Subjectivity, Emotion, and Meaning in Music Perception
Department of Musicology, University of Graz, Austria (8-point) firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.uni-graz.at/muwi/kessler.html
Department of Philosophy, University of Innsbruck, Austria email@example.com http://www.uibk.ac.at/c/c6/c602/puhl.html
In: R. Parncutt, A. Kessler & F. Zimmer (Eds.) Proceedings of the Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology (CIM04) Graz/Austria, 15-18 April, 2004 http://gewi.uni-graz.at/~cim04/ Background in music psychology. Emotion and meaning in music can in general be studied in two different ways. On the one hand, empirical aesthetics (e.g. Berlyne 1971) tries to explain responses to music such as pleasure, preference, or physiological responses (e.g. arousal) by analysing informational properties of the music (complexity, structure, tempo, mode etc.). On the other hand, researchers investigate the function of music and its emotional qualities in everyday life (e.g. Sloboda 2001). Both quantitative and qualitative methods in music psychology try to generate meaning and emotion in music at the expense of actual, individual experience. Some approaches (e.g. Imberty 1979, 1981), however, try to link musical structures, musical expressivity and psychoanalytical concepts. Background in music philosophy. Phenomenology and postmodern philosophy criticise traditional psychology’s construction of a subject as a closed entity. This concept was deconstructed by e.g. Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida, who argued that the separation of any phenomenon from the observer as rational/conscious entity (Kant, Descartes) is a metaphysic construction. Eco’s concept of openness of art and a postmodern concept of subjectivity give rise to a new way of describing music perception in which semiosis (motion of meaning) plays a major role (cf. Monelle 1992). Aims. Criticising psychological methods from a philosophical/postmodern point of view, we aim to explore the implications of a description of meaning and emotion in music as subjective/contingent qualities. Eco’s concept of openness of art (in particular the differences between his 1st and 2nd categories) will be investigated empirically by combining psychoanalytic, semiotic and traditional music-psychological methods. Method. 6 postgraduate students of musicology were asked to listen to and later discuss the Confutatis of the Requiem by W. A. Mozart (Eco's 1st category of openness; questionnaire 1 and interview 1) and Six by John Cage (Eco's 2nd category of openness; questionnaire 2 and interview 2). Questionnaires 1 and 2 investigated similarities and differences between participants concerning the perception of meaning and emotion within the two pieces. Interviews 1 and 2 were unstructured and based on the participants' former (written) statements; here, participants reflected upon their own statements and related their musical experiences to their personal history. Results. The participants' statements were consistent with a concept of music perception as inextricably connected to the conscious and unconscious experiences of the present and the past (contingencies) of each person. Musical experience can be regarded as an interaction among cultural meaning, subject position/identity, and subjective contingencies. Conclusions. Meaning and emotion in music can only be described objectively by ignoring the subjective contingencies (cf. Rorty 1989) that enable musical experience. The subjective experience corresponding to Eco’s idea of openness in art can be investigated using methods derived from psychoanalysis and postmodern analysis. An empirical method that allows participants to explore personal associations and respects individual differences is necessary if music is to be understood as a cultural phenomenon.
This qualitative study is based, on the one hand, on a broad concept of the subject/person and, on the other hand, on an open (see below) or deconstructed concept of the musical work. Those concepts are related to each other by definition and have implications for methods of investigating music perception, especially the structures of
meaning and emotion within music perception. Perception may be regarded as a process of communication between the perceived object and the perceiving subject that always takes place in a certain cultural, social, and historical context.
because it depends on the way the music is perceived by a certain subject in a certain social and cultural context (Eco 1977 pp. 132-139). While talking about a certain perceived piece of music. is based on the idea of projection (cf. they are associatively connected both among each other and to the
Eco’s openness of the work of art
In his book The Open Work.Proceedings
The concept of the subject
How can the subject in music perception be defined or characterised? What implications does the concept of the perceiving subject have on the concept of the work of music. when understood as psychotherapy. 216).
