Music as Communication: the Listening Pyramid


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Music as Communication: the Listening Pyramid

  1. 1. Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna, August 22-26 2006 Music as Communication: the Listening Pyramid common cultural background, and at the top is our unique Margarita Alexomanolaki individual experience. Music Department, Goldsmiths College University of Defining in which of the stages of the Listening Pyramid London London, UK the meaning was aimed to be received, then we are ori- ented towards a semiotics analysis which excludes any factors of different cultural background or individual ex- ABSTRACT perience that occurs among listeners. Music is present in everyday life, perhaps more than ever The above will be applied to the music of TV advertising, before, due to technological progress in the means of its as a practical example of application of the above theory, broadcast. In communicative terms, music is considered a but also as one that could have wider ramifications for the sign, which carries a meaning that has to be interpreted field of analysis as a whole. (Barthes 1977, Nattiez 1990). The usual approach of the semiotic analysis of music in everyday life is either by Keywords structural analysis (Tagg 2000) or by the use of theories of Music, Semiotics, Perception psychology that define the semantic role of music (North et al. 2004, Santacreu et al. 2004, North et al. 2005). None- INTRODUCTION theless the studies mentioned concluded on the specific The roles of music in society are present in various case studies presented and do not seem to be able to be forms; from a lullaby to a baby to the musical reinforce- applied in different listening situations and cultural back- ment of a commercial, music plays an active role in private grounds. and social activities of the members of the community, This paper aims to evaluate the semiotic role of music from defining and indicating also part of their cultural identity. the perspective of the listener and the listening situation – Either consciously or not, music could accompany social musical communication as it is eventually received and not and personal activities. The fact that music enhances emotional as it was initially created – emphasizing the different communication reinforces the broad use of music within a broad meaning the same musical piece could have depending on gamut of contexts: its use. Expanding Peirce’s third Trichotomy on how the ‘Listeners are still exposed to music in shops, restau- sign is interpreted, and adjusting it to musical terms, this rants, and other commercial environments without active paper will present the Listening Pyramid, which includes control: but they also control its use in the home, in the car, the three stages of listening and interpreting the musical while exercising, and in other everyday environments. It sign. The innovation of the above study is the incorporation might be expected that they should do this in order to of physiology: thus, at the base of the pyramid is our uni- achieve different psychological ends, such as creating cer- versally shared physiology; in the middle is our partially tain mood states, or changing their levels of emotional arousal.’ (North et al. 2004:42) In: M. Baroni, A. R. Addessi, R. Caterina, M. Costa (2006) Proceedings The variety of uses and the importance of music within of the 9th International Conference on Music Perception & Cognition (ICMPC9), Bologna/Italy, August 22-26 2006.©2006 The Society for society emphasize the firmly-held belief of music’s over- Music Perception & Cognition (SMPC) and European Society for the whelming power, which derives from the emergence of Cognitive Sciences of Music (ESCOM). Copyright of the content of an ideas associating music with many and varied effects and individual paper is held by the primary (first-named) author of that pa- properties. per. All rights reserved. No paper from this proceedings may be repro- duced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or me- chanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the paper's primary MUSIC AS COMMUNICATION author. No other part of this proceedings may be reproduced or transmit- Music in communicative terms is considered a sign, ted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including which carries a meaning that has to be interpreted (Barthes photocopying, recording, or by any information retrieval system, without 1977, Nattiez 1990). In order for communication to func- permission in writing from SMPC and ESCOM. tion in general terms there need to be three basic parame- ISBN 88-7395-155-4 © 2006 ICMPC 1319
