Saturday, August 15, 2015

Frontiers Jam Session on Music

The journals Frontiers in Psychology and Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology have a set of 14 articles on music. I've got excerpts from three articles below. Here's an overall statement:
Music and the embodied mind: A jam session for theorists on musical improvisation, instrumental self-extension, and the biological and social basis of music and well-being

"As animals our lives are marked by rhythms, and the rhythmical activities of ventilation and heart beat are tangible evidence of the life force in each of us", Taylor and colleagues write in their (1999) Physiological Reviews article on the cardiovascular and respiratory system. With this "life force" as a pulse reverberating deep through the body, it's as if our heart beat and breath breaks the silence of non-life as rhythms of nature that move us like music. One might ask: Are we not something akin to an instrument of music, our lives, something of an improvisation? What is the nature of the undeniably intimate relationship between music, the body and mind?

Concerns like these have been common to both scholars and performers alike. For instance, Einstein once reported that "I see my life in terms of music" and that "Life without playing music is inconceivable for me". In Phenomenology of Perception Merleau-Ponty discussed the "kinetic melody" of the body, while the great jazz musician and saxophone improviser Ornette Coleman explained his technique as one of "activating the idea that's going through my nervous system". Sally Ness (1992) further discussed "the dynamic mentality of one's neuromusculature" during her analysis of dance in Body, Movement, and Culture, and the saxophone inventor Adolphe Sax argued that the "true" musician and their music "exist through each other, and are but one". Advancements in the cognitive sciences have additionally enabled new evidence regarding the bodily basis of music perception, cognition, and action to come to light, inspiring fresh insights and more empirically informed theorizing.

Yet despite a wide and growing interest in the relationship between music, the body and mind, along with promising technological advances, relatively little empirical and theoretical work has been explicitly devoted to investigating the topic of music and the embodied mind, and what work does exist remains largely dispersed across different publication sources spanning different academic fields. Accordingly, the aim of this Research Topic will be to unite an interdisciplinary group of scientists, theorists, and performers to address several of the liveliest questions regarding music and the embodied mind.

Scientists working on music from all disciplines are encouraged to submit original empirical research, philosophers and theorists of music are encouraged to submit fresh hypothesis and theory articles, and musicians as well as dancers are encouraged to submit perspective and opinion pieces reflecting their first-person knowledge of these performing arts. The aim is for an integration of theory, empirical data, and first-person reports in order to better understand, and drive new research on, the topic of music and the embodied mind.

Articles of interest include, but are not limited to, those discussing musical improvisation, self-extension through musical instruments, the evolution and development of music, the biological and social basis of music and well-being, and conceptual frameworks for understanding the nature of music and the embodied mind more generally. Critical commentary will also be warmly received.
* * * * *

Ashley E. Walton1, Michael J. Richardson1, Peter Langland-Hassan, Anthony Chemero1

From the article:
When a jazz trio plays an improvisational piece their actions become so tightly coordinated and their decisions so seamlessly intertwined that the trio behaves as a single synergistic system rather than a collection of individuals. The principles of dynamical self-organization provide the language with which to describe the way performers exploit “the constraints and the allowances of the natural timescales of the body and the brain as a total physical system” (Iyer, 2008, p. 276). In live improvisation, performers must simultaneously be both producers and receivers of musical signs, the bodies of the musicians telling stories to their co-improvisers. That is, each individual improviser allows her activity to be constrained by the sonic and kinesthetic results of the activities of the other improviser. When coupled together during musical performance, their signal producing and signal receiving processes not only overlap, but serve as constraints on one another– allowing them to produce more complex dynamics of musical meaning. This improvising collective exists only so long as the individual improvisers work to constrain one another, and allow the work of others to constrain them.

