Michael SPITZER: "Meditations on Meyer's Hobby Horses:
Levels of Motivation in Musical Signs" (3/7)


On a different level, however, Gombrich's persuasive application of phylogenetic principles to the realm of high art marks a unique achievement. It can only be regarded as the model for the "bio-semiotic" tinta of Meyer's Style and Music:
Other things being equal, innovations that are consonant with human perceptual and cognitive capacities - the constraints ofthe central nervous system - are more licely to be used and replicated than innovations that are not so. For instance, novelties are more likely to be selected and replicated if they do not involve stimuli so extreme... that perception is painful or patterning problematic. Equally important, selection and replication are more likely if innovations conform to the Gestalt principles of pattern comprehension... ln short, innovations that are compatible with the constraints and proclivities of human perceptual and cognitive processes will tend to be comprehended as coherent, stable, and memorable relationships. As such, they have a reasonable chance of being replicated as aspects of the idiom of a composer or as part of the dialect of the compositional community (140).
Right from the start, Meyer's writings sought to ground style analysis in "the nature of human mental processes" as well as "expectations that are based upon learning" (1956: 43). Nevertheless, while Emotion and Meaning in Music always avowed the mutual efficacy of innate and learnt perceptual principles, little attempt was made to discriminate or grade them. Furthermore, the differential weighting of Gestalt and cultural factors played no part in the analysis of pieces or the classification of musical materials. Differential weighting and classification constituted the most vital contribution of Explaining Music. The heart of the book (chapter 7, 131-241) is a catalogue of six diverse "melodic structures", each of which intermingled natural and learned principles in a different way. Underlying Meyer's survey is a broad dichotomy between "gap-fill" melodies and "archetypal schemata". "Gap-fill melodies consist of two elements: a disjunct interval - the gap - and conjunct intervals which fill the gap" (145). The implicative properties of gaps are innate, universal, and stable through time: they are "natural". By contrast, archetypal schemata, even though they arise out of and enshrine psychological constants, result through learning and require knowledge in order to be understood. One of the most common of Meyer's schemata is the "changing-note" pattern. These circle a single note, and "involve motion away from and back to stability" (191). The largest study of the changing-note schema was completed by a disciple of Meyer, the theorist Robert O. Gjerdingen, in his book A Classic Turn of Phrase (1988). While gap-fill melodies are prevalent across the entire world and in every historical period, Gjerdingen's "1-7 4-3" schema was prototypical of a localised musical repertory (the European galant) and a narrow historical time-band (circa 1770).

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AS/SA Nº4, Article 3 : Page 3 / 7

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