September 14: Arnie Cox

Audible and Inaudible Features of Music

If in ordinary communication it is unproblematic to speak of tonal tension as if it were audible, there are nevertheless some hidden consequences of this practice which warrant consideration. To illustrate, I will use an example from the introductory study of tendency tones such as the leading tone: The instructor plays a cadence, stopping on the dominant, and asks, “Can you hear how that note wants to resolve?” and the students respond, “Yes,” ignoring both the fact that notes do not have volition and the question of what or who is actually resolving. While there is indeed non-fictional volition here, as well as tension and resolution, these are properties of a listener’s response to what is heard. But when we instead pretend that these are audible properties of musical sounds, we ignore the embodied-affective-cognitive processes that transform what is strictly audible (sounds) into what is felt, conceptualized, and only seemingly audible. As I will describe, this practice then shapes our understandings of how musical affect is generated, how identities are performed via music, and how musical meaning is constructed generally.

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