Monday, May 20, 2024

Evening Note for Monday, May 20

 Thought for the Evening: Forms of Music Listening

I was recently at a concert and began thinking about different ways of listening to music. Obviously, there are many ways to listen to music, but I think at least most of them fall into three families: immersive, associative, and analytical listening.

(1) Immersive:  Immersive listening is a kind of listening in which we are in some sense within the world of the music itself, our mind flowing and bouncing with it. That is, there is a character to immersive listening that makes it internal to the music; we are simply hearing and following along with the whole movement of the music. The rest of the world fluctuates in and out of this awareness. In some sense, this is the most obvious form of music listening, but I think it's also far from the most common; we have to be in the right mood and prepared for it. 

(2) Associative: Associative listening is in many ways the opposite of immersive listening. The music is an occasion and inspiration for thoughts other than the music itself. The music reminds us of things, it suggests events and possibilities distinct from the music itself -- perhaps, for instance, the kind of situation or story to which such music would be appropriate. The connections, whether by memory or imagination, whether by prior association or by resemblance or by considering the music as a cause or model, can be very tight or very loose. In this kind of listening, the associations are more front-and-center; the music itself is there, integrally, but the details of it tend to fluctuate in and out of our awareness depending on how caught up we are in the associations. This is probably the most common way to listen to music, although I think it has many different subspecies.

(3) Analytical: Analytical listening requires a background familiarity with music; however, it doesn't strictly require expertise, or even a significant quantity of music theory or musical talent. It does require an ability to break down the music, and look at it not in terms of any external associations, or in terms of how it affects us as a whole, but in terms of how its parts fit together into a whole, and its whole fits as a part into a larger context. It is thus not purely 'internal' or 'external'; it requires a closer participation than many kinds of associative listening, but also more distance than we find in immersive listening. We are not simply following along with the music; we are thinking it through, and our thought about how it fits together may deviate quite considerably from the musical narrative or flow.

In reality, most music listening probably has at least a touch of all three, and in the same piece we might weave in and out of the three in different ways, depending on what the music is, how the music holds our interest, how long we are listening to it, whether anything else with which the music is associated attracts our attention, and so forth. In addition, our intention in listening to music may affect what kind of listening we do, as well; listening is in this sense a little like belief -- we do not have perfect control over what we hear, because part of it is just immediate response, but experience shows that we do in fact have quite a bit of control over it in the sense of being able to make it more probable that it goes one way rather than another.

There seem clearly to be analogues of these three families in reading, looking at paintings in a museum, movie watching, and so forth, this seems to capture a stable pattern in aesthetic experience in general.

Various Links of Interest

* Samuel Hughes, The beauty of concrete, at "Works in Progress", on the question of why we tend to minimize ornamentation in the modern world.

* Jacopo Pallagrossi & Bruno Cortesi, The Stalemate Between Causal and Constitutive Accounts of Introspective Knowledge (PDF)

* Kexin Yu, Unpacking the City-Soul Analogy (PDF)

* John de Graaf, Toward a Politics of Beauty, at "Front Porch Republic"

* Scott R. Stroud, How America's Philosopher of Democracy Influenced India's Leading Caste Reformer, at "New Lines Magazine", on John Dewey and Bhimrao Ambedkar.

* Tuomas Tahko, Natural Kind Essentialism (PDF)

* Thomas Perrine, Methodological worries for Humean arguments from evil (PDF)

* Philip Gonzales, On the Gratitude of Thinking: A Note on Jean-Luis Chretien, at "Church Life Journal"

Currently Reading

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People
Eusebius, The Church History
Waltraud Herbstrith, Edith Stein: A Biography

In Audiobook

Agatha Christie, The Seven Dials Mystery
Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance
Diana Wynne Jones, Fire and Hemlock
Diana Wynne Jones, Dark Lord of Derkholm