Towards a Theory of Music and the Mind - (1993)
Since music is created by human beings, we must regard the source, or
raw materials, first of all as human facts. Roger Sessions
How does one arrive at the "human facts" [Sessions, 1950, 188] of
music? Just as music theory records understandings of the ways and
means by which human beings make and understand music, a theory of
music might best be not only about music, but about music and the
In terms of reliable knowledge, one hopes for "a strongly predictive
or explanatory theory to explain hidden mechanisms with relatively
simple properties of which the observed behavior is a complex
manifestation." [Ziman, 1978, 168] Music is a complex manifestation
of humanity. What "hidden mechanisms" and "simple properties" might
underlie it? Beginning with such questions is a productive step
towards such a theory of music.
Questions about "human facts" and reliable knowledge about music
cannot be answered within the discipline of music alone, but require
"human facts." This monograph therefore employs elements not only
from music and music theory, but also from linguistics and
semiotics, cognitive psychology, neurobiology, and formalist and
connectionist philosophy. Additional readings into these disciplines
are suggested to clarify more fully this cursory sketch towards a
fuller theory about music.
Overture to a Theory
Art, n. This word has no definition. Ambrose Bierce
1.1 What Is Music?
Music may seem to have a clear, concise definition, but -- like Bierce's
humorously telling definition of art -- pinning down the many parameters
of that definition proves easier said than done. One among life's many
phenomena, music have been defined and redefined, often in mutually
exclusive terms [surveyed in sections 1.3 and 1.4], such that one may
question which definitions might be deemed of value and which should be
A quick reference to Cage's watershed 4'33" aptly demonstrates
this conundrum. The piece is scored for performer(s) on any
instrument(s) in which the opening and closing are demarked without any
intervening playing. The work has been programmed, performed and
published [C.F. Peters] as music; equally the work has been reviled as
"snake oil," and generally abandoned in current programming (except for
the infrequent Cage retrospective). Whether the work is music or not has
to do with one's own definition of music. Certainly the work pushes the
limits of most definitions, and incites dialogue about what music is.
A historical comparison might be made to the anguish registered against
the practitioners of Ars Nova by those now identified as practitioners
of Ars Antiqua. Certainly, defining music is a centuries-old yet ongoing
activity. Definitions and redefinitions underlie the work not only of
theorists, but of composers in many ages who by their work pursued and
extended the definition of music -- from monody to polyphony, from basic
harmonic structures to the broad harmonic expanses of the late Romantic
symphonists, from tonality to atonality and polytonality, from
culturally agreed-upon and shared structures to aleatoric, chance
One contemporary theory offers an absolutist, ontologically invested
calculus of music which purports to define value and greatness in
musical works, thereby implying hard proof for lesser value and
ignominy in other works [Meyer, 1959]. The mere act of defining
music, whether through the creative work of composition or by the
analytical insights of music theory, immerses one into language,
logic, cultural, psychological and philosophic issues with all their
One strategy in delimiting music in order to reach a definition has
been to label that which is 'outside' the domain of music as
extramusical. This tactic is not without grave problems.
1.2 What Is Extramusic?
If the definition of music is not easily accomplished, the inclusion
of this contrasting domain makes definition yet more problematic.
Twentieth-century music theory has broadened its explorations into
music's mysteries is response to the diversity of music which this
century has produced. Theories abound, and the vocabulary of music
and music theory has exploded with new terms and methods in a mighty
effort to keep pace with the changes in music.
Several theories define music by erecting this border between the
musical and the extramusical, between musical meaning and
extramusical meaning, as if the omission of certain phenomena and
information will better serve one's understanding of music.
Pinning down the parameters of extramusic seems even more simplistic
yet cumbersome a chore than defining music, but it will be argued
that this tactic is both faulty and short-sighted. The proof for
this argument will come via reference to standard music theory,
currently recognized theories of music, with contributions from what
will be found to be valuable extramusical sources. So the premise of
this monograph is that music requires and relies heavily upon not
only the supportive understandings of music theory, but any and all
allegedly extramusical structures and phenomena which contribute to
music's mystery, value, meaning and power.
In this way, music will be construed to be defined in a far broader
scope than many current theories allow. Some groundwork for the
argument must be made, certain extramusical ideas introduced, and a
methodology made clear in order to bolster such a theory. A theory
which straddles the musical and extramusical must demonstrate its
utility and effectiveness in explaining music as a phenomenon, its
varying individualities in creativeness, and support as rational
both the teaching via theory of music and music's place within life.
1.3.1 A General View of Music Theory
The majority view of music theory is that it follows practice, and
has the ability to illustrate forms and functions of musical
practice by means of its vocabulary and perspectives. Historically,
there is little controversy that theory has responded to practice
[Mann, 1987]. Today, there is ever less clarity as to which leads
and which follows in certain individual cases -- optimal examples
being total serialism and computer-generated music in which
algorithms formulate musical events based on relatively few input
In the last several decades, cognitive science, psychology and
neurobiology have added to the dialogue about music. Music has been
postulated not only as phenomenon [i.e. Pike, 1970], but as one
among several faculties of mind [Fodor, 1983; Gardner, 1983;
Jackendoff, 1992]. As a faculty of mind, music is seen as a mental
phenomenon involving rules systems accessible to scientific
and philosophic inquiry which underlie the knowledge of music,
rather akin to the machine-level codes in computers. (Hence, the
"computational mind" metaphor as seen in the work of Churchland
 and Jackendoff . The dialogue is quite accustomed to
dividing music into realms of experience and its accompanying mental
processes, the notations involving reading, writing and orthography,
and abstract, and the notions about form and function most generally
are encompassed by music theory.
1.3.2 Music Theory in Education
Over years of study, the 'complete' musician will have amassed,
incorporated and incarnated all sorts of notions about music
clustered under the academic catalogue's umbrella of music theory.
Unlike the curricula of many other arts, theory in teaching music is
used as a catch-all phrase for much of the curriculum. As an
academic term, it is ubiquitous and often ambiguous due to its broad
use in both the study and practice of making music.
Music theory is most frequently conducted in the medium of language,
and that language is the "object language" [in the strict scientific
and philosophic senses] for which the auditory and mental phenomena
of music are the "objects." In academia, music theory addresses
various ways and means of reading, writing and listening to music,
of its analyses, and less directly its performance.
During the course of study for that 'complete' musician, it is
assumed that from immersion into music theory's disciplines and many
perspectives an overall theory of music will arise, coalesce and
operate to the benefit of both musical practices and understandings.
This music theory underpins any philosophy of music -- a theory
about music. By its open and inclusive boundaries, music theory over
time takes in new terms and understandings easily. A theory of music
is not wholly synonymous with music theory, but does not and cannot
stand alone without its firm foundation.
1.3.3 Theories About Music
While a general consensus about what constitutes music theory can be
reached, mutually exclusive theories of music abound, as Schwadron
concisely surveys [Schwadron, 1967, 33-34]:
"Contemporary aesthetic theories (and sub-theories) are
manifold: Croce, spiritual intuition; Maritain, moral intuition;
Freud, desire and the unconscious; Santayana, reason; Langer,
symbolic transformation; Garvin, feeling response; Stravinsky,
speculative volition; Schoenberg, logical clarity;
Leichtentritt, logical imagination; and Hindemith, symbolic
Further on, Schwadron adds to the terse summary Helmholtz's
"pleasurable sensations" and Meyer's "norm-deviant relationships"
[p. 33-34]. Theories about music are abundantly available for such a
Unlike the porous borders of the inclusive arena of music theory,
theories about music frequently erect hard-edged borders, staking
out exclusive claims about music, excluding other views in the
Stravinsky's oft-cited position is noteworthy by his singular
position in this century's history, and it serves to demonstrate
mutual exclusivity in a theory about music.
