Studies in Music

Aesthetics - Ars Inveniendi - the Farben Project

by Wim van den Dungen


Neurophilosophy of Sensation

Aesthetics of Music

Ars Inveniendi

The Farben Project



OMNIA STANT HARMONIA. Anarmonia cadunt omnia. Nec erigitur, reficitur, restituitur quidquam, nisi ad Harmoniam relatum atque redactum.

All exists through Harmony. Disharmony destroys all. Nothing can be built, nothing created, nothing restored that is not related to and based on Harmony.

Tout existe à travers l'Harmonie. La disharmonie détruit tout. Rien ne peut être construit, ni créé, ni restauré qui n'est pas lié à et basé sur l'Harmonie.

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 - 1767)


Communicational Musicology

Musicology, the study of music, the rational meta-language of music, stands outside the creative process itself and so is able to provide a clearer perspective on its end product, a musical work or opus. This view also involves the social & cultural contexts within which this opus is situated.

Central in the communicational approach followed here, is the study of music as a process of communication as given by the following superstructure (or organisation of meta-language) :


While the Ars Inveniendi focuses on the process of discovery (or the generation of an opus), communicational musicology is interested in understanding the complete cycle of communication involved, encompassing generation (sender), production (message), reception (receiver) and assimilation (environment) of an opus. While this process covers communication in general, my aim is to apply it to the phenomenon of music.

The musical phenomenon is (a) auditive, (b) communicational, and so (c) language-based. In the latter sense, music may be divided in semantics, syntax & pragmatics. As a system of language, it manipulates signs, and so symbols, signals & icons. The special feature of the musical language involves the absence of denotative symbols or signs denoting empirico-formal objects. Indeed, music is per definition non-conceptual, although one may try to project a programmatic, descriptive, discursive, conceptual intent on it. Although making use of symbols, they are connotative only. Indeed, the denotative semantic of programmatic music is never as precise as formal & natural languages deriving meaning by using direct symbols to denote state of affairs (so-called "
public indexicals"). However, when music works together with words (spoken or sung), denotation is indirectly integrated. Because the distinction between instrumental music and vocal music is merely theoretical, on may say music is a fully equipped language, although it remains to be said its semantic intent is not to convey precise & direct denotative content, but privileges connotative semantic fields. And yes, instrumental music, viewed as a genre on its own, has no explicit denotation whatsoever. Its symbols are therefore totally connotative.

Neurophilosophy of Sensation

As music is an auditive phenomenon, involving the pressure of air, the study of music calls for the understanding of the neurophysiological processes involved, in particular those dealing with establishing musical meaning. The reader is referred to my Neurophilosophical Studies and the Neurophilosophy of Sensation mentioned in the list above.

smell : transduction of chemical stimuli (odorants) by temporal coding (the precise timing of spikes) ;
taste  : transduction of chemical stimuli by membrane potential changes, either depolarizing or hyperpolarizing (voltage shift) ;
touch : transduction of mechanical and chemical stimuli by membrane potential changes & mechanoreceptors (with mechano-sensitive ion channels ?) ;
audition : transduction of mechanical energy by a change in membrane polarization ;
sight : transduction of electromagnetic radiation by a change in membrane polarization.

Epistemology of Aeasthetics

Pre-critical epistemology rooted in the possibility of knowledge and its development in a self-sufficient ground outside knowledge, either in terms of a "reality-as-such" (ontological realism) or as an "ideality-as-such" (ontological idealism). These systems gave rise to positivism, scientism, materialism (on the side of the reification of the object) or to spiritualism and idealism (on the side of the reification of the subject). These approaches have been critically rejected by criticism, rooting cognition in nothing else but cognition itself.

This epistemological framework has been elaborated in :
Prolegomena or the Rules of the Game of 'True' Knowledge (1994, Dutch), Knowledge (1995, Dutch), General Cognitive Features of the Ante-rational Mind (2003), Clearings : On Critical Epistemology (2006), Intelligent Wisdom : from Myth to Nondual Thought (2007), Neurophilosophy of Sensation (2007) and Criticosynthesis (2008). The interested reader will find what needed there.

Applying this critical epistemology to General Aesthetics was the object of Sensations : a Formal Sketch of a Critical Esthetics (2007), a work on Critical Esthetics reworked in this section of the webside as Aesthetics of Music (2013).

Ontology of Musical Aeasthetics

To situate metaphysics in general, and ontology in particular, given critical epistemology, was tackled in my Critique of a Metaphysics of Process (2012). A process metaphysics was developed, one avoiding both ontological realism & ontological idealism. The ontological principal being the actual occasion (cf.Whitehead).

The application of process metaphysics to musicology gives rise to the notion "musical moment" ("moment musical", "musikalischen Moment"), and its multi-dimensional structure (pitch, rhythm, dynamic, timbre, horizontality, verticality & integrality). The aim being understanding the quantity, quality, relation & modality of the musical moment. This moment is a set of actual occasions, the smallest unity of ontology, the ontological principal. An actual occasion comes together with other actual occasions, forming events. Events too bind, forming entities or objects.

In process ontology, this smallest unit, the "actual occasion" was defined by
Whitehead (1861 - 1947) in his "quantum ontology" (Process & Reality, 1929), a theory of what is shared by all existing things in harmony with cosmology, biology and quantum mechanics.

