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Faculty of Music


CMS Lab (Thumb)Centre for Music and Science (CMS)

All known cultures have music, and all cultures expect their members to be able to be able to make sense of their music by making music or listening to it. In the CMS we explore musicality as a fundamental human capacity. We investigate the full range of musical behaviour from private listening to interacting with others, whether in expert performance or just having fun. Music is not just sound: it is dynamic pattern in embodied minds, movement, and social interactions; it is shaped by biology and culture. In the CMS we study music from all these perspectives; we aim to identify its relationships with other domains of human life, particularly speech and language.  READ MORE


The Cambridge Centre for Musical Performance Studies was launched in April 2015, following on from the £2.1m AHRC Research Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice, which was hosted by the University of Cambridge from 2009 to 2015. The CMPS serves as a focal point for Cambridge’s rich and unrivalled musical scene. Its fundamental aim is to contribute to and encourage the development of musical performance studies close to home and across the globe, and to that end it has developed close links both nationally and internationally with individuals and institutions in music and the other arts. The CMPS promotes and supports a programme of teaching, research, performance events and collaborative pursuits across a broad spectrum. It hosts regular practice-based research events as well as select performances, both individually and in collaboration with internal and external partners such as the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the Institute for Musical Research. The CMPS supports the performance studies pathways offered by the Faculty of Music for undergraduate and postgraduate students, and it embraces a range of research initiatives, some of which are practice-based. The CMPS also hosts the online resource PERF-STUD-NET, an e-list established in 2009 by CMPS’s predecessor, CMPCP, and it has overall responsibility for the biennial Performance Studies Network International Conferences, which were held in Cambridge in 2011, 2013 and 2014, at Bath Spa University in 2016, and at the Norwegian Academy of Music in 2018.


Sound and Materialism in the 19th century investigates a scientific and a materialist perspective on music and sound in the 19th century. It aims to enlarge substantially our understanding of the dialogue between 19th-century music and natural science, examining in particular how a scientific-materialist conception of sound was formed alongside a dominant culture of romantic idealism.  READ MORE


For today's Europeans, the existence of a collective musical past is a given. The past is heard and negotiated in the concert hall, and when we listen to or perform popular 'oldies'; countless political and emotional narratives are attached to it, demonstrating the extent to which the musical past can be instrumentalised.  SoundMe explores the mechanisms by which Europeans of a distant past (c. 1200-1600) used collective musical memory to shape cultural and political behaviour. Specifically, this research project asks in which ways are these mechanisms relevant to the societies of 21st-century Europe? READ MORE

 Matthew Machin-Autenrieth 2018-23

MESG explores how the notion of a collective European-North African cultural memory has been articulated through music for different sociopolitical ends in colonial and postcolonial contexts. Often based on the notion of convivencia (the alleged coexistence between Christians, Jews and Muslims in Islamic Spain), music has been employed as a means of social control and representation during French-Spanish colonialism in North Africa (1912–56), and as a model for multiculturalism and cultural diplomacy among North African communities in Europe today. Current scholarship on musical exchange between Europe and North Africa is fragmented, often focusing on isolated geographical case studies. There is limited understanding of how a collective cultural memory has shaped musical practice and discourse in the colonial past and the postcolonial present.

Rather than separating these historical periods, however, MESG analyses how modern-day practices of musical exchange in the region are shaped by discourses and networks formed during colonialism. Combining archival research, oral history and ethnographic fieldwork, this groundbreaking project brings together for the first time different geographical, linguistic and musical specialisms, leading towards an integrated understanding of musical exchange in the region. For the wider European context, the project is more important today than ever before. At a time of increased anti-immigration rhetoric and Islamophobia, music cannot be divorced from debates about difference that dominate in society. With musical exchange at its centre, MESG will bring about a greater understanding of how colonial legacies shape multiculturalism and intercultural dialogue at the frontier of Europe.  READ MORE


Can standard musical notation can be redesigned to make it more effective for at least some of the purposes for which it is employed?

The primary focus of our research is on music reading, and more specifically on performing music at first sight —sightreading— an activity in which success has been shown by a considerable amount of excellent prior research to be highly dependent on experience and expertise. This previous research has not generally explored whether the visual form of the notation rather than the experience and proficiency of the performer can be manipulated so as to make music reading more fluent and accurate; however, our own experiments suggest that simple but systematic and structured modifications to standard notation —such as the insertion of vertical blank spaces across the staff systems delimiting informational units— can lead to increased fluency and accuracy in sightreading.  Our project aims to extend these findings to a wide range of levels of expertise and musical repertoires; we are undertaking cognitive and behavioural experiments (including eye-tracking measurements) to explore the effects of the modifications on the processes involved in performing from musical notation for  musicians.

We are also building on longitudinal studies that we have been undertaking, exploring how users and scores interact (an area that has attracted surprisingly little research attention to date) and evaluating whether, and if so, how, practitioners' uses of scores can be made more effective. READ MORE