"I consider my music, in its essence, incapable of expressing a
feeling, an attitude, a psychological state, a natural
phenomenon, or whatever. Expression has never been a immanent
property of music. If, as is nearly always the case, music seems
to express something, it is only an illusion and not reality. It
is simply an additional element that by inveterate, tacit
convention, we have seized and impose as a rule, a protocol. And
which, through habit or unconsciously, we have come to confuse
with its essence."
[cited in Monsaigneon, 1987, 84]
About this quote there is a key from Boulanger that, with a 'wink
and a nod,' the statement was constructed to avoid a deeper
immersion into the Gordian-knotted issues of musical meaning
[Monsaigneon, 85]. Yet, the statement is a clear rejection of
expressionist theory in favor of an essentialist ideology of music.
Representing another side of the argument, Meyer carries the
absolute expressionist banner, stating clearly:
"Composers and performers of all cultures, theorists of diverse
schools and styles, aestheticians and critics of many different
persuasions are all agreed that music has meaning and that this
meaning is somehow communicated to both the participants and
listeners. ...it seems obvious that absolute meanings and
referential meanings are not exclusive; that they can and do
coexist in one and the same piece....
[Meyer, 1956, 1]
Meyer's theory argues for meaning via the expression that
Stravinsky's theory calls merely an illusion. Meyer's referentialism
affirms: "There is no such thing as understanding a work of art in
its own terms. Indeed, the very notion of 'work of art' is
cultural." [Meyer, 1989, 351] "Kunst als Kunst" is denied solidly.
Among the disparate claims made by theories of music, Cage's is an
epitome of relativism, a sort of 'anything goes:'
"As for meaning, I'm afraid that word means how one's experience
affects a given individual with respect to his faculty of
observing relationships. I think that is rather a private
matter, and I often refer, in this case, to the title of
Pirandello's play, Right You Are, If You Think You Are."
[cited in Schwartz and Childs, 1967, 337]
There are grains of value and nonsense in such a statement. Value,
in that observing relationships (for Stravinsky and Meyer)
has been regularly associated with musical meaning; nonsense for,
while it is a personal experience, we seek to share and explicate
music through performance, theory, analysis and criticism. The
suggestion that musical perception is a purely relative view begs
all the questions about standards, shared understandings and the
cohesiveness of the musical community's notions about music, as
underpinned by the broad base of an inclusive music theory.
1.4 An Exemplary Exclusivity
In the jumble of theories about music which purport to lean on the
bedrock of music theory, Serafine, in Music As Cognition,
summarizes varying views as 1) trait, 2) communication, 3) behavior,
4) nature and 5) sound stimulus, in order to place a theory of
"music as cognition" in clear relief against them. Excluded in this
theory in "all such thinking that does not involve sound."
[Serafine, 1988, 79] For this definition, sound includes mental
images of sound, heard "internally." but non-aural materials are
banned from this theoretical lexicon; these include:
"...entertainments about musical characteristics that reach the
level of verbal description ("The music sounds jagged;" "This
sounds like such-and-so"), conscious awareness of the
compositional or performance techniques of the piece,
speculations about historical or biographical matters, verbal
labeling of the progress of musical events (say, moving beyond
felt changes in harmony to the exercise of labeling them after
audition0. Moreover, when words occur in the artwork itself,
their consideration is excluded from the definition of music if
it is their semantic meaning that is the focus of attention.
(But words may be defined as music to the degree that it is
their temporal and sound qualities that are entertained.
There a a few other stipulations in the definition. The
mention of 'human' aural-cognitive activities is meant to
exclude environmental and animal sounds such as traffic
noise, doorbells and birdcalls that occasionally make their
way into other definitions of the art form. The conditions
of 'organized' temporal events omit from the musical
category both random and totally serialized sound
collections (as in aleatoric and serial music) that remain
unorganized by the listener.
[Serafine, 1988, 79]
This citation demonstrates the lengths to which one current theory
goes to systematize a definition of music as cognition. Yet all
cognitions are not found in the definition, when they relate to
music, and certain quasi-musical sounds (admitted to me "music" in
the above quote) are declared off limits to this young orthodoxy.
1.5 The Modularity of the Mind Is Introduced
Serafine's theory introduces elements of cognitive psychology into a
theory of music. Music as one form of cognition is contrasted
against linguistic cognition, in an effort to demark music from
language. Additionally, this theory takes care to choose
terminologies by which to loosen the grip of language on music
theory. An example is the use of the phrase, "pitch distance
traversed," which is used in place of the common music theory term,
"interval." Aside from semantic nitpicking, it is intriguing that
both "interval" and "pitch distance traversed" are cognitive
linguistic borrowings, not from musical cognition, but from that
mental faculty which deals with spatial understandings, issues of
distance, movement, and intervals by which movement and distance are
understood. As cognitive science has been invoked in talking about
music, a cursory survey of some elements of cognitive science is
Music is defined, in part, as a module of the mind, one among
several other modules. Metaphorically, the mind is seen as
comprising "mental organs" [Chomsky, 1975], mental "frames of mind"
[Gardner, 1983], "modules" [Fodor, 1983], and faculties [Jackendoff,
1992]. Of these modules, linguistics terms the one for language the
"language faculty." In parallel, there is posited a "musical
faculty." The extended metaphor implies that this faculty is an
input/output channel of the "computational mind" [Churchland and
Sejinowski, 1992; Jackendoff, 1987] with the express purpose of
dealing with musical structures by input, processing and output. The
mind's workings are viewed as divided into specialized, discrete
functions, including music, language, vision, haptic (touch)
abilities, body position senses and motor faculties.
The demarcation of music as a discrete faculty for discussion is a
shared view among many current neurobiologists, cognitive scientists
and neuro-philosophers. Isolating music among the modules of the
mind is the common territory between the exclusivities of
Stravinsky, Meyer, Cage and Serafine. Stravinsky, for example,
divides music from the mind functions of conceptualization and
emotion. Meyer links the musical faculty to other modules, including
conceptualization, emotion and social cognition in his linking art
referentially to culture.
1.6 Music Theory and Multiple Mental Modules
Inclusive academic music theory, unlike the above cited theories of
music, is a virtual compendium of linguistic, visual and
orthographic metaphors for the description and understanding of
music. Earlier, music theory was identified as obviously linguistic,
an "object" language for which aural/mental phenomena are the
"objects." This is a crucial distinction for, when metaphors of
music theory are examined, their insights prove regularly to invoke
the extramusical modules of the mind.
From this perspective, theories as evidenced by the positions of
Stravinsky and Serafine demonstrate suspicion -- suspicion against
the seeming incursion of other mental faculties into what is often
made into rhetoric as the "purity" of musical thought, whether at
the hands of composer or theorist. To that suspicion must be
addressed the challenge as presented in this monograph: without the
aid of other "frames of mind" [Gardner, 1983], how can one even
speak about music, much less explain it and theorize about it?
Unlike the postures of many theories about music, music theory
blindly borrows from the multiple modules of the mind. Pitches are
described in relative terms of "high" and "low," obvious borrowings
from the spatial body representation structures fed by body position
senses, as output via words of the language faculty. A sound is
described as "bright" or "dull," borrowing from the visual faculty.
