Revisiting Charles Keil: Commentary on Câmara et al. (2023)


  • Olivier Senn Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts



microtiming, timbre, dynamics, participatory discrepancies


Charles Keil (1966) argued against Leonard Meyer (1956) that the expressivity, emotional power, and groove of music does not primarily lie in the syntax of the notated score, but in music performance as a bodily and participatory process. So far, empirical music research has investigated the traces of the performance process primarily focusing on note onset timing (or microtiming). Studies established that microtemporal deviations from metronomic regularity (isochrony and synchrony) tend to be systematic and not just random deviations caused by motor imprecision. Besides this positivistic acknowledgment of microtiming patterns, research has largely failed to show that microtiming has the emotional effects predicted by Keil. One reason for this failure may be that note onset displacement is only one performance aspect among many (e.g., articulation, timbre, dynamics) that are potentially relevant to listeners' and musicians' emotional responses. In their recent studies, Câmara and colleagues analyze traces of music performance in different dimensions of the musical artifact. This holistic approach may lead to a new empirical assessment of Keil's ideas in the future, more than half a century after they were first proposed.




How to Cite

Senn, O. (2024). Revisiting Charles Keil: Commentary on Câmara et al. (2023). Empirical Musicology Review, 18(1), 37–41.