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LeveL IV
LeveL IV
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Join date : 2016-01-06
Age : 41
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Music Mind & Meaning

on Thu Apr 12, 2018 6:00 pm
What might we discover if we were to study musical thinking? 

Have we the tools for such work ? Years ago, the new field of research called 'Artificial Intelligence' started to supply new ideas about "representation of knowledge" that I'll use here.

Are such ideas too alien for anything so subjective and "irrational", "aesthetic", and "emotional" as music? Not at all. I think the problems are the same and those distinctions wrongly drawn.
I don't mean that understanding emotion is easy, only that understanding reason is probably harder.Our culture has a universal myth in which we see emotion as more complex and obscure than intellect. Indeed, emotion might be "deeper" in some sense of prior evolution, but this need not make it harder to understand; in fact, I think today we actually know much more about emotion than about reason.Certainly we know a bit about the obvious processes of reason–the ways we organize and represent ideas we get. But whence come those ideas that so conveniently fill these envelopes of order? A poverty of language shows how little this concerns us: we "get" ideas; they "come" to us; we are 're-minded of" them. I think this shows that ideas come from processes obscured from us and with which our surface thoughts are almost uninvolved. Instead, we are entranced with our emotions, which are so easily observed in others and ourselves. Perhaps the myth persists because emotions, by their nature, draw attention, while the processes of reason (much more intricate and delicate) must be private and work best alone.

The old distinctions among emotion, reason, and aesthetics are like the earth, air, and fire of an ancient alchemy. 
We will need much better concepts than these for a working psychic chemistry.
 To understand any art, we must look below its surface into the psychological details of its creation and absorption.If explaining minds seems harder than explaining songs, we should remember that sometimes enlarging problems makes them simpler! The theory of the roots of equations seemed hard for centuries within its little world of real numbers, but it suddenly seemed simple once Gauss exposed the larger world of so-called complex numbers. Similarly, music should make more sense once seen through listeners' minds.

What is the difference between merely knowing (or remembering, or memorizing) and understanding? We agree that to understand something, you must know what it means, and that is about as far as we ever get. I think I know why that happens. A thing or idea seems meaningful only when you have several different ways to represent it–different perspectives and different associations. Then you can turn it around in your mind, so to speak: however it seems at the moment, you can see it another way and you never come to a full stop. In other words, you can 'think' about it. If there were only one way to represent this thing or idea, you would not call this representation thinking.

So something has a "meaning" only when it has a few; if you understood something just one way, you would not understand it at all. That is why the seekers of the "real" meanings never find them. This holds true especially for words like 'understand'. That is why sonatas start simply, as do the best of talks and texts. The basics are repeated several times before anything larger or more complex is presented.
Probably No one could remember all of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony from a single hearing, but neither could one ever again hear those first four notes as just four notes! Once a tiny scrap of sound, these four notes have become a known thing–a locus in the web of all the other things we know and whose meanings and significances depend on one another.

Learning to recognize is not the same as memorizing. A mind might build an agent that can sense a certain stimulus, yet build no agent that can reproduce it. How could such a mind learn that the first half-subject of Beethoven's Fifth–call it A–prefigures the second half–call it B? It is simple: an agent A that recognizes A sends a message to another agent B, built to recognize B. That message serves to "lower B's threshold" so that after A hears A, B will react to smaller hints of B than it would otherwise. As a result, that mind "expects" to hear B after A; that is, it will discern B, given fewer or more subtle cues, and might "complain" if it cannot. Yet that mind cannot reproduce either theme in any generative sense. The point is that inter-agent messages need not be in surface music languages, but can be in codes that influence certain other agents to behave in different ways.
(Andor Kovach pointed out to me that composers do not dare use this simple, four-note motive any more. So memorable was Beethoven's treatment that now an accidental hint of it can wreck another piece by unintentionally distracting the Listener.)

The surface form is just: descending major third, first tone repeated thrice. At first, that pattern can be heard two different ways:

Fifth and third in minor mode, or
Third and tonic in major mode.

