Describing Music: Perception and Metaphor

After a first presentation in a conference in Portugal in January 2011, the subject was totally revised, augmented and improved and led to another presentation and further article in the Conference of the Arts in Society in Berlin, May, 2011. The final version of the article was then submitted to the peer-reviewed journal where was accepted and now is published and available.

Describing Music: Perception and Metaphor

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

Keywords: Music, Perception, Metaphor, Society, Description, Human, Notation, Language

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp.255-262. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 912.516KB).

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