[Smt-talk] inability to perceive "Dominant" (was: Classical Form and Recursion)

Dmitri Tymoczko dmitri at Princeton.EDU
Sun Apr 12 12:46:05 PDT 2009

> I agree with Fred's underlying principle, that "average
> listeners" (here taken to mean, are untrained but have
> listened to a fair deal of Western music) can distinguish
> "dominant" because of tonal tension.

On reflection, I'm not sure that Fred believes this -- strange as it  
seems, he may believe something closer to the opposite.

What I'm thinking is that according to TPS perceived tension is the  
*result* of certain calculations that are performed subconsciously --  
calculations that in effect use the knowledge that a particular  
configuration of notes is a V chord.  So, tension is produced by the  
(unconscious) knowledge that something is a V chord, rather than the  
other way around.  It's not that we hear something tense and think --  
"oh, an unstable sonority, must be a V7."  Or we may do this  
consciously, but the unconscious already knows that we've heard a V7,  
because it's got access (essentially) to the score.

Now it's true that Fred uses "dominant" in a slightly different way,  
disconnected from something's being a V chord, so you might be right  
about the word "dominant."  That's a more complicated story.  But the  
point I want to make is that it's not that tension is a primary  
sensory quality for Fred -- it's the output of the model, not the input.


Dmitri Tymoczko
Associate Professor of Music
310 Woolworth Center
Princeton, NJ 08544-1007
(609) 258-4255 (ph), (609) 258-6793 (fax)

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