Attending to a musical image

Thoughts and responses regarding the research at acousticlearning.com.
aruffo
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Attending to a musical image

Post by aruffo » Thu Feb 09, 2006 4:47 am

I'd love to hear any responses to what I wrote about today. Specifically:

What happens if you try to "say" the same musical idea twice, without using any of the same musical "words"?

- and, more importantly -

What do you experience if you attend to a musical image?

KosciaK
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Post by KosciaK » Thu Feb 09, 2006 12:52 pm

Hello!

Some thoughts connected with the last article. These thoughts are still not organized enough in my mind so sorry if not everything is written clearly

1 Memorizing from imagination
I use it a lot when learning music theory. For example if I want to learn a scale and how to play it on a bass guitar I just visualize the fretboard and play this scale all over the fretboard in my imagination. Then when I get bass in my hands I already know the fingerings, I know the note names, intervals, etc.... All I have to do is just listen. Listen because I imagine only the view of the fretboard and the moves I have to do with my fingers. I can't really hear the scale in my head while visualizing the exercises.

2 Imagining the sounds/music.
I have problems with imagining only sounds/music in my head. It's much easier to imagine that I sing the melody. But still it's more just melody contour, not exact melody.
I have problems with imagining the timbre. Most of the time what I imagine is some kind of essence of the sound, completely timbreless. But: If I want to imagine (hear in my head) piano timbre it's much easier if I imagine the piano first and myself (or somebody else) hitting the keys. The same with for example telephone ring. It's easier to imagine the sound of the ring if I visualize telephone first.

3 "In short: the imagination exercise involves attending to concepts"
I suspect that this sentence from your article is the key to understand PP. In our culture there's _no_ real concept behind the note names. Or there's note real note behind the concept (I'm not sure if it's important which way we look at it). What is "C"? Name for the letter representing a note. But _not_ a sound of C itself. I can visualize C on the staff, C on the fretboard or keyboard but there's no relationship with the sound. If we hear a note we think about the timbre, the relative hight but not about a name (concept "C"). If there's no relationship between a note concept and the note we are not able to imagine this sound (because there's really no concept) and distinguish it from others.

Example to show more clearly what I mean:
Visualize red. Now green, no orange. Easy? Yeap! Now try to visualize colour called "sepia" or "sienna" (just put any other strange name for a colour not used very widely). No clue how these colours look like? Would you be able to spot these colours on the palette?

After playing APB and using melody word to recall a note a relationship between starts to show up. It's not abstract any more. I know exactly what is the Xness I'm looking for in the sound so I can imagine this Xness.

Does it make any sense?

Greetings!
KosciaK

aruffo
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Post by aruffo » Thu Feb 09, 2006 1:47 pm

A bit of sense, yes... I guess what I'm getting at is what a musical idea is when it's not being played. The say-the-same-thing-with-different-words thing makes any person totally aware of the linguistic idea in their head; I wonder if a comparable effect can be achieved in music to reveal the musical idea, and subsequently to allow its non-temporal mental examination.

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Post by KosciaK » Thu Feb 09, 2006 2:29 pm

I'm not sure if I get it correclty.
"For starters, there's the simple business of "say the same thing, but don't use any of the same words." In language this could mean

I have a blue shoe on my left foot.
There is a navy-colored sneaker enclosing my non-right pedal appendage.
"

The effect is that you describe the same thing using different labels. It's not a problem with describing pictures, moves - we have lots of labels/names (with strong relationship with the real objects) to choose. But if we consider music or smell we don't have this variety of labels/names (if there's any).

When I imagine a new melody I can't describe it - for example something like: note, third up, second down, fifth up, it just rings in my head. There's no words, labels, names. It's more like how it would look on the fretboard (or maybe how I would need to move my fingers) or what I would need to do if I wanted to sing it

Greetings!
KosciaK

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Post by Guest » Sat Feb 11, 2006 6:18 pm

I want to answer this question but I'm not sure exactly how. To say the same thing musically maybe give it a similar 'feel'? The key has a lot to do with it, as well as rhythm etc. I'm not sure what a musical word is. When attending to a musical image or 'song' in my mind, I can generally hear all parts and timbres correctly. The trouble is remembering all of it to write it down (when it is original). Debussy seems to be the master of musical imagery imo, he really paints with sound. Well it's possible I'm totally off-base with this response but I did my best lol

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Post by aruffo » Sat Feb 11, 2006 9:17 pm

I guess I should be more specific, shouldn't I..! I've written about this in a couple other places on my website, and it's a core strategy of my acting/teaching technique, but I'd better explain myself more thoroughly. So okay, here's the thing.

Right now, say some statement-- anything at all. Something simple, maybe, like "I slept in this morning." Say it out loud before you read further.

Have you said it?

Okay. Now: say the same thing, but don't use any of the same words. Again, say it out loud, and do this before you read any further.

Did you say it?

Okay. It doesn't really matter how successful you were-- the point is that, in doing the second part of this little exercise, you can clearly tell that you're actively examining some thing in your head as you look for the words to describe it.