The use of numbers in metric and rhythmic perception and notation is
borrowed from the abstract conceptual structures; a clear abstract
construct can be seen in Forte , leaning heavily on
mathematical labeling. The phenomenological perspective [Pike, 1970]
relies on understandings of tension and release, both borrowings
from understanding provided by the body's haptic and position senses
and translated through language. Foreground, middle ground and
background descriptions of aural events rely on spatial
understanding and metaphors.
The reductionist sound-over-time definition of music by itself is of
little explanatory import, as all events are perceived over time,
and the aural sense captures not only music, however one defines it,
but also speech and all manner of noise, background or not. Music is
simply richer than sound-over-time definitions admit in their
1.7 Jackendoff's Modular Model
A clever hypothesis for the interlocking mechanisms of these mental
modules will assist in understanding the framework in which and by
which to view the input, processing, reflections and outputs of the
mind involving music [Jackendoff, 1992, 1-20, 69-81].
The input/output channels envisioned by Jackendoff are 1) a language
faculty, 2) a visual faculty, 3) a haptic faculty, 4) body positions
senses, 5) a musical faculty, and 6) a motor faculty.
Interior to these input/output channels are 'interior' modules
dedicated and cross-linked; they are modules to process 1)
conceptual structures (abstractions of language and logical
thought), 2) 3D model structures for processing visual information
and processing spatial understandings, and 3) body representations,
linked to emotional responses. [Jackendoff, 1992]
Added to these 'interior' modules is a faculty of social cognition
[Jackendoff, 1992, 69-81].
The sharing of input signals between these interior faculties is
deemed the virtual space for meaning making and understanding, via
as yet little understood computations on the lowest levels of
processing and neural functioning.
Utilizing this abstract plan, it is guessed that the input/output
channels on the left of the diagram above have physically identifiable
ways of of being differentiated. The structures on the right of the
diagram however are theoretical constructs, no matter how accurate, and
are not observable except by the artifacts of their workings.
The diagram [modified from Jackendoff, 1992, 14 and 69-81] leaves
resident in the faculties on the left much in the way of processing,
some relating directly to one specific sense (vision to the visual
faculty) and other faculties sharing sense inputs (music and
language share the aural sense, for example). The sketch is
incomplete, but not for the purposes of this monograph.
Where in this model is the work of music theory accomplished? As in
section 1.6, many linguistic probes borrow from both the left and
right columns of the diagram. Additional examples include music
theory's hierarchical understandings of large scale forms and
related temporal events, captured by language in metaphors from
social cognition. The graphic representations of Schenkerian
analysis require spatial concepts and the metaphors supplied by the
visual faculty as well, in order to 'visualize' such analytical
structures [Forte and Gilbert, 1982]. The combinatorial matrices of
twelve-tone theory require borrowings from numeric conceptual
structures. Chironomic signs (forbearers of religious cantillation
and group music making) through to the physical signings in the
podium conduct of conductors rely on visual and social cognitions.
Jackendoff's model is a starting point by which to begin sketching
an inclusive theory of music, without the absolutism of Meyer, the
relativism of Cage, the essentialism of Stravinsky, or the
reductionism of Serafine. With the model of the modularity of the
mind provided by cognitive science, and with the awareness that the
vocabulary of music theory implicates other modules in its
metaphors, one can begin to sculpt a theory of music, including all
the available materials of music theory's unbiased lexicon.
As Jackendoff cautions, what supports the rules systems of these
hypothetical faculties is generally hidden to introspection; only
the results of those rules systems/faculties appear as the artifacts
of such systems. Thus, what are available for inspection are all the
artifacts of music -- from sounds, to theory's vocabulary and
concepts, scores and notations, works and performances of works,
even ideologies such as the above cited mutually exclusive theories
-- each artifact declared open to the domain of and exploration into
1.8 Extramusical Hints
If music theory has adopted metaphors from other mental faculties in
order to explain musical phenomena, then one must question whether
any specific musical phenomenon is in fact comprehensible without
the underlying mental construct which it supports. How is foreground
recognized from background in music? How is tension and release
"felt" when listening to mere acoustic phenomena? How is affect,
whether illusion by Stravinsky's ideology or reality by Meyer's,
linked to the "sound-over-time" defined in music? Why has music
historically aligned itself with texts and narratives, through
words, dance, through mapping of movement onto rhythm and
periodicity, and social occasions and rituals?
The terms and conditions of the few theories of music sampled above
are generally ineffectual to answer such broad questions simply and
directly. Yet, the Jackendoff/cognitive science model goes a long
way to link the musical faculty through various paths with other
hypothetical faculties, and by this construct directly moves to
answer such queries. Just so, for the extramusical is posited as
that by which to define music in theory.
Methodology and Argument
Now all this may not be so. Charles Ives
2.1 Plurality of Thought
In his text on composition, Hindemith challenges that "in technical
matters there can be no secrets" [Hindemith, 1945, 6]. Yet
Stravinsky posits secrets in asserting "essence." Serafine defines
down music into a kind of cautious narrow purity. Are such
assertions simply to be accepted or rejected out of hand? In the web
of discourse which encompasses music, music theory and theory about
music, many divergent views are found, in repeated attempts to
delimit what music is and why it functions the way it does.
Schwadron and Serafine summarize many views about music. Additional
views include music as symbol [Epperson, 1967], narrative [Barthes,
1977], allegory [Norris, 1989]. rhetoric by historical reference
[Bonds, 1991] and representation [Kivy, 1991. Namour  and
Jackendoff  endorse an implication-realization model in which
expectations are built up, frustrated and fulfilled, based on the
modularity of mind model [Figure 1, section 1.7]. Without comment
about that model at this point, it is possible to integrate into a
theory of music all the above viewpoints; it is also possible to
narrowly adopt portions of the above theories or another theory.
As plurality of thought abounds within the discourse about music,
the reality of their coexistence in the real world in unquestioned.
The challenge is how to include them methodically into a single
fabric -- an inclusive theory.
2.2 Enter Heterophenomenology
In his historical survey of theories about music, Kivy argues for
music as a kind of representation. Intriguingly however, he
confesses to be drawn toward an anti-representational stance, not as
a matter of fact, but because that stance is "an extremely useful
falsehood." [Kivy, 1991, 216] This is a remarkable admission,
sacrificing ostensibly attainable ontological fact for the sake of
utility. Serafine's theory agonizes over terminology, Meyer's
asserts quasi-universal cultural proofs of relative value, and
Stravinsky's shuns expressions in favor of essence. By their mutual
exclusivities, they assert different understandings about music.
The phenomenologists of the last decades have in theory asserted
that personal introspection builds a common understanding of music
as a phenomenon on which agreement can be achieved. The first-person
singular ["I" perceive....] exploration into the phenomenally
objective and subjective facets of music, however, yields multiple
and often mutually exclusive viewpoints, as above. The changing of
the declension from first- to third-person singular, as suggested by
Dennett, makes for a remarkable shift of position in this adventure
Heterophenomenology [Dennett, 1991, 66-98] adopts that each position
["he" ("she") perceives....] be given equal weight. Like Kivy, the
many positions are to be seen as "useful fictions." Thus Serafine's
suspicions are defined methodologically to have equal weight with
Meyer's affirmation of expression in music, democratically alongside
Stravinsky's negation of expression as an immanent property of
music. The heterophenomenological position suggests that all these
theories provides clues into an overall inclusive, even liberal
understanding of music.
