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 terms and gestures when teaching non-dance styles. In response, musicologists and philosophers have theorized the phenomenon of ‘musical motion’: the sense of movement conveyed by music. In this project I examine the experience of motion in performing, learning, and listening to music, focusing on the South Indian style known as Karnatak music – a raga based style which exists within an extensive theoretical and aesthetic framework, while also having an evolving contemporary practice.

The aims of this project are twofold. The first is to elucidate how musical motion contributes to meaning in this particular style: how it intersects with theoretical and aesthetic notions such as rāga (melodic type), sañcāra (characteristic phrase), and bhāva (mood). The second aim of the project is to address fundamental questions regarding the nature of musical motion, examining consistency between listeners’ self reports of experienced musical motion, and asking whether there is any correspondence between listener experience and performer movement. To achieve these aims the project employs an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together methods from music cognition, music analysis, and ethnomusicology, integrating the results to contribute to knowledge both on South Indian raga performance, and on the experience of musical motion.