Creaking Chairs and Metric Clarity: Microtiming Glenn Gould Recording Schoenberg Op. 19/1

by Richard Beaudoin (The Royal Academy of Music, London and Brandeis University)


Glenn Gould performed and recorded on an increasingly rickety, loose-jointed, swaying piano chair that his father, Bert Gould, had fashioned from a folding bridge chair in 1953. Its telltale clicking/cracking noises — made whenever Gould shifted his body — can be heard in this 1966 film of Gould discussing Schoenberg’s music with Yehudi Menuhin. Below are two photographs of the chair, in all its skeletal beauty:

I encountered Gould’s chair creaks up-close while microtiming his recording of Schoenberg’s Op. 19/1, to use as the basis for a series of new compositions called New York Mikrophon. I found the trajectory of Gould’s chair creaks intriguing, and I began to investigate.

My approach, which extends Paul Sanden’s writings on “corporeal liveness, considers Gould’s so-called “ambient” or “extraneous” chair noises as significant “sounded movements.” Quantifying sounds that are normally marginalized, my research connects sound studies, music theory, and performance analysis, and fuses published analyses about rhythm and meter in Schoenberg’s composition with the audio artifacts of Gould’s corporeality.

The elements of my analysis can be seen below:


Using the Lucerne Audio Recording Analyser [LARA], I made millisecond-level measurements of the number and location of all of the sound events — including each chair creak — in Gould’s recording of Schoenberg’s Op. 19/1, made in September 1965, at 30th Street Studios in New York.

This recording is very noisy, even by Gould’s standards; there are 85 creaks in this 86-second track. I noticed that the creaks were not spread uniformly across the performance, but, instead, followed a rough trajectory (see the image below). In addition, prominent gaps in the creaking were not easily explained.

spectrographRather than propose my own analysis (which might be seen as self-serving to the microtiming data I had collected), I surveyed the published scholarship on rhythm and meter in Op. 19/1. This led me to publications by Jonathan Kramer, Charles Morrison, and John Roeder. Kramer devotes a chapter of The Time of Music to Schoenberg’s 17-measure work, and singled it out as exhibiting “the emergence of a foregrounded meter” (Kramer 1988). His tracing of the work’s metric evolution is outlined in the three score-based examples below:



kramer-3I set about comparing the location the chair creaks in Gould’s recording with Kramer’s chart of the emerging metric hierarchy in Schoenberg’s work.

Within this specific recording of this specific work, the level of Gould’s body motion that is transferred to the chair correlates to the gradual emergence of a metrical hierarchy: as Schoenberg’s written meter becomes the sounding meter, Gould’s physical shifting largely abates. The image below presents the first stage of my findings; I presented more detailed analyses in a paper given at SMT/AMS Vancouver 2016, as part of the session called Performing Meter.


You can listen to how Gould’s creaking relates to Kramer’s metrical observations here.

The microtiming also turned up some wonderful ‘hidden’ details in the recording, including:

  • Gould re-attacking a tied note on the downbeat of measure 8 (the tie exists in Schoenberg’s manuscript and all printed scores), which affects the perceived metric clarity,
  • a peculiar gap in the creaking that corresponds precisely to measure 7, which Kramer highlights as the clearest meter thus far in the piece,
  • an unusual bit of vocalizing in measure 2, in which Gould sings a motive which is not simultaneously occurring in the piano (as was his common practice), but which instead occurs a few moments later — a kind of subtle, improvised vorimitation.

I’ll write more about these in the future, as I prepare a paper on this research.

I don’t, however, take these findings to be general proof of what pianists do when playing metrically irregular music. Nor do I use them to hypothesize about body movements by pianists, twentieth-century pianists, mid-twentieth-century Canadian pianists, or Glenn Gould in his mid-30s, etc.

Rather, what interests me is how all of the sounds captured by the microphone in New York in September 1965 work together to create a distinct impression of this unique piece. And in this single case, the proliferation and exact placement of the creaks made by Gould’s chair does, subtly, guide the mind across a trajectory of movement that is sympathetic with a recognized structural aspect of Schoenberg’s piece. In this way, they are perhaps analogous to microexpressions.

