On the Nature of Musical Experience

Musical Experience in Our Lives
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It was soon revised, however, to refer more broadly to the kind of insight imparted by the experience of beauty, insight that was immediate and particular, rather than general, [11] and intuitive rather than logical. Establishing the validity of these particular, intuitive insights, that is, the judgments that certain things constituted bona fide instances of beauty, was a major preoccupation of the time.

It was therefore important to set standards for beauty and its attendant pleasures and to distinguish genuine instances and sources of aesthetic pleasure from imposters. So the idea of aesthetic experience came to figure prominently in the effort to distinguish the pleasure occasioned by genuine, durable beauty from that which was personal, sensual and fleeting.

Kant's version of the aesthetic notoriously excluded both "interested" pleasures and conceptual orientations, in an effort to establish its "subjective universality. Indeed, they were universally available to any and all who were capable of assuming, or inclined to assume, the correct -- i.

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Assumptions like these helped distinguish the cultivated from the boorish and were important parts of the machinery that helped distinguish the socially privileged from those less so at a time when an emerging middle class made such distinctions matters of considerable concern to those being displaced. But as Korsmeyer also explains, "the ideal aesthetic judge, the arbiter of taste, was implicitly male, for men's minds and sentiments were considered to be more broadly capable than women's" p. She points, for instance, to the "distinction between a 'feminine' taste for things that are pretty and charming and a 'masculine' taste for art that is more profound and difficult" p.

Among the terms of criticism at the time, Korsmeyer explains, was the idea of effeminacy, applied to the work of male artists, but not women, since "a work with similar quality by a woman would simply be feminine and thereby charming and minor" p. In short, the quest to establish standards for aesthetic judgments was part of a broader quest to establish standards for pleasurable experience; and in that quest, "the preferences of people who were already culturally accredited" became the criteria for determining validity.

Such people were, by and large, men of social privilege, which is to say that ideas about taste and beauty "aesthetic judgments" imposed standards instead of discovering them p. These conventional aesthetic doctrines restricting the appreciation of beauty to those who assume the disinterested aesthetic attitude had the effect of prohibiting questions, since to ask questions, for example about moral or political concerns implicated in a work of art or a piece of music, would violate the aesthetic attitude by dragging in extraneous considerations.

Indeed, convictions like these have often been used to seize disciplinary control over music study, declaring entire ranges of musical and musicological discourse out of bounds. Rejecting these aesthetic orientations admittedly undermines the disinterestedness and universality conventionally claimed for them. However, Korsmeyer points out, such losses must be weighed against the restoration to music of a crucial attribute muted by aesthetic theories: its power. Against the older, modernist, Enlightenment aesthetic traditions, [16] Korsmeyer asserts, contemporary theories and practices emphasize the reinstatement of desire.

Also influential are anti-universalist stances, grounded in convictions that a neutral, universal point of view is not just impossible, but politically implicated in concerns like gender, class, nationality, and historical perspective. And as to the structure of traditional aesthetic theories:. Combined with the gendered thinking that pervades eighteenth-century accounts of beauty, this structural relationship can take on what we might call the form of gender in the relationship between subject and object, a structure that possesses traits parallel to those obtaining between masculine and feminine positions more literally described" p.

The structure of aesthetic appreciation, in which the passive, beautiful object stands as a feminine counterpart to the activity and potency of the male artist, is thus poorly suited to certain kinds of art. Its "spectator-art disjunction" does not serve participatory or group experiences, such as music-making, to take a nontrivial example. As we have also seen, the notion of artistic genius was also involved.

And these modernist aesthetic ideals, writes Korsmeyer, helped create "a climate in which women's participation in the arts was fraught and difficult" p. In music, specifically, the inaccessibility of the fine-art system's professional opportunities to women assured their status as amateurs: people who performed and created in private, often domestic environments, earning little or nothing in recompense. The fine-art tradition is "but one moment in the history of art," writes Korsmeyer; and "it is one that emphasizes the autonomy of art and the contemplative distance between audience and artwork" p.

