Aesthetic experience of music: dimensions, qualities and measurements

Whether the aesthetic experience of music can be meaningfully measured at all—and if so, how—and what type of knowledge is gained through such measurements, is perhaps the most controversial question in empirical aesthetics. It seems that an almost insurmountable gap arises between philosophical concepts and literary or autobiographical descriptions of aesthetic experiences on the one hand and typical empirical measurements on the other.

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We see mediation between these two poles as one of the outstanding opportunities and tasks for a transdisciplinary institute such as our own. Conceptually, we take on this challenge by pursuing a psychological construct of aesthetic experience that also accommodates the descriptions and interests of the aesthetic and humanities approaches. For us, this means first and foremost a construct that centers its attention on the phenomenal state of the temporally unfolding aesthetic experience itself, and not primarily on its outputs (liking, induced emotions) or their correlates (such as psychophysical arousal as a correlate of liking). At the same time, we also research a broad variety of historical and contemporary written documents of musical experiences.

 

Research Projects

The feeling of musical beauty – Schöne Stellen in Musik

If we are asked about music that we especially like or are moved by, and if we then try to describe what this involves, we are very likely to find ourselves using the word “beautiful.” If we wish to very briefly explain our enthusiasm for one or another particular passage, this may serve as a sufficient answer. But what, in the end, do we mean by this—where, in fact, is the beauty in music located?

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Aesthetic Absorption

In the context of listening to music, absorption denotes a psychological condition characterized by a deep involvement with art reception, and evaluated as a particularly intense and pleasurable type of aesthetic experience. We investigate these aesthetic experiences from the following two complementary perspectives...

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On the Difference Between Perceived and Felt Emotions in Music

In this project we study the physiological and neuronal correlates of perceived musical expression and the feelings sparked by music listening. The assumption that the physiological and affective phenomena are congruent has been a cornerstone of both musical pedagogy and music-aesthetic discourse since the inception of that discourse in the writings of Plato and Aristotle.

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Listening to Music as Both Experience and Evaluation in Late Seventeenth-century Urban England

This project has the mid-seventeenth century as its starting point—a period in which, as a result of a ban on most public performance, music had gained an important position in domestic life and thus in the everyday life of most urban dwellers. This position in the private sphere dramatically expanded outwards into public life with the reintroduction of the monarchy and the connected resumption of performance culture starting in 1660.

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Musical motion: the experience and aesthetics of movement in South Indian raga performance

The interconnection between music and movement can be observed in everyday life: for example, in the tendency for people to move along with music, and to use motion-related words when talking about music. In response, musicologists and philosophers have theorized the phenomenon of ‘musical motion’: the sense of movement experienced when listening to music.

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The pleasure of contemporary classical music

This project explores the mechanisms that drive the appreciation of new and contemporary classical music (i.e. Western art music from the 20th and 21st century). Since this style of music often contains a high degree of dissonance, is often atonal and not based on a regular meter, it is challenging  especially for inexperienced listeners.

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Musical Epiphanies as Taste Defining Experiences

For the most part the development of personal musical taste has been described as a long-term process of enculturation and socialization. But at the same time, people have repeatedly given accounts of particular, extraordinary events that have changed, expanded, or reoriented their musical taste in a fundamental way.

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Formenlehre and the Understanding of Musical Form

The form of a piece of music has been regarded as a central category for the evaluation of compositions since the 18th century. The Formenlehre (theory of forms) has developed beyond the theory of composition into an independent subject. This discipline not only deals with the structure of musical material, but also implies what kind of meaning arises for the listener.

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The Preface in Early 17th-Century Music Prints

When, in the early 17th century, composers stepped onto the scene of writing about music, they created a new paratextual element to music prints: the note to the reader. This textual genre became quickly established and opened up new perspectives on the aesthetic discussion of current musical practice. The emergence of composers as commentators on their own works not only expanded the circle of actors in the field of musical writing, but also the topics discussed.

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Disliked Music

In Western cultures, musical taste, understood as a particular attitude towards music, is an important aspect of one’s self-concept and self-perception. As an affective and expressive medium, music not only serves to satisfy emotional and social needs; rather, in its individual quality as liked or disliked music, it can be used to create and affirm one’s own identity.

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Publications

Omigie, D., Frieler, K., Bär, C., Muralikrishnan, R., Wald-Fuhrmann, M., & Fischinger, T. (2019). Experiencing musical beauty: Emotional subtypes and their physiological and musico-acoustic correlates. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/aca0000271

Mencke, I., Omigie, D., Wald-Fuhrmann, M., & Brattico, E. (2019). Atonal Music: Can Uncertainty Lead to Pleasure? Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12, 979. doi:10.3389/fnins.2018.00979/full

Fink, L., Lange, E.B., & Janata, P. (2018).The pupil entrains to prominent periodicities in music. 15th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition (ICMPC), Graz, Austria.

Vroegh, T.P. (2018a). Zoning in or Tuning in? Identifying Distinct Absorption States in Response to Music. Psychomusicology, Manuscript submitted.

Vroegh, T.P. (2018b).  A conditional process analysis on absorption as an affect-biased type of attention. Manuscript in preparation.

Vroegh, T.P. (2018c).  Is absorbed music listening a distinct state of mind? A taxometric analysis. Manuscript in preparation.

Wiesmann, S., Vroegh, T., Henschke, S., & Lange, E.B. (2018).  Manual motor reaction while being absorbed into popular music. Manuscript submitted.

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Kuijpers, M.& Lange, E.B. (2017). Experiencing audiobooks: The effects of microsaccade and blink rate 19th European Conference on Eye Movements (ECEM), Wuppertal, Germany.

Wiesecke, J. (2017). Samuel Pepys and his experiences of music at Restoration theatres. In H. Barlow, & D. Rowland (Eds.), Listening to music: People, practices and experiences. Retrieved from http://ledbooks.org/proceedings2017/#sec_245_h1

Lange, E.B., Zweck, F., & Sinn, P. (2017). Microsaccade-rate indicates absorption by music listening. Consciousness and Cognition, 55, 59-78. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2017.07.009