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Journal ArticleDOI

Music cognition and the bodily approach: musical instruments as tools for musical semantics

22 Aug 2006-Contemporary Music Review (Routledge)-Vol. 25, pp 59-68

AbstractThis article is about music cognition and the role the body plays in its acquisition. It argues for a processual approach to dealing with music rather than conceiving of music as an artefact. Leaning heavily on the older philosophical writings of Dewey, it tries to provide an operational approach to the musical experience, with a special focus on the sensory-motor interactions of the music user with the sonic world. As such, it is possible to conceive of the music user as an adaptive device, with natural perceptual and effector tools that can be modified at will. It is argued, further, that musical instruments can be considered as artificial extensions of these natural tools, allowing us to conceive of them in epistemological terms as tools for music knowledge acquisition.

Topics: Musical composition (72%), Music and emotion (69%), Music psychology (68%), Musicality (66%), Pop music automation (63%)

Summary (2 min read)

Introduction

  • This article is about music cognition and the role the body plays in its acquisition.
  • This ‘coping behaviour’ involves several kinds of interactions that can be internalised—as in listening and imagery—as well as manifest.
  • There is, in fact, a strong connection between action, imagery and perception in the sense that these processes activate some of the same structures in the brain. [60].
  • These tools can be natural, but they can be extended by using artificial tools as well.
  • A major claim of this article will be that music users use musical instruments as tools for coping with the sound not only at the effector level of playing music, but also at the perceptual level of dealing with the sound.

Setting the Problem: The Inside/Outside and Subjective/Objective

  • Dealing with music, however, involves a subjective involvement of the music user as well.
  • In what follows, I will try to deliver an operational description of the subjective involvement with music, focusing mainly on some major topics and quoting rather extensively from some seminal writings.
  • The subjective/objective distinction, the inside/outside dichotomy, the role of focal adjustment, and the role of transactions at the boundaries, also known as The topics are.

The Subjective/Objective Distinction

  • The subjective/objective distinction has been treated extensively in the philosophical writings of Dewey (1958 [1934]) and James (1976 [1912]) who conceived of it as an artificial distinction—of a practical and functional order— rather than an ontological one.
  • It reminds us of the basic distinction between the ‘egocentric’ and ‘allocentric world’, and the related distinction between ‘endosomatic’ and ‘exosomatic space’.
  • But as a general rule the conditions of the body fade into each other and effect each other, and there is only a little room to maneuver when it comes to reordering them.
  • The endosomatic space is chiefly a realm of flux and influence.
  • Its chief contents are hanging states rather than fixed objects.

The Role of Focal Adjustment

  • The problem of subjectivity is also related to the focal adjustment of the perceiver who chooses appropriate settings for structuring the perceptual field in a specific manner.
  • As Langacker (1987, p. 129) puts it: [T]here is an optimal viewing arrangement in which the object being observed stands sharply differentiated from its surroundings, and in a region of perceptual acuity.
  • Interactions, as they are commonly defined, are merely mechanical.
  • The concept of transaction, on the contrary, implies a more fluid, interpenetrating relationship between objective conditions and subjective experience: once they become related, both of them are essentially changed (Kolb, 1984, p. 36).

Dealing with Music: Towards an Experiential Approach

  • . . .Man whittles, carves, sings, dances, gestures, molds, draws and paints.
  • The doing or making is artistic when the perceived result is of such a nature that its qualities as perceived have controlled the question of production.
  • The concept of sensory-motor integration is very fruitful: it links the perceptual and effector world by carrying out mappings and coordinations between sensory input and motor output (the term ‘motor’ refers to the broad domain of all that is related to movement).
  • The concept is not common knowledge among musicians and musicologists, yet its musical applications are obvious (Reybrouck, 2006).
  • Basic in this approach is the ‘organism-environment interaction’ with an epistemic cut between the music user (the organism) and the music (the environment).

