Conceptualizing Music: Cognitive Structure, Theory, and Analysis

Conceptualizing Music: Cognitive Structure, Theory, and Analysis

Conceptualizing Music: Cognitive Structure, Theory, and Analysis

Conceptualizing Music: Cognitive Structure, Theory, and Analysis

Synopsis

This book shows how recent work in cognitive science, especially that developed by cognitive linguists and cognitive psychologists, can be used to explain how we understand music. The book focuses on three cognitive processes--categorization, cross-domain mapping, and the use of conceptual models--and explores the part these play in theories of musical organization. The first part of the book provides a detailed overview of the relevant work in cognitive science, framed around specific musical examples. The second part brings this perspective to bear on a number of issues with which music scholarship has often been occupied, including the emergence of musical syntax and its relationship to musical semiosis, the problem of musical ontology, the relationship between words and music in songs, and conceptions of musical form and musical hierarchy. The book will be of interest to music theorists, musicologists, and ethnomusicologists, as well as those with a professional or avocational interest in the application of work in cognitive science to humanistic principles.

Excerpt

On picking up a book with the title Conceptualizing Music: Cognitive Structure, Theory, and Analysis, one might reasonably assume that it deals with music cognition and how our knowledge of that discipline can be applied to music theory and analysis. This book does not do that, or at least not in a simple way. To begin, it does not have much to say about the fairly large body of research usually placed under the rubric “music cognition.” This work, having been developed out of music psychology and informed by recent research in the brain sciences and mind sciences, proceeds by carefully crafted experiments, which are subjected to closely argued statistical and logical analysis. As practiced by such eminent and able researchers as Carol Krumhansl, John Sloboda, and David Huron, the study of music cognition has told us much about how humans process sonic and musical information.

But this book proceeds in a somewhat different way. Drawing on the same body of research from the brain sciences and mind sciences that shaped studies in music cognition, it explores how basic cognitive capacities are specified for understanding music. The project takes inspiration from recent work in linguistics and rhetoric by researchers like Ronald Langacker, Gilles Fauconnier, Mark Turner, and George Lakoff, and it is based on the assumption that musical understanding relies not on specialized capacities unique to the processing of patterned sound but on the specialized use of general capacities that humans use to structure their understanding of the everyday world. The methodology, in consequence, relies not on experimental design and data analysis but on using a broad and quite extensive body of research to interpret recurrent tropes of musical understanding. These tropes involve such things as the importance to musical understanding of relatively small and compact musical phenomena like “motives,”“themes,” and “chords”;the use of terms grounded in nonmusical domains—terms like “space” and “depth”—to characterize musical events; and the reliance on patterns of logical inference to reason about music.

The result of this investigation is a theoretical perspective on musical organization, but one rather different from what usually counts as “music theory.” To make sense of this claim requires a bit of explanation about the intellectual context of music theory, for music theory is, within the rolling seas of humanistic studies, a . . .

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