  2. 2. ICMPC9 Proceedings ters: The Transmitter → the Sign → the Receiver, which in According to Peirce’s second trichotomy of sign, the sym- the case of musical communication corresponds to: Com- bol is the third concept that indicates the way that the sign poser/performer → Music → Listener. According to Burn, and object are related in a perceiver; the other two concepts one of the social functions of a communicative act is to be are icon, when a sign is related to its object through some ‘orientational – to establish relations between those who type of resemblance between them, and index which refers are communicating’. (Burn 2003:6) to a sign that is related to its object through co-occurrence In order to commence the procedure of communica- in actual experience (Turino 1999). tion, When music functions as an icon, entails musical ele- ‘The communicator constructs an internal representa- ments to depict its physical representation, as for example tion of some aspect of the world, such as an emotional the ‘cuckoo’s’ part in Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ from his Four state, and then – intentionally – carries out some symbolic Seasons. When it functions as index operates as a reminder behaviour that conveys the content of that representation. of a related object or information. For example, ‘a TV The recipient must first perceive this symbolic behaviour, show’s theme song can come to serve as an index for the and then recover from it an internal representation of the program.’ (Turino 1999: 227) content it signifies.’ (Juslin 2005: 86) Meanings of indices are dependent on the experience of the perceiver, and thus can be quite fluid and varied, the meanings of symbols are relatively fixed through social ‘ETHOS’ AND MUSIC COMMUNICATION agreement. (1999:228) ‘Ethos’ in ancient Greek is a complicated term: Music as a symbol contains ethos, which differentiates ‘ethos’, in Greek language means ‘habit’; and our habits its role, depending on the cultural and historical context shape our time. Indeed our way of life is characterized by within which it functions. ‘The meanings of symbols must however habitually we spend our time. Consequently, over be basically fixed and agreed upon, or as in this paper,[and time, the word ‘ethos’ began also to develop the meaning indeed in the current thesis] (linguistic) arguments must be of characterization of what hides behind our habits, actions, made for why their meanings should be altered or refined. and manners, which shape our personality and tempera- (Turino 1999: 228) The symbol is a concept signing emo- ment. By elaborating the above point from one individual’s tional and moral attitude, the meanings of which, are de- level to that of many people, ethos could characterize an scribed by Barthes not natural but cultural, not given but entire culture. produced, not discovered but worked for, not real but It is true that ethos in music has different interpreta- mythical. (Barthes 2000) Musical ‘ethos’ - as Barthes’ tions among different cultures, civilizations and periods of ‘myth’ - ‘once made use of becomes artificial’ (:118). time through history. The individual social structure of each people, and the elements that create the uniqueness of each civilization, provide the initial impetus for the way The Listening Situation music is conceived in a composition, treated by the audi- This change of listening mode, and the ubiquity of mu- ence, taught and interpreted. sic in any occasion and at any time of everyday life, alters The same tonality, C major for example, is ‘educa- the function of listening to music, attributing to musical tional’ for ancient Greeks (Aristotle, Politics), ‘delightful’ hearing psychological impacts, that would not only be for Persians (Shiloah 1995), ‘tranquil’ for Indians, (Bose emotional, but essential reinforcements of everyday activi- 1990), ‘warlike’ for Charpentier, ‘rejoicing’ for Rameau ties (DeNora 2000, Hargreaves et al 1997). In addition, we and ‘naïve’ and ‘common’ for Lavignac. (Nattiez do not always choose the moment to listen to music, or 1990).Yet, a single tonality could not really possess all the even listen to music consciously. characteristics attributed to it in the comparative table, but The difference between ‘listening’ to and ‘hearing’ it could have though a wide gamut of representations de- music that occurs in everyday listening is described by pending on the culture that pre-defined and arranged them. Chion as: ‘The question of listening with the ear is insepa- rable from that of listening with the mind, just as looking is with seeing.’ (Chion 1994:33) Peirce’s Trichotomy on Sign / Music A stereotypical example of hearing in everyday music Sign-object relation: Music-Meaning listening, is the case of ‘muzak’. The term ‘muzak’ is used to describe easy-listening music designed and produced by Pierce developed three trichotomies of concepts for companies ‘for not-entertainment use in order to cover un- analysing different aspects of a sign and distinct types of wanted noise (e.g. restaurants, bars), to increase production relationships between the three basic components of semio- and decrease ‘absenteeism’ (factories and offices), to com- sis: sign – object – interpretant. The first trichotomy oc- pensated for anxiety (as in aircraft) or just to create a ‘gen- curred for the sign itself, the second trichotomy involved eral feeling of euphoria’.(Tagg 2000:83). the sign-object association and the third trichotomy dis- ‘For instance Mozart, when played in factories, super- played the sign-interpretant relationship (Turino 1999). markets, or airport waiting-lounges, is rarely heard as mu- sic, and it is the circumstances of listening rather than the ISBN 88-7395-155-4 © 2006 ICMPC 1320
