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Faculty of Music


An embodied and cross-cultural perspective on aesthetic emotions in music

Whether aesthetic emotions are distinctive from emotions experienced in everyday non-aesthetic contexts is argued for and disputed on various grounds. Indeed, both differences and similarities are relevant: whilst not categorically different, emotions experienced in aesthetic contexts differ in terms of what emotions are frequently experienced, in characteristics such as limited action-consequences and safety of environment, and in salience of factors contributing to emotion induction. Notably aesthetic emotions have been primarily investigated in western contexts, often focussing on contexts of ‘high’ art and art music. This suggests that the understanding that we have of aesthetic emotions may not be representative of experiences more broadly. In this presentation, I consider how aesthetic emotions in music have been measured and characterised, and discuss how embodied perspectives on music may usefully support a broadened understanding of aesthetic emotions in music. Of specific interest are the dynamic characteristics of music that generate affordances of multilevel entrainment, tension-release, and challenges and prediction. Furthermore, value and meaning attributed to music are relevant for aesthetic experiences, as indicated by findings on the positive appreciation of negative music. Such value and meaning is likely to be contextual, and suggests the need to re-examine aesthetics as an abstract phenomenon related to intrinsic properties. Instead, our proposal is that it is necessary to interpret the aesthetic affordances of music in relation to the purposes music serves. This interpretation is relational, awarding an active role to listeners and performers. Whilst this may seemingly diminish distinctions between aesthetic and non-aesthetic emotions, it is the intentional uses of music that are of interest, and the ways emotions, sensory experiences and interactions are culturally enacted in musical contexts. 

Acknowledgements: This presentation is related to a book chapter that is currently under review. Co-authors on the book chapter are Scott Bannister and Thomas M. Lennie from Durham University who work on musical chills and cross-cultural understanding of musical emotions, respectively. 

Wednesday, 11 May, 2022 - 17:00
Event location: 
Lecture Room 2, Faculty of Music and online via Zoom (email for link)