But once you have heard the symphony, the latter is unthinkable–a strange constraint to plant in all your head! 
The Fifth declares at once its subject, then its near-identical twin. First comes the theme. Presented in a stark orchestral unison, its minor mode location in tonality is not yet made explicit, nor is its metric frame yet clear: the subject stands alone in time. Next comes its twin. The score itself leaves room to view this transposed counterpart as a complement or as a new beginning. Until now, fermatas have hidden the basic metric frame, a pair of twinned four-measure halves. So far we have only learned to hear those halves as separate wholes.

The next four-measure metric half-frame shows three versions of the subject, one on each ascending pitch of the tonic triad. (Now we arc sure the key is minor.) This shows us how the subject can be made to overlap itself, the three short notes packed perfectly inside the long tone's time-space. The second half-frame does the same, with copies of the complement ascending the dominant seventh chord. This fits the halves together in that single, most familiar, frame of harmony. In rhythm, too, the halves are so precisely congruent that there is no room to wonder how to match them–and attach them–into one eight-measure unit.

The next eight-measure frame explains some more melodic points: how to smooth the figure's firmness with passing tones and how to counterpoise the subject's own inversion inside the long note. (I think that this evokes a sort of sinusoidal motion-frame idea that is later used to represent the second subject.) It also illustrates compression of harmonic time; seen earlier, this would obscure the larger rhythmic unit, but now we know enough to place each metric frame precisely on the afterimage of the one before. Then,

Cadence. Silence. Almost. Total.
Now it is the second subject-twin's turn to stand alone in time. The conductor must select a symmetry: he or she can choose to answer prior cadence, to start anew, or to close the brackets opened at the very start. Can the conductor do all at once and maintain the metric frame? We hear a long, long unison F (Subdominant?) for, underneath that silent surface sound, we hear our minds rehearsing what was heard.

What "Use" Is Music?

Why on earth should anyone want to learn such things? 
Here is one idea. Each child spends endless days in curious ways; we call this play.
A child stacks and packs all kinds of blocks and boxes, lines them up, and knocks them down. What is that all about? 
Clearly, the child is learning about space! But how on earth does one learn about time? Can one time fit inside another? Can two of them go side by side? In music, we find out! It is often said that mathematicians are unusually involved in music, but that musicians are not involved in mathematics. 
The way the mathematics game is played, most variations lie outside the rules, while music can insist on perfect canon or tolerate a casual accompaniment.
Most adults have some childlike fascination for making and arranging larger structures out of smaller ones. One kind of musical understanding involves building large mental structures out of smaller, musical parts. Perhaps the drive to build those mental music structures is the same one that makes you try to understand the world. 
Space and Tune
When you enter a room, you might seem to see it all at once; you are not permitted this illusion when listening to a symphony. "Of course," one might declare, for hearing has to thread a serial path through time, while sight embraces a space all at once. Actually, it takes time to see new scenes, though we are not usually aware of this. 
To see the problem in a slightly different way, consider cinema. Contrast a novice's clumsy patched and pasted reels of film with those that transport us to other worlds so artfully composed that our own worlds seem shoddy and malformed. What "hides the seams" to make great films so much less than the sum of their parts–so that we do not see them as mere sequences of scenes? What makes us feel that we are there and part of it when we are in fact immobile in our chairs, helpless to deflect an atom of the projected pattern's predetermined destiny? I will follow this idea a little further, then try to explain why good music is both more and less than sequences of notes.
How do both music and vision build things in our minds? Eye motions show us real objects; phrases show us musical objects. We "learn" a room with bodily motions; large musical sections show us musical "places." Walks and climbs move us from room to room; so do transitions between musical sections. Looking back in vision is like recapitulation in music; both give us time, at certain points, to reconfirm or change our conceptions of the whole.

