My interest in refining analytical tools grew out of a desire to understand the construction of the musical works which I admired most, so that I might refine my own compositional techniques.  However, I was confronted with a notable lack of adequate analytical tools for the examination of what I considered the most interesting features of many of these works (see list of favourite compositions). Pitch collections which attract me are usually modal, atonal (rarely dodecaphonic), arranged according to a non-Western scale, or scarcely identifiable (such as in unpitched percussion or much electroacoustic music) so that neither traditional harmonic analysis nor the more recently-developed methods such as Schenkerian and pitch-class analysis were very relevant.  Rhythmic organization in many of these works often seems to be based on additive structures, and I am especially drawn to music which seems to have a simultaneous presentation of two or more “layers” or “strata” of music –what I call the ‘three-ring circus’ effect. Due to the rhythmic and perceptual issues involved, I was led to an intensive contemplation of temporal perception, through the areas of philosophy and psychology.  The growing area of cognitive sciences has captured my interest for its potential as an extremely useful adjunct to any study of how we hear music.

As I began developing ways of investigating such aspects, I also began teaching composition and 20th century music analysis, and my search intensified for adequate language to describe the diversity of musical styles characteristic of the past century. In addition, my constant contact with artists made me painfully aware of the inadequacy of the musician’s vocabulary to communicate with non-musicians. The proliferation of multimedia courses seem to lack theoretical accompaniment -- the interaction of the various media being considered too complex for comment. Reflection on this issue has made me realize how much music has been traditionally isolated from its accompanying visuals in the music theory and history classes. I began to concentrate on auditive analysis –crucial not only for the study of music by those who do not have score-reading skills, but also for the study of any music without a score, such as most electroacoustic music, much art music of other cultures, and improvised music.   In addition, the focus on audition necessarily places emphasis onto performance aspects and thus leads to considerations of timing and other stylistic interpretations that may be less than explicit on the printed page.

As of the last few decades, the lack of analytical tools is slowly being addressed by different scholars, often from quite different perspectives.  Now, there is a different problem: how to keep abreast of all these developments and, most crucially, how to identify the most appropriate method for a particular work.  Rather than despairing at the number of perspectives I have encountered, I decided to embrace the diversity as a fitting echo of the diversity of musical styles which are now so readily available through recordings, concerts, and broadcasts. Therefore I began working on the development of a comprehensive guide entitled The Tool Kit for Music Analysis. 

The Tool Kit was to draw on all the various projects which have occupied me for the last couple of decades:

Methods of analysis for multiple-strata works
Descriptive vocabulary for music
Exploration of musical texture
Psychological time and its role in musical perception
Refinement of a theory of musical rhythm
The role of music in multi-modal contexts

and of course my current major project  IMP-NESTAR

Complementing all aspects of my research, the Armchair Researcher has been designed as a research tool, to tap the knowledge and speculation of interested scholars and promote some old-fashioned, if virtual, conversations between us in order to stimulate further research and help maintain a healthy perspective by reducing the isolation to which we are all prone. A summary of my concerns and reflections is coming out soon as an e-book called Conversational Musicology: Mapping the Field.   A guide and overview of the Tool Kit project should also be available soon.