My work — in some ways the opposite of corpus analysis —involves detailed cataloguing of all of the sounds within a single recording. Doing so, I unearth little signals provided by overlooked, over-heard, so-called extraneous noises. Removing or suppressing such “insignificant” sounds — a common practice in the recording industry — deprives the listener of unique types of intimacy and musical understanding.

Communications about Musical Structure in Professional String Quartet Rehearsal

Su Yin Mak (The Chinese University of Hong Kong) has graciously allowed us to post the video of the paper she delivered this past Fall at SMT in Vancouver.  The paper was presented in a session chaired by PAIG member Alan Dodson called, appropriately enough, “Performance and Analysis,” alongside PAIG co-chair Andrew Friedman’s paper “Reimagining (Motivic) Analysis in Light of Performance.”

You can find the video here, and the abstract reproduced below.  Su Yin writes:  “I am currently planning a follow-up project with collaborators based in Japan and the United States that focuses on the uses of metaphorical description in rehearsal communication by professional string quartets, and would greatly appreciate comments and suggestions from PAIG members.”



Abstract:  Structural models for Western art music are primarily score-based and rarely incorporate the views of performers. I have attempted to redress the omission through a multi-phase study of rehearsal discourse by professional string quartets based in Hong Kong, China, Japan and the United States. This paper presents the findings from the Hong Kong phase of the project. Over a six-month period, I attended and recorded the Romer String Quartet’s rehearsals and public performances as a participant-observer. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of the rehearsal footage, along with interviews with the players, offer insights on how a professional string quartet perceive, conceptualize and communicate about musical structure. My research reveals that although parameters such as formal articulations, harmonic changes and motivic continuity were rarely singled out for discussion in rehearsals, the players did pay close attention to structure within the context of feeling and character or in relation to considerations of sound and ensemble co-ordination. While the quartet’s communication relied extensively on metaphorical descriptions rather than music-theoretical terminology, when asked to explain the meaning of their metaphors the players referred to very specific aspects of compositional syntax. Thus, in its combination of overt expressive considerations and latent structural understanding, the rehearsal discourse suggests that the relationship between the two is more complex and less exclusive than some have assumed. These observations prompt critical reflection on ways of mediating between theoretical and practical perspectives of musical structure, and demonstrate how methodological interactions between theory and ethnomusicology might contribute to such mediation.

Reflections on PAIG and SMT

by Daniel Barolsky (Beloit College)

At this year’s business meeting for PAIG at SMT/AMS in Vancouver, we ended with the relatively mundane task of discussing and voting on a new set of bylaws. One of the sub-topics that I had expected to be routine was the issue of interest-group membership. Much to my surprise and dismay, there were voices that expressed concern about our openness and proposed hypotheticals that some collection of individuals (especially those from organizations other than SMT) might decide to colonize the interest group. Happily the final decision was to define membership by the listserv, a collection of email addresses to which anyone, regardless of institutional or disciplinary affiliation, can join.

However jocular the suggestion about “colonization” or more serious the proposal to police membership, I couldn’t help reflect, as I left Vancouver, on the larger intellectual, disciplinary, and political context of this conversation. Not five hours after the business meeting, the AMS convened a session on “Race, Ethnicity, and the Profession” that made clear to everyone how the restriction of methodologies did more than merely help define a discipline but, rather, served to shut out individuals and identities. Less than a week before the US election, I couldn’t help but see parallels between the desire to “other” members of  different musical societies (including their subjects and approaches) and the rhetoric of political candidates who espoused building walls to keep out people of certain faiths and ethnicities. And, finally, I reflected on the history of the Performance and Analysis Interest Group, an inclusive and welcoming organization that over a decade ago gave me, a graduate student in musicology who was interested in performers and recordings, a scholarly, intellectual, and professional home at a time when the majority within the AMS and SMT excluded methodologies that addressed the voices of performers and their performances. The question we need to grapple with, as we continue to revise and develop our bylaws and, in particular, our mission statement, is what would restricting our membership protect? What does it really mean to limit ourselves to theorists only?

