Leslie Tilley, Assistant Professor of Music, is an ethnomusicologist whose research focuses on analytical approaches to world music, particularly the analysis of improvised musics from Bali, Indonesia. Born in Halifax, Canada, Tilley began her musical training as a classical vocalist, earning a Bachelor of Music from Acadia University in 2000 before falling in love with academic music study. She subsequently earned an M.A. in ethnomusicology in 2003 and a Ph.D. in 2013, both from the University of British Columbia where she studied under foremost Balinese music specialist Michael Tenzer. There, she researched collective improvisation practices on the 4-person Balinese melodic instrument, reyong, and the paired improvised drumming practice kendang arja, positing grammars of unspoken rules for these improvised practices and exploring the underlying boundaries to freedom required when improvising together. Her current book project, Making It Up Together: The Art of Collective Improvisation in Bali and Beyond, combines the research of her M.A. and Ph.D., using these examples as case studies for a broader discussion of analytical methods for the analysis of collective improvisation across cultures.
Tilley has presented her work at several conferences, including Analytical Approaches to World Music (AAWM), Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM), Society for Music Theory (SMT), and the Society for Music Analysis (SMA)’s Music Analysis Conference. Her research interests range from Balinese music to improvisation to cross-cultural musical analysis. Her article “Dialect, Diffusion, and Balinese Drumming: Using Sociolinguistic Models for the Analysis of Regional Variation in Kendang Arja,” published in Ethnomusicology, borrowed theories of linguistic diffusion and variation to explain drum pattern diffusion and change in kendang arja traditions. Her chapter in the 2018 Springer Handbook of Systematic Musicology, “Analytical Ethnomusicology: How We Got Out of Analysis, and How to Get Back In,” examines and critiques the many analytical methods used by ethnomusicologists in the last 130 years. And her chapter in the forthcoming edited volume Current Research in Systematic Musicology explores ways that ethnography and fieldwork methods can nuance an analysis of kendang arja improvisation. She is also beginning to explore computational analysis of Balinese improvisation, and looks forward to training her lens on improvised forms in other music cultures.
Tilley teaches Introduction to World Music (21M.030) as well as courses on Indonesian music and Rhythms of the World. She has also led the MIT Balinese gamelan.