Sunday, June 22, 2014

Perception and Listening

Having now finished John Sloboda's The Musical Mind: The Cognitive Psychology of Music for the second time, I still find myself at odds with those who try to take too "scientific" an approach to any musical act, whether it involves composition, performance, or listening (in Stravinsky's sense of the word that distinguishes it from mere hearing). Earlier I tried to express my discontent through the rather reductive proposition that "psychologists do what psychologists do." However, I think it would be fairer to say that psychologists do what can be done in a laboratory setting. More specifically, that setting is one that, for most purposes of the concept, is divorced from any sense of time-consciousness. At the very least the scientific community requires that results be reproducible, which means that are products of a situation that can be duplicated. Such duplication, in turn, demands isolation from any dependence on past history.

Such isolation, however, in unrealistic where any of those aforementioned musical acts are concerned. As I previously put it, making music is always, of necessity, "entangled" in history. As soon as we try to abstract out that entanglement, the actions we examine are no longer musical in any fundamental sense of the concept. Thus, while psychology may tell us a lot about perception, it is unclear how much enlightenment in can offer with regard to what Stravinsky meant by listening.

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