If Kivy's and Dennett's contribution to the methodology of this
monograph serves well, combined with a 'fictional' model of the
modularity of the mind, then the exclusive borders of each of the
above-referenced theories invokes some greater or lesser degree of
involvement with the many faculties of mind, as structured in Fig.
1, section 1.7. Stravinsky's definition does not extend to the
central format of emotions, as related to body representation by
Jackendoff. Serafine's definition cautiously backs away from an
involvement through the body representation format to the conceptual
structures format, accessed by the language faculty, and so forth.
Meyer's theory reaches through the body representation format to
emotional response, as do a number of other theories. For Meyer's
assertion that music is culturally referential [Meyer, 1989, 351],
another methodological challenge is raised. 'Art for art's sake' was
the battle cry for a number of theories in the last 150 years. The
balance between absolute cultural understanding and the individual,
neurological bases for music is necessary.
2.3 A Borrowing From Linguistics
If the musical faculty is a mental module employing roughly the same
sensory signals as language -- in its reading, writing and
performance -- and if the sound-over-time definition serves both
faculties albeit in varying ways and degrees, then it can be learned
from linguistics, a discipline with a larger compendium of current
research available to it. Certainly music theory is that object
language for which music provides the object, and being conducted in
language, music theory is open to linguistic exploration.
It has been noted that much of music theory's terminologies may be
seen themselves as borrowings from the representations of other
mental faculties and formats, as probes and tools to attempt an
exploration of music mysteries. Language is an much an artifact of
the language faculty, as is music of the musical faculty. In the
examination of the artifacts, and by insights into their workings,
the mental faculty can be seen and begun to be understood.
It is asserted that language "...is a reflection of the human mind,
not just in the sense that humans have produced it, can learn it,
and do speak it, but in the much more specific sense that language
is as it is because the human mind is as it it." [Smith and Wilson,
1979, 265] Then music is as it is because the human mind is as it is
by precisely the same argument. Natural language is defined by the
concurrence of two fundamental processes: 1) articulation or
segmentation, and 2) integration by which gestural segments gather
into units, which themselves gather into larger units of a higher
Much of compositional technique and musical analysis proceeds by
this same general bifurcation between processes. In language, single
syllabic utterances are generally declared to mean very little, a
phrase more, a sentence even more, and so on through larger
structures. As words pile into a narrative of length, Barthes points
out that meaning is not "at the end" but "runs across it." [Barthes,
1977, 87] That is, meaning eludes unilateral investigation, but
requires "the long look," a view echoed by the critics [Hughes,
1990, 15]. From the linguistic point the two processes of
articulation and integration are the builders and arbiters of
grammar, comprehensibility, similarity and difference of meaning,
appropriateness to the situation, et. al. By the very operation of
the language faculty, one must segment and integrate.
Unlike Meyer's theory of music, linguistics seems firmly committed
to some balance between the mental organ of language, and the
cultural environment in which that faculty operates. As sister to
the language faculty and as the musical faculty shares the same
kinds of sensory signals, it is perhaps more useful a fiction to
assert, unlike Meyer, that music is not wholly cultural; that there
is "no such thing as understanding a work of art in its own terms"
may deny those neurobiological similarities which are "hard-wired"
in the brain. [Meyer, 1989, 351] Moreover, the tactic of
heterophenomenology has declared Meyer's view a "fiction," and this
model of the kinship between the musical and language faculties
equally a "fiction." The remaining methodological step is to choose
simply which is more "useful," in Kivy's jargon.
One theorist postulates "...all natural phenomena constitute a badly
understood language." [Thom, 1975, 117] Then the "language of music"
might serve as a useful fiction by that view, as well. Certainly
Jackendoff's model postulates the faculties and central formats of
the mind as "languages" and the posture of heterophenomenology
reminds that this is fictionally useful, rather than an asserted
2.4 Useful Fictions and the Language Faculty
While music theory unabashedly operates frequently in language, a
number of theories about music evidence deep suspicion about the
role of language in music. Serafine's distinction between words as
sound structures and words with "semantic meaning" is one case in
point; many parallel instances may be seen, wherein the
terminologies of music theory themselves become suspect. An example
may be found in the distinction between "absolute" and
"programmatic" music, and the judgments which they implicate.
A caution to the musical thinker is offered by linguistics. One
finds that "linguistics descriptions are not, so to speak,
monovalent. A description is not simply 'right' or 'wrong' in
itself.... It is better thought of as more or less useful."
[Halliday, 1966, 8] A striking coincidence to the words of Kivy
and Dennett. Many theories of music express a suspicion about
words because they are deemed monovalent -- right or wrong. This
strenuous avoidance of specificity in meaning is energetically
avoided by many music theorists, and perhaps rightly so. But
viewing words as monovalent does not increase the utility of a
fiction, but rather limits it severely.
Words, themselves, are hardly monovalent, except in the most
technical of circumstances. They are slippery artifacts of the
language faculty's operation. Linguists declare words are
themselves "sets of theories" about language. [Hattiangadi,
1987, 10] The language faculty struggles to create meaning, both
by input and output, and that language is often ineffectual in
certain instances, such as the translation of spatial cognition,
as input from the haptic and body position senses, into
language. [Jackendoff, 1992, 99-124] It is pointed out that in
English, in comparison with the tens of thousands of nouns and
verbs, there are but between 80 and 100 prepositions by which
spatial information can be conveyed. Of all the rich details and
range of spatial relations and cognition, most are "invisible"
except in the crudest ways to the language faculty, being
"neutralized or filtered out in the translation into linguistic
format." [op. cit. 120]
As viewed as an organ of the modular model of mind, language best
serves certain phenomena and poorly serves others. Hence, music's
suspicions about language are understandable when language is viewed
as monovalent and ontologically rooted. Heterophenomenology
sidesteps this elegantly in avowing useful fictions, which language
serves quite effectively.
Serafine's theory asserts that, in listening, we generate music.
As with sound-over-time definitions, the linguist might also
assert that, in listening, we generate language. The
input/output channels are shared. At least fictionally, we can
view music and language as close kin.
2.5 Music and Language
If music theory is in large part housed in language, such as the
Harvard, Oxford and Groves embody, then it may be seen as a
semantic network, heterophenomenologically a compendium of
useful fictions. Some assert that music is a language,
metaphorically. This becomes even more a challenge for writing
yet more definitions, on the path towards Bierce's sardonic
Adorno offers a limited view:
"Music resembles a language. Expressions such as musical
idiom, musical notation, are not simply metaphors. But music
is not identical with language. The resemblance points to
something essential, but vague. Anyone who takes it
literally will be seriously misled.
"Music resembles language in the sense that it is a temporal
sequence of articulated sounds which are more than just
sounds. They say something, often sometimes human. The
better the music, the more forcefully they say it. The
succession of sounds is like logic: it can be right or
wrong. But what has been said cannot be detached from the
music. Music creates no semiotic system.
"It is customary to distinguish between language and music
by asserting that concepts are foreign to music. But music
does contain things that come very close to the 'primitive
concepts' found in epistemology. It makes use of recurring
ciphers. There were established by tonality."
[Adorno, 1992, 1]
He asserts "music creates no semiotic system." As semiotics is a
study of systems of signs, then Adorno postulates that either 1)
there are no signs in music, or 2) there is no system in which
to hold signs. As to the former, a sign is semiotically seen as
a unity of "signifier" and "signified." As sounds say
"something, often sometimes human," music creates signification,
as a musical gesture unites with its being parsed and
understood. By being "right or wrong," he postulates a system
within which such values can be adjudicated. his assertion that
music has no semiotic system then is symptomatic of that
above-mentioned suspicion of language by music.
