Musical stimuli are active along a juncture between aesthetics and empiricism. For through such stimuli, music as an aesthetic object is brought into an empirical research context in which questions are treated that are in turn of aesthetic relevance. In this project we will explore the basis of this connection in order to develop a theoretical framework for comprehensively describing musical stimuli. To this end the concept of stimulus will be examined in its historical and theoretical dimensions as well as with regard to different ways of characterizing musical stimuli. In the course of a follow-up analysis of experimental situations and empirical settings, we will also examine the research contexts in which music is made use of as a stimulus.
The use of music as a stimulus is in fact a self-evident element of empirical music research. However, music is also used as a stimulus in research contexts where music itself is not in the focus of interest. In addition, within research practice we can identify different kinds of musical stimulus and different ways of characterizing musical stimuli. For example, artificially produced or manipulated music examples, excerpts from music recordings of different styles and duration, and real music performances can all serve as stimulus. It can be characterized through musical or aesthetic properties, acoustic or psycho-acoustic parameters, assignation to a musical style, or ascription to a social function. Against this backdrop the question emerges of the relationship between music and musical stimulus: what renders a stimulus musical, and how can this be distinguished from an acoustic stimulus? Under what circumstances does a stimulus function as musical or acoustic?
To answer these questions, a detailed analysis of the experimental situations and empirical settings where stimuli are presented is called for. Alongside the identification of all possible variables, including confounding variables, usual in empirical practice, we will examine the relationship between the stimulus and the situation of stimulus presentation. This implies the question to which extent, in an experimental framework and with consideration of its methodological premises, we can speak of musical or aesthetic experience in the first place. As an aesthetic object, music is here assigned the role of a stimulus whose characteristics need to be controlled. Musical experiences, or rather those indicators making a construct of musical experience empirically accessible, constitute a measurable quantity. The characterization of stimulus and the operationalization of a construct of musical experience here unfolds in the language of empirical research practice. This involves a necessary transition from aesthetic descriptions to what is accessible in the framework of empirical method. When results of empirical research are applied to aesthetics, the transition is made again but in the inverse direction. This transition needs to be analyzed in each individual case, in order to gain insight into the ways empirical research and aesthetic theory can be meaningfully interrelated.
As a follow-up to a historical and theoretical examination of both the concept of stimulus and the empirical settings where it is presented, we will prepare a comprehensive systematic description of musical stimuli, of equal relevance for different disciplines. In this way our project is mean as a foundational contribution to formulating integrative approaches to empirical aesthetics of music.