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    聆聽 — 透視音樂理論的一個層面

    前言: 身為一位音樂理論的導師,我一直都很喜歡探究 music theory 如何與聆聽扣上關係。這個題目也有很多知名的研究學者發表過有影響力的文章。當然我這個入們漢也不想在這裡班門弄斧。所以,我這篇文章只算是評論這些大師的研究心得,讓有興趣的讀者對這題目有些了解。


    Perception: A Perspective from Music Theory
    Music and cognitive psychology seem to be inseparable. Since music is for listening, it involves human perception. On the one hand, musicians aim to discover the musical structure to gain better interpretation and understanding of actual compositions. On the other hand, cognitive psychologists tend to be more interested in exploring mental theories of how musical events may be perceived. But does music theory and music analysis relate to cognitive science? Nicholas Cook’s article attempts to distinguish the discipline of music theory from that of cognitive psychology. According to Cook, they are radically two different branches of study. He blames that cognitive or information theory places too much emphasis on psychoacoustical studies but overlooks the meaning and cultural value of music. Cook argues that there are potential pitfalls in applying general psychological theories to music without taking into account what listeners actually hear, and why. Listeners usually do not listen to music according to large-scale structures. In addition, Cook points out that studies on the recognition of intervals, chord progressions, and key centers are merely tests of ear training, but not to be considered as the significance of music.
    Although cognitive experiments have been carried out attempting to prove that untrained listeners do not listen to music in the same way that musicians do, and what matters to them is not the same as what matters to music theorists. However, according to Cook, these experiments only reflect that interviewers’ responses are mainly a matter of playing game of language. The finding that the musicians and non-musicians are not bound by the same rule in listening is not an adequate basis for saying anything about how they perceive music in their own ways. 
    Cook also asserts that the next question showing the fallacy of cognitive theory of music is that no listeners tend to hear the tonal structure of music. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this. Composers, sometimes, would pay attention to the tonal structure of a composition. Milton Babbit, was being told in a story, that he could hear in his first time of the wrongly performed tone-row series in a serial composition. Boulez’s enigmatic tone-row series in Le Marteau is also another example to show the weakness of cognitive theory of music. Compositional grammar designed by Boulez is more or less different from listening grammar enhanced by listeners. If the composition is atonal, its tonal structure is less to be considered by general listeners. On the contrary, Cook’s experiment shows that the compositions by tonal composers have more psychological effects on the listeners and they can hear the change of tonal areas in the work. However, the radical question remains: do listeners hear the large-scale tonal structure of a work? Music theory seems to possess a hierarchy of analytical system in music: large-scale and smaller-scale analysis. However, Meyer criticizes such a hierarchy of analytical theory in music. The so-called deepest level of Schenkerian structure, the Ursatz, is simply an abstraction. It, perhaps, does not exist in perception.
    Applying linguistic theory to analyze music, according to Cook, is also problematic. Grammar by definition is a finite set of rules that will generate all and only well-formed sentences in a given language. Music works do not possess unalterable set of rules in nature. We may often hear someone claims that Bach always broke the rules or rules are made by man, not man by rule. Hence composers always show no interests in following compositional rules. As a result, there are many factors that militate against the usefulness of explaining music in terms of strict grammars. Even though purporting to analyze musical sound, the transformational theory of music, as Cook claims, is better treated as a game of ear-training for musicians, rather than a real psychological perception of music.

    In short, although Cook points out that there is a pitfall of mistranslation of different theories from different disciplines into music theory, he hasn’t suggested an infallible theory of music that can bind musical sound, psychological cognition and cultural parameters together. It is widely known that musical meaning is not confined to psychological cognition or political and socio-cultural associations solely. Different theories can more or less improve our understanding of music in a particular aspect. No matter developing theories from linguistic, scientific, acoustic, psychological, transformational, rhetorical, cultural, topical or aesthetic disciplines, each successful theory can contribute to the understanding of one of the most abstract form of art, music, in the world.

    David Leung (theorydavid)

    2011-04-07 (published)

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