Heterophenomenologically, his view must be allowed as neutral,
however, if useful.
"Primitive concepts" akin to linguistic concepts is theorized,
lending credence to some mind/brain mechanism by which pattern
recognition of these primitives occurs -- in a kind of syntax,
or meaning environment. It has been asserted that the musical
and language faculties are kin. In Adorno's parlance, there may
be found primitives, which cognitive science sees as elements of
a system not defined within that system, with necessary
contextual explanations or understandings which lie outside the
The problem of primitives [see Dunlop and Fetzer, 1992], in all
the faculty domains, is that, without establishing a meaning for
the undefined (i. e. primitive) sign, then that sign is
altogether void of meaning. Fetzer [1991, 1992] suggests that
the meaning of a primitive in a system is determined by all of
its behavioral dispositions within the various contexts of the
system. The primitive acquires meaning as it is used "usefully,"
such that the language faculty acquires not only vocabulary but
grammatical rules, via Chomsky's "universal grammar" or
something like it. [Chomsky, 1968, 1975, 1988; also Smith and
The musical faculty, as a direct kin to the language faculty, may be
seen to feed the central format of conceptual structures, while
music feeds the central mental format of body representations. This
monograph reserves its total allegiance to that architectural model,
but reaffirms the model as a "useful fiction."
Music is known to operate in tandem with language, as in most
choral and solo vocal music, and occasionally in this century to
speech alone [i. e. Toch's Geographical Fugue]. Serafine
defines away the textual considerations, though the Doctrine of
Affections and music as rhetoric are historical examples of
acknowledgment of such issues as textual meaning and "word
painting." There seems some kind of fundamental equivalence
between the domains. Seen by Jackendoff's model, language and
music are serviced by similar sets of sensory input, and "hook
into" interior, central formats in the mind. Rather than search
for meaning individually in language or music, an "Ur-meaning"
may lie resident beneath or across these systems of
sound-over-time, with their visual notations and performance
2.6 Borrowings from Other Faculties
Acceding to the Jackendoff model, the musical faculty is
asserted as kin to the visual faculty. Certainly much of music
theory is non-linguistic and graphic. The entire notational
system is pictorial, with conventional agreements about the
visual representation of high and low pitches, temporal
durations and the like. Just as the language faculty "operates
quickly, in a deterministic fashion, unconsciously and beyond
the limits of awareness and in a manner that is common to the
species, yielding a rich and complex system of knowledge"
[Chomsky, 1988, 157], so does the visual faculty respond
seemingly instantaneously, encoding and recognizing as best it
can a surrounding visual environment. Vision, not music, is the
closer domain to spatial cognition. Understandings of high and
low pitches are fed by notation, while high and low pitches
could be also the metaphors as smaller and larger in the case of
organ pipes, right and left on a piano keyboard, up and down on
a bassoon, and so on.
Just as with the musical and language faculties, certain
primitives must be known only by direct experience of them and
their behavioral dispositions within a context. Clinically,
because of case histories of patients who have suffered various
brain traumas affecting vision, much is being learned about the
visual faculty. In one case, the patient blind since birth
gained sight via surgery. The flooding in of sense data across
the retina was "frightening." [Zajonc, 1993] The problem of
primitives was clearly demonstrated, as having no lexicon of
behavioral dispositions for the primitives of sight made seeing,
at that instant, almost meaningless, except for the emotional
response of fear.
In another borrowing, music has long been associated with movement
and dance. The haptic and body position sense, coupled with the
output channel of the motor faculty, translate sound-over-time into
physical movement. It is therefore not surprising that some theories
of music reduce the definition of music to rhythm: "...an adequate
definition of rhythm comes close to defining music itself."
[Sessions, 1950, 3-20] But in the act of listening to music while
still, the only input-caused movement from the acoustic sounding of
music occurs in the minute structures of the middle and inner ear.
Yet movement remains a key metaphor for music, filling much of music
theory's lexicon from references borrowed from the central mental
format of body representation.
Moreover often bodily responses to music are expressed through the
motor faculty as various kinds of movement. One might cite
eurhythmics among a number of methodologies for linking music and
physical movement. So many borrowings from extramusical faculties
and formats may be cited as to argue that music is interlocked with
these faculties and formats in some "hard-wired" neurologically
2.7 An Argument from the Model
It has been asserted that the musical faculty is a module among a
number of mental modules of the brain. Moreover, this musical
faculty seems to operate like its sibling modules, instantaneously
and unconsciously, beyond the limits of awareness, paraphrasing
Chomsky. As one among multiple modules, it yields a "rich and
complex" system of knowledge , albeit non-linguistic, just as
spatial knowledge is richer and more complex than language can
embrace. the Jackendoff model links directly the music faculty to
that knowledge and awareness under the central format of body
representation, which is deemed for the purpose of this theory to be
a "useful fiction."
That which is generically termed music is a potpourri of various
by-products of the musical faculty. The aural events -- sound-over-time
-- are taken in by the musical faculty as an input channel. The
notations in scores are by-products of the musical faculty -- as output,
writing via the motor faculty, and as input, via the visual faculty in
reading. The notations of music theory, a sub-set of music itself, are
most often input and output via the language faculty, but also carried
in the orthographic pictures of certain theorists [as in Schenker; Forte
and Gilbert, 1982 for an introduction], and in mathematical-logical
analyses [as in the combinatorial matrices, Perle, 1962; as logical
constructs, Forte, 1978]. Aside from the aural events via performing and
listening, the surrounding artifacts are borrowings, embedded deeply in
he multiple modules of the mind, per this model.
As to the 'sounding' of music in listening and performing, an
enhanced awareness and knowledge of music is supported by those
mental constructs which are provided by knowledge of music theory in
its many metaphoric descriptions and conceptualizations of the
organization and comprehensibility of aural events. This model
borrows an assertion from linguistics:
"The fact is that is you have not developed language, you simply
don't have access to experience, and if you don't have access to
experience, then you're not going to able to think properly."
[Chomsky, 1988, 196]
Acquisition of musical experience is an involuntary function of the
musical faculty, and, as with the language faculty, much acquisition
seems to occur in the first years of life, something which is as yet
not well researched or documented.
The composition of music seems a special case for this model, in
that, unlike language, the creative act of composing [writing] is
not as pervasive in the population as is linguistic writing. This
might likely suggest that while the input channel of the music
faculty is a rather well-distributed, deterministic asset throughout
the species, that the disposition to output along the channel of the
musical faculty is an anomalous and occasional proclivity within a
This theoretical stance views Stravinsky's position as a useful
explanation of the input/output channel of the musical
faculty, disconnected from its linkage to the central formats of
the Jackendoff model of mind. Obviously, as emotions are seen as
modulated through that central format, Stravinsky's assertion of
music as non-expression has limited itself, not connecting with
the central formats as postulated in the Jackendoff model. But
viewed broadly, music is a human phenomenon centered on the
musical faculty, with vital linkages to other faculties and the
central formats of the mind. Just as language services more than
just words and linguistic meaning, and the visual faculty leads
to an understanding beyond simple visual stimuli and 3D model
structures, music seems best seen as a porous conceptual entity
with the musical faculty at its core, which by lessening degrees
interfaces with every other mental faculty and format.
