Schlenker, Philippe: 2016, Prolegomena to Music Semantics.
Manuscript, Institut Jean-Nicod and New York University.
Abstract: We argue
that a formal semantics for music can be developed, although it
will be based on very different principles from linguistic semantics
and will yield less precise inferences. Our framework has the following
tenets: (i) Music cognition is continuous with normal auditory
cognition. (ii) In both cases, the semantic content of an auditory
percept can be identified with the set of inferences it licenses on its
causal sources, analyzed in appropriately abstract ways (e.g. as
'voices' in some Western music). (iii) What is special
about music semantics is that it aggregates inferences based on normal
auditory cognition with further inferences drawn on the basis of the
behavior of voices in tonal pitch space (through more or less stable
positions, for instance). (iv) This makes it possible to define
an inferential semantics but also a truth-conditional semantics for
music. In particular, a voice undergoing a musical movement m is true
of an object undergoing a series of events e just in case there is a
certain structure-preserving map between m and e. (v) Aspects of
musical syntax (notably Lerdahl and Jackendoff's 'time-span
reductions') are derivable on semantic grounds from an event mereology
('partology'), which also explains some cases in which tree structures
are inadequate (overlap, ellipsis). (vi) Intentions and emotions may be
attributed at three levels (the source, the musical narrator, the
musician), and we speculate on possible explanations of the special
relation between music and emotions. Finally, (vii) we argue that two
empirical methods may prove useful to study music semantics: in special
cases, one may decompose a piece into its component parts (e.g.
rhythm, melody) to assess their individual semantic effects; in the
general cases, one may rewrite part of a piece (e.g. with changes
of harmony) in order to obtain minimal pairs whose semantic effects can
be contrastively assessed.