These orientations favor experience that is abstract and disembodied; objects or works whose pleasures are not overly or overtly sensual; and undertakings whose practicality or usefulness is not direct or conspicuous.

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Fine art's existence is solely concerned with experience that is said to be aesthetic; and aesthetic gratification [18] comes of having perceived and experienced aesthetic qualities alone. However, Korsmeyer argues, under the fine-art orientation, women's creative engagements were largely confined to areas that were practical, functional and often sensual, such as food preparation, for example. They were thus, by definition, neither artistic nor conducive to experience that was aesthetic. Yet, she observes, "the presence of aesthetic qualities alone does not make something a work of art" p.

Here we encounter the "operation of gender at a level of conceptualization where the very presumptions regulating philosophical importance are formulated" p. Korsmeyer's point is that much of the purported "difficulty" of feminist art in the postmodern era stems from its rejection of "the aesthetic values that reigned when the concept of fine art developed in modern history" p. Conventional aesthetic notions like expression and significant form serve to honor certain kinds of artworks and their makers and to delineate features that distinguish excellence from mediocrity.

They also serve to smother attention to the sexual politics of representation. She summarizes, in a statement aesthetically-enamored music educators might do well to consider carefully: "What artworks share is not any perceptual quality such as beauty or significant form or the expressed visions of artistic genius but is rather a relational quality with art traditions unfolding within culture" p.

Perhaps the most provocative and most easily misunderstood aspect of Korsmeyer's book is her treatment of what she designates "difficult pleasures"-the disgust or revulsion she suggests constitutes a contemporary parallel to one of the aesthetic hallmarks of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, sublimity. Because of the ways gendered binaries have been implicated in the neglect and denigration of the feminine and of women, feminist theorists and artists "have a particular stake in mind-body debates," she explains p.

By evoking disgust, "above all others the most physical, visceral emotion," some contemporary feminist artists challenge directly the traditional doctrines conflating art with beauty and the pleasure of disinterested contemplation. Unlike modern aesthetic discourses that were rooted in theories of pleasure, [22] she explains, contemporary and in particular, feminist perspectives often resist affirmation and the evocation of comforting emotions, deliberately evoking emotions instead that are "difficult, painful, and aversive" p.

An important part of such artistic endeavors is the "shocking disruption of traditions of aesthetic value" p. Whether music is capable of evoking the kind of disgust Korsmeyer describes is an interesting question that need not detain us here. But even if disgust and revulsion are beyond music's capacities, the broader issue warrants consideration. The polite tastes and detached, disembodied appreciation associated with modern aesthetic theory, and to which, note once more, most versions of the aesthetic rationale for music education appeal directly and centrally, are relatively poor fits to many of the things many people find so compelling about musical experience: the impulses Nietzsche designated Dionysian - energy, disorder, unruliness, the visceral - the very satisfactions, one might say, of musical action.

There are two possibilities that warrant consideration here. The first has already been introduced: that the acceptance of the aesthetic norms of modern theory tends to marginalize significant realms of musical practice that do not conform to its defining characteristics. The second, though related, deserves equally explicit consideration: that it distorts perception and understanding of what people are doing when they engage in music as musicians.

It tends to subordinate musical action to works or pieces, reducing the point of musical engagement to faithful production of consumable, i. As a receptive stance, the aesthetic orientation to music neglects the importance of musical agency; and, as a formally-oriented stance, it tends to neglect in musical experience dimensions that contribute importantly even to the value of the traditional canon: the timbral, the Dionysian, the corporeal, and so on. Regardless of one's philosophical stance on the particular issue of musical disgust, these concerns should remind us of the extreme fragility and porosity of the borders between and among sound, music, and noise.

The use of Frank Sinatra recordings for psychological punishment; of Bruce Springsteen recordings as psychological weapons; of recorded classical music to keep "undesirables" from congregating in certain public places; and of music as an instrument of torture: each of these points to musical power that goes well beyond the kinds envisioned by modern aesthetic theory.

