Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Another Order not Understood

From time to time I am still fond of quoting my favorite sentence from Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn:
Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
I was reminded of it today while venturing into a 2001 paper by Caroline Palmer, Melissa K. Jungers, and Peter W. Jusczyk. The introduction includes this rather eyebrow-raising sentence:
Expression in music performance can be systematically affected by both structural dimensions (harmony, melody, rhythm, meter, etc.) and nonstructural dimensions (affect, tempo, other interpretive decisions), and it is often difficult to separate the two.
Actually, it is not that difficult to figure out how the authors achieved their separation. The "structural" dimensions are basically attributed captured by music notation; and anything else is "nonstructural!"

It might be better to say that those "nonstructural" dimensions are not as objective as the "structural" ones; but that just means that their structure arises from subjective, or possibly social, factors that may not be understood, probably through lack of trying. The fact is that description that can only be distilled to what is represented objectively in notation will never get at the actual practices of performing music, where notation plays a role but not always the dominating role. Ultimately, the authors' judgment reduces to that of the drunk looking for his lost keys under a lamppost because the light is better there.

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