Musical Gesture: Models and Experiments

During the first decade of the 21st century, gesture became the favored method of interaction with technologies with the general public and the musical community alike.  While musical writing has dematerialized, decomposes, and rebuilt the body of the musician-performer for the past 50 years, we can observe that for the past ten years there has been a strong multidisciplinary convergence around this research subject. The intelligence of the body, the understanding of its operation, human (performer, listener, audience member) - machine interfaces in the context of performance arts, the understanding and musical exploitation of expressive non-verbal gestures mobilize composers, performers, and computer scientists, but also mobilizes the domains of engineering, psychology, physiology, biomechanics, and cognitive sciences around the capture and analysis of musical gestures, as well as the gestural control of sound synthesis in live situations. However, this idea of gesture, commonly used in a large number of fields including the performing arts (theater, dance, performance), has only been the subject of nascent research in musicology.

The GEMME project offers an analysis of theoretical texts and musical works, and also carries out investigations before and after the premiere of a score: what theoretical and technical possibilities of the formalization of gestures are available to composers? What gestural procedures can they test on paper and during the performance of a work? What means of transmission of the gestural information are created not only during the collaboration between composer and performer, but also when the performance of the work is taught? This project endeavors to answer these questions via four main themes:

  1. Tacit Theories of Gesture: genealogy of the compositional notion of gesture, its categorizations and periodization, the current state of the art
  2. Gesture and Stage: study of a paradigmatic method—that of Kagel—where the musical idea is connected to its staged expression in the framework of musical and instrumental theater
  3. Gesture and Instrument: study of a contrasting paradigmatic method—that of Lachenmann—where the composition calls upon a breakdown of the organological possibilities of sound production in relationship with a political and social criticism of expressive conventions
  4. Gesture and Technology: a series of musical analyses of a group of seminal scores, from Ferneyhough's Time and Motion Study II to Luna Park by Aperghis, that offer a variety of technical and computing paradigms that formalize and/or accompany the instrumental gesture.

Project Details



Program Type

SHS blanc program

Start Date

November 1, 2012

End Date

October 30, 2015




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