Thursday, November 19, 2009

More on music-literal and schemata, after Guck, Saslaw

This entry provides more information about Marion Guck's "music-literal" analysis mode, along with Janna Saslaw's comments connecting Guck's arch shape with image schemata. The post is an extended postscript to the earlier one that matches notions of movement in dancing to shapes in listening: Low/high pairs.

Much has been written over the past two decades about metaphor, cognition, and language. As Marion Guck has shown, controlling metaphors and metaphorical language play a role even in apparently objective descriptive accounts of music ("Analytical Fictions"); in another place, she uses metaphor as a way to build such analytical accounts ("Two Types"). For Chopin's Prelude in B Minor, op. 28 no. 6, she compiled student reactions to hearing the piece, with and without score. These "eventually suggested to me a detailed analysis," summarized as follows: "I imagine the prelude as two-measure arching melodies nested within phrase-length arches in turn nested within a single prelude-long arch. The relatively literal spatial notion of melodic arch leads me on to the movements of arching gestures and then, beyond those, to the rise and fall of mood and to a narrative curve" (204).

Thus, the analysis assumes a loosely hierarchical model: the direct, aurally palpable two-measure arches of melody are "music-literal," the phrase-length arches are figurative (they "do not form a continuous line but rather generalize a directional emphasis" [206] and therefore "the conversion [from arch image to increase and decrease of tension] superimposes a metaphorical reinterpretation on the music-literal, and the resulting description is more deeply metaphoric" [207]), and the "single prelude-long arch" ties both "literal" and figurative to movement and mood, "incorporating all in a depiction of human (inter-)actions: the piece's arch is a narrative curve" (207; her emphasis).

How exactly we move from spatial metaphors to "human (inter-)actions"–and just what its "narrative" might be–is not clear, but that uncertainty is no obstacle to our application of a theme/thesis analysis in Guck's article: the theme may be stated as "direct aural experience [the "music-literal"] can be tied to abstract levels of apprehending music by means of layered (nested) metaphors"; the thesis is directly stated at the end of the article, as if in form of a moral: analysis by metaphor "facilitate[s] an endlessly closer, more profound hearing of each musical work" (212).

Guck begins her discussion by saying that spatial images are "so pervasively and deeply embedded in the language of musical discourse . . . [that] we must speak in spatial terms" (201). Commenting on this work, Janna Saslaw says that Guck "gets very close to the idea of embodiment when she discusses body sensations associated with [the] arch metaphor" in the Chopin Prelude ("Forces" 238n9), as when she compares an "arch's line" (it "ascends, focuses, and curves") to the movement of "the arm that threw the ball" (an image already familiar from Cone (26-28)):

To hear arching movement, one most likely recalls, subliminally, memories that incorporate the fine, continuous adjustments in muscle tensions needed to produce the smooth gesture: the initial impetus that increasingly opposes gravity as the arm rises, stretching to the point of fullest extension, then decreasing tension as the arm yields to gravity. In the [arch] gesture, rise and fall are also converted into increase and decrease of effort and tension. . . . The conversion superimposes a metaphorical reinterpretation on the music-literal, and the resulting description is more deeply metaphoric. ("Forces" 206-207)

Here the metaphoric seems to be equated with the abstract. For Saslaw, following Lakoff and Johnson, body metaphors underly the image schemas that permeate all language, including conceptual language: "image schemas are based on direct experience of a kinesthetic nature," and they "operate at a very basic level of cognitive organization, a level that Johnson has called 'preconceptual'" ("Forces" 218). Saslaw sorts a list of these

kinesthetic image schemas. . . . into two types. First are those that deal with our bodies themselves, including the container, center-periphery, front-back, and part-whole schemas. The container schema, for example, derives from our sense that one's body is a container with an inside and outside. The second group of image schemas . . . consists of those that deal with our orientation in, and relationship to, the world, including link, force, path, source-path-goal, and near-far (218).

These image schemas originate in our physical experience, but, "in order to structure domains that are not experienced directly, we map the kinesthetic image schemas . . . onto these more abstract domains. The mappings take the form of metaphors" (220). Guck's throwing arm–and the arch that might be said to derive from it–is a special case, then, of a general kinesthetic schema of trajectory that involves not only origination-to-goal but force or effort. For Saslaw, "if composers and listeners conceive of tones as objects that move in space, then these conceptual objects can have the attributes of real-world objects: weight, speed, force, direction of motion, etc." (235)

As I claimed in the early post, the persistent counterpoint of soprano and alto in this zärtliche Walzer is an astonishing evocation of the physicality of the standard waltz step. The music-literal allows us a way to think about the "blank" opening bars that permit hearing the waltz as counterpoint not between soprano and alto, but between right hand and left, between the complex of melodic upper voices and the bass. Whether or not these bars are actually danced, one can see/hear the male dancer in bar 1 followed in bar 2 by the musical mimicry of the woman's twirl in the eighth-note figure. The "foundational" (harmonic) leader–perhaps the Vortanzer–courteously makes no distinctive (musical) gesture before the "ornamental" (melodic) partner enters with an individual display of the essential motif of the waltz, the turn or twirl. After this, the couple together performs a larger-scale set of turns through the series of two-bar hypermeasures that make up the waltz. (Note that the harmony, too, is unwavering in its two-bar groups.)

[note (12-20-09): Michael Spitzer writes a critique of music/body-analogies, including Guck's, arguing that the "commitment to somatic immediacy" that she and others, including Robert Hatten, David Lidov, and Alexandra Pierce, stress cannot bridge a gap between the "concrete immediacy [of] performed gestures [and] the deeper principle that enables bodily thought, [or] schematism." (See his Music and Metaphor, 88-91).]

Cone. Edward T. Musical form and musical performance. New York: W.W. Norton, 1968.
Guck, Marion. "Analytical Fictions." In Adam Krims, ed. Music/Ideology: Resisting the Aesthetic, 157-77. Amsterdam: G + B Arts International, 1998. Originally published in Music Theory Spectrum 16/2 (1994): 217-230.
Guck, Marion. 1992. "Two Types of Metaphoric Transference." In Katherine Bergeron and Phillip V. Bohlman, eds. Disciplining Music: Musicology and its Canons, 201-212. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Saslaw, Janna. "Forces, Containers, and Paths: The Role of Body-Derived Image Schemas in the Conceptualization of Music." Journal of Music Theory 40/2 (1996): 217-43.
Spitzer, Michael. Metaphor and Musical Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. Spitzer criticizes Guck and several other writers for perpetuating a body/structure dualism. He says that they "identify the bodily experience of a performer with an immediacy that is distanced from musical structure. [The latter], with its abstract and articulated systems of internal relations, can still echo . . . or be echoed by . . . structures of bodily motion, [but] a commitment to somatic immediacy-the continuous, particular, and analog character of musical gesture-stands in the way of discriminating and categorizing the various types of bodily experience" (90).