Metaphors in Musical Motion

Mark L Johnson and Steve Larson present a really interesting argument for the metaphoric basis to our understanding (and experience) of musical motion. They explain how our embodied knowledge of motion aids us to comprehend music in terms of motion. This understanding is framed in terms of two key metaphors (drawn from our metaphoric understanding of time).

They write: “…the logic of certain metaphors shapes our understanding of musical motion and constrains the inferences we make in reasoning about such motion. These metaphors define what moves, the way it can move, and where it moves to.” (p.63)

To analyze our metaphorical concepts of tonal motion, we must first understand our concepts of time, all of which are profoundly metaphoric. We typically conceptualize the “passing” of time metaphorically—as motion through space. Morgan (1980) noted the inseparability of musical space and musical time, and Alperson (1980) noted that our experience of musical motion depends on “the familiar habit of regarding the properties of time as analogous to those of space” (p.409). Alperson cites Bergson’s claim that

we set our states of consciousness side by side in such a way as to perceive them simultaneously, no longer in one another, but alongside one another; in a word we project time into space, we express duration in terms of extensity, and succession thus takes the form of a continuous line or chain, the parts of which touch without penetrating one another. (p. 409)

Recent research in cognitive linguistics has revealed the marvelously complicated internal structure of such Western metaphorical conceptions of time, and it explains how we reason about time based on these inescapable, yet mostly invisible, metaphors. What this research shows is that there are two basic spatialization metaphors for time, and, as we shall see, each has a relevant counterpart in our conception of musical time and motion.
Consider, first, how we are conceptualizing time when we speak of it as “flying,” “dragging,” and “rushing by us,” and when we say things like “Easter will soon be here” and “Christmas has long since passed.” Here we understand temporal change as a particular kind of motion through space. There is a spatial schema [-p.67] in which an observer is facing in a fixed direction (“facing the future”), is situated at “the present” (the “here and now”), and times are conceptualized as objects moving toward and then past the stationary observer. Elements and structures of this spatial schema are mapped onto our understanding of time to form the “MOVING TIMES” metaphor. …
Notice the tight internal logic of this metaphor.We imaginatively project fronts and backs onto moving objects, and we conceptualize moving objects as facing in the direction of their motion (e.g., the front of the bus “faces” in the direction of its typical forward motion). Via the mapping of times as moving objects, times thus face the observer toward which they are moving, as in
“I can see the face of things to come. I can’t face the future. Let’s meet the future head-on.”” (p.66)

“The second major metaphorical system for time involves a different spatial schema, one in which the observer moves across a landscape and times are points or regions on that landscape….” (p.67)

“The two vast metaphor systems, “MOVING TIMES” and “MOVING OBSERVER,” define most of our spatialization of time. Notice that they are figure-ground reversals of one another. In the “MOVING TIMES” metaphor, the times are the figure moving relative to the stationary observer (as ground), whereas in the “MOVING OBSERVER” metaphor, the observer is the figure moving relative to the time landscape (as ground). Although the logic of each of these two metaphors is different, they both are based on the fundamental conception of the passage of time as relative spatial motion.
These two spatial metaphors for time both play a central role in our understanding of musical motion, to which we now turn.” (p.68)

Our claim is that people have no robust way of conceptualizing musical motion without metaphor and that all reasoning about musical motion and musical space inherits the internal logic of such metaphors. If this claim is correct, and if the source domain for musical motion is motion in space, then the ways we learn about space and physical motion should be crucial to how we experience and think about musical motion. To see this, let us begin by considering three of the most important ways we experience and learn about motion:
(a) We see objects move. [-p.69]
(b) We move our bodies.
(c) We feel our bodies being moved by forces.
Notice that all of these fundamental and pervasive experiences of motion are, for the most part, nonconceptual and prereflective, and yet they give rise to a large body of knowledge that we have about motion. For example, we experience objects and we experience ourselves moving from one point to another along some path, and so we develop our sense of locomotion (movement from one place [locus] to another).We experience moving objects changing speed through the application of physical forces.We know, in an immediate bodily way, what it feels like to be moved by something else and to move ourselves. It is this source-domain knowledge of physical motion that is carried over into the target domain (musical motion) via systematic metaphoric mappings.
Our central claim is that these three basic experiences of physical motion give rise, via metaphor, to three of the chief ways we conceptualize musical motion. Moreover, because musical motion, like physical motion, occurs over time, our two different metaphorical conceptualizations of time (“MOVING TIMES” and “TIME’S LANDSCAPE”) are incorporated into the basic metaphors of musical motion.We examine each of these three types of experience of motion, along with the metaphors based on them.” (pp.68-69)

“…we have two different and incompatible ontologies underlying [the] two different metaphors [through which we make sense of musical motion]. To some people, this inescapable inconsistency among various metaphorical structurings of our basic concepts for musical motion will be taken as evidence that the metaphors cannot really be constitutive and must rather be nothing but figures of speech.
On the contrary, we should begin by noting that what is true of musical motion is equally true of our incompatible conceptions of time and, generally, our inconsistent conceptions of a vast range of abstract concepts, including causation, morality, mind, self, love, ideas, thought, and knowledge. Our claim is that each of these different, and often inconsistent, metaphorical structurings of a concept gives us the different logics that we need to understand the richness and complexity of our experience. However strong our desire for a monolithic consistent ontology might be, the evidence does not support such a unified and simple view of human experience. The absence of any core literal concept of musical “events” should direct our attention to the ways we imaginatively conceive of the flow of our musical experience by means of multiple metaphors that provide the relevant logics of our various conceptions of musical motion and space. There is no more a single univocal notion of musical motion than there is of causation, and yet we have gotten along reasonably well by knowing when a specific metaphor for causation is appropriate within a specific context of inquiry.
The fact of multiple inconsistent metaphors for a single concept also sheds light on the important question of cultural difference and variation. The grounding of metaphors in bodily experience suggests possible universal structures (of bodily perception and movement) for understanding music. However, because there are multiple metaphors available, and because there may be differing cultural interpretations of bodily experience, metaphor provides one important avenue for exploring cultural and historical variation in significantly different conceptions of musical experience that might arise around the world.” (p.80)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Mark L Johnson and Steve Larson (2003) “Something in the Way She Moves” – Metaphors of Musical Motion. Metaphor and Symbol 18(2), 63-84

Abstract: “Our most fundamental concepts of musical motion and space, used by laypeople and music theorists alike, are defined by conceptual metaphors that are based on our experience of physical motion.We analyze the 3 most important metaphors of musical motion: the “MOVING MUSIC” metaphor, the “MUSICAL LANDSCAPE” metaphor, and the “MOVING FORCE” metaphor. We show how each metaphor is grounded in a particular basic experience of physical motion and physical forces and how the logic of physical motion shapes the logic of musical motion.We suggest that our conceptualization of, discourse about, and even our experience of musical motion depend on the logic of these 3 metaphors.”

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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