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TOPICALITY OF MUSICAL UNIVERSALS ACTUALIT DES UNIVERSAUX MUSICAUX

Scientific editor / directeur scientifique

Jean-Luc Leroy

TOPICALITY OF MUSICAL UNIVERSALS ACTUALIT DES UNIVERSAUX MUSICAUX

TOPICALITY OF MUSICAL UNIVERSALS ACTUALIT DES UNIVERSAUX MUSICAUX

Sous la direction de :

Jean-Luc Leroy

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Contents / Sommaire
Preface Jean-Luc LEROY ........................................................................................................................ 1 Introduction 1. A paradigm for musical universals Jean-Luc LEROY ........................................................................................................................ 7

Part I Where are musical universals?


2. Musical universals and the axiom of psychobiological equivalence Mark REYBROUCK ............................................................................................................... 29 3. Dismantling music: Reductionist models and evolutionary explanations in music cognition Thomas M. POOLEY ............................................................................................................... 43 4. On the concept of musical grammar: Definitions and universal aspects Mario BARONI ........................................................................................................................ 49 5. Les universaux musicaux entre histoire et neurosciences Michel IMBERTY ..................................................................................................................... 63 6. Musical universals: Perspectives from infancy Sandra E. TREHUB ................................................................................................................ 77 7. Innate versus universal a conceptual distinction Elisa NEGRETTO .................................................................................................................. 81 8. lments de rflexion sur les universaux en musique Franois-Bernard MCHE ....................................................................................................... 97 9. Les universaux : immatriels et partags Bernard LORTAT-JACOB .................................................................................................... 111

Part II On some possible aspects of universality in music


10. What makes music music? Theoretical explorations using zygonic theory Adam OCKELFORD ............................................................................................................ 123 11. Towards a social theory of rhythm Peter NELSON ...................................................................................................................... 149

12. Investigating the universal childrens rhythm hypothesis: Data, issues, perspectives Andy ARLEO ........................................................................................................................ 157 13. Leffet de lexpertise musicale sur la syntonisation des gestes musicaux Franois JOLIAT..................................................................................................................... 171 14. Infants perception of timbre in music Eugenia COSTA-GIOMI ....................................................................................................... 183 15. Bercer en chantant : geste universel ? Un parcours analytique du plan de lexpression Annie LABUSSIRE ........................................................................................................... 199 16. For a Copernican revolution in the understanding of universality of structural analysis of music Olivier LARTILLOT ............................................................................................................. 209 17. Approche cologique de la perception des dimensions temporelles de la musique et des arts numriques et Units Smiotiques Temporelles Frank DUFOUR .................................................................................................................... 225 18. Adjacency and alienation Janna K. SASLAW and James P. WALSH ......................................................................... 235 19. Bhava and rasa: Creative misunderstandings and musical universals Sandeep BHAGWATI ............................................................................................................ 241 Conclusion 20. Opening up horizons / Une ouverture sur lhorizon Jean-Luc LEROY .................................................................................................................... 251

Appendix Un paradigme pour les universaux musicaux Jean-Luc LEROY .................................................................................................................... 253

Contributors / Contributeurs.............................................................................................. 273 Abstracts / Rsums ............................................................................................................. 275 References / Rfrences ...................................................................................................... 291 Index........................................................................................................................................ 315

