GeAcMus provides a new approach to musicology

Only a multidisciplinary approach can represent playing a musical instrument in all its complexity. All of this is the challenge facing the newest subject chairs at Sorbonne University: GeAcMus (Gestures – Acoustics – Music). This ambitious project, launched at the beginning of the 2015 academic year, aims to form a community of researchers in musicology and acoustics, disciplines for which Sorbonne University has leading research teams.

The GeAcMus program brings together top-notch researchers in the humanities and natural sciences with musicians to better reveal the interaction between the instrumentalist’s gestures, the mechanical properties of their instruments and the music produced, all of this within the context of various cultures. This is an innovative approach to addressing an area of research involving a great deal that remains unknown.

04-16 Study Day
Specific scientific day to instrumentalists students PSPBB

1. Context

In both musicology and musical acoustics, the exploration of new fields of research is, now more than ever, occurring via interdisciplinary approaches. The study of musical instruments is the perfect illustration of this. The sound produced by an instrument actually depends on both its mechanical characteristics and the gestures of instrumentalists. However, aside from the savoir faire of the musician, the gestures themselves are dictated by the acoustics and ergonomics of the instrument, as well as by the music played. All of these elements vary according to culture and period, aesthetic values and even the symbolic place of the music.

Thanks to the complementary nature of its fields of expertise, Sorbonne University has the necessary capacity to decrypt all of these parameters and their interaction in order to provide a representation of the instrument and how it is played in all its complexity.

This is the aim of the GeAcMus chair. Created in September 2015 for a period of 18 months, this chair brings together musicians, ethnomusicologists and musicologists, and experts in biomechanics (the mechanics of the human body), musical acoustics, organology (the study of musical instruments) and the production and phylogeny of instruments (the study of their development) to conduct the first multidimensional and multicultural study into playing a musical instrument.


2. Main areas of research

GeAcMus aims to simultaneously analyze instrumentalists’ gestures, instrument manufacturing, acoustics, musical language and the cultural representations and development of these through time, and within the context of both Western music and music from oral traditions. For this reason, the program is divided into several interdisciplinary projects and is looking at three types of instrument used in written and oral traditions:

Percussion instruments: a comparative analysis of the instrumental gestures of xylophonists and drummers in Africa and the West.

Plucked string instruments:

  • The harp: a comparative study of instrumental gestures and instruments in three populations in Gabon (Fang, Myene, Tsogho).
  • The lute: a comparative study of instrumental gestures in different regions in Iran and Central Asia, and analysis of instrument manufacturing and development.

Wind instruments:

  • An acoustic control analysis of a bagpipe by the instrumentalist.
  • Experimenting with a tight-knit approach; this means involving all relevant disciplines (musicology, acoustics, instrument manufacturing, musical performance) in order to reproduce and optimize a 19th-century Western flute.
  • Expanding the musical and expressive possibilities of notch-flutes to respond to a new musical repertoire.


3. Education and scientific exchanges

GeAcMus funds incentives for research internships for masters’ students and holds a mobile monthly interdisciplinary seminar, which makes stops at the Clignancourt Center at Paris-Sorbonne, the Musée de l’Homme and at the offices of the Lutheries – Acoustique – Musique (Stringed Instruments – Acoustics – Music) team (see calendar).

Establishing this chair has also resulted in the implementation of three ethnomusicological modules which are open to Sorbonne University second-year masters’ students and PhD students, to take place from the middle of April to the end of May at the Musée de l’Homme (see a detailed schedule).


4. Stakeholders

The chair brings together seven Sorbonne University bodies:

  • The mixed research unit of the Institut de recherche en musicologie (IReMus – CNRS, Paris-Sorbonne, the BNF National Library of France, and the Ministry of Culture and Communication);


The chair also has an external partner: Paris’ Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse.


GeAcMus is supported by two ethnomusicologists: Susanne Fürniss, leader of the Systématique et catégorisation culturelles team at the MNHN, and François Picard, researcher at the IReMus and lecturer in music and musicology at the research and teaching unit at Paris-Sorbonne (read their interview).


The team leading the research matches ethnomusicologists and acousticians who are experts in the various musical instruments being studied. It is comprised of:

  • Two senior lecturers: Fabrice Marandola, a professor of percussion and contemporary music at Montreal’s McGill University and a doctor of ethnomusicology (read the article on his research), and Patricio de la Cuadra, flautist and professor of musical acoustics at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (read the article about his works);

  • One junior lecturer: Farrokh Vahabzadeh, an ethnomusicologist specializing in lutes in Iranian and Central Asian culture, and, prior to this, a post-doctoral student at the Université de Montréal;

  • Four post-doctoral students: two ethnomusicologists (Marie-France Mifune, specializing in the harp in Gabon, and Cassandre Balosso-Bardin, specializing in the bagpipes) and two acousticians (Henri Boutin, who worked on material concerning antique instruments in particular, and Camille Vauthrin, who wrote her thesis on the flute).


Related to this article



Susanne Füniss

François Picard

Fabrice Marandola

Patricio de la Cuadra



Related to this article

For reference

Le Collegium Musicæ website



Susanne Füniss

François Picard



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