People

Maria A. G. Witek

Dr Maria Witek is Associate Professor at the Department of Music, School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music, University of Birmingham. She has worked and studied across music and cognitive science since finishing her undergraduate degree in musicology in Oslo. She completed an MA in Music Psychology at Sheffield University, and a doctorate in Music at the University of Oxford. Before coming to Birmingham, she was Assistant Professor at the Center for Music in the Brain, Aarhus University, Denmark.

Dr Witek’s main interest is in researching the psychology, cognitive science and cognitive philosophy of musical experience, with a focus on rhythm, timing, emotion and body-movement. Much of her work is centred on trying to understand how dance music experiences and practices emerge from interactions between embodied, neural, musical and social processes. To date, she has focused primarily on the study of groove – the pleasurable experience of wanting to move to music. She uses research methods from across experimental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, qualitative social psychology, digital music analysis and phenomenology.

Dr Witek is also a live coder, under the artist name mxwx. She performs and makes algorithmic dance music at Algoraves and other live coding events, using TidalCycles. These performances are often collaborative with other live coders making music and visuals. She is a member of the live coding duo Bad Circulation, alongside Antonio Roberts (aka hellocatfood).

Contact: m.a.g.witek at bham dot ac dot uk

Susan Min Li

Dr Min Li is a research fellow at the School of Psychology and the Department of Music at University of Birmingham. She studied BSc Psychology at the University of Kent and later a Research Master degree at the University of Birmingham, where she also completed her PhD with Prof. Alan Wing and Dr. Max Di Luca in 2018. She joined Prof. Lars Muckli’s lab in Glasgow as a postdoctoral researcher to use high-field fMRI to investigate how predictive information and illusory perception are represented in the visual system, in particular, the feedforward and feedback connectivity for numerosity perception. She returned to Birmingham to the BBSRC-funded Aging Touch project, to study how multisensory signals and expectation modulate our perceived roughness of surface textures. 

Her research interest is the computational understanding of sensory expectation and prediction, with a focus on processing spatiotemporal properties of multisensory stimuli. With psychophysical approach and Bayesian modelling, her work investigates how human brain perceives time and space for sensory estimates and action. She is currently working on the EPSRC-funded Augmented Reality Musical Ensemble project. She investigates the synchronisation of small ensemble players with behavioural measures such as motion capture and auditory recordings, together with computational models to understand and simulate the musician’s behaviour, and explores its implementation in virtual space as a music training tool. 

Daniel Galvis

Daniel Galvis is a Centre Fellow at the Centre for Systems Modelling and Quantitative Biomedicine, College of Medical and Dental Sciences, University of Birmingham. He is an interdisciplinary applied mathematician focussed on mathematical modelling in biology and medicine. He is particularly interested in studying the role that network structure and node-intrinsic heterogeneities play in coordinating complex behaviours. For example, he has developed network models to study the role that heterogeneity in excitability of pancreatic beta-cells plays in organising pulsatile insulin secretion. He is also working on network models to study how abnormal brain activity initiates, propagates, and terminates through neuronal populations during epileptic seizures. Additionally, Daniel is interested in developing data-driven mathematical models to inform experimental and clinical research. To this end, he has developed models of the interactions between stress hormones and inflammation after surgery as well as the accumulation of drugs in resistant bacteria.

Daniel will be working on the project “Embodied timing and disability in DJ practice”, where he will be developing a mathematical model to understand how DJs coordinate beatmatching, the process of adjusting period and phase of a track so that it synchronises with another track.

Rhys Yewbrey

Rhys Yewbrey is a researcher studying motor learning and how the brain controls skilled movements. Originally from Cheshire, he completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees in Psychology and Psychological Research at Bangor University. He is currently nearing completion of a PhD in cognitive neuroscience at Bangor, but is based at the University of Birmingham. Rhys’ doctoral research studies how the brain prepares and executes fluent sequences of movement, including how the order and timing of movements are specified and combined in the brain.

Rhys has joined the lab as a part time research associate and will be working to analyse music and timing data from the DJ project.

Toni A. Behtold

Toni is a music researcher, saxophone player and teacher born and raised in Germany, now based in Lucerne, Switzerland. He started playing saxophone at a young age and played in bands of all kinds during his teenage years. Toni went on to study jazz saxophone in Nuremberg with Steffen Schorn and Hubert Winter, started teaching woodwinds, and was for example a member of the national German jazz orchestra (BuJazzO).  Afterwards he relocated to Switzerland, where he obtained master degrees in jazz performance and education at the Lucerne School of Music. He played thousands of concerts in Europe and overseas, mostly with small jazz ensembles or big bands and played on over 30 records. Since 2013, he is working as a researcher at the Competence Centre for Music Performance Research in Lucerne with a focus on groove, rhythm, jazz, and harmony. In 2019, he started a PhD in Music at the University of Birmingham.

