The Joy of Studying the Aesthetics of Music
In 2015 I collaborated on the writing of a guide to books on analytic aesthetics called 'Analytic aesthetics accelerates: a map of books related to the philosophy of beauty and art.' It can be accessed on the Internet.
I study music using the framework of aesthetics. In particular, I have addressed the issues discussed in Anglophone aesthetics (analytic aesthetics).
For me, the study of the aesthetics of music has also been a study of what kind of questions can be asked about music. The aesthetics of music have shown me various aspects of music I could not have seen by relying purely on my own naive intuition.
In my doctoral thesis I dealt with ontological questions. When works of music are compared, for example, to other genres of art such as painting, many “mysteries” arise. Intuitively we suppose that if a painting is burned it is destroyed, and if its colors change with the passage of time it will be restored. So what would have to happen to “destroy” a work of music? And if we apply the kind of restoration performed on paintings to a musical work, what is it that would be restored? When it comes to musical criticism, there is criticism both of works themselves and of particular performances. A work and its performance may seem intimately connected, but if we think about it carefully, what exactly is the nature of the relationship between a work and a performance in the case of music? In order to answer this series of questions, it was necessary to determine what sort of thing a work of music is and what the conditions of its existence and identity are. The ontology of works of music is a truly thrilling field in which we take up various points of debate in modern metaphysics while laying out intuitions that are held, opinions that have been stated, and the social/historical context of issues involving music such as copyright. (Note)
The study of the aesthetics of music has made me aware of the existence of new questions, and at the same time has also given me the means to address long-harbored questions academically. The topic I am now investigating, music cognition, involves just these sorts of questions.
For a long time I have been intrigued by the following questions, rooted deeply in my experience, about the relationship between music and description. First, why does an explanation of a piece of music explain my experience when I am listening to it? When I am told, “Oh, that's because the key changed,” it does indeed seem that what I felt when I was listening to the piece of music in question has been explained, but why is this the case? Second, a song does indeed sound different after I have read an explanation of it, but what exactly did the explanation change? I want to say that the part of me that is actively listening has changed, but what sort of change is this in concrete terms? Fortunately there is existing research in the aesthetics of music that resonates with these questions. By making use of it I hope to arrive at consistent, persuasive answers.
Just as the aesthetics of music has revealed new questions to me, ars vivendi, too, has, given me new issues to think about. I believe that by investigating dancing to music, making connections through music, playing music together, and the questions that arise in these sorts of situations from the perspective of “embodied music cognition” and describing bodies that have a physical problem or difference – “disability, aging, illness, and difference” – we can identify new perspectives on a comprehensive theory of music cognition and how life is and ought to be.
(Note) For details on the ontology of works of music, please see the entry on “Ontology of works of music” in “Analytic aesthetics accelerates: map of books related to aesthetics and the philosophy of art.”