Using

  • Dealing with music is a process of sense-making and adaptive control if the authors are ready to conceive of music users as adaptive devices who can learn to make new distinctions [64] (expanding their set of observables), to perform new actions on the sounding environment and to carry out new mental operations on the observables (Reybrouck 2005a, 2006).
  • As to the sensing function, it is possible to modify or augment the sensors, allowing the device to choose its own perceptual categories and control the types of empirical information it can access.
  • Instruments, in this view, do not merely concern the output-oriented musical behaviours , but they can be considered perceptual tools as well.
  • It argues, on the contrary, for a dynamic approach to cognition that replaces the robot concept by that of a ‘system’ emphasising immanent activity rather than outer-directed reactivity and allowing the device to make use of several extensions at the interfaces.
  • Music users, then, can extend their natural tools for sense-making by carrying out interactions with the sounds, both at a physical level—with one-to-one mappings between the sound-producing actions and the resulting sounds—as well as at a level that conceals this causal relationship by interposing intermediate modifications and manipulations of thesound.

Conclusion and Perspectives

  • I have argued for a processual approach to dealing with music.
  • It is an approach that stresses the bodily activities—if only at a subliminal level— that are involved in the production and perception of the sounds as well as the role of carrying out interactions with the sounds.
  • Starting from the subjective/outside distinction and its topological inside/outside analogies, I have elaborated on the possible interactions that can be located at each level of the cybernetic control system.
  • The role of perceptual and effector interfaces is especially important here, both for natural and artificial tools.
  • I conceive of them not only in terms of effector tools for producing [68] sounds, but as tools for sense-making as well.

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Content maybe subject to copyright    Report

This is a post-print (author’s final draft) of an article in the journal
Contemporary Music Review (2006), 25, 1/2, pp. 59-68. [Original
page numbers between square brackets]. Details of the definitive
version are available at
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07494460600647451
Music Cognition and the Bodily approach: Musical Instruments
as Tools for Musical Semantics
Mark Reybrouck
Abstract
This article is about music cognition and the role the body plays in its
acquisition. It argues for a processual approach to dealing with music rather than
conceiving of music as an artefact. Leaning heavily on the older philosophical
writings of Dewey, it tries to provide an operational approach to the musical
experience, with a special focus on the sensory-motor interactions of the music
user with the sonic world. As such, it is possible to conceive of the music user as
an adaptive device, with natural perceptual and effector tools that can be
modified at will. It is argued, further, that musical instruments can be considered
as artificial extensions of these natural tools, allowing us to conceive of them
in epistemological terms as tools for music knowledge acquisition.
Keywords: Music Cognition; Interaction; Adaptive Device; Tool Using; Music
Instruments; Semantics
Introduction

[59] This article is about music cognition and the role the body plays in the
acquisition of music knowledge in general (for an exhaustive overview, see
Reybrouck, 2005b). Music, actually, is not to be dealt with merely in
objectivistic termsas something ‘out there’ that can be reified or objectified.
Dealing with music, rather, is a process that calls forth music users who are
coping with the sounds. This ‘coping behaviour’ involves several kinds of
interactions that can be internalisedas in listening and imageryas well as
manifest. The latter are obvious in instrumental playing, which stresses the
effector side of dealing with the music. Yet even listening and imagery can be
conceived of in action terms, be it at a level that is not goal-directed and
manifest. There is, in fact, a strong connection between action, imagery and
perception in the sense that these processes activate some of the same structures
in the brain.
[60] The neurobiological grounding for these claims is very intriguing as it
provides empirical support for hypotheses that were rather intuitive up to now
(Peretz & Zatorre, 2003; Zatorre & Peretz, 2001). There is no space to go into
detail here, but some general findings should be mentioned at least: music users
are biological organisms that have a body equipped with the necessary tools for
action, perception and processing at the level of mental operations. These tools
can be natural, but they can be extended by using artificial tools as well. A
major claim of this article will be that music users use musical instruments as
tools for coping with the sound not only at the effector level of playing music,
but also at the perceptual level of dealing with the sound. As such, it is possible
to conceive of musical instruments in epistemological terms as tools for music
knowledge acquisition.
Setting the Problem: The Inside/Outside and Subjective/Objective
Dichotomies

