Conferences of the KeyNote Speakers

Eric Clarke - Blobs and threads: Ecological perspectives on musicking

The last 25 years has seen increasing recognition of the embodied, embedded, extended and enactive character of the human engagement with music. Both driven by an awareness of new or different theoretical perspectives (4E cognition, ecological theory, distributed cognition) and also contributing to those theoretical developments, some more recent approaches to the psychology of music have moved away from ‘head-bound’ and rather narrowly structure-focused perspectives so as to bring to light a more distributed, dynamic and process-orientated outlook. Motivated by the mesh-like structure of fungal mycelia, the anthropologist Tim Ingold has argued for understanding the relationship between organisms and their environments in thread-like terms, rather than as self-enclosed blobs. The argument is a powerful one, and has consequences for thinking about musicking from an ecological perspective. In this talk I address two aspects of a thread-based ecology of musicking, drawing both on my earlier ecological writing on listening (Clarke 2005) and more recent writing on creativity (Clarke & Doffman 2017): distributed creativity in contemporary music-making; and music and subjectivity. With Howard Becker’s (1989) disarming characterisation of art as ‘something people do together’ in mind, I consider what might be gained by not starting with individuals (blobs) that have to be joined together, but rather from the flow of materials, practices and histories (threads) that are manifest as people, instruments, and institutions. And similarly, based on interviews with a diverse range of musicians, I re-visit persistent questions about musicking and subjectivation (the becoming of the subject-in-music), at a time when pandemic circumstances have severely constrained, or significantly altered, many people’s active musicking.

Susan Hallam - The power of music: an exploration of the evidence

This paper will critically consider evidence which demonstrates the extent of the power of music in a range of contexts, historically and in our everyday lives. It will provide examples of recent research, reviews and meta-analyses from neuroscience, psychology, sociology and education including those which have focused on the way that music can support intellectual skills, for instance, aural processing and language, phonological awareness, literacy, spatial reasoning, mathematics, aural and visual memory, executive functioning, intelligence, creativity and general attainment. A model will be presented which sets out the factors that determine how music can support or hinder studying or other cognitive tasks. The paper will explore how music can play a role in personal development including the way that it can enhance or damage self-esteem and influence the development of identity. The paper will demonstrate how music has been used to re-engage and motivate those who are disaffected including those in juvenile or adult custodial environments. Music’s power will be discussed in terms of the development of social skills, empathy, pro-social behaviour, promoting social cohesion in groups of an extremely wide range of sizes and ages, while also supporting the inclusion of those who are marginalised. Consideration will be given to the way that music, in part because of its easy availability, is increasingly used by individuals to enhance their wellbeing and make everyday tasks which might be uninteresting in themselves more palatable. This will be followed by a discussion of how music has been utilised in a wide range of health contexts to support pain management, reduce stress, improve mobility and communication and enhance recovery from serious physical and mental health problems. The specific examples referred to will be drawn from across the age range, literally from birth to death. The paper will conclude with examples of the way that music can have an impact on the behaviour of non-human species and encourage plants to flourish.

Glenn Schellenberg - Links between music and non-musical aspects of human experience: Listening, lessons, ability, and performance

Many claims have been made about the power of music to influence non-musical aspects of human experience. My presentation will focus on links with emotions and cognitive abilities, and whether music plays a causal role in these associations, which depends on whether “music” refers to listening, lessons, ability, or performance. Passive listening to music influences how we feel, which, in turn, can influence performance on a variety of tasks and responding to aversive stimuli, although these effects tend to be very short-term. Moreover, listening to music while doing something else concurrently, such as reading or studying, can be distracting and have a negative influence on understanding what we read and what we remember. Taking music lessons is associated with demographic, personality, and cognitive variables, which appear to determine who takes lessons and for how long. By contrast, the causal role of music training in these associations appears to be small or non-existent in the general population. For atypically developing individuals, however, specialized interventions may have a beneficial role for language acquisition and reading ability. Although musical ability has typically been thought to be the consequence of learning through formal and informal exposure to music, recent evidence indicates a substantial role for genetics and “natural” musical ability, or musical aptitude. Thus, links between musical ability and non-musical abilities may stem primarily from predispositions in terms of cognition or personality. Performing music, either professionally or in group contexts, is distinct from formal training, especially from music lessons taken individually. In group contexts, such as singing in choirs, playing in ensembles, or simply moving to music, synchronous behaviors can facilitate social cohesion and/or well-being across the lifespan, including infants and the elderly. Finally, professional musicians are qualitatively distinct from musically trained individuals who end up working as teachers, nurses, lawyers, accountants, and so on. Professional musicians have particularly good musical abilities and distinct personalities, such that they tend to be extraverted and open to new experiences, but they are average in terms of general cognitive ability.

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