In Toni’s PhD Project, ‘Groove and Catchiness in Popular Music,’ we investigate these two key characteristics of popular music with approaches from music psychology and music performance studies. Our basic hypotheses are that similar parameters are at work to promote groove and catchiness, and that these two can support each other. Music psychology defines the groove experience as pleasurable urge to move to music, but groove is also a structure, a layering of patterns. We bring these concepts together by examining how musical structures and other parameters evoke groove experiences. Despite being a major goal for popular music, research on catchiness is scarce and often reduced to memorability. In this project, we explore what catchiness encompasses and examine potential reasons why music is catchy. We conceived three consecutive work packages to investigate groove and catchiness from different angles. First, we conducted an interview study with musicians and producers to access expert knowledge on the topic. We combine this knowledge with existing literature to identify important musical and non-musical parameters and to substantiate our hypotheses. We investigate these hypotheses in an exploratory online listening experiment, followed by a second experiment that focuses on how different musical layers interact to promote groove and catchiness. 

Joseph Spinoza

Joe Spinoza is a London-born pianist and singer, now based in Birmingham, UK. Joe started learning the piano aged 6, and at 15 he gained a scholarship to the PianoMan scheme studying under concert pianist Richard Meyrick. At 18, Joe was awarded a scholarship to study for his BMus(Hons) in Classical Piano at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire under Philip Martin and Alasdair Beatson. In 2019, he studied for his MMus(Jazz) in Jazz Singing and Piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, under Sara Colman, Lee Gibson, Brigitte Beraha and Nikki Iles. Since 2020, Joe has been working toward his PhD on interaction in Jazz piano-vocal duo performance at the University of Birmingham.

Joe’s PhD project is focussed on exploring Jazz piano-vocal duo performance as a site for new developments on how we think about performer interaction. Jazz vocalists, and duo performance, are seldom explored in current literature. As someone who regularly performs on both sides of piano-vocal duos, Joe’s project seeks to understand what we can learn about interaction from this style of performance. The project involves triangulating data from digital analysis, performer interviews and musical transcriptions to create a developed image of the interactive process, and explore how interaction in a duo compares and contrasts with more commonly analysed small-band instrumental Jazz performances. The musical transcriptions and interviews also aim to serve as a historical and analytical account of the piano-vocal duo in Jazz.

Gabriella Vizzutti

Gabriella Vizzutti was born and raised in Seattle, Washington.  Vizzutti received her bachelor’s is Music Education from the University of Washington and spent several years teaching in Italy before pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Birmingham.  Vizzutti began studying classical violin at the age of 4 and percussion at the age of 12.  As an instrumentalist, she has played in various musical groups ranging from classical symphonic orchestra to rock & pop bands.  Her teaching abroad, however, is what sparked her curiousity to pursue a postgraduate degree via research in Music.

Gabriella’s research aims to compare the prosocial effects that result from collective music making to those resulting from interpersonal touch.  Vizzutti intends to gather data that highlights the effectiveness of music-making in promoting social cohesion and empathetic behaviour, and to demonstrate how music may be used as a social tool when interpersonal touch is otherwise impossible or forbidden (i.e., distance required due to Covid-19). Should music have a similar impact on behaviour as touch, music-making may very well be recognized as a vital tool in emotional and social development in children and infants, and a means to encourage social connection in adults.

ALUMNI

Patti Nijhuis

Dr Patti Nijhuis is a Research Fellow at the Department of Music, School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music, University of Birmingham. She is a cognitive neuroscientist investigating the neural underpinnings of perception-action processes in the context of music and rhythm. She is working on the “Embodied timing and disability in DJ practice” project to study the coordination of temporal processes between the brain, body and music.

Patti holds a Bachelor of Human Movement Sciences and a master of Sport Sciences from the university of Groningen, the Netherlands. Before coming to Birmingham, she undertook her PhD research in the field of cognitive neuroscience and music psychology at the MARCS institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development, Western Sydney University, Australia.

Patti’s research interests intersect music, rhythm, and movement. She is broadly interested in how humans interact with their environment. That is, how do we coordinate with sensory information or other people present in our environment? She uses brain imaging (EEG) and motion capture techniques to answer these questions at a neural-behavioural level. She has a particular expertise in motor cognition focusing on the coupling between neural and muscular activity, known as cortico-muscular coherence.

Patti now works at the University of Jyvaskyla, Finland.