By doing this say-it-twice exercise you can very distinctly experience how this thing, which I refer to as the "idea", exists in your head, apart from the words you're using to describe it. The first thing you said was, most likely, the most efficient way to express the idea, but there are other words you can use to communciate the exact same idea.

The critical thing to recognize is that the idea, which generates the words, exists (as a mental concept) completely separate from the word-sounds used to express it. You can sit there and contemplate the generative mental idea without actually saying or thinking the word-sounds which would express the idea to a listener. The words are a series of sound events which are organized in a specific sequence-- but the idea itself is not time-dependent. Only the words used to express the idea are temporally sequential.

So how would you do this same thing with music? Given a musical idea, which exists non-temporally and separate from the sounds used to express it: how do you say the same thing using none of the same... words? Intervals? Chords? Phrases? What is the morpheme of musical expression, anyway?

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Post by petew83 » Sun Feb 12, 2006 1:50 am

"Given a musical idea, which exists non-temporally and separate from the sounds used to express it: how do you say the same thing using none of the same... words? Intervals? Chords? Phrases? What is the morpheme of musical expression, anyway?"

I still think the 'feel' is the main communicator of a musical idea. Feel is the thing that generally defines the uniqueness of the passage, such as a rhythmic idea/certain intervals/notes/etc. Maybe 2 things that evoke the same emotion in the listener would basically say the same thing. Listen to the album 'Pet Sounds' and you might notice that generally all the songs seem to have something in them that says the same thing or gives u the same feeling. It's a lot more abstract than a verbal language because there's no universal dictionary for the literary meanings of music. Maybe it's analogous in some way to Picasso's 'periods'. The painting's color kind of evokes the same thought more than the other qualities.

There are African 'drum languages' where they carry on conversations using only pitches (in defined sequence and rhythm), sort of like fancier morse code. You could probably make a language using other things like intervals etc. That's more about sound than music though.

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Post by aruffo » Sun Feb 12, 2006 3:48 am

I'd undoubtedly agree with you about the "feel" of it. During the summer voice workshop, it occurred to me that vocal quality is an aural image of the body state, and musical perception could therefore have evolved to detect states of physical agitation (to survive, you'd need to know).

To that end, it seems probable that you're quite right-- that "rewording" a musical idea will very probably result in two things which evoke the same emotion.

So what I wanna know: what are those things, then? How exactly does one restate a musical idea and still communicate the exact same message? Can the word-idea experiment be repeated with music?

In short... can anyone provide an actual example? Is that possible?

KosciaK
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Post by KosciaK » Sun Feb 12, 2006 7:12 am

Ok, now it's all clear (at least it seems to be).

This "same musical idea twice, without using any of the same musical "words"" is possible if we assume that when working on musical "words" we are working on some musical "words" (concepts), not the musical ideas itself.

Probably you would get more informative answers if you would ask some professional musicians and/or composers. People with better understanding what's going in their heads, with better musical "vocabulary".

Second thing, back to this linguistic example. No matter how many time you would say the same thing in different ways you can't be sure that the pure idea in your head is the same as the pure idea in someone's other head. You communicate by describing the idea using words (concepts), not communicating the idea itself.

So this morpheme of musical expression might be different fordifferent people

Greetings!
KosciaK

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Post by aruffo » Sun Feb 12, 2006 10:26 am

No matter how many time you would say the same thing in different ways you can't be sure that the pure idea in your head is the same as the pure idea in someone's other head.


Yes, that's true. That's why I say it doesn't matter how successful you are. The important thing is that this idea exists, non-temporally, in that pure form, separate from any sounds employed in expressing it.

I suspect you're probably right... if I'm going to get an answer to this one I'll have to ask musicians who do conceive of music linguistically/structurally. (I got an answer about movement ideas from the trained dancers here at the school, although it is easier to imagine expressing the same movement idea with different gestures.)

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Post by etaxier » Mon Feb 13, 2006 4:15 am

What an interesting discussion! I compose music and am currently knocking my head around on this problem from a technical standpoint for students. I'll try my best to respond to the question: how do you conceive of and explore a musical concept the same way you do other experiences (like the telephone and the red wagon examples)? i.e., how do you "attend to some musical idea?" Apologies for lack of clarity and detail, but I'm getting a puppy tomorrow!

I have two responses. The first one is about how I think one should approach the problem, and the second is about how I think people intuitively solve it. These are definitely not final answers, but I hope they fire something up.

(ONE) --------------------------------

At its roots, language is an efficient tool for systematically describing the objects and actions common to people's experience, where one can come very close to a 1-to-1 correspondence of idea<-->symbol. Activities like poetry (and other artistic prose forms) arose out of a need to explore the structure and context of experiences communicable by language. Music -- an artistic sound form, just as poetry is an artistic language form -- must have evolved from the structure and context of experiences communicable by intonational gesture. So if we want to address the problem of "saying the same musical idea twice without using the same words," we must first try to understand how intonational gestures can efficiently describe the objects and actions common to people's experience, outside of any artistic context.