19. Bhava and rasa: Creative misunderstandings and musical universals


Sandeep BHAGWATI

1. Universals versus cultures


Mche (2001) once asked: How could I be overwhelmed by works arising from musical systems that I knew almost nothing about (p. 10). This is a simple, but by no means trivial question. Most people will immediately recognize the situation he describesbecause they themselves at some point in their life have encountered music from a tradition or culture they did not know and have felt a profound affinity to it. Peter Pannke has called this phenomenon the enchanted ear. But what causes the ear to be thusly enchanted and how can we understand the process of enchantment itself? Mches question is not trivial because it strikes at the heart of a holistic concept of culture. In 1934, Benedict had written in her famous book Patterns of Culture: A culture, like an individual, is a more or less consistent pattern of thought and action. Within each culture there come into being characteristic purposes not necessarily shared by other types of society (p. 47). She goes on to state, Cultures [] are more than the sum of their traits (p. 46). Benedict, in likening cultures to individuals, gave rise to an intellectual revulsion against universals that today has become a staple of white academic guilt: that the West cannot judge, evaluate, and pretend to understand and interpret any other cultureexcept on its own termsand if we at all do so, we must do this via its representatives. While very usefully establishing cultural contingency at the heart of our intertwined lives (each culture unto its own standards), this holistic approach to the concept of culture regrettably has a strong tendency to deteriorate into cultural essentialism (or culturalism): in this view, other cultures are not just different from each other in some of their traits. Rather, their differences are insurmountable in some intangible, but essential way. Such a holistic concept of culture, of course, makes it very difficult to sensibly account for cultural change, and thus for any fruitful interaction between such holistic cultural entities. It also makes it difficult to answer Mches question. And even more troublesome, to my ears at leastculturalist essentialism still carries faint echoes of imperialist 19th-century racism: only that the Primitive has by now graduated to become the Other. Universalist approaches seem to hold more promise here, not least for a more equitable view of the world at large. If we daringly assume for a moment that one cultures music is not another cultures theatre piecei.e. that music is universally perceived as something akin to how Westerners perceive musicthen the cognitive, neurological, biological foundations of the musical experience must be the same for all humans, regardless of cultural context. After all, sugar tastes sweet on all tongues, does it not?

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But, just as we almost never eat sugar by itself, we never hear these structural, cognitive, neurological musical phenomena in isolation. We always hear them embedded not only in a tradition of musical training, of cultural values, of specific social settings, of individual performers skills etc. but also in traditions of acquired reactions, of socially mediated emotions. As learners, we slowly acquire competence in listening to music in the same way that we learn to like coffeeand in the process we also learn the emotions that we are supposed to feel. Sugar may taste sweet to all human tongues, but for some humans this sensation triggers pleasurable emotions, while others experience anxiety about the consequences of this sweetness for their future weight and consequent social ostracismand thus do not enjoy sugar at all. They would rather prefer their coffee black.

2. Cultural emotions
Most musicians in the world think of the musical experience as one that evokes, creates and sustains complex emotional states and trajectories. Please note that this definition does not say that the music itself needs to be composed or consciously made, nor that the emotional states resulting from it can in any way be controlled or influenced by the music itself. It just acknowledges that music (however it comes about and regardless of the intention that made it appear) has an impact on people and that their primary response to it is emotional. While some composers and music producers in the West have been quick to adapt their concept of creative music making to this insight (e.g. the second halves of both John Cages and Brian Enos careers are built on the fact that non-intentionally produced music still can give rise to pertinent musical experiences), most music makers worldwide actually have believed and continue to believe that the music they make transports, induces and triggers specific emotional states in the listenersand that they thus have some influence on the emotional experience of those who listen to them. As a composer and music inventor, part of my artistic challenge thus would be to get the emotions rightboth those that I project and those that my listeners receive. In order to achieve that goal, most musicians and artists rely on relatively closed reference systems such as musical traditions or styles: in such circumscribed contexts, the taste acquired by learning the rules and value systems for certain signifiers serves as a reliable information channel and communication code for emotions. We learn a musical tradition or style either by listening, or by learning to perform/create an acceptable instance of itand in doing so, we at the same time learn its emotional sign-system. All pre-20th-century musicians built their artistic careers on such acquired signsystems. Their skills allowed them to creatively play with the emotional sign-system of one, at most two or three particular traditionsand draw all kinds of emotional responses from them: from the pleasure of hearing familiar turns of phrase to the intellectual titillation of finding an unexpected, but valid solution to an seemingly insoluble musical problem. Please note that all these conceptsfamiliar, unex-

19. Bhava and rasa243

pected, valid, insoluble, etc.can only work if they refer to concrete phenomena perceived in a circle of initiates that share common values and a common emotional reference system. These same musical phenomena could mean something completely different to listeners outside this circleindeed, most of them will be utterly unfathomable to them. The artistic competencies developed in this kind of research into the deepest folds of one system of emotional references can be rich and intenseand they represent an enormous personal investment. Hence the widespread disdain among trained musicians for people who do what is often called cross-over work. Musical artists who are able to provide valid musical instances in many different reference systems, who master several styles, and who then undertake to mix their elements into new hybridssuch musicians must in todays context almost always deal with suspicions of aesthetic or artistic shallowness. Logically, the same suspicion applies to listeners. No one disputes the fact that our listeners are able to physically perceive sounds from another tradition. Perhaps, if they are very experienced listeners, they may even parse the sounds into something they themselves can love as music. But can they actually, i.e. emotionally, understand the emotional sign-system of this alien music tradition if they lack the acquired taste? And can they acquire it at all, ever? Given the personal investments involved, such a question is tantamount to asking if a person can love several lovers as much as the One. We now know why culturalism is such a powerful temptationand why it proves so hard to resist it.

