Bodily Diagrams of Motion in Music

This paper seeks to synthesize, from a Peircean semiotic perspective, two theoretical aspects thought important in music cognition and perception and, in turn, in the emergence of musical meaning. Firstly, the prevalence of analogical reasoning and inference in music; secondly, the important role of gesture and embodied cognition in musical understanding is discussed. Both are emphasized in modern cognitive musicological studies. From a semiotic perspective, the sign-model of C.S. Peirce is employed to model these phenomena, leaning in particular on Peirce’s notion of iconic and indexical signs – signs based on similarity or causal/spatiotemporal relationships respectively. Music is considered, on the one hand, a special case of sound semiosis in which indexical signs of forces and motion dominate. On the other hand, the content of these indexes is instantiated in icons, which provide the possibility for creative inferences in artistic semiosis through embodied, mimetic cognition. These icons are in turn formed in the context of a conventional tonal (or atonal) musical language, forming similarity mostly through the relationships and configurations of syntactical units and can thus be mainly considered diagrams: icons which reflect relationships rather than direct qualitative resemblance. Considering musical signs as diagrammatic indexes allows us to explain how conventional and complex syntactic configurations in tonal music enable cognitively and modally distant analogous associations of motion and movement, which in turn can be utilized in an artistic context to create musical metaphors. One such case from Western classical piano music is taken as a practical case study in this paper as I analyze depiction of motion in Heino Eller’s piano miniature ‘Butterfly’. 

Karl Joosep Pihel

Tartu University Institute of Philosophy and Semiotics

PhD student in Semiotics and Cultural Studies at Tartu University. His research has focused on various theoretical accounts on musical meaning from a semiotic perspective; his doctoral thesis focuses on the synthesis of modern-day diagrammatologic studies and musical semiotics to explain the prevalence of analogy-type musical meaning through a Peircean semiotic. Previously, in his MA thesis, he wrote on representation of space and motion. He has also studied musicology at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theater, where he wrote on narrative studies and topic theory in music.