Music Philosophy

Musical perception is active: While it is commonly thought that musical experience involves a recognition of perceived structures, the latter being passive imprints, represented like images in the brain, the present argument arrived at holding that perception is active, i.e. that it includes the construal of experience as emerging from bodily knowledge – from the “feel” of bodily sound making. The philosophical argument to underpin this point is related to the “enaction” argument, particularly as developed by Alva Noë in his Action in Perception (2004).

Musical experience is embodied: Musical experience is not primarily due to imaginative, simulated or enacted imitation of performer’s actions, but, consistent with active perception and a non-representational approach, it is grounded in the listener’s embodiment of habitually acquired synaesthetic knowledge of sound making, which enters the experience when listening only.

Musical gestures have a literal component: felt shapes of musical motion are felt literally, apart from their metaphorical ascription when speaking about gestures in terms of musical structure. These literal gestures ground musical experience in its expressive potential.

The above insights allows for some conclusions and practical predictions: (1) The intuitivity of a digital instrument’s playability depends on how closely its mapping heeds bodily knowledge of sound making. This bodily knowledge is not primarily expert knowledge of an acoustical instrument’s idiomatic playing gestures, but rather knowledge from everyday experience in the qualitative relation between a gesture as making sound via intentional or non-intentional touch, and its corresponding (tactile and proprioceptive) feel. Digital instruments, via their mappings, de- and reconstruct the applicability of this habitual knowledge; their intuitivity regarding their expressive use will depend on how closely they model this applicability, or how far they deviate from it. (2) There is an intrinsic tactility to the listening experience. This tactility comes to effect in empathic listening; it is attenuated in abstractive listening. Musical Gestalt has – apart from its auditory organisation – a tactility that plays an important part in defining its expression. Expression in non-tonal music will derive Gestalt from attending to this tactility.