Somewhat like Bierce's humorously intended non-definition of art,
music may not be able to be defined cleanly, for the boundaries
between it and other human phenomena are indeterminate and
indefinite. With such a mental model as the basis for investigation,
the "usefulness" of the model might be tested in exploring a number
of differing problems which face music, music theory and theories
That music, mapped over an amended Jackendoff model of mind, is
porous, indeterminate and indefinite explains something of its
mystery. Certainly the "useful fictions" inclusive stance of
this monograph adopts a position that ascribes to music a
richness and polyvalence which is rooted in those "human facts"
by which Roger Sessions counsels us to regard music -- human
facts exposed by cognitive psychology, the wealth of research
into linguistics and semiotics, and the clinical realities
explored by neurobiology.
Composition and Creativity
I certainly write music for human beings -- directly and deliberately. Benjamin Britten
3.1 Dimly Aware of the Choices
The learning of music theory is a long-term process, begun in
the first years of life, alongside the eruption of the language
faculty's acquisition activities. First words as applied
to music appear early on, inculcating cultural as well as
cross-cultural notions about music [sec. 2.2]. Much of what is
cultural and perhaps all of what is hard-wired into the musical
faculty begin to appear long before the music educator's
curriculum comes into play. It is not surprising that, as with
the language or visual faculties, foundations are laid before
self-conscious awareness of them is concluded.
In "Shop Talk by an American Composer" (1960), Carter addresses
"not too clearly" [his words] as he writes about music: "...many
of its conceptions and techniques have become almost a matter of
habit for the composer and he is only dimly aware of the choices
that first caused him to adopt them." [in Schwartz and Childs,
1967, 262] The Jackendoff modular model and Chomsky's in-depth
exploration into the language faculty seem to mirror Carter's
conclusion, that many "conceptions and techniques" are hidden
beneath musical awareness.
Stravinsky's legendary remark about being but the 'vessel'
through which Le Sacre appeared echoes this viewpoint,
and, of certain early works, Schoenberg admits, "I can look upon
them as if somebody else might be their composer, and I can
explain their technique and their mental contents quite
objectively. I see therein things that at the time of composing
were still unknown to me." [Schoenberg, 1975, 79] When composers
acknowledge being unaware or dimly aware of the choices made in
the act of composing, it may be assumed that mental faculties
and central formats are operative below the level of
self-awareness, at least in some cases.
Neurological research indicates in a number of mental faculties
that "awakenings" occur by case history. [Sacks, 1981, 1989;
Zajonc, 1993; also see Dennett, 1978; and "Mind Quakes" in
Hofstadter, 1979] A coming to awareness seems developmental over
time, and the musical faculty has not received the research
attention that the language and visual faculties have. An
anecdotal awakening is recorded by Toch: "After having copied
three or four [Mozart string quartets] I became aware of the
structure f the single movements." [Toch, 1977, iv] Awareness is
a kind of pattern recognition indicating the size of patterns
being recognized. Toch admits to becoming aware of
structure -- of pattern.
3.2 Pattern Recognition
It is asserted that in science "inter-subjective pattern
recognition is a fundamental element in the creation of all
scientific knowledge." [Ziman, 1978, 44] The scientist is
purported to have "learned to see, under the influence of the
accepted paradigm of his subject." [op. cit. 50] The Jackendoff
modular model of mind avers that the faculties in connection
with central formats operate to distinguish pattern, in varying
forms of input and varying representations of mind. They
distinguish pattern because they must, by their very own nature.
The hard-wired interfaces go a long way to explicate
commonalities between individuals, which are more than
culturally agreed-upon conventions, but rather are rooted in the
innate features of the faculties' and formats' operations
themselves. [see Zajonc and Markus, 1984, 73-102]
Chomsky's Universal Grammar, posited in the language faculty
[Chomsky, 1975, 1988], seems to operate on linguistic primitives,
recognizing their repeated use and behavioral dispositions [Fetzer,
1991, 1992] and encoding the patterns into a lexicon which itself
broadens the acquisition process. Mistakes can be rampant, and yet
the utility of the patterns, behavioral dispositions and resultant
lexicon measure the effectiveness of the grammar. [Compare to sec.
The musical faculty is proposed to be somewhat like the language
faculty [sec. 2.5]. As with the growth of language in an individual,
the musical faculty is assumed to recognize patterns in musical
primitives, noting their repetitions and behavioral dispositions,
and encoding those patterns into a musical lexicon. The lexicon [per
Barthes, 1977] is that which corresponds to a body of practices and
musical beliefs. Musical primitives seem to be differentiated
from language primitives beginning in very early childhood, and
crude awareness of what constitutes music seems to form before, or
at least, alongside awareness.
3.3 Musical Practices and Musical Beliefs
Carter challenges that "conceptions and techniques" become a
habitual practice of the composer, and that re-examination of their
adoption into use is appropriate. The musical faculty, by this
model, seems to have concluded many underlying musical beliefs, in
part because of the mechanistic features of the faculty itself, and
in part because of the musical environment which provided the
faculty with a range and variety of primitives.
It has been asserted that music, limited by whatever definition of
it is adopted, borrows for its supporting music theory from many
ostensibly extramusical faculties. Thus, in paleo-linguistic
fashion, many underlying beliefs reside in the metaphors by which
music is explained in theory. Carter contends that resident, lexical
conceptions and techniques are utilized by the composer without much
awareness of why the conceptions and techniques are employed. The
Jackendoff model, fictional as it is deemed to be, is useful in
validating Carter's observation. The musical faculty is seen to be
partly hard-wired and partly cultural "software," in the metaphor of
The distinction between cross-cultural and cultural facets in one's
musical lexicon implies that not all "conceptions and techniques are
subject to introspection and perhaps even control. Recall
Stravinsky's Le Sacre admission, and Schoenberg's confession
[sec. 3.1]. That which is called creativity in the composer may be
hidden partially in the deep mechanisms of the individual's musical
faculty, and not subject to the scrutiny of an academic curriculum.
And yet music theory's broad and inclusive discipline is there to
support any and all understandings as composers define and redefine
music in the very act of creating it.
The practices and beliefs instantiated into the musical faculty are
declared to be non-linguistic by degree, though linguistic elements
are declared by this theory to be included as necessary for whatever
musical purposes are defined by the composer. Hindemith charges that
there are no secrets in technical matters of music. Thus such
descriptions as "mysterious" and "irrational" are useless in
explicating a theory of music. Their use often reflects a cultural
bias against non-linguistic thinking, and the Jackendoff model
structurally identifies many faculties and formats of the mind which
are not language.
As cognitive psychology and neurobiology penetrate deeper into the
mind's architecture, certain hard-wired musical mechanisms may be
explained. Certainly, musical thought is based in pattern
recognition, and parsing of music into segmental divisions and
restructuring into conceptually manageable wholes [sec. 2.3] seems
hard-wired into the brain. Thus, while "dimly aware" of habits of
composition, the composer is obligated to work within the mostly
non-linguistic elements of music in certain ways defined by the
hidden and quite natural mechanisms of the musical faculty.
Thus Cage's 4'33" stands at the absolute border of music, as
defined not in ideology but in anatomy and the nature of the human
organism's musical faculty. Cage attempts in this piece to frustrate
a general definition of music by challenging what music is, as noted
in his statements about "music" which occurs around the auditorium
when the piece is not played though performed. The definition
that music is any and all sounds radically restructures the
3.4 Psychological Constancy
The crafty syllogism offered by Cage via 4'33" is highlighted by the
Jackendoff model. Music, like language, links to other mental
modules by certain formal, mechanistic principles, some innate to
the organization and some culturally specific. The mind as an
organizing and meaning-making entity reaches out by pattern
recognition mechanisms to contact the external world. Jackendoff
asserts that "whenever a psychological constancy exists, there must
be a mental representation that encodes that constancy."
