ICMPC: History and Guiding Principles

During the 1970s researchers in psychology, musicology, linguistics, computer science and sister disciplines started meeting with increasing frequency to share ideas and results pertinent to a greater scientific and theoretical understanding of the mental processes underlying such activities as the perception and cognition of music. The leading figures in this group took as their common ground the "cognitive revolution" of the late 1950s and 1960s whose major figures included Donald Broadbent, Noam Chomsky, Ulric Neisser, and Herbert Simon, and they published mainly in mainstream cognitive psychology journals such as "Psychological Review" and "The Journal of Experimental Psychology".

However a number of specialist journals were soon founded, including Psychology of Music (1972) and Music Perception (1983). This allowed a growth in multi-disciplinary contributions, although cognitive psychology remained a dominant component. By the mid-1980s a substantial community of scholars were networking with one another in several parts of the world.

National Societies also came into being during the 1970s and 1980s, including the Society for Research in the Psychology of Music and Music Education (UK), the Society for Music Perception and Cognition (SMPC, North Amenca), the Japanese Society for Music Perception and Cognition (JSMPC) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft for Music Psychology (DGM, Germany). These all championed interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary perspectives on music behaviour and experience.

International meetings were, however, sporadic. Pioneering meetings included a "Workshop on the Physical and Neuropsychological Foundations of Music" organized by Manfred Clynes in 1980, and the Ann Arbor Symposium on Music.

Inspired leadership from Japan (including Takao Uememoto, Seiichiro Namba, Kengo Ohgushi) assisted by colleagues from the USA (particularly Diana Deutsch and Edward Carterette) led in 1989 to the inauguration of an international series under the title of "International Conference on Music Perception & Cognition" (ICMPC). An act of faith was placed in the community by naming this the "First", in the sincere hope that others would come forward to organize successor conferences. This act of faith was well-founded: at the end of this conference the Second ICMPC was announced, to be hosted in Los Angeles (1992) by Edward Carterette and Roger Kendall and strongly supported by the then nascent Society for Music Perception and Cognition. The momentum was then unstoppable.

In 1991 the European Society for the Cognitive Science of Music (ESCOM) was formed, with a major aim of providing a European context for ICMPC. The 3rd Conference was held in Liege, Belgium, under the direction of Irene Deliege (1994), and at this time the guiding principles of the series became established.

These (flexible) principles specify that an ICMPC should be held about every two years, with a tripartite rotation between three major spheres of academic activity in the world: firstly the Asia-Pacific area (South and East Asia and Australasia); secondly the Americas (North and South), and thirdly Europe (including Russia and Eastern Europe) and the Middle East.

It has been the hope of those steering the project that the ICMPC would stimulate academic activity in countries without a long record of involvement in music sciences, and that new national and pan-national scholarly organizations representing the three major world areas would gradually emerge to contribute to the organization and oversight of ICMPC.

These hopes have been richly fulfilled. Since the formation of ESCOM in 1991, there followed the Korean Society for Music Perception and Cognition (KSMPC) in 1998, the Asia-Pacific Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (APSCOM) in 2000, and the Argentinian Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (SACCOM) in 2001. A new multilingual journal Musicae Scientiae (the journal of ESCOM) has also been made possible by the growth in research activity in part stimulated by ICMPC. A new journal written in Japanese and English, "Journal of Music Perception and Cognition" has been published by JSMPC since 1995.

Just under 100 papers were presented at ICMPC1 (1989). At ICMPC6 (2000) the number of papers listed in the programme was more than 300. This astonishing increase represents growth of a number of different kinds. First, there has been growth in the number of sub-disciplines and research areas represented at ICMPC. In addition to perception and cognition, which remain central to every conference, we have seen a flourishing of work on development, social and cultural aspects, biology and evolution, emotion and affective aspects, neuroscience, educational implications, and systematic theory and model building. Second, there has been growth in the number of countries sending delegates to ICMPC:

  • At ICMPC10 (2008) the conference attracted 384 participants from 32 countries despite its location in the Far East.
  • The number of delegates and their regional representation increased again at ICMPC11 (2010) and ICMPC12 (2012).
  • Particularly encouraging is the recent growth in numbers of delegates from Eastern Europe the former states of the Soviet Bloc, and from South America.

Third, there has been a growth in the number of students attending ICMPC and presenting their work. Indeed, one of the most healthy aspects of ICMPC is the preponderance of delegates under the age of 35. ICMPC has supported the growth of young researchers by granting the Young Researcher Award and Travel Awards, sponsored by SEMPRE (Society for Education, Music, and Psychology Research). 

The financial and academic responsibility for each ICMPC rests with the individual organizer. However, in order to provide a framework and some common standards, an ICMPC Advisory Board exists.