Attuning and empathy with music – corporeal understanding of musical intentions

Marc Leman

Ghent University, Belgium

It is argued that subjects engage with music similar to the way they engage with other people, namely in terms of attuning and empathy relationships. This engagement is expressed in corporeal articulations, which can be measured and studied using modern real-time interactive multi-media platforms.

Recent results in the study of human perception and action show that the behavioral intensions of another person can be understood, provided that the behavior of the other person can be mirrored in the subject's own action-oriented ontology. Mirroring introduces a corporeal basis of understanding, next to cerebral understanding. The other person is perceived as having intentions, beliefs, values and meanings because the behavior is corporeally simulated. Likewise, changes in sound energy can be mirrored in the subject's action-oriented ontology and corporeally understood on the basis of motor simulation. Corporeal imitation thus forms a basis for (corporeally) attributing intentions to music.

Different aspects of corporeal imitation are discerned and related to different degrees of musical involvement. The proposal is to distinguish between synchronization, attuning and empathy. It is argued that the study of corporeal articulations in response to music is related to a number of challenging questions requiring an interdisciplinary approach to measurement and modeling. One of the consequences of the theory is that the subject’s corporeal attuning bias can be fully exploited and stimulated in experimental research. Experiments can be designed which stimulate the subject to attune to music. By doing this, corporeal articulations can be revealed whose properties tell us something about the nature of musical involvement. Knowledge of this behavior, as well as having a good theory behind, is especially relevant for search and retrieval of music in large audio databases, interactive applications in art, and brain research.