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The questions I have tried to raise here, taking Korsmeyer's book as a point of departure, are a whether and how the assertion that music's value is primarily aesthetic, as that is conventionally understood, can be sustained; and b whether music's value should be regarded as primarily, intrinsically, inherently or exclusively musical, when that term is taken by definition to implicate the exclusions of modern aesthetic theory.

Music education conceived as aesthetic education necessarily neglects, and even excludes, critical dimensions of music-making as a mode of human action or praxis. The focus of aesthetically conceived music education is pieces rather than events; entities rather than actions; properties rather than uses; listening rather than making. Music considered as praxis - as a form of practical knowledge and a mode of human action - embraces many things of instructional significance that aesthetic theory has been deliberately crafted to exclude.

Aesthetic engagement is one mode of musical praxis and an optional one, not the whole of it. At issue, ultimately, is whether, given the sexism and inequality that are part of the very origins of the concept of fine art, the aesthetic can be rehabilitated. It stresses the role of subjectivity and its influence on our reactions to the environmental outer world. As such, it must be considered through the first-person perspective and with active verbs. Biosemiotics , on the other hand, can be described as that area of knowledge which describes the biological bases of the interaction between an organism and its environment [ 24 — 26 ].

It typically studies those signification processes which are typical for living organisms in general and which are rooted in their biology for an overview, see [ 27 ] and [ 28 , 29 ] for an application to music and can be considered as an interdisciplinary field of theoretical and empirical research of communication and signification in living systems, with a focus on the study of the behavior of living systems in their interaction with the environment.

As such, a full description of perceiving cannot be given by analyzing only either the organism or its environment organism-environment dualism. Central in this approach is the role of circularity between action and perception. It is an idea which has been retaken in current research, with a culmination in the recent boost of perception-action studies [ 30 — 36 ]. They all stress the role of the observer in establishing new semiotic links with his or her environment as the result of previous interactions with the outer world.

With the one it invests the object with a receptor cue or perceptual meaning, with the other, an effector cue or operational meaning. But since all of the traits of an object are structurally interconnected, the traits given operational meaning must affect those bearing perceptual meaning through the object, and so change the object itself. The basic mechanism of the functional cycle is a simple, recursive loop between action and perception. It stresses the role of the organism as the subject of interaction in terms of sensorimotor integration, with behaviors consisting of perception and action which are organized in a meaningful way.

The concept has proven to be fruitful. It has its origins in the concept of the reflex arc, but the linearity of the stimulus-reaction chain is replaced by the concept of circularity. Every stimulus, in this view, presupposes a readiness to react, allowing the organism or animal to select as a stimulus a phenomenon of the environment which has been neutral up to that point.

Rather than thinking in terms of reactivity to an external environment, we should conceive of the construction of an internal model of the world. Functional cycles, then, encompass all the meaningful aspects of the world for a particular organism—they make up their respective Umwelts—and are the actual root of intentionality, bringing together the world of sensing and acting through processes of signification which invest the objects with perceptual and effector tones.

The critical element in this approach is the sensitivity to the functional characteristics of the environment. As such, they can be considered as subjective qualities that render the environment apt for specific activities, such as supporting locomotion, concealment, manipulation, nutrition, and social interaction for the animal. It is a conception that points to an important quality of the world, namely, that its features are meaningful for an active perceiver who perceives this world in terms of functional significance of an object, event, or place.

How Landscape Music Evokes the Natural World

Affordances, moreover, are interesting conceptual tools. They rely on objective environmental features of the world but also on perceiver-specific qualities, which are variable and subjective to a great extent. The concept of functional significance is really important here. It stresses the importance of sense-making as an act of deliberate attention and epistemic autonomy and brings together ecological, pragmatic, and biosemiotic claims.

