus­sion forum and/or the BP devel­op­ers list to stay in touch with work progress and dis­cus­sions of relat­ed the­o­ret­i­cal issues.