The Musical Representation

The Musical Representation: Meaning, Ontology, and Emotion

Charles O. Nussbaum
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: MIT Press,
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    The Musical Representation
    Book Description:

    How human musical experience emerges from the audition of organized tones is a riddle of long standing. In The Musical Representation, Charles Nussbaum offers a philosophical naturalist's solution. Nussbaum founds his naturalistic theory of musical representation on the collusion between the physics of sound and the organization of the human mind-brain. He argues that important varieties of experience afforded by Western tonal art music since 1650 arise through the feeling of tone, the sense of movement in musical space, cognition, emotional arousal, and the engagement, by way of specific emotional responses, of deeply rooted human ideals. Construing the art music of the modern West as representational, as a symbolic system that carries extramusical content, Nussbaum attempts to make normative principles of musical representation explicit and bring them into reflective equilibrium with the intuitions of competent listeners. The human mind-brain, writes Nussbaum, is a living record of its evolutionary history; relatively recent cognitive acquisitions derive from older representational functions of which we are hardly aware. Consideration of musical art can help bring to light the more ancient cognitive functions that underlie modern human cognition.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29078-4
    Subjects: Music, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface: Unwrapping the Riddle
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. 1 General Introduction: What Is a Naturalistic Philosophical Theory of Musical Representation?
    (pp. 1-22)

    If we are to unravel the riddle of musical experience, we need a thread on which to tug. Construing music as representational, as a symbolic system that carries extramusical content, I hope to persuade you, exposes such a thread. This will require showing (1) that musiccanbe representational, that is, that musical events are physicallycapableof performing representational functions; and (2) that musical eventsarerepresentational, that is, that they are used to represent by their producers and consumers. In the preface, I asserted that for the philosophical naturalist, the solution to the riddle of musical experience is...

  5. 2 The Musical Affordance: Three Varieties of Musical Representation
    (pp. 23-86)

    In the general introduction, I proposed that Western tonal art music since 1650 is a representational practice. But what reason is there to think that this (or any) style of music is representational at all? And if it is,howis it representational?

    The aim of the present chapter is to begin to answer these questions. In section 2.2, I argue that the musical surface functions as an informationally structured entity, that is, as a carrier or vehicle from which information can be extracted by performing appropriate transformational operations that are supported by representations in the human mind–brain. In...

  6. 3 The Musical Utterance: How Music Means
    (pp. 87-142)

    In the previous chapter we isolated three varieties of musical representation, one external and two internal: (1) the structured musical surface; (2) the hierarchically organized, planlike internal representations that enable the listener to parse the musical surface and to construct the musical virtual scenarios in virtual musical space; and (3) the mental models that represent these virtual scenarios and are used to update the evolving musical plans. The listener was said to perceive virtual scenarios in musical space and to act (off-line) in that virtual space. To this point, however, the account has been largely descriptive and empirical, relying on...

  7. 4 The Musical Work
    (pp. 143-188)

    In the general introduction, I distinguished between internal and external representational functional kinds, designating the former “natural representation” and the latter “artifactual representation.” Following Sperber (1996, 83), I maintained that these kinds are instantiated not by individual tokens of representational types, but by “strains or families of concrete representations related both by causal relationships and by similarity of content.” I also drew attention to a parallel between this ontology of representation and the ontology of biological species. Just as families of representational tokens instantiate these high-level functional representational kinds (natural representation and artifactual representation), I proposed, species are families of...

  8. 5 From Musical Representation to Musical Emotion
    (pp. 189-258)

    In chapter 3 I argued that the musical performance is a pushmi-pullyu representation, a nonpropositional intentional icon that has both indicative and imperative functions. Pushmi-pullyu representations like Millikan’s mother hen calls and animal danger signals have an immediate emotional salience for the interpreting organism, as do the representations of Gibsonian affordances she specifically mentions. Considered as a pushmi-pullyu representation, the musical utterance carries a similar emotional salience. Indeed, as we soon shall see, the well-executed musical utterance affects the listener immediately with the emotional impact of a friendly touch. But our consideration of the musical utterance will also disclose a...

  9. 6 Nausea and Contingency: Musical Emotion and Religious Emotion
    (pp. 259-300)

    “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition,” goes Whitehead’s (1978, 39) notorious claim, “is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” Alternatively celebrated and reviled, Whitehead’s provocative aperçu may be questionable as an exhaustive description of the history of European philosophy; but as an explicit recognition of the Platonic provenance of many of that history’s perennial themes, it is unexceptionable.

    The Sartrean existential nausea we encountered in the previous chapter surely reprises one such theme: the horror engendered in the Platonic imagination by the two lower segments of the “divided line,” the realm of darkness,...

  10. General Summary and Conclusion: Solving the Riddle
    (pp. 301-302)

    Solving a riddle requires not just a correct answer, but an answer that “bestows a sense on the riddle question” (Putnam 1995, 274).¹ The solutions to some riddles, as a result, require not only an answer, but an elucidation. Without such elucidation, a correct answer may not by itself amount to a solution. “Man” was the correct answer to the riddle of the Theban Sphinx; but the elucidation that man crawls on all fours as an infant, walks two-legged as an adult, and uses a cane when aged was also required to untangle it. The preceding chapters have attempted to...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 303-354)
  12. References
    (pp. 355-374)
  13. Index
    (pp. 375-388)