As I flew home to a polarized and fractious political climate, I also took comfort in the excellent and discipline-bending session organized by PAIG that took place the evening before the business meeting (as well as in the other papers/sessions during the weekend that explored a range of issues pertaining to performance and analysis). In particular I took hope from the comments by the session moderator, Victoria Tzotzkova, who urged the audience, while listening to the presenters (none of whom were exclusively music theorists, some of them not even card-carrying members), to expect new voices, sounds, and perspectives, and to consider in what new and inclusive ways we could imagine music theory to be.

Thursday at SMT/AMS

Hope everyone has made it safely to Vancouver!

As Ed Klorman posted last month, this year’s SMT/AMS conference program features an unusually rich selection of offerings for those of us engaged in questions of performance and analysis.  Today there are three full sessions devoted to performance, including PAIG’s own sponsored session, “Musical Performers, Musical Works” (8:00 – 10:00 pm, Pavilion Ballroom D).

But first, from 3:30 – 5:00 pm in Pavilion Ballroom C, is a session called “Positional Listening/Positional Analysis” that explores pop music from a performer’s point of view—which will certainly interest many PAIG members.

The organizer of the session, John Covach, has graciously allowed us to post its abstract below.  The abstracts and handouts for the individual papers can be found at the SMT conference guide.

Positional Listening/Positional Analysis

As analysts, we typically approach a piece of music from the conductor’s (classical) or producer’s (pop) point of view, attending to the entire texture and attempting to keep it all in our ear, even while we are simultaneously focusing on certain specific elements. There are certainly textures that challenge our ability to hear everything, such as complex orchestral scores or intricate contrapuntal pieces. But even in such cases, we still strive to hear all parts, and this helps define the Ideal Listening Position as a kind of balanced, objective, or even distanced view of the complete texture.

But what happens to this Ideal Listening Position for a musician playing inside a texture? How might one’s experience of and focus within the music provide a different perspective? If it does differ, what factors account for this? Is such a listening position a negative one—a kind of pragmatic practice required by performance but one that ultimately distorts the music—or does it offer fresh insight, a new way of hearing that enriches and augments our experience and understanding?

To explore these issues, this session will focus mostly on pop music. Four speakers will explore “positional listening/positional analysis” from distinct positions inside of the standard rock combo. This ninety-minute session will feature four fifteen-minute talks, followed by a ten-minute response and ending with twenty minutes for questions and discussion.

SMT 2016 Preview

by Edward Klorman (McGill University)

Time was, sessions and papers on musical performance were relatively rare within SMT conference programs. But recent decades have seen a burgeoning interest, as the 2016 conference program attests.

Below is a list of SMT sessions and individual papers that examine some aspect of performance. This list was compiled on the basis of session and paper titles, since abstracts are not available at the time of this writing. (AMS papers and concerts were not included in this list, although many of them will certainly be of interest to PAIG members.) If you are aware of papers that should be added to the list below, please let us know.

Many are by performer–scholars who bring their first-hand “know-how” to their scholarship. As Daphne Leong (2016) has recently noted, knowledge about music can take many forms: knowing that (wissen), knowing how to (können), and knowing as in knowing a person (kennen). Contributions from performer–scholars suggest a growing interest in the intersections between these forms of knowledge and opportunities to examine what performance and analytical perspectives can each offer the other.

Extending Topic Theory (Thursday, 4:15 p. m.)

  • Daniel J. Thompson (Florida State University), “A Topical Exploration of the Jazz Messengers’ 1963 Recording ‘One by One’”

Performing Babbitt and Morris (Thursday, 3:30–5:00 p. m.)

  • Zachary Bernstein (Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester), “Babbitt’s Gestural Dialectics”
  • Brian Alegant (Oberlin College & Conservatory), “Once More with Feeling: Analyzing and Performing Robert Morris’s Scraps”

Positional Listening/Positional Analysis (Thursday, 3:30–5:00 p. m.)

