Musical Experience as a Dynamic Cultural Epistemology

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Abstract for a paper presented at the 6th international Seminar on Musical Semiotics, Aix-en-Provence, November 1998.

Musical Sound as Presence:
Musical Experience as a Dynamic Cultural Epistemology

by Zachar Laskewicz

Music is far more than the sound it makes, but can be seen as a way of experiencing reality in a dynamic spatial and temporal context. Such an approach stands in opposition to scientific methods which analyse 'works' (Barthes, 1977), be that recordings, videos or scores; it sees music not as a 'thing' which can be analysed or dissected, but as an intertextual process realised in a cultural environment. We as human beings are in a continual process of extending our world by adapting the ways we can 'interact' with it using the only tools we have to bring about this interaction: our senses. The way we are taught to experience that reality through our senses is of particular epistemological interest within this paper, as are the complex systems we have developed to adjust to inevitable and constant sociocultural change. By comparing musical change in the multi-media performance traditions of avant-garde and popular performance in Asia and the West, we shall explore this notion of music as a dynamic system of change, a particularly special type of epistemological framework which helps us to make sense of our rapidly changing environment.

The following three major areas for examining a musical epistemology shall be touched upon:

(i) Musical Experience as a Social Filter: music and the other
This first area explores the socio-cultural nature of music, how our culture teaches us to experience certain things as 'musical' and others as 'non-musical' and why this is so;

(ii) Musical Experience as a Tool of Memory: music and the past
Music and dance become tools for experiencing particular times and places, dynamic moments in the past, in other words, textual tools which give us the means to reconceptualise elements of our culture in a new context;

(iii) Musical Experience as a Teacher of the Temporal and Spatial Aspects of the Present: music and its presence
Music and dance teach us how to experience space and time as it is realised in the present, becoming a phenomenological tool for understanding a particularly dynamic and changing world.


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May 2008 Nachtschimmen Music-Theatre-Language Night Shades, Ghent (Belgium)*
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September 27 2013.



Major Writings