Sunday, November 21, 2010

Embodied Music Cognition

It somewhat belatedly dawned on me that I should check Wikipedia to see what they had to say about embodied cognition and that led me to this article.

Cartesian dualism had a tremendous impact on cognitive science and in particular also on cognitive musicology. Influenced by Gestalt psychology, music cognition research of the last decades of the 20th Century was mainly focusing on the perception of structure, that is, the perception of pitch, melody, rhythm, harmony and tonality. It considered music perception as a faculty on its own, completely dissociated from musical action. Instead, in studies on embodied musical activity (such as listening and music performance), subjects are invited to actively engage in the signification process. This engagement is articulated by means of corporeal expression which can be measured, analyzed, modelled and related to the musical stimulus. Descartes' idea that mental activity is of a separate order from body movement is refuted and, in fact reversed.

I could wish for less of the post modern lingo so beloved by modern academics, but the notion that embodied cognition deals a final blow to Cartesian dualism is a powerful one. It's also interesting to note that the motion capture technology coming onto the scene these days will be a valuable research tool on this front. The more we understand how gesture helps us know ourselves and others will surely help us make music in more effective ways.

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