Psychoanalysis The above-mentioned aspects of the subject may never be completely conscious. During the process of perception the patient projects into and perceives in music the above mentioned conscious and unconscious aspects of the subject. is fundamentally open to an ambiguity of interpretation and perception. Through unconscious-ness.e. we tried to allow the subject to appear in all its aspects (see list below). cannot be determined objectively. Umberto Eco aims to show that the concept of a musical work cannot be described independently from the perceiving subject. music therapy has phenomenological roots. Perception becomes a process by which the meaning of a given object is constituted by the perceiver. for it is open to a diversity of interpretations and ways of perception. We distinguish between the following main aspects of the subject. The constitution of each phenomenon is dependent on concrete structures of meaning (cultural and individual). The subject in music perception Our study is based on a phenomenological concept of the subject. which. MerleauPonty 1945 pp. i. who aimed to delimit the fields of research of natural sciences from human sciences according to the concept of the person (Husserl 1952).e. Our method allows for the possibility that in our actual perception (of music) we are also influenced by unconscious aspects of the subject. unconscious structures of meaning can appear and thus be reflected upon by the subject. By means of the psychoanalytic method of free association (Freud). it is claimed that human experience and meaning are inherently qualitative and should thus be investigated qualitatively. the patient becomes able to reflect structures of meaning that had before been unconscious. cannot be (are not necessarily) separated in perception itself. Every phenomenon can be perceived in many different ways depending on the perceiving subject. The amount of information carried by a piece of music. 381-383). Hollway 1949) have criticised the concept of the subject within quantitative psychology. Based on the philosophy of Edmund Husserl. Perception always takes place from certain cultural and subjective positions. but which can be analysed reflectively:
• • • • • cultural identity national identity sexual identity (gender) temporal identity (being the same person through time) bodily identity
personal history. Music therapy Music therapy. Western classical music.CIM04 . and vice versa? Phenomenological psychology Phenomenological psychology (cf. although the inherent and composed musical structure does not change. i. to the subjective and contingent experiences of each individual. like any work of art.Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology . for example. however. Thus. this type of openness is the basis of every act of perception (cf. People react to music not only in a cognitive or vegetative way. but experience music according to their cultural and subjective position. Decker-Voigt 2000 p. Herzog 1992) and critical psychology (cf. Eco distinguishes between two categories of openness within his concept of the work of art: 1st category According to Eco.
Mozart is well known and relatively simple in its structure. recollections. this piece should allow a wider range of interpretations. They were asked to listen to and later discuss the Confutatis of the Requiem by W. the openness of the musical work and the freedom within music perception is not only an epistemological but also an aesthetic fact. Eco’s two categories of openness . Here. Subjects have comparable a level of education. According to Eco.CIM04 . to compositions by Luciano Berio and John Cage (cf. and its big contrasts in timbre we expected the above mentioned aspects of the subject (cultural identity. all postgraduate students of musicology. The piece Six by John cage (composed for 6 percussionists in 1991). Subjects and the investigator use about the same scientific language.) to be evoked easily. the inherent structure of such pieces is in many aspects open.e. Before responding to the open questionnaire. subjects were chosen systematically. Eco 1977 p. According to Umberto Eco. i. bodily impressions.Proceedings
2nd category This category of openness applies to many compositions of the 20th century. should contribute to a clarification of the main questions of this study:
1.g. Subjects. this category of openness is characterised by a higher degree of information than the first category. i. questionnaire 1 and interview 1) and Six by John Cage (Eco's 2nd category of openness.) 2. subjects were asked to listen to the music several times. Because of its traditional harmony. questionnaire 2 and interview 2). Interviews 1 and 2 were unstructured and based on the participants' former (written) statements. A. feelings. 5. According to the qualitative method in psychology. Unlike the concept of the musical work as closed entity. gender.
experiences with this music. 3. 4. they were first asked to write down all thoughts. 55). A. Subjects’ personal interest in a musicological investigation should motivate their frankness towards the investigator.
We aimed to investigate the intersubjective similarities and subjective differences. was chosen because of the aleatoric principle according to which it was composed and its large diversity of timbre. within music perception: Method 6 postgraduate students of musicology each filled in two questionnaires and attended two interviews. the traditional concept of the work is destroyed. By means of aleatoric methods. Questionnaires 1 and 2 investigated similarities and differences between participants concerning the perception of meaning and emotion within the two pieces. and later asked them to try and
.e. So the individual differences in emotion and meaning should be easily distinguishable from the inter-individual common meanings. The two pieces – as examples for U. for example. its Christian motives. perceived emotions and meanings. both to the performer and to the listener. Mozart (Eco's 1st category of openness. The following characteristics of the subject pool (theoretical sampling). e.were chosen for the following reasons: Confutatis from the Requiem by W. and Umberto Eco’s concepts of 1st and 2nd category of openness of the musical work. Musicologists should be used to reflecting upon their musical experiences. the statements should be similar both according to the vocabulary and to the cultural meaning (similar music-historical knowledge. and associations that come to their minds while listening to the music (question 1).Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology . Then. body etc. and probably also comparable
Musical pieces. Open questionnaire.