  3. 3. ICMPC9 Proceedings sounds as such that are responsible for this.’ (Cook ones, are depicted in the case of a TV spot, and just a prac- 1990:12) tical audio masking takes place in the case of airport lounges – hence, not a sign of any kind, according to our The listener’s attention is not necessarily focused on definition elaborated above. ‘Music would be expected to another activity or on the music per se, making the listen- fulfil completely different functions in different situations’. ing mode ‘hearing’ in this case as well, but with different (North et al. 2004: 44) intention and function. The ‘intention’ is not necessarily Therefore in the procedure of communication, the re- linked with the creation of an easy-listening music, but cipient is an important link, because no matter the initial (if with the use and consumption of it, since the listening any) intention of the transmitter, it is in the recipient’s in- situation alters the initial category of music - such as ‘clas- terpretation that meaning takes its final ‘shape’. sical’ in the Cook’s example mentioned above – to ‘easy- listening’ depending on the listening context of it. Peirce’s definition of the relation of Sign- ‘Works composed for specific secular or religious oc- Interpretant / Music-Listener casions (marches, masses), in specific places (Thailand, Examining the recipient’s part during a semiotic analy- Texas) – can turn up as if at random on TV commercials sis of communication, we should consider Peirce’s con- and restaurant tape loops. There’s no longer any necessary cepts of interpretant. Peirce divides the receiving of a sign connection between the occasion for making music and the into three levels (see Figure 1): ‘The three types of occasion of listening it.’ (Frith 2003:93) interpretants also pertain to Firstness (emotional interpre- When speaking of the communicative character of mu- tant), Secondness (energetic interpretant), and Thridness sic - thus a sign which carries a meaning from the transmit- (language-based concepts).’ (Turino 1999:232) ter to the receiver/listener - we have to consider that we Peirce defines the above as: talk about a musical journey, that its route defines its over- ‘1st , Feeling, the consciousness which can be included all meaning; that is because the receiver is always the lis- with an instant of time, passive consciousness of quality, tener, while the listening situation varies, changing the without recognition or analysis; 2nd , Consciousness of an route of this ‘journey’. interruption into the field of consciousness, sense of resis- The interpretation of music is constantly differentiated tance, of an external fact, of another something; 3rd, Syn- depending on the time and place of its listening. DeNora thetic consciousness binding time together, sense of learn- points out that the matter of musical significance is not pre- ing, thought.’ (Peirce 1991: 185) given, but is rather a result of how that music is appre- Elaborating further, Peirce’s Firstness could corre- hended within specific circumstances: ‘it has been tradi- spond to the passive or unconscious perception of the sig- tionally appropriatable open to reinterpretation and deter- nal. As recipients, we do not elaborate further or indeed mination in and through use.’ (DeNora 2000:23) consciously, the sign we received; that is why Peirce con- Tota (2001) considers that the composer’s original in- siders ‘Firstness is the sheer thisness, or existence of tentions for the performing parameters of his music, to- things’ (Ibid: 10), since the sign is received the way it is, gether with the proper occasion of the listening, would re- and not interpreted. sult the ‘Ideal Listening Situation’, giving the right impor- tance and meaning to the listening experience: ‘In the case of classical music that Ideal Listening could be in the con- cert hall or the living room and not linked to any commod- ity or relationship of market exchange.’ (Tota 2001:115 footnote) Towards a semiotic analysis, it is necessary to define the category of the sign to which the music under analysis belongs; thus, in the case of Cook’s example this specific piece of Mozart in a concert hall would be a primal sign which is amenable to Peirce’s trichotomy. In the case of reinforcing a TV show or being the soundtrack of a film – which according to Tota’s is characterized as ‘second hand reception’ or Barthes’ second-order schema – it would be an index – or symbol-index. The same music in an airport waiting lounges (Cook’s example) would be considered as muzak. The listening situation defines the myth of the same piece, since the composer’s (and performer’s) intentions occur clearly in the case of the concert hall, while the crea- Figure 1. Perception Pyramid: Levels of Perception and tive’s intentions having as starting point the composer’s Interpretation according to Peirce. ISBN 88-7395-155-4 © 2006 ICMPC 1321
  4. 4. ICMPC9 Proceedings dilute the analytical meanings of the well-parsed text to such an extent that the absolute sound recording ceases to LISTENING PYRAMID exist as an object of analysis; all that remains is personal- ized meaning, personalized using, and personalized listen- Background music, such as film or TV music, music ing – “personal text”, in fact’. (Kennett 2003:207-208) reinforcing dance or other form of artistic, commercial or Individual Listening, due to its mutability from person social activity is usually received and interpreted ‘uncon- to person is difficult to define and examine. The above kind sciously’, since the main focus of the listener – or rather of listening is responsible for the various responses to mu- hearer – is upon the activity that music reinforces. sic from individual to individual, though they might share The way of listening described above, embodies the common cultural interpretative denotation of the same mu- Peircean Firstness, since music is received unconsciously sic. ‘What is salient to listeners varies with their individual and is not elaborated more on semantic, cultural or personal musical (and generally artistic) backgrounds. (Higgins level. It could be described as Passive Listening, since no 1997:95) action for interpretation is taken by the recipient (see Figure 2). ‘In other words, in order to describe perceptual phenomena, we must take into account that conscious and active perception is only one part of a wider perceptual field in operation’. (Chion 1994:33) The above notion is justified within marketing studies, since the role of music is to ‘veil’ in a non-apparent way, the meaning of the de- picted activities. The next level of perception of music, corresponds to Peirce’s Secondness, and is related to the cultural refer- ences the recipient makes when listening to music. After the unconscious perception of the Passive Listening, occurs the next step of elaboration is the recognition of the sign and the interpretation within the cultural framework the sign was created and received. ‘Music is interpreted in terms of its relationship to locations, categories, associa- Figure 2. The ‘Listening Pyramid’, displaying the levels of tions, reflections and evaluations relevant to the listener. perception from implicit to explicit. Relevance to the listener is crucial in this account.’ (Hig- gins 1997:96) The Listening Pyramid shown in Figure 2 depicts the Relevance to the listener is not necessarily individual stages of perception of the musical sign. All three levels or personal on this level yet, but corresponds to the general occur when listening to music, in a near-instantaneous cultural background of the recipient. For example, the in- chain; we perceive, realize and connect with our cultural terpretation of music as a symbol, is a part of the Peircean background and eventually personalize, making listening a Secondness, since symbols are culturally produced and unique individual experience. As an audience we do not presuppose the listener’s common cultural langue with the necessarily realize or distinguish all, some or any of the creator or transmitter of the sign. That is why on this level above levels. During some listening situations, though, of listening, more than one people could agree and interpret music as a sign does not succeed in passing through all the the sign the same way, as long as they belong to the same levels of perception. culture. This kind of listening, analogous to Peircean Sec- ondness, could be called ‘Cultural Listening’, since it lies as a level of interpretation between the passive perception Cognitive Perception - Listening Pyramid and the individual interpretation. After Cultural Listening, where the recipient associates The Listening Pyramid, although initially connected to the sign with his/ her cultural background and experience, semiotics viewpoint, could not stand without the contribu- Individual Listening occurs, which could be considered tion of physiology and psychology, since it refers to the analogous to Peircean Thirdness. The Individual Listening perception and the level of interpretation of the musical takes place when the listener associates the musical piece, information. apart from his/her cultural background, with his/ her per- When perceiving sound, short-term memory – which is sonal experiences, memories, or even the specific time and called echoic in this case – is triggered. Echoic memory is place of listening, which would be experienced differently the auditory equivalent of iconic memory, thus it is by defi- by each one of us. nition storage of just-received auditory information (Huoti- ‘The temporal, demographic, attentive, local and task- lainen et al. 2001:133). related particulars of the listening situation, all conspire to ISBN 88-7395-155-4 © 2006 ICMPC 1322
