Musical Sounds, Motor Resonance, and Detectable Agency

Jacques Launay


This paper discusses the paradox that while human music making evolved and spread in an environment where it could only occur in groups, it is now often apparently an enjoyable asocial phenomenon. Here I argue that music is, by definition, sound that we believe has been in some way organized by a human agent, meaning that listening to any musical sounds can be a social experience. There are a number of distinct mechanisms by which we might associate musical sound with agency. While some of these mechanisms involve learning motor associations with that sound, it is also possible to have a more direct relationship from musical sound to agency, and the relative importance of these potentially independent mechanisms should be further explored. Overall, I conclude that the apparent paradox of solipsistic musical engagement is in fact unproblematic, because the way that we perceive and experience musical sounds is inherently social.


music; social; motor; empathy; agency; sound

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Copyright (c) 2015 Jacques Launay

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