Listeners, in fact, build up relations with their sonic world by selecting some elements to give them special meanings. In doing so, they construct their own sonic Umwelt, as a collection of subjective meanings that are assigned to a specific subset of the sounding environment. There is actually a huge body of semiotic studies as related to music. Most of the earlier studies are related to structural, phenomenological, or hermeneutical approaches. Though valuable, these approaches do not yet fully embrace empirical facts that validate the grounding theories. This tripartition, which has been contested also to some extent, has enabled semioticians to free themselves from certain constraints that were imposed by mere structural analyses which conceive of music as a closed system.

In the domain of music, the traditional analytical approach has been directed mostly to the syntactic level , leaning heavily on the contributions from linguistics. Scholars such as Molino [ 45 ], Nattiez [ 47 ], and Ruwet [ 48 ] have been exponents of taxonomic-empirical research. Starting from a neutral level of description, they have made major attempts to classify the sound i. To quote Nattiez: …it is no longer a question of knowing whether one of the fragments … is a motif or a cellule: it becomes an a, or A, or x, no matter which, possessing certain characteristics, which are defined by a group of features melodic, rhythmic which make it possible to compare it and classify it, that is to place it in hierarchy in relation to all the other segments of the piece.

At the level of the metalanguage of the analysis one can guess what the immediate tasks of musicology will be: to develop fully a formal, artificial, explicit language which can take into account all the units one can find in music and their combinations. Such an analytical methodology operates at the neutral level of description.

It reduces structural units to a purely formal level, stressing the more essential parts and eliminating nonessential aspects as being unimportant. The way of doing this is to use signs and symbols instead of real things. Signs, however, represent objects at a reduced level of cues, which means that the sign will not call forth all the responses that the object itself could do. This is the price we pay for the transposability of the sign system that we use instead of the less transposable original.

The advantages, on the other hand, are numerous. They are, however, not sufficient to explain the richness and fullness of a real-time listening experience.

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The level of self-referential semantics, however, is somewhat ill defined, as it conflates somewhat with the syntactic level. In Saussurian terms, this should mean that signifier and signified blend together and that musical signifieds are internal to the musical system, without any reference to something outside of the system.

The signifieds, in this view, are not denotative or lexical but self-reflective [ 55 ] which means that they refer mainly to themselves. What matters merely is the identification of sonic events and their interrelations, without any relation to the external world. Music, then, is a carrier of immanent meaning, with sounding elements as recognizable entities that can be assigned some meaning or semantic weight. Unlike language where attention is directed away from the text in order to grasp the meaning outside of the written text—the centrifugal tendency of linguistic meaning—music is characterized by a centripetal tendency with a focus on the auditory material [ 56 ].

The distinction between internal and external semantics, however, is not so radical as it may seem. Music, as a sounding phenomenon, relies on both of them in the sense that elements that are referring to themselves may trigger processes of sense-making that refer to the external the sounding environments or the internal world of the listener bodily resonance. To the extent that a listener experiences a particular sound as a real sounding thing that originates in the external environment , there is an aspect of external reference and of external semantics.

As soon, however, as the listener starts doing mental computations on this sound, there is a shift from presentational immediacy to cognitive mediation. The listener, then, does no longer conceive of the sound in its experiential qualities but at a symbolic level of representation, with processes of recognition and identification that replace the fullness and richness of an actual real-time experience.

The reference to the internal environment of the listener, on the other hand, has received considerable impetus from the hard sciences, in particular from cognitive neuroscience and the neurobiological research with a special focus on the inductive power of music and its effects on the body and the brain. It means that stimuli do not necessarily originate from the outer environmental world. They can have their origin in our proper body with all kinds of sensory or motor reactions to the sounds. The issue is somewhat related to the distinction between distal and proximal stimuli in perception.

The energy is associated with the distal stimuli, but the observer depends most directly on proximal stimuli for perceiving the world. For certain perceptions, however, there is little distinction between the two. Touch is an example, as the distal stimulus that is responsible for the sensation is created when the object that serves as distal stimulus is in physical contact with the observer [ 58 ]. The distinction, however, needs further elaboration as proximal stimuli are situated mostly at the boundary mostly the skin and special sense organs between the inside and the outside of the body.