3. Bhava and rasa


Emotions provoked by sound input thus seem to fall clearly on the side of cultural contingency. No trace of universalism in emotional reactions to music. Yet the question that Mche posed still remains to be answered. He himself answers it in his book by identifying traits that in his perspective connect all music-making on a purely phenomenological level. This evokes early universalist approaches such as Malinowskis, who famously defined hunger, defecation and sex as universal human traits. All humans have rules for sexual intercourse, for raising children, have language, etc. On such a trivial level, all music contains collections of sonic materials, has a temporal architecture, uses a kind of pitch/timbre/duration differentiation, etc. But how do we get from there to the deeply felt and yet to him incomprehensible emotions that can befall an Indian teenager who hears Beethovens Fifth Symphony (and with it the Western classical idiom) for the very first time? At this point, let us turn to the Indian concepts of rasa and bhava, as one example of a quite detailed structural analysis of a contingent tradition and emotional sign system. The oldest extant text about these concepts seems to be the Natya Shastra, a remarkably precise compendium of the dramatic arts from ancient India, thought to be written by someone (or a group/school/lineage of people) called Bharata Muni, between 1500

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and 2500 years ago.1 The author(s) of the Natya Shastra seem to know all about the contingencies of creating emotional frames of reference. They take great care to define almost every aspect of a performance, from the size and architecture of the performance space to individual hand movements by the actors. The implication is that emotional frames of reference can (and therefore must) be clearly spelled out for the performersafter all, an actor/musician must intentionally generate the emotional import of actions and situations that competent audience members then can understand in the context of their tradition. The circle of initiation pre-dates the performanceindeed, only the existence of this circle makes performance possible. For Bharata Muni, there can be no truly moving performance beyond the rules of the Natya Shastra. Here the rasas come into play: they are described as elaborate emotionscapes that sustain a performance. In the context of this essay, rasas function somewhat like the circles of initiation mentioned before: they encompass performers and audience alike in a common emotional reference frameand thus make the performance accessible to the audience, allowing performers to transmit their emotional states in reference to a shared framework. According to the tradition (and here I boldly telescope millennia of aesthetic discussion in India alone) nine such sustained rasa/emotionscapes have been identified: erotism/love (gra), wonder (adbhuta), fury (raudra), humour (hsya), terror (bhaynaka), disgust (bbhatsa), heroism (vra), empathy (karu) and bliss (nta). But just as there is no such thing as love in the abstract, only many acts and emotions we cumulate into something called love, these rasas are no more than intangible backgrounds for the artistic work. In order to produce them, and in order to experience, study and learn how to produce and experience them, we must turn to their bodily incarnations: the bhavas. The most trivial definition of bhavas would see them as emotional states. Scholars distinguish several types of bhavas. The most essential of these are: vi-bhavas (antecedent, inner bhavas), sthayi-bhavas (stable bhavas) and sacari-bhavas (transitory bhavas), and finally anu-bhavas (consequent, outer bhavas) (fig. 1).2 vi-bhavas are interior, physiological states of the body. They precede emotions and bring them into being. vi-bhavas could also be called propensities for emotion. They limit the possible range of emotions, narrow it down. They are important for any artist, because, as we know, bodily states do not only follow emotional states (we feel tears welling up because we are sad), they can also precede emotional states (we can force ourselves to be sad simply by making ourselves cry, i.e. adopting the requisite postures and gestures). In consciously enacting vi-bhavas, performers can thus conjure up an emotion in themselves: for example, every singer knows how crucial it can be to

Dates are notoriously contentious in Indian studies. In the following paragraphs I am deeply indebted to Priyadarshi Patnaiks (1997) exposition of rasa and bhava (p. 15-52).
1 2

