Completed Research Projects

History and Philosophy of (Ethno)musicology

PhD Project Malik Sharif

The musicologist, composer, music critic, social activist, and inventor Charles Louis Seeger (1886-1979) was highly influential for the development of Ethnomusicology after World War II. A recurrent issue in his writings has been the philosophy of musicology, that means meta-musicological questions regarding the epistemology, disciplinarity, and end of musicological research (understood in the broadest sense). A PhD research project by Malik Sharif is dedicated to the development of Seeger’s thinking in this area. Nevertheless, the project’s final aim is not primarily a historiographical account or an exercise in Seeger exegesis. Instead, Seeger’s meta-musicological theorizing is assessed regarding its value for nurturing interdisciplinary synthesis among the diverse and often fractionalized musicological disciplines of the twenty-first century and this assessment serves as a starting point for a further development of the valuable ideas.


Marimba-Improvisation in Mexico and Guatemala

PhD Project José Israel Moreno Vázquez

When the marimba is used in traditonal folk music and in popular music in Chiapas and Guatemala an improvisational section is often included where the marimbista principal can display his skills. These improvisations are usually performed using four or sometimes two, or more rarely six, baquetas. The earliest known sound recordings of marimba improvisations date form the 1950s, but searching and documenting earlier sources are part of the project. Improvisational concepts and forms have changed over time. Comparable to new developments in jazz improvising musicians are marked by their individual styles and innovations like, for instance, new developments in harmonic structures, voice leading employing four baquetas, or rhythmic design.









Virtual Gamelan Graz: Disclosing Implicit Musical Knowledge

sponsored by FWF (PEEK-Programm, Projekt-Nr. AR 143-G21)



The project aimed at investigating ways of unveiling tacit knowledge on musical concepts and current performance practice of classical Central Javanese gamelan music (karawitan) with the help of computer-assisted listening experiments. The two main areas to be studied were first, the way in which a given composition is actually transformed into a live performance (garap); second, the evaluation of the specific tuning of individual gamelan sets (embat). In the course of the project an attempt was made to program dedicated software that would emulate both an ensemble of gamelan musicians as well as the sound of various fixed-pitch gamelan instruments and drums.



In spite of some progress towards implementing musical rules and performance principles of karawitan as well as facilitating the control of sound and tuning of virtual gamelan instruments, it turned out that within the project’s time frame an operational, autonomous software implementation could not be achieved. Therefore, as far as musical rules are concerned efforts were focused on preparing computer-generated audio examples which manually incorporated existing explicit knowledge so that an evaluation by Javanese experts would reveal shortcomings due to tacit assumptions disregarded in our virtual renditions. Concerning embat published measurements of 12 traditional (6 sléndro and 6 pélog) and two American gamelans (just intonation) were chosen as well as two experimental ones (equidistant) resulting in some 1360 digital samples of sound generators which had to be calculated and manually retuned.Audio examples of 18 traditional compositions taken from both tuning systems (laras sléndro and pélog) and their respective modes (pathet) were presented to three renowned senior musicians who are also instructors at the Academy of Arts (ISI) in Surakarta, Bp. Suraji, Bp. Suyoto, and Bp. Prasadiyanto. Their comments on both aspects, i.e., the rendition of the pieces and the sound of the various virtual gamelans with respect to their tuning, were highly instructive. By adopting an analysis-by-synthesis approach which incorporated only explicit and mainly generic principles of performance practice while largely omitting tacit assumptions or specific knowledge pertaining to individual pieces, it could be demonstrated that accomplished karawitan musicians have a more holistic view of this art so that “correct” notes are equally important as – or sometimes even less so than – other factors such as idiomatically adequate timing, phrasing, embellishments, articulation, and dynamics as well as contextual considerations.

While most of these insights might not be surprising to gamelan experts they nevertheless underscore the necessity to approach the endeavor of letting a computer emulate a karawitan performance in a much broader way than merely refining “structural” paradigms on the level of a musical grammar. Regarding the assessment of various tunings listening to different ones in direct comparison proved to be conducive to an in-depth verbal discourse on matters which might otherwise remain rather vague or abstract.The shortcomings in the domain of music computing notwithstanding, the project has successfully demonstrated that listening experiments with local experts in which musical parameters such as melodic gestures, timing, tuning, etc. can be controlled individually can be a useful tool in investigating musical concepts and particularly in disclosing how actual performance practices are shaped by – usually implicit – norms.



Main collaborators


• ISI Surakarta, Java

   Bp. Suraji: senior musician, lecturer at ISI  

   Bp. Suyoto: senior musician, lecturer at ISI   

   Bp. Prasadiyanto: senior musician, lecturer at ISI


• Southbank Centre London    

   Sophie Ransby, PhD: gamelan advisor, logistics   

   John Pawson, MA: gamelan advisor, translations   

   Jonathan Roberts, MA: gamelan advisor, transcriptions, translations   

   Charles Matthews, PhD: interactive gamelan software


• University of Music and Performing Arts, Graz   

   Babak Nikzat, MA: recordings, video editing, computer-based analysis


• University of the Arts, Berlin   

   Dominik Hildebrand Marques Lopes, MA: SuperCollider programming


Special thanks to the members of the Southbank Gamelan Players who performed for us. 


Download Project Report




Musik, Religion, Integration: MuslimInnen in der Steiermark

Music, Religion, Integration: Muslims in Styria

funded by Zukunftsfonds of the Province of Styria (project no. 6037)



Musical preferences and the use of music are central factors in constructing people’s identity. Cultural characteristics play an important role in this respect. Orthodox Islam, for instance, is generally skeptical of or even opposed to most forms of music (cf. table, after Lois Ibsen al Faruqi, 1985):

Against this backdrop we want to investigate among Muslims living in Styria what role music plays in their lives and how they deal with religious restrictions concerning music. How do they judge various kinds of music? Are there constraints based on religious considerations? Which musics are rejected as “illegitimate”, which ones are considered “acceptable”? In this context music is regarded as an indicator of more general attitudes of the people under investigation. Do they listen to the same kind of music as others in Styria? Does a comparison between Muslims with different countries of origin show significant variances? Does music serve as a means of marking one’s bonds with the country of origin or rather demonstrate a certain degree of integration into the new community?

Project team:
Gerd Grupe (Institute of Ethnomusicology/University of Music and Performing Arts Graz),
Richard Parncutt (Center of Systematic Musicology/University of Graz),
Hande Saglam (University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna),
Babak Nikzat (Institute of Ethnomusicology/University of Music and Performing Arts Graz)