Joel Krueger

From the article:
But musical entrainment also has another key feature relevant to this discussion: affective synchrony (Phillips-Silver and Keller, 2012, p. 1; cf. Trevarthen and Malloch, 2002; Janata et al., 2012). This notion refers to the sharing of feeling states that often emerge when individuals entrain their movements with one another – for example, when jointly listening to or performing music (Keller and Appel, 2010), or when engaging in non-musical activities such as simply walking in sync with a partner, or having a conversation and (unconsciously) mimicking their postures, facial expressions, and gestures (Hatfield et al., 1993; Chartrand and Bargh, 1999; Lakin and Chartrand, 2003; Krueger and Michael, 2012). Within the context of musical entrainment, affective synchrony refers to the pleasure we take simply in moving our bodies in time with the music, letting musical rhythms (and the movements they solicit) draw certain felt responses out of us – and, when others are present, the pleasure we take in sharing this process (i.e., of getting into the “groove” together; Pressing, 2002; Madison, 2006; Janata et al., 2012; cf. Schutz, 1951). Affective synchrony in this way seems to be a central part of the affective allure of musicking. We engage with music because, unlike most other non-musical sounds, it affords synchronously organizing our reactive behavior and felt responses; and we take pleasure in letting music assume some of these organizational and regulative functions that, in other contexts, normally fall within the scope of our own endogenous capacities. In other words, we “offload” some of these regulative processes onto the music and let it do some of the work organizing our emotional responses for us.
We thus hear music qua music through the motor potentialities it affords. But again, to return to an earlier point, music clearly also solicits movement, different forms of entrainment (both voluntary and involuntary) that shape what we hear, how we hear it, and how we respond emotionally. For example, listeners in one study exhibited spontaneous facial mimicry when presented with auditory-visual presentations of emotional singing (Chan et al., 2013). Happy singing elicited happy facial expressions, sad singing elicited sad expressions. But this effect does not rely upon the observation of another person. More strikingly, spontaneous facial expressions were also observed in individuals listening to expressive non-vocal music (Witvliet and Vrana, 1996; Lundqvist et al., 2009). These motor solicitations appear to occur from our earliest exposure to music. Infants discriminate musical from non-musical sounds: they coordinate their reactive behavior to the former but not the latter (Trainor and Heinmiller, 1998; Zentner and Kagan, 1998; Nawrot, 2003). Even neonates and preterm infants bodily entrain with sung lullabies and consonant music, syncing respiratory patterns, sucking (both rhythm and intensity), tongue and mouth protrusions, eye opening and closing, and vocalizations along with the rising and falling of melodic contour (Haslbeck, 2004; cf. Krueger, 2013a). This entrainment has cognitive and emotional significance. It leads to greater equilibrium between endogenous and exogenous processes, buttressing the infant’s attentional and behavioral organization and promoting stabilization of affect (DeNora, 2000, p. 79).
For our purposes, there are two important points here. First, our engagement with music is always reciprocal and interactive. Even when “passively” listening, we are, in fact, not really passive listeners. Rather, we are active perceivers: we latch onto musical affordances and respond, motorically, to the solicitations of these affordances – even if this response is at times involuntary. And crucially, the way we latch onto musical affordances determines the phenomenal shape of how the music comes back to us, so to speak, how the music is constituted, perceptually (cf. Phillips-Silver and Trainor, 2005). Again, recall how dramatically the phenomenal shape of music changes when motor potentialities are absent (e.g., as with amusia). The amusiac and non-amusiac may be said to listen to the same piece of music considered purely as a sonic object. But what they hear in the music and what they get out of it will differ greatly. For amusiacs, music is perceptually encountered as a sonically impenetrable object; for non-amusiacs, it is perceptually encountered as a structured acoustic landscape affording various forms of reactive behavior. 

Action-based effects on music perception

Pieter-Jan Maes1, Marc Leman, Caroline Palmer and Marcelo M. Wanderley

The first paragraph:
The classical, disembodied approach to music cognition conceptualizes action and perception as separate, peripheral processes. In contrast, embodied accounts of music cognition emphasize the central role of the close coupling of action and perception. It is a commonly established fact that perception spurs action tendencies. We present a theoretical framework that captures the ways in which the human motor system and its actions can reciprocally influence the perception of music. The cornerstone of this framework is the common coding theory, postulating a representational overlap in the brain between the planning, the execution, and the perception of movement. The integration of action and perception in so-called internal models is explained as a result of associative learning processes. Characteristic of internal models is that they allow intended or perceived sensory states to be transferred into corresponding motor commands (inverse modeling), and vice versa, to predict the sensory outcomes of planned actions (forward modeling). Embodied accounts typically refer to inverse modeling to explain action effects on music perception (Leman, 2007). We extend this account by pinpointing forward modeling as an alternative mechanism by which action can modulate perception. We provide an extensive overview of recent empirical evidence in support of this idea. Additionally, we demonstrate that motor dysfunctions can cause perceptual disabilities, supporting the main idea of the paper that the human motor system plays a functional role in auditory perception. The finding that music perception is shaped by the human motor system and its actions suggests that the musical mind is highly embodied. However, we advocate for a more radical approach to embodied (music) cognition in the sense that it needs to be considered as a dynamical process, in which aspects of action, perception, introspection, and social interaction are of crucial importance.
Yes. I agree with this more radical approach they mention in that last line. I also think that it should be a starting point, not a conclusion. Of course, I rather suspect that for these researchers it IS a starting point. But it should be a starting point for the profession as a whole. Until that happens a lot of time is going to be wasted on trivial research that either goes down a rat hole or merely arrives somewhere in the vicinity of that starting point.

Their final paragraph:
Our discussion of the components of “introspection” and “social interaction” indicates that musical activities involve a high-dimensional dynamical system in which the body, the mind, and the external environment are continually and mutually interacting. In the case of musical instrument playing, music can be considered as the result of a dynamical interaction between the musicians' motor and sensory system, the constraints and opportunities of the pre-composed musical notation, the musical instruments and the social environment, and the musicians' intentions, personality, mental states, etc. The system in which these components interact is an open system, in the sense that no individual component has causal priority in generating the music (Thelen and Smith, 1998). It is possible, however, that the weight of the individual components on the produced sound varies depending on the specific musical activity (e.g., musical improvisation, historical informed music performance, jam session with an emphasis on social interaction, etc.). Similarly, music listening can be considered as a dynamical process, in which the experience, the perception, and the understanding of music is guided and shaped by the intrinsic dynamics of the body, the mind, and the external environment. In conclusion, adopting a fundamental embodied approach to music cognition requires us to consider music performance—involving motor coordination, control, and development—and music cognition as dynamical processes. The integration of theories on internal models and theories on dynamical systems can thereby enhance our understanding of how our body, mind, and the external environment interact in our engagement with the act of music.

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