This will seem obvious, but it's important to briefly note that language is only possible if you can correlate commonly-perceived objects and actions with abstract symbols. So the question should be, how do people correlate intonational gestures with commonly-perceived objects and actions? In my opinion, all of the following examples work as connective tissue between experience and intonational gesture: defense/agression, high/low, close/far, high-luminosity/low-luminosity, fast/slow, large/small, disappointment/satisfaction, anticipation/fulfillment, calmness/excitement etc. There are some biological and psychological explanations for all of these, I'm sure (e.g., close/far --> soft/loud; high/low has several explanations, for instance our outer ear actually encourages the association -- see chapter 12 in Purves et al. Neurioscience: "The vertically asymmetrical convolutions of the pinna [outer ear] are shaped so that the external ear transmits more high-frequency components from an elevated source than from the same source at ear level" -- not to mention certain associations between a pitch fading in intensity as it increases [floating upwards] or bird calls [up in trees]; fast/slow corresponds to relatively fast/slow rhythmic periodicities; you get the idea...).

Some common elements have musical significance, but don't seem to have evolved directly from intonational gesture. I call these things "artistic style tools." An important example would be major-minor tonality. Here's an example from a language standpoint: you can try to "translate" a Shakespeare sonnet into different words, which may or may not include an attempt to use different artistic techniques (if not plain boring english). Either way, the original material loses something, though the new material might gain something. As you argued, Chris, going through such an exercise would give the writer a new and perhaps more complete understanding of the sonnet. This applies to individual lines of the sonnet, too, not just to the whole thing.

If it is possible to say the same thing that Shakespeare says in a sonnet with different words, then the same thing should be possible with music: use the same fundamental intonational gestures, either directly, or with different artistic style tools. The answer is not in finding new rhythms or intervals that say the same thing, but in imagining the intonation-gestural form of the music independently of certain stylistic content. If you do it right, you may very well end up a temporary emotional mess, since many of the fundamental intonational gestures more directly connect with experience than symbolic language -- it's the difference between SAYING "this is aggressive" and FEELING "this is aggressive," as Pete said (though I hope what I said above gives at least a taste of how).

(TWO) ------------------------

In the article that you referenced, http://nivea.psycho.univ-paris5.fr/ASSC ... erie4.html , they say that "seeing" is an exploratory activity governed by knowledge of the possibilities for related action. The same goes for "hearing intonational gestures" and "hearing music." You listen for the gestures that you know how to react to, and your reactions help guide you to what to listen for next. Even when music doesn't seem to reference any well-established pattern of gestures or stylistic commonalities, listeners will force themselves to find new patterns (like abstract symmetries, extremely simple two- or three-note directional units, large-scale structural relationships, etc.). When you write music, the same thing happens, but with more feedback. You know the reaction you want, so you translate that as closely as possible into music using your knowledge of the possibilities. The more possibilities you know, the more likely you'll find the 'right ones.' You can vary and explore your ideas (which is not quite the same as going into detail when desribing a telephone, unless those details are organized with some artistic intent) by staying aware of the continuity of the more fundamental gestures that I described above.

Eric

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Post by Reeze » Mon Feb 13, 2006 6:17 am

aruffo wrote:So what I wanna know: what are those things, then? How exactly does one restate a musical idea and still communicate the exact same message? Can the word-idea experiment be repeated with music?


I don't think the word/idea experiment even produces the exact same meaning. You gave the following example

I have a blue shoe on my left foot.
There is a navy-colored sneaker enclosing my non-right pedal appendage.


In the first instance I image a smarter blue shoe (not a sneaker)

In the second instance I imagine the 'sneaker' specifically on an American (I use the word 'trainer' because I'm English) and worn by a wannabe doctor who is trying to impress his friends with his complex words.

With music it would be similar. If you are trying to communicate the same message in different 'words' the message will change slightly. I could write two long songs about the same girl, but they would produce different emotions. Recomposing a piece would either bring it closer or further away from what I am trying to convey - it would never be equal.

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Post by aruffo » Mon Feb 13, 2006 9:49 am

You're right-- the idea would be received differently. I hadn't thought of it quite that way; I was thinking of it as mere efficiency, but I can see that we'll choose the words which communicate the aspect of the idea which we feel is the most important.

That's why my focus is not on the recipient, but on the generator. The person describing the shoes is referring to the exact same idea, which does not change regardless of the words they use.

If you do the say-the-same-thing-twice exercise, yourself, you should be able to feel that idea sitting there in your head-- especially if you choose a really simple idea for which it's hard to find alternate words. That'd really force you to feel it there in your head.

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Post by petew83 » Mon Feb 13, 2006 11:37 am

awesome post Eric

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Post by aruffo » Mon Feb 13, 2006 6:02 pm

Gadzooks! I'm glad you gave it that bump, Pete... somehow I missed Eric's post altogether.

I'm still processing what you're describing.. a quickun before I go... I'm curious that you would say that music describes objects and actions? Is that true, to your mind, or are you saying so mainly to make the parallel to language?

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