Mental and motor representation for music performance

McGuiness, Andrew (2010). Mental and motor representation for music performance. PhD thesis The Open University.



This research proposes a theory of nonconscious motor representation which precedes mental representation of the outcome of motor actions in music performance. The music performer faces the problem of how to escape sedimented musical paradigms to produce novel configurations of dynamics, timing and tone colour. If the sound were mentally represented as an action goal prior to being produced, it would tend to be assimilated to a known action goal. The proposed theory is intended to account for creativity in music performance, but has implications in other areas for both creativity and motor actions.

The investigation began with an ethnographic study of two 'posthardcore' rock bands in London and Bristol. Posthardcore musicians work with minimal explicit knowledge of music theory and cognitive involvement in performance is actively eschewed. Serendipitous musical felicities in performance are valued. Such felicities depend on adjustment and fine control of dynamics, timing and tone colour within the parameters of the given.

A selective survey of music aesthetics shows that the defining qualities of music are the production of immanent rather than representational meaning; polysemy; and processuality. Taking an analytic philosophy and cognitive science approach, I argue that apprehensions of immanent meaning depend on relationships between proximal percepts within the specious present. A general argument for nonconceptual perceptual content as perception of relations between magnitudes within the specious present is extended to music and argued to account for both the polysemic richness of music and its processuality. Nonconceptual relational perception can account for novel apprehensions by music listeners, but not for the production of novel configurations by the performer. I argue that motor creativity in music performance is achieved through the nonconscious parameterization of inverse models without conscious representation of the goal of the action. Conscious representation for the performer occurs when they hear their own performance.

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