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Describing Music: Perception and Metaphor


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1 UT Austin-Portugal Program-FCSH-UNL, Portugal
     

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What is the relation between music and sound? Sound is a physical phenomena, vibrations, however music seems to be a human phenomena. Music is an art form that occurs in time, however we redefine it as space or texture. We refer to musical notes as being "sharp" or "flat", we think of notes as being "loud" or "soft", we may "dim" the sound. Musical experience is described by us using common words like "sad", "heavy", "melancholic". None of these words appears to describe any essentialist property of music, but instead are metaphors related to the way we perceive or are affected by music. The way we describe music graphically (musical notation) is also conditioned by this peculiar perception, and then, the way we compose new music, in our western societies, is conditioned by this same formal systems we invented. We make music the way we do because we invented a formal and symbolic system that allows us to manipulate specific parameters that we have determined through a metaphoric perception of them when we hear sound as music. All these linguistic constructions are also cultural related and biased. They occur in some societies and differently in others. Music perception and description is then determined by a whole set of society conventions and reflect our experience as humans-in-the-world much more than music itself.

Keywords

Music, Perception, Metaphor, Society, Description, Human, Notation, Language.
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  • Blacking, John. 1973. How musical is man? University of Washington Press.
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  • Lerdahl, Fred, Ray Jackendoff, e Ray S. Jackendoff. 1996. A generative theory of tonal music. MIT Press.
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  • Describing Music: Perception and Metaphor

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Authors

Tiago Videira
UT Austin-Portugal Program-FCSH-UNL, Portugal

Abstract


What is the relation between music and sound? Sound is a physical phenomena, vibrations, however music seems to be a human phenomena. Music is an art form that occurs in time, however we redefine it as space or texture. We refer to musical notes as being "sharp" or "flat", we think of notes as being "loud" or "soft", we may "dim" the sound. Musical experience is described by us using common words like "sad", "heavy", "melancholic". None of these words appears to describe any essentialist property of music, but instead are metaphors related to the way we perceive or are affected by music. The way we describe music graphically (musical notation) is also conditioned by this peculiar perception, and then, the way we compose new music, in our western societies, is conditioned by this same formal systems we invented. We make music the way we do because we invented a formal and symbolic system that allows us to manipulate specific parameters that we have determined through a metaphoric perception of them when we hear sound as music. All these linguistic constructions are also cultural related and biased. They occur in some societies and differently in others. Music perception and description is then determined by a whole set of society conventions and reflect our experience as humans-in-the-world much more than music itself.

Keywords


Music, Perception, Metaphor, Society, Description, Human, Notation, Language.

References