Scoring sounds : the visual representation of music in cross-cultural perspective
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This thesis argues that a performer’s relationship with a musical score is an interaction largely defined by social and cultural parameters, but also examines whether disparate musical traditions show any common underlying tendencies regarding the perceived relationship between musical sound and visual representation. The research brings a novel, cross-cultural perspective to bear on the topic, combining a systematic, empirical study with qualitative fieldwork. Data were collected at five sites in three countries, involving: classically-trained musicians based in the UK; traditional Japanese musicians both familiar and unfamiliar with western standard notation; literate Eastern Highlanders from Port- Moresby, Papua New Guinea; and members of the BenaBena tribe, a non-literate community in Papua New Guinea. Participants heard short musical stimuli that varied on three musical parameters (pitch, duration and attack rate) and were instructed to represent these visually so that if another community member saw the marks they should be able to connect them with the sounds. Secondly, a forced-choice design required participants to select the best shape to describe a sound from a database. Interviews and fieldwork observations recorded how musicians engaged with the visual representation of music, considering in particular the effects of literacy and cultural parameters such as the social context of music performance traditions. Similarities between certain aspects of the participants’ responses suggest that there are indeed some underlying commonalities among literate participants of any cultural background. Meanwhile, the overall variety of responses suggests that the association between music and its visual representation (when it takes place) is strongly affected by ever-altering socio-cultural parameters.