Musical affect in practice

What we have said makes it clear that music possesses the power of producing an effect on the character of the soul.

(Aristotle, The Politics, 1340a)

It is a pervasive idea in Western culture that music possesses social and emotional content, or that its semiotic codes are linked to modes of subjective awareness, and in turn, social structures. Equally pervasive, however, is the view that music's social force and social implications are intractable to empirical analysis. At the level of the listening experience, for example, music seems imbued with affect while, at the level of analysis, it seems perpetually capable of eluding attempts to specify just what kind of meaning music holds and just how it will affect its hearers. The point of this chapter is to explore the 'gap', as John Rahn once put it (1972:255), 'between structure and feeling', and to derive from it an ethnographically oriented, pragmatic theory of musical meaning and affect, one located on an overtly sociological plane. Such a theory emphasizes music's semiotic force as the product of what can be called 'human–music interaction'.

The interactionist critique of semiotics overview

This chapter considers musicological readings of works, socio-linguistic conceptions of meaning in use, and social science perspectives on material culture. Its aim is to draw these perspectives together and to propose a theory of musical affect in practice. The argument can be summarized as follows: implicit in much work devoted to the question of musical affect is an epistemological premise. This premise consists of the idea (albeit unacknowledged) that the semiotic force of musical works can be decoded or read, and that, through this decoding, semiotic analysis may specify how given musical examples will 'work' in social life, how, for example, they will imply, constrain, or enable certain modes of conduct, evaluative judgements, social scenes and certain emotional conditions. Following this premise, the logical role for socio-musical 21


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Music in Everyday Life


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