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visualize where the voice sitsand what an impact on the mood of the interpretation this vi-bhava can have, even if nothing else in the song changes. sthayi-bhavas (stable bhavas) and sacari-bhavas (transitory bhavas) do not exist without each other. They constitute the essence of the rasa: a stable basis for emotional communication, often traversedand thereby reinforcedby short, ephemeral emotional variants, and even by what one could call counter-moods. sthayi-bhavas follow directly from vi-bhava, they are the perceptible expression of the bodily states of vi-bhava, they are the atmosphere that vi-bhavas have created. Finally, the anu-bhavas are the discernible bodily expressions of the mood. In performance, anu-bhavas are the conscious or unconscious actions that the performer uses to convey a stable or fleeting emotional state to the audience, such as an expressive tremolo or a special variety of miind (a glissando in Indian music), a particular harmonical turn or a subtle vibrato. anu-bhavas are signs and evidence of emotion, they inform us about the mood of someone elseif we read them properly. In the listener, so the theory goes, this process ideally will then take place in reverse: the listener will perceive and resonate with the anu-bhavas,3 will deduce or empathize the sthayi-bhavasand finally there may be bodily reactions that resemble the vi-bhavas: through this process the listener partakes in the rasa of the music.

Figure 1 The process of bhavas.

This apperception of the rasa, of course, must be the ultimate goal of aesthetic discourse. In it, full resonance between performance and reception can be achieved: this is quite similar to what in culturalists in the West most likely mean by the word full understanding in sentences such as: most people do not fully understand another culture/cultural expression. In this view, an audience understands a piece of music properly if it resonates to it in the same way as the musician or composer did (or intended) while making it.
3

How this happens seems to be neatly explained by the discovery of mirror-neurons (see Rizzolati & Craighero, 2004).

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4. Western music composition in the 20th and 21st centuries


But what if there is nothing to understand? That is, if we look at music that was created without any intended emotionbut that nevertheless can provoke musical emotions in listeners? This kind of effect is most prominent in computer-generated music. From its beginnings with the Illiac Suite4 to todays OMAX-Improvisations,5 computer-generated music-making has challenged tradition/culture-based aesthetic thinking: what is the aesthetic message contained within the musicif there is no sender?6 In the case of OMAX, even the analysis and recombination of stylistic music models is done by a neural network, uninfluenced by any direct human (and thus, culturally biased) intervention. Even if, as we know, such computer-generated music is not accepted as music everywhere on the planet, it is sufficient for the purposes of our argument that is has been accepted as such in one culturenamely, contemporary western art music. It can even be argued that the emotional quality of computer-generated music is only an aspect of a wider phenomenon in western art music since the invention of dodecaphony. For a significant portion of the most seminal works of the Western Art Music composition in the 20th and 21st centuries is music by declaration, i.e. music that at the time of its composition was not a valid instance of any culturally established sign-system, but whose composers nevertheless insisted that their product was aesthetically relevant within the sign-system and cultural codes pertaining to music. In listening to a new work by Boulez, Cage, Xenakis, Stockhausen, etc., audiences typically reacted with the full gamut described for culture contact: from curiosity to abhorrence, from attraction to thick description to frustrated and outraged condemnations that were clear indicators of a profound misunderstanding. Any theory of universality in music must include and explain the musical phenomena produced by this century of systematic and intentional de- and re-culturization of musical discourse in the West. For if intentionlessor intentionally de-culturalized sound combinations can occasion a strong musical experience (and thus, be experienced as music), the entire concept of trans-cultural musical understanding seems to become questionable. But, on the other hand, if people do not have an understanding of what they are hearing, what is the point of making art music, composing musique savante? And why do listeners then bother to listen at all?