  • John Covach (University of Rochester), “A View from Guitar Land: Shifting Positional Listening in Complex Textures”
  • Kevin Holm-Hudson (University of Kentucky), “Stratified Keyboard Harmony in the Music of Todd Rundgren”
  • Brad Osborn (University of Kansas), “Metric Levels from Behind the Kit (and Elsewhere)”
  • Gregory R. McCandless (Appalachian State University), “Attentional Cost and Positional Analysis: A Bassist’s Perspective”
  • Elizabeth Marvin (Eastman School of Music), Respondent

Musical Performers, Musical Works (Thursday, 8:00–11:00 p. m.)
Sponsored by the SMT Performance and Analysis Interest Group

  • Patrick Boyle (University of Victoria), “The Jazz Process: Negotiating Error in Practice and Performance”
  • John Lutterman (University of Alaska, Anchorage), “Werktreue vs. Praxistreue: On the Problems of Representing Historical Performing Practices in the Modern Concert Hall”
  • Charles Neidich (The Juilliard School/Queens College, CUNY), “Knowledge and Imagination: On Performing Elliott Carter’s Gra for B-Flat Clarinet”
  • Eric Clarke (University of Oxford), Respondent: “Knowing and Doing”

Agency in Instrumental Music of the Long Eighteenth Century (Friday, 2:00–5:00 p. m.)

  • Edward Klorman (McGill University), “Koch and Momigny: Theorists of Agency in Mozart’s Quartets?” (Friday 2:00 p. m.)
  • Mary Hunter (Bowdoin College), “The Agency of the Performer in Mozart’s C-minor Fantasia K. 475 (3:30 p. m.)

Encounters with the Music of Milton Babbitt: A Centennial Celebration (Friday, 2:00–5:00 p. m.; second paper on the panel, exact time not specified)

  • Daphne Leong (University of Colorado, Boulder), “Simple Ways of Hearing, Playing, and Teaching Babbitt’s Semi-Simple Variations”

Performance and Analysis (Friday, 9:30–11:00 p. m.)

  • Andrew M. Friedman (Harvard University), “Reimagining (Motivic) Analysis in Light of Performance”
  • Su Yin Mak (The Chinese University of Hong Kong), “Communications about Musical Structure in Professional String Quartet Rehearsal”

Melodic Motivations (Saturday, 9:00 a. m.)

  • Christopher Gupta (Princeton University), “A Theoretical Account of Cueing Systems in Collective Improvisation”

Performing Meter (Saturday, 9:00–10:30 a. m.)

  • Richard Beaudoin (Brandeis University and The Royal Academy of Music, London), “Creaking Chairs and Metric Clarity: Microtiming Glenn Gould Recording Schoenberg op. 19/1”
  • Galen DeGraf (Columbia University), “Types of Temporal Knowledge beyond the Mode of Attending”

Reflections on the 4th Performance Studies Network International Conference

The 4th Performance Studies Network (PSN) International Conference—a gathering of 133 scholars, representing 71 institutions and 20 countries—took place July 14–17, 2016 at Bath Spa University in the UK.

A number of scholars affiliated with PAIG were among the presenters, and we’d like to share some reflections and observations here. For further details, check out the detailed conference program and abstracts or read Daniel Barolsky’s report on the 2nd PSN Conference (2013).

