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Forms of Vitality

In her article Shaping and Co-Shaping Forms of Vitality in Music: Beyond Cognitivist and Emotivist Approaches to Musical Expressiveness Jin Hyun Kim develops a theoretical framework for empirical investigation in expressive forms of music. Her attempt is based on the concept of “forms of vitality” by the psychologist Daniel N. Stern. According to him, experience of vitality is inherent in physical and mental movement resulting in a psychological gestalt (shape). Pointing out that these forms are essential in one’s own movements and time-based arts in general Kim comes in her analysis to the work of Alexander Truslit. I totally agree with her that Truslit’s motion forms of musical expression “can … be regarded as analog to Stern’s “forms of vitality” as applied to music” (p. 165).

Kim develops this connection to music and thereby works out many brilliant thoughts about the involvement of empathy and kinaesthetics. Among her suggestions for empirical studies I – of course – like the one of drawing continuous lines to music while listening. (Maybe my iOS App Music Moves could be valuable here?) I also highly appreciate the hypothesis that a professional performance  is “a process of going along with music, an empathic devotion of the self to the music in shaping its production toward fulfilment or perfection, largely based on automatic processes available through embodied knowledge of the piece of music”. (p.168) Although I am not sure about “automatic processes”, this description is rather close to Caland’s or Truslit’s concepts of objective interpretation. Kim’s methodical idea for contemporary studies of comparing a sight-reading performance with a practiced performance, seeing whether the passages of the first one lack musical fulfilment sounds promising.

So I am quite enthusiastic about Kim’s article but I have to mention some points that I see as missing. Her agreement with the theoretical concept of Truslit raises the question of what this may mean for his basic motion types (open, closed and winding). With his motion exercises Truslit connected these shapes with musical expressiveness and anatomy. In my opinion, Kim could have given the central role of the body more room. E.g., one central hypothesis of Truslit is that our physical disposition not only influences the shaping of a musician but the co-shaping of a listener as well. I think this aspect could be of interest in methodological discussions and experimental studies. Likewise Kim writes nothing about musical tension but Truslit’s dynamo-agogic motion shapes are patterns of tension and relaxation. Shaping and co-shaping in music is in this understanding based on the inseparability of musical and physical tension.


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