[Jackendoff, 1992, 5] Cage plays with this fundamental psychological
constancy, but is not alone in that tendency to confuse metaphors
and modules of mind.
Cross-modular understandings have often been expressed, very unlike
the "purely musical" stance of some theorists. In the concluding
chapter if Kandinsky's Concerning the Spiritual in Art, this
co-founder of the "pure" abstractionist movement in painting speaks
of musical metaphors such as a visual composition being "melodic"
and in the more complex forms "symphonic...." He writes about
"complex rhythmic composition, with a strong flavor of the
symphonic...." He allies painting with music: "The mind thinks at
once of choral compositions, or Mozart and Beethoven." [Kandinsky,
1977, 56-57] Other examples from poets and visual artists can be
cited, in obvious demonstration of the mixing of metaphors wherein
the non-musical artist 'pines' for a more "musical" technique or
method with which to create non-musical art.
By the Jackendoff model, Cage's borrowing from the format of social
cognition is simply inconstant with the basic hard-wired features of
the musical faculty. The model declares that when a musical
constancy presents itself there will be a musical faculty
representation that encodes that constancy. These constancies are
recorded in the many understandings of music theory. The composer is
obligated to work creatively within the constraints of those musical
constancies, with primitives and their behavioral dispositions
within the contexts in which they can be organized.
One such large constraint is pattern recognition. The composer works
with various strategies -- the creation of a memorable music object,
direct repetition, indirect reference by shared affinity (such as
the sequence), contrast followed by restatement, and techniques of
variation and development of features of the original object. Many
schemata for accomplishing this are recorded in music theory as
compositional techniques and conventional historic forms. In part,
such strategies instantiate the psychological constancies by which
the musical faculty functions.
3.5 Interactive Faculties and Composition
"Of course, systems interact," linguistic theory asserts. [Chomsky,
1988, 161] The musical faculty is entwined with other mental
faculties and formats, according to the model [ sec. 1.8, 2.5 and
2.6 ]. Music wraps with physical movement in dance, with linguistic
narratives in song and musical theater works, and with forms of
social cognition. Some judgment of the appropriateness by the
composer underlies compositional choices.
The composer of music to texts relies on some interpretation of that
text, of scansion and syllabic stress, rarely violating the stress
and clarity rules of the language faculty. The composer of theater
works invests compositional strategies and details into musical
characterizations. Music composed for specific social functions
reflects the circumstance, ideology and venue more frequently than
On another level of composition, musical objects are manipulated in
structural, architectural and narrative schemata of other faculties
and mental formats. Music theory records these in its terminology,
i.e. the symphonic "argument," the "cyclic" return of thematic
materials, "cadences," the spatial metaphors of musical "sections,"
are a few of the many examples.
The composer works in a medium of non-linguistic thought, yet the
language faculty serves music. Music is spoken of as virtual
movement served by the haptic and body position sense faculties. The
hierarchies of thematic materials and sections rely on concepts of
social cognition. Music, in the broader definitions, exhibits
emotional expression, also through the body representation format of
the Jackendoff model. With Chomsky, and of composition, the model
agrees that systems interact.
3.6 Encoding, Encoding Errors and Creativity
The detail of the Jackendoff model [Jackendoff, 1992, 14] suggests
[by the direction of the arrow] that the musical faculty is an input
channel, for the language and visual faculties are represented as
input/output channels, by comparison. Figure 1 [sec. 1.7] reflects
this detail. The text of this monograph has ignored this detail, but
noted that the musical faculty might be seen as an input and output
faculty, sharing so many features with the language faculty [sec.
2.5]. The utility of the heterophenomenological approach grants
these two differentiations neutral and equivalent status, pending
testing their usefulness.
The musical faculty, and in like manner the language and visual
faculties, acts on inputs to recognize patterns, encoding them into
mental representations upon which the central format(s) may act,
according to the model. The encoding is itself a translation, in the
case of music from acoustic signals to neural patterns to metaphoric
understandings. The neural encoding occurs in an electrical form of
charges -- ons and offs, somewhat akin to the binary operation of a
computer chip; it should be noted that, unlike the serial processing
of a simple chip, the computational model of mind posits a massive
parallel processing by multiple mechanisms.
Ideally, the encoding of a musical object is accurate. The object is
Of composing a musical idea, Stravinsky says "I am aware of it as an
object" when "satisfied by some aspect of an auditive shape."
[Stravinsky and Craft, 1958, 15-17] This is a judgment of the
object's character, memorability, potentiality to be received via
pattern recognition mechanisms. Music theory's terminology allows
the examination of musical objects on varying levels of hierarchical
After becoming aware of the musical object, the constraints as noted
in section 3.4 become operative strategies; the object becomes a
sign, a primitive in the context of the composition, and it will be
displayed/ employed through various behavioral dispositions via the
noted strategies. This is a prime function of the musical faculty,
as the model emphasizes.
The encoding of that musical object places it in the musical
lexicon, for later comparison and reference. The manipulation of the
object via the conceptual and technical skills of the composer
create the contextual texture for the musical objects, a kind of
non-linguistic syntax with musical meanings defined by context and
Schoenberg's remark about explaining features and techniques in a
composition of which he was unaware "at the time of composing"
indicates that much of the encoding, during the creative act of
composition, is in fact hidden from introspection [sec. 3.1]. Thus a
response to Carter's observation is that some choices are not
"adopted" but rather are brought into being by the interaction
between the innate features of the musical faculty and the
cultural/ideological features of a surrounding musical environment.
Some compositional activities are available for review and
introspection, and some patently are not. This is not a strong
allegation raised through the model, that seems to imply the
"mysterious" in music [sec. 3.3], but in fact the model is instead
underpinning that which this monograph has called non-linguistic
Rather than mystery as an immanent feature of the musical object, the
admissions by Stravinsky and Schoenberg indicate that mystery may be
unawareness, in that Schoenberg later claims to have become aware of
that which he was not during the activity of composition. A lack of
analytic awareness does not imply mystery, so much as involvement in
non-analytic, non-linguistic thought -- that the frame of mind in which
the composer seems often to work.
If accurate encoding of a musical object places the object into a
musical lexicon, such as a theme or motive upon which the composer's
attention, creativity and techniques are applied, an inaccurate encoding
of a musical object or understanding clearly affects the mechanism of
the musical faculty, as both input and output device. How might the
model predict the outcome of inaccurate encoding, with the methodology
and stance of "useful fictions," rather than ontology, underpinning the
In any historical era of music, there are certain common practices.
Indeed the music theory term for several centuries of Western music is
the "common practice" era of tonality. Atonality, in this century,
creates a similar set of conventions -- a kind of avant-garde orthodoxy.
Yet between Mozart and Haydn, between Schoenberg and Berg, between
members of similar "schools" and periods, there are encoding errors, in
the non-pejorative sense, which differentiate the compositions of
different yet similar composers. That is, the musical faculty operates
according to the subtle and not-so-subtle differences in encoding and
lexical mechanisms, such that "misunderstandings" create new and
novel musical objects and contexts in which those objects evidence their
The theme and variations scheme is a by-product of this facet of the
musical faculty. Of course, the standard theme and variations strategy
can be found throughout the literature of many eras. In examining the
variations composed to non-original themes (specifically trans-eral),
the "errors" (fictional and non-pejorative) in encoding allow for the
new and novel variation to illustrate differing understandings of a
musical object. The model allows, by encoding errors and unequal
lexicons over individual and period, for creativity and style change to
be explained through both innate mental mechanisms and changing cultural
mechanism as well.