Edward Klorman (McGill University)
Having attended two PSN conferences, I am struck by the cross-pollination of scholarly approaches and musical styles represented. Most delegates are musical performers of one kind or another—some are extremely accomplished—who bring perspectives from musical analysis, ethno- and historical-musicologies, cognition, and other approaches to bear on aspects of musical performance.
I was struck by a number of presentations that engaged limitations to creativity among “classical” performers imposed in part by certain traditions of musical training and institutions. (Having spent several years as student and faculty member in a conservatory setting, I could relate to this theme personally.) Anthony Gritten (Royal College of Organists) gave a paper about dismantling what he calls the “pedagogy of constraint” (e.g., “Don’t do X like that!”) in favor of what “projective teaching” (“Do this in order to perform X”).
A presentation by Mary Hunter (Bowdoin College) examined “the language of Werktreue in practice,” drawing on rehearsal transcripts of professional chamber musicians to analyze how musicians “situate themselves between obligation and agency in their interpretative choices.”
Violinist and musicologist Maiko Kawabata (University of Edinburgh) presentation “Virtuosity Now” contrasted one model (or stereotype) of violin virtuosity—that of the technically assured by musically constrained players said to be favored by competition juries—with another model represented by the iconoclastic Moldovan-Austrian Patricia Kopatchinskaja. This extraordinary and memorable video of her live performance at the BBC Music Magazine Awards exemplifies a certain kind of virtuosity that is uniquely her own. (The performance is hard to describe, but if you can spare 60 seconds to watch, I promise you won’t forget it. It’s an encore piece entitled “Crin,” written for her by Jorge Sanchez Chiong.)
Victoria Tzotzkova (Harvard University)
The sound lingers on… A couple of weeks after leaving the idyllic campus of Bath Spa University, I still have the sounds of one particular presentation clearly ringing in my ear, the whole-body sensation of wonderment and delight at that sound still vivid and readily accessible. The presentation, by performer-researcher Abigail Dolan (Cambridge University) on the opening phrases of Debussy’s Syrinx, was to me an emblematic example of a piece of work in artistic research. The conceptual points tended towards systematization and categorization of performing concerns and approaches, and so, were clearly grounded in artistic practice. But what was particularly striking to me was the navigation between scholarly and artistic modes of presentation. Rather than playing these few phrases chiefly as illustrations of points made verbally, this presenter was able to offer several exquisite (if only partial) performances, giving me—and I suspect other attendees—the gift of experiencing with my whole body the boundless array of possibilities she navigates in every moment of performance. While the verbally articulated points were certainly helpful in navigating that terrain along with her, it is the possibilities I heard in sound that spoke to me most eloquently.

Call for Proposals – PAIG 2015 Meeting

At the 2015 SMT Annual Meeting in St. Louis (October 29 to November 1), the Performance and Analysis Interest Group (PAIG) will devote a portion of its session to short papers plus discussion. PAIG’s meeting is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, October 31, 5:30–7:30 PM.

PAIG invites proposals for 15-minute presentations on any topic pertaining to musical analysis and performance. Two areas of special interest are as follows:

* SCORES AND PERFORMANCE / SCORES VS. PERFORMANCE: Recent scholarship on musical performance studies, notably Nicholas Cook’s Beyond the Score: Music as Performance (2013), has criticized traditional modes of “score-based analysis” for privileging abstract musical “works” over their performances and for over-relying on metaphors of musical “structure.” To what extent are score-based and performance-based modes of analysis antithetical, compatible, or productively in dialogue? What are the costs and benefits of alternative modes of analysis?

* PERFORMERS ON PERFORMANCE AND ANALYSIS: It has been two decades since Joel Lester observed that something was conspicuously absent in the performance/analysis literature—“namely, the performers and their performances.” Regarding the latter point, a sophisticated body of literature analyzing recorded performances has developed in the ensuing decades. But efforts to integrate perspectives from performers themselves into scholarship on music analysis have been somewhat less successful and been criticized for a tendency to relegate performers to a subordinate or merely receptive role. What are the prospects for bringing perspectives from performers—either living or historical (e.g. Lussy, Schnabel, Casals)—into scholarship on musical analysis and performance? What kinds of collaborative or interdisciplinary perspectives would be most fruitful? What impediments might be hampering such research and how might they be overcome? To what extent might perspectives from performers and scholars be at odds or serve to critique one another’s values?

Proposals must be submitted to Edward Klorman, PAIG Co-Chair, at no later than July 1, 2015. A program will be announced by July 15, 2015. Your submission should include the following:

1) Two versions of the proposal in separate files, one anonymous and the other including the author’s name, institutional affiliation (if any), and contact information. Proposals should include a 250-word abstract plus up to one page of supplemental musical examples.

2) A list of all required equipment (such as piano, CD player, or LCD projector) other than the sound system that is typically available for all presenters. Please note that SMT normally cannot provide internet access for presentations.

Please note that submissions from non-SMT members are welcome. At the time of the conference, all presenters must be current SMT members and must register to attend the meeting. Information about SMT membership and conference registration is available at


Daniel Barolsky and Edward Klorman
PAIG Co-Chairs