feelings etc. In the open questionnaire. However. subjects interpreted and thus experienced the music in slightly different ways. intonation.Proceedings
connect those thoughts. By this process of communication the different aspects of the subject (see above) should come into light and the subjects’ musical experiences should be related to their personal history. 2nd category of openness of the work of art. ‘martial’ and ‘evil’. subjects in general answered in a more superficial way than during the interview. and could be related to bodily reactions (high versus low ‘tension’/arousal). The unstructured interview was based on the questionnaire. This opposition was interpreted as ‘silence’/’peace’ versus ‘motion’/’noise’/’John Cage in a lumber-room’. based on those similarities. and found that each interpretation was dependent on the subject position/identity that each person had taken towards the
. ‘percussive bass lines’ etc. So the aesthetic evaluation did not depend on the musical texture but on its interpretation. This was further associated with the oppositions ‘mechanic’/‘city’/’traffic’ versus ‘nature’/’avenue’ and ‘meditative’ versus ‘disturbing’. of which the meaning seems to be so obvious? One female participant experienced the gender aspect very clearly. Identifying with the women. Unstructured interview. pauses. Those associations could again be linked to the personal history of the participants. and emotional words that the subject had written and asked him/her for some further information. Examples Mozart. The aspect of power. How come.). instead of transcribing only the content of the subjects’ statements. to some musical parameters and/or to the text (question 2).g. she explained in the interview that this was her concept of man in general. In general. we took up the basic ideas. The interviews were recorded and transcribed. moral. Questionnaire versus interview. But. which in turn was associated with the relationship to her father.
Cage. sexual. we noted every aspect of speech that could have meaning. we found more inter-individual similarities of perceived meaning and emotion within the written statements. While ‘nature’ was not consistently associated with ‘silence’ but also with ‘noise’. or religious. 1st vs.Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology .CIM04 .e. The women choir was experienced as ‘tender’ and ‘comforting’. and speed. people react so differently to a piece of music. the instruments (trumpets. With the Confutatis. Here again. was experienced as either political. concepts. i. almost every participant perceived and interpreted this opposition with different priorities. e. As a consequence. Transcriptions. ‘nature’ was consistently perceived as ‘pleasant’ and ‘city’ or ‘traffic’ as ‘unpleasant’. we tried to find out why those experiences differed in certain ways. Another participant said the music would remind her of some music she used for meditation although the ‘disturbing elements’ prevented her from falling into a meditative state. participants had in common the perception of an opposition linked to the texture of the music. for example. On the basis of this. ‘disturbing’ and ‘motion’. This should help interpreting the interview in its deep structure. e. but in a more superficial way: one participant said she heard the traffic because she once heard a performance using traffic noises. Further associations with the ‘power’ of the men choir were ‘fear’. we asked the person what he/her associates with a certain concept or word. ‘threatening’. and can be distinguished into a subjective and an intersubjective sphere. identification played a minor role while certain pictures from our daily life were the main experienced meanings. the dynamic and the emphatic rhythm. During the interview.g. Here. Interpretation The results suggest that emotion and meaning in music perception differ according to the applied method of interrogation and the piece. the intersubjective sphere was the opposition of power versus weakness that was associated with the timbre of the voices (men versus women).
a sphere of intersubjective. Umberto Eco came up with the idea of the intentio operis (cf. subject position/identity. Some years after publishing The Open Work.g. the main difference in perception between those two pieces seems to be the fact that for the Confutatis the subject position appeared much clearer. Although the process of perception was very similar for both pieces. Eco 1996) Our study suggests that instead of talking of an intentio operis or of over-interpretations. (cf. within our culture we seem to have learned to associate certain timbres (including dynamic and instrumentation) with certain meanings and emotions. the opposition between power and weakness. Eco restricts his former model of the open work by claiming that every work of art can be interpreted and perceived in only a limited number of ways (hermetic semiosis). According to Umberto Eco’s theory of the open work. however. By this notion. Richard Rorty criticises this idea of the intentio operis vehemently. There is. i. however. the men choir along with its fortissimo. and subjective contingencies. the rhythm and the trumpets etc. subject position/identity. This subject position in turn could be explained by the individual experiences that each person associated with certain perceived emotions or meanings.Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology .e. Eco calls such interpretations that go beyond the intentio operis over-interpretations.A.CIM04 . which means that the actual experience of music . e. Subjectivity versus inter-subjectivity. Mozart. the piece by John Cage should evoke a much larger diversity of subjective meaning than the piece by W. Implications for a Semantic Analysis Music analysis is usually based on the concept of an ideal. Based on this very fundamental intersubjective sphere. we cannot step out of the hermeneutic circle. E. saying that every work of art is exclusively constituted by its interpretation or perception. similarly experienced emotions and meanings. This inter-subjective sphere can be explained in terms of timbre and contour.e. Eco 1996). The communication between the intention of the perceiver and the intentio of the work of art is determined by the coherent structure of the work of art itself.Proceedings
music. The results reinforce our assumption that music perception can be distinguished into a subjective and an inter-subjective sphere of emotion and meaning. while the piece by Mozart should generate a larger sphere of common meanings than the piece by Cage. i.taking place in a certain time and on a certain place. was associated with power and strength. Subjects said it was due to the lack of traditional musical structure (cultural identity) that they could not really identify themselves with the piece by Cage and consequently did not have as many associations with their personal history. namely an interaction among cultural/inter-subjective meaning. within the Confutatis. This could not be confirmed. Imberty 1997). Mozart versus Cage. while the soft melodic lines of the women choir accompanied mainly by violins was associated with weakness. in a
. epsitemic subject (cf. What implications does this have for other musicological disciplines? Aesthetic considerations Our study might help to clarify a discussion between Umberto Eco and the American Pragmatist Richard Rorty.g. which can be explained either by traditional conventions or by bodily reactions common to all human beings or both. each subject perceived and interpreted the music in its own way depending on its subject position and its personal background.