See <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illiac_Suite> See the IRCAM Omax project page at <http://recherche.ircam.fr/equipes/repmus/OMax/> 6 Aesthetic/anthropological theory could, of course, point to the aesthetic relevance of the entire enterprise where computers compose musicbut this aspect would be irrelevant in any double-blind, Turing Test-like context.
4 5

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5. The Bhava-Rasa model of aesthetic communication


Here the Bhava-Rasa model of aesthetic communication could open an interesting line of enquiry: for at the same time that it creates a framework for understanding and artistic communication it also offers a possible way to understand and track misunderstandings. For the sake of this essay, a misunderstanding is to be a meaningful parsing of a message that does not correspond to the messages original meaning: for example, if the spoken French conditional phrase Sil y a quat poules is misunderstood as an English command Celia, cut, pull! As in this case, such an understanding can be quite meaninglessbut if it is not perceived as such, it can actually produce meaning; and in a non-semantic art such as music, meaning-producing misunderstandings obviously must be easier than in natural languages. How can such creative misunderstandings be described in terms of Bhavas and Rasas? As we have seen above, generating a Rasa from Bhavas is a complicated process of modulationfrom the performers inner body image (vi-bhavas), the performers mind (sthayi/sacari-bhavas), the outer manifestation (anu-bhavas) in music, the listeners mirror neuron resonance to the music (his/her anu-bhavas), and back to the vi-bhavas. According to this model, the crucial moment for misunderstanding occurs exactly at the moment when the action of the mirror neurons (the anu-bhavas in the listener) is interpreted by the listeners brain as a sequence of sthayi/sacari-bhavas. While registering the anu-bhavas still is a sensory act without much framing by tradition or culture,7 parsing the anu-bhavas into sthayi/sacari-bhavas is only possible within a conceptual framework that weighs and integrates them into a mental/inner representation of an emotion. In any tradition-bound musicking, this framework was always implicitly assumed to be identical or compatible with the framework that produced the signalwe could call this the radio antenna or modem model of aesthetics: the sender packages something that the receiver unpacks in essentially the same way. Thus, if the original intentions were not properly conveyed (i.e. if the music was not beautiful, or if the audience seemed banausic) this could only be the fault of: the sender (the musician) who did not have anything to say or lacked the skills to properly encode the message; the channel (the music) which was too noisy or had too narrow a bandwith; the receiver (the listener) who again lacked either decoding skills or simple human sensibilities. In cases where this chain of transmission seemed to fail, composers fretted about stupid audiences and or the insufficiency of the tools and technique at their disposal (a frustration that drove the constant development of new tools and techniques), and audience members were worried (or even angry) when it seemed to them that the
7

Maybe akin to hearing a sentence spoken in an alien language, before trying to make sense of it, even if I would not want to overly stress the language metaphors here: music is not really a language, after all, as it lacks the constraints of semantics.

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music did not make senseor if they felt that the sense musicians claimed it made was way beyond their ken. The question posed by Mche uncovers the basic fallacy of this model: he describes how he (and many others) listened to music they knew nothing about, combinations of sounds that should not have offered them anything like a full musical experience but that enchanted them nevertheless. What did they understand? According to the Rasa-Bhava model, they understood two different things: firstly, they heard the anu-bhavasand it is these that Mche in his book goes on to examine, and which give credence to the assumption of musical universalsand they parsed, interpreted, associated these anu-bhavas with sthayi/sacari-bhavas that were familiar to them from their own cultural background (fig. 2).

Figure 2 The Bhava-Rasa model of aesthetic communication.

This parsing of culturally neutral anu-bhavas (the mirrored neuronal response) into culturally infused emotional responses seems to me to be the crucial step that can enable creative misunderstanding. In this step, anu-bhavas are dissociated from the emotional context that held them together in a particular way and re-ordered into a different context: e.g. a teen-tal rhythm (a 16-beat cycle divided in to 4 sub-units) becomes a 4/4 time signature, a complicated taan (a condensed statement of raag-based pitch relationships) becomes a virtuosic melodic ornament, just as, the other way round, tonal harmonic sequences are heard as convoluted erratic raag-mixtures (ragamalikas) orin a particularly striking example I once witnessed myselfa short dodecaphonic piano piece by Webern, is immediately understood as an exposition of a complex raag with several accidental gracenotesonly to occasion utter disappointment when the huge potential for hour-long melodic exploration was not at all tapped, and the piece ended after a few short minutes.8

This happened at a workshop for my project Rasalila, a 10-year project bringing together musicians from India and from the Ensemble Modern. In January 2002 at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Ueli Wiget played the first movement of Anton Weberns Sonata op. 27 on the pianoand the famous Drupad singer Uday Bhawalkar not only perfectly parsed the dodecaphonic sequence of pitches

