Michael SPITZER: "Meditations on Meyer's Hobby Horses:
Levels of Motivation in Musical Signs" (6/7)


But Meyer's semiotics remains profoundly anti-nominahst on account of the synergy between the dynamics of the referent, music as sounding motion, and the dynamics of perception. In the final analysis, what links music to the world is the pervasiveness of biological and psychological principles. This "realist" aspect of Meyer's thinking has remained constant over the years. If anything, it has got stronger. It would not be too fanciful to interpret this late realist turn as a rapprochement with the same Gibsonian ecological approach to perception that had inspired Gombrich nearly forty years previously. The musical landscape affords particular materials which shape thesselves around its contours, just as the child presses his body against the wooden stick which is his hobby horse. The affordance of a surface or object in the environment is what it offers the animal; whether it can be grasped or eaten, trodden or sat upon; whether it has been designed around our perceptual mechanisms, or if it rubs against our grain. More radically, Meyer may be said to have rediscovered the realism implicit in the Gestalt school's original theories, in particular Koffka's idea of the "demand character" of an object:
To primitive man each thing says what it is and what he ought to do with it... a fruit says "Eat me"; water says "Drink me"; thunder says "Fear me" (1935: 7).
The approach of distant thunder had always been Meyer's prototypical example of tension leading to release:
The low, foreboding rumble of distant thunder on an oppressive summer afternoon, its growing intensity as it approaches, the crescendo of the gradually rising wind, the ominous darkening of the sky, all give rise to an emotional experience in which expectation is fraught with powerful uncertainty (1956: 28).
In Meyer's original theory, the approaching storm only signified on a formal level, as a confirmation of a syntactic implication. The "demand character" of the thunder, its affordance of value, was an element of which early Meyer was hardly cognisant. Nevertheless, with every passing year, the "demand character" of the musical material has lowered ever more portentously in Meyer's skies. And now, as we await fulfilment of the theory, whether it fall to Meyer or to one of his disciples, we can assert with a growing sense of expectancy that the ear is on the verge of seeing.

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AS/SA Nº4, Article 3 : Page 6 / 7

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