The interviews reinforced the assumption that emotion and meaning in music perception is constituted by a process of interaction among cultural (inter-subjective) meaning. and subjective contingencies. we should accept the fact that the perception of a certain piece of music changes individually depending on the perceiving subject.
Only a broad concept of the subject – and a corresponding method – is able to bring those dimensions into light. Das offene Kunstwerk. psychological subject: Regarding Lerdahl and Jackendoff’s generative theory of music. Michel (1997). Music and Emotion. psychobiology. N. If we give up thinking about the work of art as a unit or closed entity.CIM04 . Meaning and Science. Phänomenologische Untersuchungen zur Konstitution. traditional music analysis is oriented by the idea of ‘music per se’. Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Eco. John A.Proceedings
certain social and historical context .e. We wanted to test Umberto Eco’s two categories of openness of the musical work empirically. contingent/ subjective meaning and emotion in music perception. Linguistics and Semiotics in Music. Edmund (1952). Phänomenologische Psychologi: Grundlagen und Entwicklungen.. München. Instead. we also need to give up the ‘epistemic subject’. Umberto (1977). Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag. Subjectivity and Method in Psychology: Gender. Berlin: De Gruyter. Ironie und Solidarität. Umberto (1996). Richard (1989). Hans-Helmit (2000). Entendre la musique: Sémantique psychologique de la musique. Paris: Dunod. Meyer. Epistemic subject. London: SAGE Publications. i. Leonard B (1956). This idea emerged when unstructured interviews allowed participants to explore their personal associations. Zwischen Autor und Text: Interpretation und Überinterpretation. Rorty.
This study aimed to investigate the relationship between the two spheres of cultural/inter-subjective vs. whether a piece by John Cage evokes a much larger diversity of subjective meaning than a piece by W. (1971). The piece by John Cage that we regarded as a good example for the openness of 2nd category did not evoke a greater diversity of emotions and meanings than the piece by Mozart but rather a small range of similar interpretations.
Decker-Voigt. Daniel E. Kontingenz. Merleau-Ponty. Eco. Raymond (1992). Les écritures du temps: Sémantique psychologique de la musique. Maurice (1966). Hollway. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. München: Goldmann. Aesthetics and New York: Appleton-
. historical subject. Michel (1981). Imberty. In: Perception tonal and Cognition of Music. Husserl. and subjective/contingent meaning. Tome 1. Wendy (1949). Sloboda. Umberto Eco’s model of the open work could only be confirmed for the openness of 1st category (see paragraph above). Mozart. which in turn interact with the perceived emotions and meanings.is not taken into account. and whether a piece by Mozart generates a larger sphere of common meanings than a piece by Cage. Zweites Buch. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Century-Crofts.A. Juslin (Ed. Edinburgh: Harwood Academic Publishers. East Sussex: Psychology Press. Emotion and meaning in music. Imberty. The interview transcripts are consistent with a view of music perception as an interaction among cultural meaning. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Tübingen: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.) (2001). Aus der Seele gespielt: Eine Einführung in Musiktherapie. Imberty. Monelle.. Tome 2. Michel (1979). Paris: Dunod. Max (1992). Heidelberg: Asanger. P. Analysing music could then be based on empirical studies such as the one we presented in this paper. subject position. Herzog. We assumed that the subject of music perception is affected by music in many ways and aspects.Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology .
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