Yet, there is also the visceral part of our body, together with our bones, muscles, and connective tissues which all are able to trigger reactions to the sounds to the extent that are resonating to these sounds. This is, in fact, the province of vibro-acoustic medicine [ 59 , 60 ] which investigates the bodily and visceral reactions together with that kind of information processing that is tuned at monitoring the internal environment of our body.

It seems, in fact, that sound vibrations may be organized and targeted to arouse certain bodily functions to induce particular physiological responses. Musical sense-making, in this view, cannot be reduced to a detached and disembodied nature of cognition [ 61 ]. It calls forth, on the contrary, an embodied and enactive approach that conceives of music users as organisms that are endowed with a sensory and motor apparatus that enables them to carry out interactions with their environment.

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This brings us to the third dimension of musical sense-making, the pragmatic level , which investigates the relations between sign vehicles and their users and the processes involved in the interpretation of signs. Meaning, in this view, is not to be defined in terms of ontological categories but in terms of dispositions to react to external stimuli. It includes the listener—or more in general, the music user—as a principal participant in the semiotic process, both at the level of reception, action, and mental processing and computation.


As such, it calls forth dimensions that go beyond a mere object-centered, esthesic, or poietic approach. The configuration of our body and our cognitive faculties, in fact, determines not only our ways of listening but also the execution and creation of the music, which make it possible to understand and to live a musical experience. As a discipline, musical pragmatics is still in continuous development see [ 10 , 11 ]. Starting, to some extent, from the conceptual framework by Peirce and Morris, it has made considerable efforts to describe the music in a richer and more complex way.

This is even more the case nowadays with multiple contributions that are borrowing avidly from other disciplines such as the cognitive sciences, psychology, neurosciences, and even philosophy and neuropragmatics [ 62 — 65 ]. The whole body of music and emotion studies as well as studies on the effects of music and its inductive power are likely to provide substantial empirical grounding for this approach [ 54 , 66 , 67 ]. The pragmatic approach brings us to some new perspectives on musical sense-making which are characterized by the conflation of scientific disciplines and levels of semiosis.

They can be summarized as belonging to one of the following explanatory theories: i the ecological approach to listening, ii the biosemiotic approach, iii the biological and embodied approach to musical sense-making, iv the enactive approach to musical semantics, and v the experiential approach and the inductive power of music. The ecological and biosemiotic approaches have been described already above. They revolve around the concept of affordance and the construction of an internal model of the sounding world as the outcome of interactions with this world.

The concept of musical affordance is really important here. It means that we should try to understand music in terms of what it affords to us and not merely in terms of its acoustical qualities [ 68 ]. From Panksepp and Trevarthen , p. For detail and the sources of this description see Trevarthen, The period corresponding to a stanza or verse of 20 to 40 seconds may be manifested in the brain, as gamma waves or parasympathetic cycles, which control autonomic functions of the heart and breathing.

It continues to be active through sleep to produce fluctuating rates of breathing and heartbeat, as well as electrical activity of the cerebral cortex that might be related to the rehearsal and consolidation of memories in dreaming Delamont et al. Music can assist the synchronization of physiological functions of respiration and heart activity and bring improvement in locomotor activity, and it can improve cognitive and memory processes by brain synchronization. Rhythmic co-ordination by the Intrinsic Motive Pulse IMP of the brain holds body movements together in composition of intentions and experiences Trevarthen, , It is the medium for all shared experiences and purposes, and for the convivial vitality of music making.

In her review of the role of movement and sense of time in the creation of intelligence, Barbara Goodrich, as a philosopher, traces a history of ideas supporting the view that consciousness is founded on emotions for agency, which we argue are the sine qua non for music.

We have argued that music comes from this very foundation of consciousness in motivated motility, and we underline the importance of a philosophy that acknowledges the motives and feelings of our life, as well as the intelligence we show in relating to persons, other life forms, and objects in our environment, by recalling the achievements of the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment — Hutcheson, Hume, Smith and Reid.

