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Metaform and Metaforming

Abstract

Ian Cross (1998) has provided three views of music - what he labels the physicalist, the immanentist and the cognitive. These three views cover a majority of the continuum of approaches to the art. He attempts to overcome the clear difficulties involved in attempting to negotiate a unified view by involving within the cognitivism a number of new explanations of music taken from an ethnomusicological or evolutionary perspective. Eric Clarke has, too, identified a difficulty in drawing conclusions about explaining the 'real-life' experience of music from a 'bottom up' approach - that is, starting from an atomic idea and working upwards. As has been pointed out, these difficulties themselves are manifestations of a wider problem with our understanding of our own perception - while we and our brains are clearly formed from quanta, the actions of which obey known (although not fully understood) physical laws, we are equally clearly unable to understand our behaviour in terms of these quanta (or indeed, from many other 'lower level' entities). It is equally clear to me that, while it may be the case that a musical event can be reduced to a series of musical 'quanta', our understanding of these quanta will not necessarily, and arguably cannot in principle explain our 'real-life' understanding of a piece of music. Within these two extremes and in each (and all) domains, there are similar 'levels' of understanding or incomprehension.

In recent years, a number of attempts have been made at providing the background for a more cohesive synthesis of these difficulties, and it is perhaps significant that many of these attempts have come from physics, the science presently grappling with the structure of reality and inevitably coming upon the effects of intelligent life on that reality. What, if anything, have these widely varying and widely differing views have to say about the nature of music? Is there any reason to believe that these issues, concerning issues as diverse as evolution, computing and our understanding of knowledge itself can provide any basis for an understanding of the musical act?

Richard Hoadley, April 2000