Research@Schulich: Tanor Bonin

Tanor Bonin is a PhD candidate in Music Technology, and will present his research in the Schulich School of Music's Doctoral Colloquium series this week.

Originally from Belleville, Ontario, Tanor Bonin (pictured here with sensei ANDO Masateru during a research trip in Japan) holds a BSc in Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour with a specialization in music and music cognition from McMaster University, and a Master’s in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of Waterloo. He is an Alexander Graham Bell doctoral research fellow of Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and a doctoral research fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences (JSPS).

His research has been published and referenced in several scientific journals, including Nature, Canadian Acoustics, Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, Cognition, and Music Perception, and included in an undergraduate psychology of music textbook published by MIT Press.

Tanor has also released a number of albums through independent record labels as both performer and producer, and most recently worked on an original soundtrack for a video game to be released next year on the Nintendo Switch.


What made you choose McGill for your studies?

Dr Stephen McAdams’ interdisciplinary Music Perception and Cognition Lab (MPCL), the intellectual lineage of Dr Albert Bregman (author of Auditory Scene Analysis), and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology CIRMMT.

How has being a McGill student influenced you and your research?

I have had many opportunities to conduct the research that interests me thanks in large part to the prestige of the University.

Explain your research in three sentences or less:

Music provides a unique insight into the paradoxical operations of the world. Through the creation, production, and perception of music we understand what it means for quantities to possess complexion and for qualities to exhibit proportion, for time to stand still and for space to dissolve, for feelings to be rational and for reason to imply personal motivation, for the darkness to contain the light and for the ointment to preserve the fly. I am interested in how this understanding is accessible through music, what this tells us about the structure of the human mind, and how it can inform the psychological interpretation of the human being’s relation to the world.

What led you to this particular topic?

My love of music, interest in people and curiosity about the mind have been with me for as long as I can remember. In this sense, my δαίμων has led me here.

How does your research add to what was already known?

Empirically, my dissertation contributes the first series of perceptual studies of the musical tradition known as Ikuta-ryu (生田流). The Ikuta School is a lineage of traditional Japanese koto music and contains, as one of its musical transliterations, a phonetic script known as the shouga (唱歌). When performed, the shouga produces aural and proprioceptive analogues of the music’s perceptual morphology. The studies are based on the musical expertise I stolefrom sensei ANDO Masateru during my 2017 research fellowship in Japan, and provide perceptual data from both Japanese and Western listeners.

Theoretically, I would like to contribute to a revitalization of the ancient knowledge of the psyche that serves as the foundation for today’s psychological disciplines but seems to have been forgotten.

*one of the dominant values of traditional Japanese pedagogy is 盗めばいい (nusumeba ii; “steal it, if you can”). A student pays fees to a master not in order “to be taught,” but for the opportunity “to steal” the master’s art. Training therefore consists in large part of the implicit transmission of knowledge from master to student, and the onus is on the student to learn what they can.

This photo shows two of the movements in the traditional Ikuta notation for Rokudan no Shirabe:

Were there any findings that you found particularly surprising?

To the extent I am able, I have been trying to digest the earliest references I can find, and am consistently impressed by the breadth and depth of the coincidences between the ancient Eastern and Western wisdom traditions.

What are the practical implications of your research?

This dissertation will contribute to the experimental psychology literature in general, the music perception and cross-cultural perception literatures more specifically, and the cross-modal and ethnomusicological literatures more distally. Practically speaking I hope that the work conveys a sense of the inspiration and reverence I feel while exploring this music, and I would be content if the cross-cultural mentorship and content of this work stood as a testament to the value and reality of human collaboration.

What are your next steps?

I submit my dissertation in August 2019, and am currently working to publish my experiments in a series of research articles.

What advice would you give to new students in your program?

Work hard. Work really hard, because when the work feels “hard” you know you are pressing up against something “of substance”—something important to you.


Where is your favourite place to study?

The McLennan library.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I have been working on a new album for several years now, and this takes up the majority of my free time. I also enjoy reading and hiking.

What are you reading and/or what was the last book you read?

At the moment I’m partway through Irad Kimhi’s Thinking and Being, Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution, and Barbara Hannah’s The Animus.

The last books I finished were Marie-Louise von Franz’s The Problem of the Puer Aeternus and Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life.

If you could invite any four notable figures from history to a dinner party, who would they be?

Jung-and-Pauli, Parmenides-and-Heraclitus, Lǎozǐ-and-Kǒngzǐ, Dōgen-and-Bankei.