  5. 5. ICMPC9 Proceedings The Listening Pyramid mentioned, although it is influ- enced by Peircean’s types of interpretant, and though it refers to a semiotic approach of music as a sign, could also be related – schematically and orderly – with the bottom-up cognitive processing of information at perceptual level; thus, the very first stage of perceiving auditory informa- tion, before being processed cognitively, could be consid- ered the Passive Listening stage, the base of the Listening Pyramid. During Passive1 listening in this case, the audi- tory information would either partake in the phenomenon of perceptual learning, or find no connections with long- term memory and decay. In the case of perceptual learning, the information is stored – and recalled – implicitly directly to long-term memory, without any perceptual awareness (Snyder 2000). ‘Calling the knowledge amassed through perceptual learning “implicit” indicates that it is not always available to conscious thought. Neither the knowledge base Figure 3: Listening Pyramid – Memory Activation itself nor the cognitive processes through which it is ap- plied are entirely accessible to consciousness. Listeners typically engage in far more elaborate processing than they are aware of.’ (Dowling 1999: 604) A higher level processing with the involvement of long-term memory, thus the ‘top’ (long-term memory) of the cognitive system, is referred to as top-down or concept- Semiotics – Cognitive Perception and the Lis- driven processing. This level of processing could corre- tening Pyramid spond to the second and third level of the Listening Pyra- mid, thus the cultural and the Individual Listening. Corresponding the levels of listening (listening pyra- Music in everyday life very frequently is transmitted as mid) to information processing and memory activation, the ‘invisible’ (Tagg 2000) music, as it is not the dominating Listening Pyramid of Memory (see Figure 3) could be aspect of communication at a conscious level in an inde- formed as: Passive Listening being connected to Implicit pendent intramusical sense but rather is inextricably asso- memory activation, which occurs during the perception of ciated with other messages – visual, mythical and verbal the musical information, Cultural Listening being con- (Tagg 2000:127). nected to Semantic memory activation, which occurs when Chion 1994 asserted that sound interferes with our per- we explicitly recognize the musical piece received, and ception since it can overwhelm and surprise us no matter Individual Listening which is connected to Episodic mem- what, especially when we refuse to lend it our conscious ory activation, since on that level the listening becomes a attention. These conclusions, regarding the unconscious distinguished personal experience, and will be remembered perception of music and the meaning of the depicted activi- as such and not as another familiar musical piece. ties in a film, indicate that Passive Listening includes in some aspect Cultural Listening as well. In fact, one could argue that, when the parameters in Cultural Listening are norms, or commonsensical, in a way that they seem too natural to pay them any extra attention, then Passive Listening occurs; not as perceiving passively and with low comprehension, but as performing Cultural Listening unconsciously, functioning as an automatic, non- conscious interpretation of meaning: and the latter explana- tion becomes the difference between mere hearing and the Passive Listening of the Listening Pyramid (see Figure 4).2 2 Below this pyramid, lies a further level that we might call ‘infra- conscious’: a level of sound stimulus ingress which is purely physio- logical, that Snyder (2000) calls ‘early processing’. I have chosen no to 1 ‘Passive’ is capitalized to show that the term is used here as defined discuss this infra-conscious level as part of my model, because it occurs within the context of the Listening Pyramid. instantaneously, and before any kind of (even unconscious) cognition. ISBN 88-7395-155-4 © 2006 ICMPC 1323
