Tag Archives: Movement

Goal-Directed Movement

Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.

Music listening is an unfolding experience. Without prompting, the listener naturally follows the direction of a piece, traveling through its curves and contours in a linear progression toward completion. In both the Republic and Laws, Plato comments on the ability of this temporal movement to “charm” the inner life of the listener. Roger Scruton contends that the mind moves sympathetically with motion perceived in music, such that it is felt as physical motion. These and other observations address the goal-directed movement of music. The whole piece is not revealed at once or in an order or manner that the listener chooses. Musical developments, whether simple or complex, lead auditors from beginning to end.

In contrast to print communication, which can be read and reread at any pace the reader wishes, music imposes its own duration and agenda. In pre-recording days, this necessitated formalized repetitions and recapitulations to get certain messages across, hence the use of sonata form (exposition, development, recapitulation), the doubling schema of keyboard partitas (AA/BB), the verse/chorus form of folksongs (and later commercial songs), and so on. Michel Chion notes: “This enormous redundancy—which means that if we buy a recording of Bach’s English Suites that lasts an hour, we only get thirty minutes of ‘pure’ musical information—clearly has no equivalent in the visual arts of the period.” Audio recordings afford greater freedom in terms of playback and repeated listening, but each listening remains a temporal experience.

The situation is not sidestepped with printed notation. Although a score can be read and studied, similar to a book or article, the notes on a page are essentially illusory. The paper is not the music. Jean-Paul Sartre argued in L’Imaginaire, a treatise on imagination and the nature of human consciousness, that music is never located in the silent symbols of a musical score, however detailed. Using Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony as an example, Sartre explained that the inability of written notes to capture music is rooted in the nature of sound itself. Unlike something that is empirically real—defined by Sartre as having a past, present, and future—music evaporates as soon as it is heard. Each performance is basically a new creation, and, we might add, each exposure to a recording is a new experience, due to changes in the listener and her surroundings from one hearing to the next.

Time, not paper, is the fundamental surface upon which music is made. Music involves a linear succession of impulses converging toward an end. Whereas a painting or sculpture conveys completeness in space, music’s totality is gradually divulged, sweeping up the listener—and the listener’s inner life—in the process.

Visit Jonathan’s website to keep up on his latest endeavors, browse his book and article archives, and listen to sample compositions.

Moved from Within

Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.

Force in music is usually understood metaphorically. Unlike the physical motion of water or wind, which can move objects between two points, musical force symbolically transports the hearer from one mental state to another. The sound’s causal effect is akin to psychological manipulation: the listener is pushed and pulled into a particular mood. The phenomenon is commonly described as being “swayed,” “bowled over,” “carried along” and “taken away.“ The potency of such metaphorical movement is attested in diverse musical situations, including therapy, religious devotion, classical performances, patriotic displays and lullabies. In these settings, the listener is moved without actually moving.

Musical force can, however, manifest in another way. We detect movement in music partly because we experience it as a living organism, with coursing blood and appendages gesturing in various directions. As described above, this animation is often seen in the mind’s eye and affects our psychological state. But it can also occur within our bodies.

According to Gary Ansdell, a research associate at the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre in London, motion in music is more than just a mental inference or psychological response. Music can stimulate a person’s spirit or will, which then animates the body. Although music originates outside of the person, its mechanism differs from other exterior agents. For instance, when someone’s leg is bent by an apparatus or machine, the action takes place outside the person and is not necessarily reflective of his or her wishes. The leg is acted upon as if it were an inanimate object. But when music compels the leg to move, the activity is generated from within. As Ansdell explains it, music communicates directly with the will, resulting in movement that is externally triggered yet internally generated.

Music therapists utilize this force to good effect. Many physical impairments can be overcome, circumvented or remediated through musical stimulation. The force of the music is such that it activates physical movement that is, under ordinary conditions, enormously difficult. The body translates the living essence of musical sound into fluid motion. This effect has been documented among patients with varying degrees of emotional constrictions, motoric impediments and physical damage.

In therapeutic settings and elsewhere, music motivates physical movement in three basic stages. First, the listener interacts with the sound, perceiving in it some type of motion (fast, slow, steady, disjointed, etc.). Second, the body aligns itself with the music’s tempo and direction. Third, the body enacts the path of motion. Through this process, music becomes a vectoring force that literally moves us.

Visit Jonathan’s website to keep up on his latest endeavors, browse his book and article archives, and listen to sample compositions.