The virtual observing agent in music: a theory of agential perspective as implied by indexical gesture
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The human body is inseparable from our understanding of music. Through embodied cognition, listeners conceptualize music as performed action. We find evidence of this in our most fundamental musical language. “High” pitches resonate high in a singer’s head, while “fast” rhythms resemble fast bodily movement. Scholars have followed the entailments of these metaphors in recent decades, developing theories of bodily gesture (Hatten 2004, Lidov 2005) and physical mimesis (Cox 2011). These hold that the bodily movement that we hear in music can imitate the physical gestures that we use in everyday communication (e.g., waving, nodding, bowing, or sighing). This has its own entailments; most fundamentally, it implies the presence of a virtual, human-like agent within music that is similar to the “virtual persona” theorized by Edward T. Cone (1974). In other words, in perceiving musical sounds as imitative of physical movement and gesture, we infer the presence of a virtual agent who enacts them. This dissertation extends these theories, demonstrating that musical gestures can be mimetic of indexical somatic movements—that is, bodily movements of pointing, looking, striving, and reaching. These indexical gestures suggest the presence of a virtual observing agent. The virtual observing agent acts a lens through which we, the listener, can experience the interior world (diegesis) of a work. This leads us to embody a single and more individualized perspective on the musical representation. I explore the implications of indexical gesture and perspective with an examination of music from the common practice period. Moreover, I bring the theory of virtual observing agency together with theories of musical narrative and emotion.