Philosophy of Music: Graphic Scores and the Brain


*This author wrote the paper as a part of PHIL296: Philosophy of the Mind under the direction of Dr. Zhu The modularity of the brain represents a microcosmic desire to have uniformity and predictability in our lives. The brain is compartmentalized into modules with each one devoted to completing a specified task. The arrangement allows us to produce intricate responses and ultimately leads to higher thinking. The innate inclination to compartmentalize and create meaning from even the most ambiguous signals has been repeatedly challenged by art over time. From Pablo Picasso’s dream-like portrayals of reality, to modern avant-garde music’s attempt to redefine the inherited semantic function of musical scores, our brain constantly strives to explain visual and auditory inputs in a rational and practical way. Traditional musical scores include well-defined symbols that directly translate into real sounds. The process of learning a Bach fugue for piano, for example, is structured and easy for our brain to process. The visual input of a note is perceived in the occipital lobe, then recognized using learned rules and memories stored in the medial temporal lobe, and finally a physical response is generated in the motor cortex region located at the back of the frontal lobe. There is no interpretation involved in this procedure. The score represents a map from which a song can form, and our brain contains a map of its own to project the map of the music. Humans are used to using their minds for this kind of thinking. Contrasting with the straightforwardness of the classic use of our brains to read and play music, there is a new, modern style of music intended to change the role of a musical score from a set procedure to be followed to an outline musicians can fill in. This is achieved through graphic scores, which, according to The Oxford Companion to Music “employ drawn visual analogues in order to convey the composer’s intentions with regard to the required sounds and textures.” Examples of various graphic scores are shown in Appendix A. Some scores have more structure by including specific notes, while others are completely ambiguous and leave the interpretation of the score completely to the performer. Just as the interpretation of the score is indeterminate, the function of the score is as well. John Cage, a pioneer in indeterminacy of music and graphic scores, wrote,

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@inproceedings{Samberg2015PhilosophyOM, title={Philosophy of Music: Graphic Scores and the Brain}, author={Hannah Samberg}, year={2015} }