(a) actual occasion o
x, an instance of the set of actual occasions O = {o1, ... om}, is an atomic & momentary actuality characterized by "extensiveness" ;
event e
x, an instance of the set of events E = {e1, ... en}, is the togetherness of actual occasions, and
entity en
x, an instance of the set of entities
= {en1, ... enp}, is the togetherness of events, while "entity" or "object" are synonymous.

Extensiveness is what all actual occasions have in common. This extensive plenum of the actual continuum of each actual occasion is :

(a) spatial : as in the case of geometrical objects ;
(b) temporal : as in the case of the duration of mental objects ;
(c) spatio-temporal : as in the case of the endurance of sensate objects like musical phenomena.

Entities and events are actual occasions interrelated in a determining way in one extensive continuum, and an actual occasion is a limiting type of an event with only one member. Nature is built up of these actual occasions. Events are aggregates or compounds of actual occasions. Entities are aggregates or compounds of events. When an aggregate or compound forms a society, a higher-order self-determination is at hand, a marker to distinguish non-individualized & individualized aggregates (or societies). Indeed, societies are aware of themselves, while mere compounds or non-individualized aggregates are not (a stone is not aware of it being a stone, while minerals, plants, animals & human systems are, each in its own degree).

An actual occasion is an atomic & momentary actuality characterized by "extensiveness".
Although indivisible, an actual occasion is not a "little thing", but a meaningful (creative) momentary differential change "dt", explained in terms of efficient & final determinations. These act as the two state-vectors of all changes in all the processes involving all actual occasions conserved in the interval or isthmus "dt" of the present moment M of the world (defined as M.t + dt).

Indeed, each actual occasion is the smallest possible interval and has itself a twofold structure. "Efficient determination" is physical momentum & mass of the particles, waves, fields and forces at hand (matter). "Final determination" is functional organization (information) and self-determination, creativity, valuation and the experience of conscious unity (consciousness), entering efficient causality & producing novelty.

The Categories of the "Moment Musical"

The musical moment is the musical principal of communicational musicology. It forms a particular set of events (or sets of actual occasion) determined by the efficient determination of the vibration of air molecules and the final determination given rise to musical structure (information) and meaning (consciousness). Because of the latter, the musical moment is not mere noise, but sound. This smallest of musical events has temporal (duration) and spatial characteristics. In a general sense, it may be said to be seven dimensional, for every musical moment has efficient & final determinations :

Efficient (material) determinations of the musical moment :

1. pitch : frequency of sound waves, in particular notes ;
2. rhythm : periodicity of the notes, their duration ;
3. dynamic : intensity, velocity of notes ;

Final (informational, formal) determinations of the musical moment :

4. horizontality : relationships or togetherness of this note with the one before and the next ;
5. verticality : the togetherness of this note with the one sounding above or below ;

Final (sentient, kinetic) determination of the musical moment :

6. color : timbre, sonance or tone quality given by the overtones of the musical moment ;
7. form : the total journey, logical and of continuous emotional appeal, formative principle allowing parts of an object to form a unity.

The smallest physical unit of music, the tone, is not identical with the musical moment. Although it defines the material shape of this moment, its efficient, causal or objective vector, it does not give insight in the finative, simultaneous or subjective vector, given by counterpoint (horizontality), harmony (verticality) and orchestration (tone color).

From Postmodernism to Hypermodernism

Traditional musicology was rooted in positivism and its realistic ontology. Communicational musicology, rooted in critical epistemology, integrates the deconstruction of modernism introduced by the double coding of postmodernism. It also assimilated its multi-culturalism and historical awareness. This brings about a hypermodernism, avoiding the irrationalism & relativism of postmodern analysis, leading up to a balanced view on knowledge, being and the various fields of culture, in particular music. This phenomenon is therefore viewed as a communicational process.

Ars Inveniendi - the Farben Project

The question of discovery is also important. In the past, musical composition, the actual art of generating works of music, was deemed too subjective to be the object of any scientific study. This is however not the case. Although subjective, the art of invention also has objective characteristics, and the study of these contributes to creativity, the flowering of consciousness.

The Farben Project is a study of musical color, and is intimately related to the conscious apprehension of music and therefore links with the psychological & spiritual impact of music on the listener. Related to the phenomenon of synesthesia, we find historical examples of it in the works of Telemann, Beethoven, Wagner, Liszt, Debussy, Scriabin & Schönberg (who introduced the concept of "Klankfarbenmelodie").

Musical Studies & Musical Works

To back the Farben Project, I also focus on specific composers, in particular Telemann, Mozart, Wagner & Scriabin. Telemann because of his gigantic output, personal style and harmonic genius backing an orginal view on tone color. Mozart because of his focus on melody, the heart of music. Wagner because of his originality, inventing chromatism and the idea of a "Gesamtkunstwerk". Finally Scriabin, as he developed the intimate relationship between color, psychological impact and spiritual emancipation (thanks to music), i.e. psycho-acoustics.

© Wim van den Dungen, Antwerp - 2016 - l SiteMap
initiated : 03 IV 2013 - last update : 01 IV 2014 - version n°1