Home > Bibliography > Bibliography (English) > Organised Sound (1996-) > Vol. 12, No. 2. 2007 > Interpretation and musical signification in acousmatic listening

Atkinson, Simon

Interpretation and musical signification in acousmatic listening


Monday 26 January 2009, by Rob Weale

The challenges of understanding musical meaning are
considered in light of ways in which electroacoustic practice
and acousmatic listening might embody yet further nuances in
how music can function as a signifying system. ‘Classical’
semiotics is discussed, as well as more recent developments
with post-structuralist approaches and musical semantics in
other areas of music scholarship.The idea, inherited from the
tradition of ‘absolute music’, that musical meaning lies
exclusively in the inner operations of the musical materials
and their structural organisation, is questioned. Concepts
from ecologically inspired music psychology are drawn upon
to highlight the importance of interpretation, as well as
perception, in acousmatic listening. It is argued that if new
theoretical terminologies are needed, an invaluable project
would be to develop a taxonomy (and thus theoretical
framework) of how sound can‘stand for something’, i.e.
function as a sign in semiotic terms.It is also argued that such
terminology should not reinforce distinctions between intra-
and extra-musical that feature in many theoretical constructs
used in relation to this music. Consideration of the Peircean
semiotic model in electroacoustic music (as well as the more
widely used Saussurean one), tropology in the study of
literature, and a much more widely comparative and
culturally explicit approach to analysis are suggested as
practical starting points. A more critical approach to the
integral role of sound recording and reproduction in relation
to concepts of representation is needed.

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