An insight to encoding errors comes from Stravinsky: "...the act of
invention implies the necessity of a lucky find and of achieving full
realization of that find." [Stravinsky, 1947, 54] Additionally, he
claims that "an accident is perhaps the only thing that really
inspires us." [op. cit. 56] The accident --the lucky find -- is what the
model views as the encoding error. Such errors make for an enormous
range of musical creativity and expression, and are endemic to the
mental mechanisms by which they are encouraged. This the "mystery" of
creativity, by this model, is in fact that one cannot be otherwise. It
is only in "achieving full realization" of encoding errors, in
Stravinsky's words, that qualitative differences are found between
individuals and creativities.
3.7 Errors and Pattern Recognition
If encoding errors within the mechanism of the musical faculty (and
its interfaces with other faculties and formats0 begin to explain
creativity, the errors themselves must be constrained by the limits
of the pattern recognition mechanisms. For example, if a specific
musical theme undergoes many differing and lexically referenced
changes, then the pattern recognition mechanisms "follow" the
changes and create contextual understanding for the change [sec.
3.4] which are housed as lingua-conceptual definitions within music
theory. If that same musical theme undergoes massive encoding
errors, it is likely that the link to the original appearance will
be ignored by the pattern recognition mechanisms, and the resultant
object will be defined as different and unrelated to the original.
Such are the systemic constraints upon errors.
(A linguistic comparison is useful to demonstrate this: "thole" is a
word in English, though perhaps obscure to many English speakers.
Some anagrams of the word might be judged also words, "ethol," but
constraint rules of consonant order predict, without a doubt, that
"tlheo" cannot be a word.)
Because the vitality of constrained errors in the encoding of
musical objects and of the strategies for their display, music
theory admits to being partially incapable of expressing accurately
the vagaries of music. That is, music theory can only approximate
musical understanding. "Statistically defined, 'general practice' is
pure fiction," Rosen writes. [Rosen, 1980, 6] Music theory then is a
system of useful fictions, linguistic, orthographic, numeric and
logical, which has value in its utility to translate music into
conceptual structures in parallel with the musical faculty's
products and processes. Specifically for the composer, it is a
In the act of composition, invention (Stravinsky's "lucky find") is
a creative ("accidental") encoding function, unique and individual.
The application of common compositional strategies [sec. 3.3, 3.4]
is a culturally expressed behavior. By this model, these two
features of composition are not separate aspects of the process, but
rather more like opposite ends of a common fabric of musical
proclivities, the intensely private, creative at the one end, and
the shared behaviors at the other.
The model has asserted that these above-mentioned musical
proclivities have innate roots in the neurological foundations of
the mind in general, and the musical faculty in specific.
Additionally, the model suggests that these same proclivities are
rooted also in social and historical realities of culture over time.
Musical creativity and the many styles and expressions of
composition are in part hidden from introspection [sec. 1.7, 3.1],
and also in part codified into the entire scope and range of music
Whether music is defined as limited to the aural event, or to the
domain of the musical faculty, or includes the artifacts of
interfacing with other mental faculties and formats, the model
offers explanatory utility to each definition in an inclusive
manner. Specifically, the model adapted from Jackendoff, offers
explanatory utility to the composer, with verification of
Stravinsky's and Schoenberg's commentaries, and a vision that it is
in the constraining mechanisms of the musical faculty of the mind
that both creativity and technique are anchored.
3.8 Music Is Extramusical
It is obvious that music merges with language in musical works.
Music merges with physical movement in dance. Emotional
responses are often ascribed as valid reactions to music. Music
underscores film. Music is a multi-use human phenomenon. In its
explication, music relies on multiple faculties and formats of
the mind -- the visual and language faculties in reading and
writing, the haptic and body position sense in feeling and
expressing -- and on central formats for understanding of
structures and hierarchies.
Composers such as Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Carter and Toch describe
encoding errors, a lack of full awareness in the process of
composition, of coming to an awareness, and of struggling to
understand the underlying processes, creativities and constraints in
the act and art of composition. This model provides a common model
for their observations. Stepping aside from ideological claims about
music, this model attempts to root an understanding of music and its
composition in current research into the nature and structure of the
mind, and the stance of this model is inclusive, in its claim that
all the understandings about music are best understood as "useful
fictions" in the exploration into music.
Music requires and relies on extramusical underpinnings, whenever
the ideas of music theory are invoked, when aesthetic issues and
criticism are asserted, when music involves text, narrative,
movement or social function, and so forth. Moreover, music requires
and relies on extramusical underpinnings, for the musical faculty
has been posted as bi-directional and influenced continuously by the
effects of its interfaces with the extramusical. Pre-compositional
choices indicate such an interface, when the application of a
conceptual structure or extramusical understanding influences the
act of composition.
What is music? What is extramusic? The challenge to define music is
not met by this model. Music, as an artifact of the musical faculty,
can be of many kinds and instances. Music, as perception, is itself
a personal and therefore limited definition. Music, as process, is
the act of the mind, and the model, a propos of music, is directed
toward a useful explanation of it. But, as with Bierce's humorous
non-definition of art, a composer's theory of music need not define
music, as it is in the act of composition that music is defined and
The model is asserted to variously define music, as
circumstances require, by its very structure -- with hidden
mechanisms of relatively simple properties. This monograph has
repeatedly amended the Jackendoff model, identifying the musical
faculty as both an input and output channel, akin to how
Jackendoff identifies the language and visual faculties. [sec. 1.5,
1.7, 2.3, 3.4 and 3.7]
A limited definition of music restricts itself within the hypothetical
musical faculty; the broader definitions extend music into the
interfaces of the musical faculty with other faculties and formats.
Within the methodology of this monograph, it is only their utility and
explanatory power which recommend varying definitions, as multiple
probes with which to explore music.
Even as definitions restrict themselves for pointed explanatory purposes
to the arena of the musical faculty alone, this monograph asserts that
the musical faculty does not exist in isolation, as the diagram might
suggest, but operates in tandem with other faculties and formats.
Research suggests that "external aids or historically formed devices are
essential elements in the establishment of functional connections
between individual parts of the brain, and that, by their aid, areas
of the brain which previously were independent become the components of
a single functional system." [Luria, 1973, 30] Thus the musical faculty
as a separate module is itself a useful fiction, in the
Jackendoff model, or this monograph's amended version.
These seem to be the "human facts" which Sessions challenges a theory to
respect. Music, in its many manifestations, emerges from the "hidden
mechanisms with relatively simple properties" of the musical faculty
(with all the neurological constraints of that faculty), and within the
web of "functional connections between individual parts of the brain,"
reaching out and responding to the "external aids or historically formed
devices" found in the world of music. Music is musical and extramusical.
Music is both neurologically created and constrained, and socially and
culturally shared and moderated, as conceived by an amended vision of
the Jackendoff modular model of the mind. No single ideology which
ignores these "fictional" and very "human" facts can make useful the
breadth and extant range of all we call music, music theory and the many
theories about music which comprise the web of discourse which centers
itself on music.
Copyright © 1993 by Gary Bachlund
[This monograph served as the first of two volumes towards the PhD in
Music, UCLA; the second volume is
The Jerusalem Windows
, a seven
movement suite for organ.]
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