This is the science of communicative musicality which underpins the music we create and enjoy. The second is the agent, the person whom I properly call myself, and of whose conduct, under the character of a spectator, I was endeavouring to form some opinion. He concluded that desire rather than reason motivates our behavior. He held that inductive reasoning and causality cannot be justified rationally, rather we follow custom and constant relations between ideas rather than logic.


Following his teacher Hutcheson , he believed that ethics are based on feelings rather than abstract moral principles. Finally, there is a bold clarity in the work of Thomas Reid, the third great follower of the teachings of Hutcheson, and a vigorous debating companion to David Hume. Reid founded the Scottish School of Common Sense. If, says Reid, children were to understand immediately the conceptual content of the words they hear, they would never learn to speak at all.

Here Reid distinguishes between natural and artificial signs. Artificial signs signify, but they do not express; they speak to the intellect, as algebraic characters may do, but the passions and the affections and the will hear them not: these continue dormant and inactive, till we speak to them in the language of nature , to which they are all attention and obedience.

However, the cultivation of our communicative musicality, in ourselves and others, through playful music, dance, ritual and sympathetic companionship, makes our communal life of shared work of the body and mind creative in more hopeful ways. It restores our common humanity and our connection with all living things. Informed consent was gained for all data presented in this paper. The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U.

Journal List Front Psychol v. Front Psychol. Published online Oct 4. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. This article was submitted to Cognition, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology. Received Feb 18; Accepted Aug The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author s and the copyright owner s are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice.

No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract Music is at the centre of what it means to be human — it is the sounds of human bodies and minds moving in creative, story-making ways. Keywords: musicking, motor intelligence, gestural narrative, infant musicality, cultural learning. Prelude We present a view that places our ability to create and appreciate music at the center of what it means to be human.

Music Moves US — Embodied Narratives of Movement Small calls attention to music as intention in activity by using the verb musicking — participating as performer or listener with attention to the sounds created and the appreciation and participation by others. Music Reflects the Felt-Sense of our Future-Exploring Motor Intelligence Consciousness is created as the ongoing sense of self-in-movement with which we experience and manipulate the world around us. The Genesis of Music in Infancy — A Short History of Discoveries The ability to create meaning with others through wordless structured gestural narratives, that is, our communicative musicality, emerges from before birth and in infancy.

Open in a separate window. Case Studies of Infant Musicality We summarize here key findings related to the growth of musical abilities from studies of infant individuals that we have reported previously. Communicative Musicality and Education into the Culture of Music Mastery of a musical culture, and of language, starts with the intuitive vocal interactions between caregiver and infant Vygotsky, CODA: The Philosophy of Human Vitality In her review of the role of movement and sense of time in the creation of intelligence, Barbara Goodrich, as a philosopher, traces a history of ideas supporting the view that consciousness is founded on emotions for agency, which we argue are the sine qua non for music.

He examined his conscience to understand being a person in relations. Ethics Statement Informed consent was gained for all data presented in this paper. Conflict of Interest Statement The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. References Bannan N. Oxford: Oxford University Press; , — Music 39 — The interpersonal context of infant vocalization.

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Bullowa used information from anthropology to draw attention to the measured dynamics of communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. However, while claims for a more significant human content in music resonate with many people, they have found only limited support among theorists because it has proven difficult to sustain an argument for the presence of this kind of content in music alone without tying the aesthetic claims to a larger philosophical framework that itself makes claims about human experience and values. Reidel; Keywords: musicking, motor intelligence, gestural narrative, infant musicality, cultural learning. I would work with an energy healer, sound therapist or music therapist for this type of work.

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A great deal of thought has been given to the nature of musical experience in the past four decades, but until now no other study has attempted to survey that. On the Nature of Musical Experience edited by Bennett Reimer and Jeffrey E. Wright. Colorado: University Press, $35, pp. - Volume 10 Issue 3.

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