19. Bhava and rasa249

It is in such moments of creative misunderstanding that new ideas for music are bornand culturally determined factors intermingle in multiple ways with any possible universals that may be present in the music. The music we hear has its own reality which we read and, in reading, create its meaning. Whatever sounds a musician produces and infuses with meaning, we can only understand him/her as he/she intends if we understand what his/her musical tradition would consider as important. But whether we know this or not does not matter as far as aesthetics, our perception and even our experience is concerned. For we ourselves make our rasa, by ordering our instinctive reactions into categories that we in our cultural environment have learned to associate with certain emotions. We cannot directly feel the sounds we hear, nor do we react to any kind of musical universals that we may or may not perceiverather, we interpret what we hear as a result of another persons familiar emotional codeand we try to decode it the way we have learned it in our life, assuming that what fed the music is similar to what we extract from it. Whether we are mistaken in this, whether the music we hear is actually from a distant tribe with an entirely different world view, or made by a computer algorithm on the laptop in front of uswe cannot tell, and we certainly cannot understand it as it is. But from the pleasure it affords us, we can infer that it speaks to us and we begin to doubt that there is any as it is, as long as it affords us a musical experience. Hassan (2011) wrote: In this universe, not all the musics are of our own making.9 While this may be true, we can be quite confident that all the musical experiences we have are indeed made by ourselves, in a constant creative misunderstanding of the sounds that enter our ears.

in the piece after one hearing, singing it out to us; he also demonstrated its huge melodic potential by improvising a short variant of it on the spota completely Indian music. 9 Ihab Hassan, From Postmodernism to Postmodernity: the Local/Global Context, in : <http://www.ihabhassan. com/postmodernism_to_postmodernity.htm> (accessed on 4/10/11).

TOPICALITY OF MUSICAL UNIVERSALS ACTUALIT DES UNIVERSAUX MUSICAUX


Musical Universals are a field of research which focuses on aspects, mechanisms and functions of music from an anthropological viewpoint. Its objective is to bring to light what various cultural expressions of the musical phenomenon have in common, with a view to developing a general theory of music integrated into an overall understanding of humankind. Deemed academic and outdated in the second half of the last century, the question of musical universals now appears repeatedly in some of the landmark contributions of the last decade, demonstrating its topicality. It would appear to be a crucial question inasmuch as it poses the problem of the bioanthropological conditions of musical systems, and more generally of the articulations of the biological, psychological, social and cultural aspects within the musical phenomenon, and of their mechanisms. Such a central account results from an inescapable trend towards the integration of the sciences of music into the life sciences from an evolutionary perspective, led in particular by the psychology and neuroscience of music. In this view, which draw us from essence to process, from product to function, from actual to potential, from perception to intention, the approach to music which deals in terms of universals aims to account not so much for the rigidity of structures as for the plasticity of the living, not to define the norm, but to open out onto the possible.

Les Universaux Musicaux sont un domaine de recherche centr sur les aspects, les mcanismes et les fonctions de la musique un niveau anthropologique. Lobjectif est de mettre en vidence ce qui est commun aux diffrentes manifestations culturelles du phnomne musical, de faon laborer une thorie gnrale de la musique intgre une comprhension globale de ltre humain. Considre pendant la seconde moiti du sicle dernier comme acadmique et suranne, la question des universaux musicaux apparat aujourdhui de faon rcurrente dans certaines des contributions les plus marquantes de cette dernire dcennie, rvlant toute son actualit. La question semble cruciale dans la mesure o elle pose le problme des conditions bioanthropologiques des systmes musicaux, et plus gnralement des articulations du biologique, du psychologique, du social et du culturel dans le phnomne musical, et de leurs mcanismes. Cette prise en compte centrale est rsulte dun inluctable mouvement dintgration des sciences de la musique aux sciences du vivant dans une perspective volutionniste, sous la pousse notamment de la psychologie et des neurosciences de la musique. Dans cette perspective, qui nous invite passer de lessence au processus, du produit la fonction, de lactuel au potentiel, de la perception lintention, lapproche de la musique en termes d universaux na pas pour objet de rendre compte de la rigidit des structures mais bien de la plasticit du vivant; non pas dfinition de la norme, mais ouverture sur des possibles.

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