  6. 6. ICMPC9 Proceedings Barthes R. (1977). Image, Music, Text. Translated in English by S. Heath. London: Fontana Press. Barthes, R. (2000). Mythologies. Translated in English by J. Cape. London: Vintage. Bose S. (1990). Indian Classical Music: Essence and Emotions. Delhi: Vikas Publishing PVT LTD. Burn A. & Parker D. (2003. Analysing Media Texts. London: Continuum. Chion M. (1994). Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen. Edited and translated in English by C. Gorbman. New York: Columbia Uni- versity Press. Clarke E. (2005). Ways of Listening: An Ecological Approach to Figure 4. The levels of music perception in combination the Perception of Musical Meaning. New York: Oxford Univer- with conclusions from semiotics and psychology. sity Press. Even on a physiological level, our reaction to the Cook N. (1990). Music, Imagination and Culture, Oxford: Clar- world, the knowledge we have and the memories we con- endon Press. struct, are culture related as well as individual and per- sonal; therefore myth, in the way Barthes defined it, is pre- DeNora T. (2000). Music in Everyday Life. Cambridge: Cam- bridge University Press. sent in the current level of perception. Consequently, ethos in music is always present, related to the psychological reactions an audience might have when hearing musical Dowling W.J. (1999). The development of music perception and reinforcements of everyday activities, making Passive Lis- cognition. In D. Deutsch (Ed.) The Psychology of Music (pp. 603- tening a blend between Unconscious Cultural Listening, 625). London: Academic Press. and bottom-up processing (sensory based experience, Sny- der 2000). Frith S. (2003). Music and Everyday Life. In Clayton M., Herbert T., and Middleton R. (Eds.) The Cultural Study of Music (pp. 92- 101). London: Routledge. CONCLUSION Music as an entity is never only a form of art, or a per- formed artistic expression; neither a philosophical state- Hargreaves, D.J. & North A.C. (1997). The Social Psychology of Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ment, a semiotic view, an element of cultural identity, a device for emotional impact nor a tool for music therapy; it is all of the above together within any modern mass- Higgins K.M. (1997). Musical idiosyncrasy and perspectival lis- mediated society, and this is the reason why in the current tening. In J. Robinson (Ed.) Music and Meaning (pp. 83-104). thesis, philosophy, semiotics, physiology and psychology New York: Cornell University Press. had to be combined, in order to achieve a fulfilling, holistic conclusion regarding human perception during everyday Huotilainen M., Kujala A. & Alku P. (2001). Long-Term memory music listening situations. traces facilitate short-term memory trace formation in audition in humans. Neuroscience Letters, Vol. 310, pp. 133-136. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Special thanks to the Alexandros S. Onassis Public Benefit Juslin P.N., 2005: ‘From mimesis to catharsis: expression, percep- tion, and induction of emotion in music’, in D. Miell, R. Mac- Foundation for supporting financially the current study. Donald and D. J. Hargreaves (Eds) Musical Communication, Ox- ford: Oxford University Press, pp. 85-116. REFERENCES Nattiez J.J. (1990). Music and Discourse. Translated in English Aristotle (1993). Politics. Translated in Modern Greek by The by Carolyn Abbate. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Translating Team of Kaktos .Athens: Kaktos Publications. ISBN 88-7395-155-4 © 2006 ICMPC 1324
  7. 7. ICMPC9 Proceedings North A.C., Hargreaves D.J. & Hargreaves J.J. (2004). Uses of music in everyday life. Music Perception, Vol. 22 No1, 41-77. North A.C. & Hargreaves D.J., (2005). Musical communication in commercial contexts. In D. Miell, R. MacDonald and D. J. Har- greaves (Eds) Musical Communication (pp. 405-422). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Peirce C.S. (1991). Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic. Edited by J. Hooper. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Santacreu O. & Alaminos A.(2004). Let the music play the feel- ings: The performative effect of music in advertising. In R. Parn- cutt, A. Kessler and F. Zimmer (Editors) Proceedings of the Con- ference on Interdisciplinary Musicology (CIM04) Graz / Austria, 15-18 April 2004. Obtained electronically via http://gewi.uni- on 24/10/04. Shiloah A. (1995). Music in the World of Islam: A Socio-cultural Study. Aldershot: Scolar Press. Snyder B. (2000) Music and Memory. Massachusetts: MIT Press. Tagg P. (2000). Kojak – 50 Seconds of Television Music: towards the understanding of affect in popular music. New York: The Mass Media Scholars’ Press, Inc. Tota A.L. (2001). When Orff meets Guinness: music in advertis- ing as a form of cultural hybrid. Poetics, Vol. 29,109-123. Turino T. (1999). Signs of imagination, identity, and experience: A Peircian semiotic theory for music. Ethnomusicology, Vol. 43 No2, 221-255. ISBN 88-7395-155-4 © 2006 ICMPC 1325