Understanding Musical Discontinuity

Barton, Scott Donald, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Shatin, Judith, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Kubovy, Michael, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

While our experience of musical (dis)continuity is often powerful and clear, articulating the relations that inspire such percepts is not always easy. Part of the reason for this is that our experience of musical (dis)continuity is influenced by a number of physical, cognitive and perceptual factors, and thus is complex. I will therefore explore (dis)continuity's character by applying ideas from psychology, music theory, algorithmic information theory, and statistics to a variety of musical compositions, including my own. These explorations will describe (dis)continuity as primarily dependent on five key elements: how we bring entities into relations, holistic associations, perceived (dis)similarity of intraand inter-entity attributes and relational structures (which we can describe in terms of type and degree); hierarchical organization; and context. These various elements work in isolation and in combination depending on the particular musical situation. Because (dis)continuity is multi-faceted in this way, no singular approach will illuminate the full extent of its richness and complexity. Instead, we must be able to approach (dis)continuity from a number of different perspectives; the one that we choose depends on the specific musical scenario. I will therefore incorporate ideas from the aforementioned disciplines, including structure mapping, transformational distance, and parametric dimensions, to describe, represent and eventually quantify the nature of these characteristics and how they interact to produce (dis)continuity percepts. Such a varied set of tools, which can be used in isolation or in combination, will allow us to describe (dis)continuity in a wide variety of musical styles. This may prove useful not only in identifying commonalities between stylistically diverse musics but also in providing an analytic approach to musics that are resistant to traditional tools. Such flexible, yet rigorous, approach will allow us to illuminate the nature of (dis)continuous relations so that we can analyze and compose (dis)continuous music more thoughtfully.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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