Musical Forces: Motion, Metaphor, and Meaning in Music

Musical Forces: Motion, Metaphor, and Meaning in Music

Musical Forces: Motion, Metaphor, and Meaning in Music

Musical Forces: Motion, Metaphor, and Meaning in Music


Steve Larson drew on his 20 years of research in music theory, cognitive linguistics, experimental psychology, and artificial intelligence--as well as his skill as a jazz pianist--to show how the experience of physical motion can shape one's musical experience. Clarifying the roles of analogy, metaphor, grouping, pattern, hierarchy, and emergence in the explanation of musical meaning, Larson explained how listeners hear tonal music through the analogues of physical gravity, magnetism, and inertia. His theory of melodic expectation goes beyond prior theories in predicting complete melodic patterns. Larson elegantly demonstrated how rhythm and meter arise from, and are given meaning by, these same musical forces.


Robert S. Hatten, series editor

Musical Forces is the culmination of over 25 years of speculation, research, and empirical inquiry into the ways we experience motion, and hence meaning, in music. Inspired by the work of Rudolf Arnheim on visual perception and Douglas Hofstadter on analogy, Steve Larson develops a theory of musical forces that affect our perception of both melody and rhythm, by analogy to our embodied (and cultural) understanding of physical forces.

Written for a wide audience, the book reflects Steve’s engagement with several often-overlapping scholarly and pedagogical communities. Cognitive scientists will find extensive empirical testing of Steve’s hypotheses concerning our metaphorical understanding of musical forces in terms of our experiencing of corresponding physical forces, along with a generous sampling of basic musical examples. Students will find a careful sequencing of concepts and applications, with frequent summaries and cross-referencing, and a helpful glossary. Experienced musicians will find more sophisticated music examples demonstrating Steve’s sensitivity to tonal musical styles, ranging from classical to jazz. Speculative music theorists will appreciate Steve’s careful balancing of musical intuitions and hard science, and his encyclopedic knowledge of the relevant scientific, music theoretical, and music historical literature on movement, metaphor, and meaning. and future researchers will find a suggestive list of recommendations for further exploration within the paradigm Steve has so artfully constructed.

In the fall of 2010 Steve learned he had a brain tumor, and although he had completed the entire manuscript, he did not live to see this book . . .

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