Hearing a theme is like seeing a thing in a room, a section or movement is like a room, and a whole sonata is like an entire building. I do not mean to say that music builds the sorts of things that space-builder does. (That is too naive a comparison of sound and place.) I do mean to say that composers stimulate coherency by engaging the same sorts of inter-agent coordinations that vision uses to produce its illusion of a stable world using, of course, different agents. I think the same is true of talk or writing, the way these very paragraphs make sense– or sense of sense–if any.

Theme and Thing
What is the subject of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony? Is it just those first four notes? Does it include the twin, transposed companion too? What of the other variations, augmentations, and inversions? Do they all stem from a single prototype? In this case, yes.

Or do they? For later in the symphony the theme appears in triplet form to serve as countersubject of the scherzo: three notes and one, three notes and one, three notes and one, still they make four. Melody turns into monotone rhythm; meter is converted to two equal beats. Downbeat now falls on an actual note, instead of a silence. With all of those changes, the themes are quite different and yet the same. Neither the form in the allegro nor the scherzo alone is the prototype; separate and equal, they span musical time.

Is there some more abstract idea that they both embody? This is like the problem raised by Wittgenstein of what words like game mean. In my paper on frames  I argue that for vision, 'chair 'can be described by no single prototype; it is better to use several prototypes connected in relational networks of similarities and differences. I doubt that even these would suffice to well represent musical ideas ; there are better tools in conceptual dependency, frame-systems, and semantic networks. (See Roads, 1980.)
What is a good theme? Without that bad word good, I do not think the question is well formed .

So let me split that question into (1) What mental conditions or processes do pleasant tunes evoke? and (2) What do you mean by pleasant? Both questions are hard, but the first is only hard; to answer it will take much thought and experimentation, which is good. The second question is very different. 

Words like 'satisfy' and 'need' have many shifting meanings. Why, then, do we seem to understand them? Because they evoke that same illusion of substantiality that fools you into thinking it tautologous to ask, why do we like pleasure? 

This serves a need: the levels of discourse at which we use such clumsy words as 'like', or 'good', or 'that was fun' must coarsely crush together many different meanings or we will never understand others (or ourselves) at all. Hence that precious, essential poverty of word and sign that makes them so hard to define. Thus the word 'good' is no symbol that simply means or designates, as 'table' does. Instead, it only names this protean injunction: Activate all those unknown processes that correlate and sift and sort, in learning, to see what changes (in myself) should now be made. The word like is just like good, except it is a name we use when we send such structure-building signals to ourselves.

Most of the "uses" of music mentioned in this article–learning about time, and fitting things together, are very "functional, but overlook much larger scales of "use." Curtis Roads remarked that, "Every world above bare survival is self constructed; [] these appreciations, represented by aesthetic agents, play roles in more and more of our decisions: what we think is beautiful gets linked to what we think is important. Perhaps, Roads suggests, when groups of mind-agents cannot agree, they tend to cede decisions to those others more concerned with what, for better or for worse, we call aesthetic form and fitness. By having small effects at many little points, those cumulative preferences for taste and form can shape a world.

. What about jazz and other "modern" forms. What about songs with real words, monophonic chants and ragas, music made with gongs and blocks, and all those other kinds of sounds? And what about those listeners who claim to be less intellectual, to simply hear and feel and not to build those big constructions in their minds? We can't discuss here all those things, but we can ask how anyone could be so sure much about what their minds do. It is ingenuous to think that you "just react" to anything ..[][In any case, because it's not my purpose here to define boundaries, it's better to focus in on something that we agree is musical – and that is why I chose this Symphony. For what is music? All things played on all instruments? Fiddlesticks. All structures made of sound? That has a hollow ring. The things I said of words like 'theme' hold true for words like 'music' too: that word is public property, but not all the senses of its meanings to each different listener.
Mε μικρές αλλαγές και λίγο μοντάζ :

Music, Mind, and Meaning
Marvin Minsky
Computer Music Journal, Fall 1981, Vol. 5, Number 3

revised version of AI Memo No. 616, MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. An earlier published version appeared in Music, Mind, and Brain: The Neuropsychology of Music (Manfred Clynes, ed.) Plenum, New York, 1981
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