Listeners' Bodies in Music Analysis: Gestures, Motor Intentionality, and Models

Author / Artist: 
Publication Date: 
September, 2015

In this article I demonstrate how listeners understand musical processes with their bodies, and how their gestures can be used to build analytical models. Specifically, I draw on the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty to argue that situated, active listeners project their motor intentional gestures inside music, where they reconstitute the very nature of musical space and its objects according to their own unique perspective. Rather than passively reflecting gestures of performers, these listeners use their own bodily states to create the structure and meaning of music. I illustrate how those states can be mobilized for analysis by taking quantifiable features of gestures—acceleration and temporal profiles—as models of musical structure, and by using those models as a basis for analytical narratives. I focus on three pieces—Olga Neuwirth’s Vampyrotheone, Elliott Carter’s ASKO Concerto, and Thomas Adès’s Living Toys—in which motion-capture studies revealed the different roles of listeners’ gestures in organizing musical experience.