Paulo Costa Lima:

Music Analysis and its Ontologies

Versão portuguêsa

Who can refrain from thinking about the music, once it has finished?

The appeal of analytical activity in music, as well as its epistemological justification, have been frequently associated with the ability of understanding the world as a system, generating as such a strong commitment to a scientific (or "scientistic") worldview, especially after the appearance of Musikwissenschaft in the second half of the nineteenth century. This trend has developed naturally into what is being described nowadays as the structural-organicist paradigm - which includes several tendencies ranging from Schenkerian analysis to set theory and motivic oriented approaches, a theoretical perspective that dominated most of twentieth century analytical efforts and whose formalism and autonomy are now object of frequent critique.

The explanative power of analytical systems has indeed occupied the front stage, tending to overshadow its other dimensions, including what could be called its aesthetic purpose, a dimension that should be considered foundational in relation to the whole process. There is, in fact, a special beauty in the challenge of connecting sounds and ideas, and this beauty - far from being a consequence of the traditional way of conceiving aesthetics, centered around the notion of pleasure and reception, as may be inferred from Heidegger's contribution to the topic - is not some kind of periphery of the artistic phenomenon, a mere rationalization. On the contrary, it is its kernel, the place where truth manifests itself, through art. It could be said then, that thinking about music is as beautiful as listening to it. Sometimes, even more. The pleasure of analysis, and this is quite a justification, is the pleasure of approaching this beauty that results from the confrontation and dialogue between that which is listened to and the thoughts it provokes.

In fact, what is commonly described as 'listening' to music involves, above all, a thinking activity. More than art-ars, implying ability, in the sense of being able to make something-music is basically a mode of thought, asserts Hans Keller (1979). It is by thinking music that one listens to it. To think/listen and to think about music, i.e., to bring music to memory, evoking it, making sense with it, are correlate activities, equally legitimate phases of the same process, or, in other words, dimensions of the aural and speculative life that characterizes us as a species as well as cultures.

Additionally, these are activities that provide feedback to each other, originating cycles: to think about music requires new auditions; auditions bring about new thoughts-a spiral, some music educators would conclude. Who could stop thinking about the music, once it has finished? Who would be capable of not receiving it with his/hers own repertoires of previously internalized expectations? Rigorously considered, memory itself is a kind of interpretive act, and, therefore, analytical. So it is with perception as well.

These considerations mean that the scientific worldview portrayed by the "resolution of the analytical whole in its constituent parts," a traditional way of defining analysis, in fact, de-emphasizes the very purpose of segmentation; namely, the synthesis of a newly assembled whole. This resolution operates as a function of a previous seduction that takes place in the musical experience, leading to a frame of reference much more complex than any typical laboratorial situation would lead us to believe. The exteriority of a musical object to be segmented and systematically understood does not correspond to the kernel of the analytical situation in music, basically because the analytical whole is, after all, the musical experience as such, a construction of the listening (and analyzing) subject.

As existential actors of the 'music' experience, we do perceive its extensions beyond the sonorous dimension, and this appears as active territories associated with other life scenarios. The passion of analysis, being the same passion of the musical experience, brings with it a hermeneutic destination as postulated by Habermas (1968, p. 173), spreading roots in the generative thought about life.

If the musical experience expands beyond its original limits reaching the sphere of behaviors, concepts, symbolic organization, corporal expressions, in culturally determined designs and framings, then, nothing will preclude us saying, a priori, that the analytical (or even pre-analytical) dialogue expands with equal impetus. Wherever the experience of the musical phenomena is placed, defined as broadly as necessary, there also stands the possibility of developing analogical universes, as responses to that which is lived qua music.

This conceptual decision opens the analytical field in the same proportion that one is inclined to open the concept of music itself-revealing as analysts in their own territories, the performers, the musicologists, the composers, educators, dancers, listeners, etc.... To think otherwise, as frequently has been the case, leads to a strange and undesirable form of autonomy: a distinct kind of theoretical approach for each area of musical activity, and as a consequence, to an acceptance that the experience is of a distinct nature, according to the instance of the process which is being scrutinized.

To think of the analytical field as a kind of continuum that begins directly in the musical experience and that expands itself in the direction of the distinct musical activities requires a new flexibility, giving up the ideal of a positivist territory, clearly demarcated. The strength of the analytical thinking is that it stands side by side with every musical decision to be taken-be it as an interpreter, a historian, or a composer. Who is the analyst? It is precisely that one which produces a network of inferences and interpretations about the experience of music, offering them as a basis for dialogue between the distinct actors involved in the elaboration and manipulation of the musical phenomenon.

The possibility of writing music as analysis of music, as proposed and exemplified by Keller (1979), speaks to us directly of this flexible juncture, of the power built in the analytical process and related to the elaboration of analogies which constitute a response, leading to new thoughts. Nevertheless, the breadth of these perspectives does not preclude the search for clarity, consistency, and does not dispense with a rigorous presentation of criteria supporting the supposed analytical activity. However natural it is to think of analytical responses elaborated through a variety of media, the exposure of the criteria invoked will tend to require discursive language as its support.

It is, in fact, necessary to recognize that it has been through the use of discursive language, as a possible extension territory of the musical experience, that the analytical field defined a relatively stable identity, acquiring the proportions it displays today, promoting a fertile dialogue between thought and audition. Lerdahl and Jackendoff (1983) presented a compact scenario composed of interconnected areas of analytical action:

1. the space of informal talk about music, presenting a variety of insights;
2. the crystallization of more systematic modes of description, the analytical methods;
3. the concatenation of principles that support these systematic approaches, the field of theories about music; and
4. the level of basic premises and assumptions that support the theories [1].

It should be noted that language, as a tool used in the construction of parallel stipulated universes in relation to the music experience, fulfills the paradoxical function of promising the elucidation of everything, and at the same time, the reaffirmation of the impossibility of achieving this, which is the impossibility of translating the life experience of sound. It is regarding this structural and existential ambiguity, of knowing everything, and knowing nothing (about that which really matters) that analysis develops its state of balance as a metaphorical art, as technique, as science, and above all, aesthetics; in other words, as a compositional deed. Why, and for what purpose, compose analysis? This is the question, in the light of its re-signifying process.

To say that the analytical activity is compositional in nature comes to be a parallel gesture to the one was presented by Seeger (1970), that reminded us, with a great deal of propriety, about the compositional nature of the speech processes. Recognizing that speech has a compositional nature does not dispense with its immersion in a web of meanings, or turns it into a mere playful or libidinal game, does not de-authorize it as an activity involved with the mapping of the world and with the reconstruction of the real. It only emphasizes the need to make choices, as a defining activity of the speaker himself.

The same path that has led to the understanding of musics of the world-marked by many distinct ontologies, but always connected to a process of appropriation and belonging (my music, our music...) [2] - should lead to the perception of analytical construction as the apparently inescapable analogical dimension of this process, functioning as a basis for the construction of dialogues between all the actors involved in the experience of music, placing high value both in synthesis and difference.

© Paulo Costa Lima


[1] Not many people perceive that this could be described as a Schenkerian rendering of the cognitive process in music.
[2] See Bohlman (1999)


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