Musicology has a long tradition of objectivation of music as an artefactthe
musical work as ‘artwork’relying heavily on score analysis and symbolic
representations of the music. Dealing with music, however, involves a
subjective involvement of the music user as well. It is up to the listener to, for
example, make sense of the sounding flux and it is up to the performer to
provide a convincing interpretation of the work. How does one deal with this
subjective/objective asymmetry? In what follows, I will try to deliver an
operational description of the subjective involvement with music, focusing
mainly on some major topics and quoting rather extensively from some seminal
writings. The topics are: the subjective/objective distinction, the inside/outside
dichotomy, the role of focal adjustment, and the role of transactions at the
boundaries.
The Subjective/Objective Distinction
The subjective/objective distinction has been treated extensively in the
philosophical writings of Dewey (1958 [1934]) and James (1976 [1912]) who
conceived of it as an artificial distinctionof a practical and functional order
rather than an ontological one. To the extent that a ‘perceiving subject’ can be
distinguished from a ‘perceived object’, it is possible to deal with a perceptual
experience in subjective terms as ‘representing’ and in objective terms as ‘being
represented’. According to James, there simply is no self-splitting of the
perceiver into consciousness and what the consciousness is of: ‘[N]o dualism of
being represented and representing resides in the experience per se. ... It is only
virtually or potentially either object or subject as yet. For the time being, it is
plain, unqualified actuality, or existence’ (McDermott, 1968, p. 177).
Subjectivity and objectivity are functional attributes solely, realised

only when the experience is ‘taken’ twice, considered along with its two
differing contexts respectively. This is true, especially for dealing with music,
where the distinction between subject and object is rather faint.
[61] The Inside/Outside Dichotomy
A critical question here is the topological position of the musical experience.
Music, in fact, can be considered as something that is happening inside as well
as outside the human bodyan internal or external phenomenon. As such, the
distinction is related to the objective-exosomatic and subjective-endosomatic
dichotomy: regarding the body as a privileged context of external reference, it is
possible to divide the total universe of our discourse into ‘subjective’ and
‘objective’ realms (Lidov, 1987). It reminds us of the basic distinction between
the ‘egocentric’ and ‘allocentric world’, and the related distinction between
‘endosomatic’ and ‘exosomatic space’. To quote Lidov (1987, p. 75):
The endosomatic world is one we feel; the exosomatic world, one we see.
The exosomatic realm, preeminently visual, is stabilized and articulated by
the physiology of Gestalt perception. Its objects commute without apparent
distortion. ... The endosomatic realm is largely unarticulated. ... [I]t has its
distinctive entities just as the other space has its fogs and clouds. ... But as
a general rule the conditions of the body fade into each other and effect
each other, and there is only a little room to maneuver when it comes to
reordering them. The endosomatic space is chiefly a realm of flux and
influence. Its chief contents are hanging states rather than fixed objects.
The Role of Focal Adjustment
The problem of subjectivity is also related to the focal adjustment of the
perceiver who chooses appropriate settings for structuring the perceptual field in

a specific manner. What is meant is the construal of a specific relationship
between perceiver and perceived thing. As Langacker (1987, p. 129) puts it:
[T]here is an optimal viewing arrangement in which the object being
observed stands sharply differentiated from its surroundings, and in a
region of perceptual acuity. In general this region is close to the observer,
but does not include the observer himself. This is the objective scene for
the locus of viewing. In this the asymmetry in the roles of observer and
object are maximized: the role of the observer is said to be maximally
subjective, that of the observed object maximally objective.
This is obvious for the visual field of perception. The question, however, is how
to translate this to the realm of music. Much depends here on the kind of
interactions with the sounds: playing an instrument, for example, relies on eyes
and ears as well as on information from the hands and limbs, but bypassing one
of these senses enables the music user to shift attentional focus from a rather
outwardly oriented direction to a kind of internalised processing that is closer to
the endosomatic/subjective realm of cognition and the related ‘stratification’ of
his/her inner space.
[62] The Role of Transactions at the Boundaries
This brings us to the mutually related concepts of interactions and transactions
between the objective and subjective conditions of experience. Interactions, as
they are commonly defined, are merely mechanical. They involve unchanging
entities that become intertwined, but retain their separate identities. The concept
of transaction, on the contrary, implies a more fluid, interpenetrating
relationship between objective conditions and subjective experience: once they
become related, both of them are essentially changed (Kolb, 1984, p. 36).

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Frequently Asked Questions (1)
Q1. What have the authors contributed in "Music cognition and the bodily approach: musical instruments as tools for musical semantics" ?

This article is about music cognition and the role the body plays in its acquisition. Leaning heavily on the older philosophical writings of Dewey, it tries to provide an operational approach to the musical experience, with a special focus on the sensory-motor interactions of the music user with the sonic world. It is argued, further, that musical instruments can be considered as artificial extensions of these natural tools, allowing us to conceive of them in epistemological terms as tools for music knowledge acquisition.