The Reception of Performance in North Indian Classical Music

The Open University





Music Research at the OU

OU Music Department


“The reception of Performance in North Indian Classical Music” is a new AHRC-funded project based at the OU, which will run for 24 months starting from October 2009.

Kolkata audience 

This project aims to establish a new paradigm for the study of the reception of musical performance. Reception is understood here as the result of a complex set of processes, involving both verbally mediated and embodied aspects of experience. This project sets out to investigate how these different processes are interrelated, analysing how the unconscious embodiment of sound; culturally constrained uses of gesture; aesthetic appreciation; and the socio-musical interactions displayed in performance all contribute to the construction of meaning in music. This project, thus, aims to develop a model for the study of music performance which focuses on its reception by both musicians and listeners, setting a framework for music research in which the boundaries between stage and audience become blurred.

The research methodology is based on analysis of audiovisual recordings of performances and interviews with both musicians and listeners, and draws on and combines a number of perspectives and disciplines, including ethnography, study of behaviour and gesture in performance, applied semiotics, and analysis of embodied cognition in music. Questions to be addressed include:

  • How does the way people express their experience of music shed light on processes of embodiment of sound, and how does the latter contribute to the construction of meaning?
  • How does the unconscious embodiment of music relate to cultural constraints on physical behaviour and how are these manifested in performance?
  • What makes a good performance, according to both listeners and musicians? How do musicians and listeners articulate their aesthetic expectations and how do they comment on music performance?
  • How are musicians' and audiences' social roles and relationships displayed through performance? How do artists and listeners articulate the dynamics they engage in and experience in performance? How do these dynamics affect the reception of music?

In answering these questions, the research will focus on North Indian classical music: this tradition is in fact an ideal object for this study due to its rich metaphorical discourse, a long history of reflection on aesthetic issues, and a well-structured code of behaviour in performance reflecting clear hierarchies and social roles, both on stage and among the audience.

This project proposes a significant advance in the study of music performance, contributing a new perspective to the understanding of the processes underlying its reception. It will be of interest to South Asian music scholarship, and also – due to the interdisciplinary nature of the methodology proposed – to musicology, music psychology, semiotics, and cognitive science.

The reception of Performance in North Indian Classical Music is supported by the The Arts & Humanities Research Council