Music, Motion, and Space: A Genealogy
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How have we come to hear melody as going “up” or “down”? Why does the Western world predominantly adopt spatial terms such as “high” and “low” to distinguish musical notes while other non-Western cultures use non-spatial terms such as “large” and “small” (Bali), or “clear” and “dull” (South Korea)? Have the changing concepts of motion and space in people’s everyday lives over history also changed our understanding of musical space? My dissertation investigates the Western concept of music space as it has been shaped by social change into the way we think about music today. In our understanding of music, the concept of the underlying space is so elemental that it is impossible for us to have any fruitful discourse about music without using inherently spatial terms. For example a term interval in music denotes the distance between two combined notes; but, in fact, two sonic objects are neither near nor far from each other. This shows that our experience of hearing interval as a combination of different notes is not inherent in the sound itself but constructed through cultural and social means. In Western culture, musical sound is often conceptualized through various metaphors whose source domains reflect the society that incubated these metaphorical understandings. My research investigates the historical formation of the conceptual metaphor of music. In particular, I focus on historical formation of the three underlying assumptions we bring to our hearing of music: (1) “high” and “low” notes and motion between them, (2) functionality of musical chords, and (3) reliance on music notation. In each chapter, I contextualize various music theoretical writings within the larger framework of philosophy and social theory to show that our current understanding of musical sound is embedded with the history of Western culture.