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Astonishing Insights into the Art of Conducting Using Cutting-Edge Eye-Tracking Technology


What really lies behind the art of conducting? Researchers from the University of London and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, in collaboration with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, have employed revolutionary eye-tracking technology to gain insights into the art of conducting. Taken during the rehearsal of Wagner's opera “Siegfried,” the recording reveals the complex process of conducting, where the conductor's gaze operates at a faster tempo than the music and hand gestures.

Sir Simon Rattle conducting

The special glasses were worn by Sir Simon Rattle, chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and used nano cameras to track his eye movements with great precision. By combining this technology with machine learning, the researchers quantitatively analysed the conductor's gaze, determining where his eyes focus, how long they rest, and the speed of his visual transitions. This combination of art, science and technology highlights the conductor's ability to inspire and coordinate actions within the ensemble. 
"We couldn't have asked for a more perfect starting point for this project," says Professor Ophelia Deroy, Director of the Centre for Experimental Aesthetics, Technology and Engineering (CREATE) at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, who is also a professor at the LMU in Munich. “While some believe the eye reflects the soul, it is truly a window into the mind and the brain. Our challenge lies in comprehending the multifaceted dimensions of the conductor's gaze: its swift traversal through space and time—moving ahead of the music yet effortlessly connecting with the musicians, just at the right time. We witness their engagement, as well as moments of introspection where the conductor seems to retreat into his own realm.” 

The future aim is to use the new technology to augment performance - allowing audiences to witness a performance from the conductor's perspective, or to match what is being played with what the musicians anticipate to play when looking at the score by equipping the musicians with extra-eye trackers. This can bring a new level of interactivity and communication between audience and performers. 

"Eye-tracking studies have been conducted on musicians before, but implementing this technology during a rehearsal, on such a grand scale, is a groundbreaking achievement", adds Dr Bahador Bahrami, a cognitive neuroscientist involved in the study. "What makes it truly revolutionary is that we can also analyse and visualize these fast eye paths on the performers or the  score during a performance, to provide a whole new way of understanding but also of experiencing the art of conducting." 
Sir Simon Rattle, who became Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra in 2017, is the new chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphonic Orchestra, as of the 2023/2024 season.