I’m due to go to the Irish Sound, Science and Technology Convocation in Limerick next week to present another paper from my collaboration with Ricky Graham, entitled, Embodied Resonances and Thoughts of Electroacoustic Music.
You can find the abstract below.
If you’re interested, my previous posts on ‘Embodied Thinking and Music’ relate to the same general subject matter.
Embodied Resonances and Thoughts of Electroacoustic Music: What can we learn from theorising disembodied sound using embodied schemas?
Brian Bridges, Ulster University
Ricky Graham, Stevens Institute of Technology
Music technologies have frequently been conceptualised in terms of how they break or creatively challenge the normal causality of sounding actions. Sound recording and processing technologies, by their very definition, modify the temporality of sounds through encoding, processing and diffusion. They also disturb gestural causality, making sounds available using gestures which may be far removed from the effort, force or structure of action involved in the original sound event.
Fixed–media acousmatic presentations are one extreme on this scale. However, even when describing the most disembodied acousmatic presentations, embodied resonances haunt our discourses. The abstracting imperatives of reduced listening may nonetheless be seen as drawing attention to the basic articulatory acoustics of sound events; in particular, archetypal envelope structures and stages. In addition, when we turn to describing larger–scale form in electroacoustic music, there is a frequent tendency to apply embodied and environmental metaphors and force–based models. For example, Smalley’s (1986, 1997) influential theory of spectromorphology describes a variety of prototypical schemas for joining individual sound objects based on apparent causality. Even with unfamiliar sound materials (or, arguably, especially with unfamiliar materials, which may promote reduced listening) an implicit assumption of such theories of electroacoustic music is that perceived connections between sound materials may echo a ‘gestural grammar’ of causal schemas drawn from our everyday environmental and embodied experience.
This descriptive strategy may be of more significance than mere rhetorical convenience (i.e., the use of familiar metaphors as convenient approximations when describing the unfamiliar). An influential strand of theory within contemporary cognitive science, embodied cognition, argues that our thought processes are shaped by learned embodied and environmentally–derived schemas. The embodied image schema theories of Lakoff and Johnson (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980; 1999) propose a series of common embodied forms as structural primitives for cognition, including the conceptualisation of formal relations. A growing interdisciplinary interest in these theories has seen them being applied to common practice music (Brower, 2000; Johnson, 2007; Wilkie, Holland and Mulholland, 2010). However, we consider such theories to be even more directly applicable to electroacoustic music and related forms. We identify parallels between some of Smalley’s formal structuring and dynamic principles and image schema theories. The identification of embodied resonances in electroacoustic music may allow us to extend our current descriptive theories by comparing them with broader theories of embodied cognition. Furthermore, certain specifics our sounded forms may provide insights which extend the image–schematic theories of Lakoff and Johnson and other embodied cognition theorists. Such an approach also has the potential to inform developments in design, such as the development of music performance and production systems which provide models of musical structure appropriate to electroacoustic music.
Spectromorphology, embodied cognition, schemas, environment, form, structure, theory
Brower, C. (2000). A Cognitive Theory of Musical Meaning. Journal of Music Theory, 44(2), pp. 323–379.
Johnson, M. (2007). The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.
Smalley, D. (1986). Spectro-morphology and Structuring Processes. In: Emmerson, S. (ed.) The Language of Electroacoustic Music. London: Macmillan, pp. 61–93.
Smalley, D. (1997). Spectromorphology: explaining sound-shapes. Organised Sound, 2(2), pp 107-126.
Wilkie, K., Holland, S., and Mulholland, P. (2010). What Can the Language of Musicians Tell Us about Music Interaction Design? Computer Music Journal, 34(40), pp. 34–48.