Sunday, October 01, 2006

Music Scholarship

The May issue of Cognition was devoted to music. Kris Shaffer examines the first article, written by guest editor Isabelle Peretz. While I have not read this issue yet, Shaffer's description of Peretz's "The nature of music from a biological perspective," sounds very much like her work in The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music, as well as presentations she gave at the Leipzig conference. Kris points out a very important issue in regards to music cognition studies:
And Peretz fell victim to a common symptom in scholarship about music by scholars outside of the music field: citing Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff’s work in order to define key musical concepts. These two are well placed in the field (and in this issue of Cognition), but their ideas on tonal music are somewhat off-the-beaten-path, derived not from general consensus but from their A Generative Theory of Tonal Music, which has received a tepid response in the scholarly music community since it came out years back.
Psychologists and cognitive scientists love Lerdahl and Jackendoff's work (abbreviated GTTM) because it makes testable claims about the perception of musical structure. Music theorists are disenthralled with GTTM because the same efforts that led to the testable claims prevented the authors from making any significantly new claims about the structure of music. The analytical method used in the book is thorough, but non-revelatory about interpretation. A good Schenkerian graph, neo-Riemannian analysis, or pc-set analysis will open up new ways to regard the music under investigation. The tree structure of GTTM codifies with little opportunity for illumination. Fred Lerdahl wrote an article in Generative Processes in Music: The Psychology of Performance, Improvisation, and Composition in which he argues that the same rules he and Jackendoff developed for GTTM should be considered by composers when they write new music. When he composes, Lerdahl wants all of his thoughts to be perceptually present in his music, so the audience can glean the same thoughts. Thus he has to make sure that his structures remain within cognitive limits. Again, I am not aware of this theory influencing composition pedagogy to any extent.

Back to Kris' point, I concur and highly encourage scientists to collaborate with theorists on these very important studies. It's time for cognitive experiments based upon the contemporary and influential theories of Lewin, Cohn, and Quinn, as well as the scale studies of Carey and Clampitt that Kris mentions. It will take more work to craft testable hypotheses, but the payoff will be research that is much more relevant to the music world. Read the rest of the excellent post and make your own comments.

1 comment:

Philip Dorrell said...

I've written my own review of Peretz's paper at Three Questions That Music Scientists Need To Ask.