[Smt-talk] Pulse & Metric Perception

Michael Morse mwmorse at bell.net
Thu Mar 1 09:55:40 PST 2012

Dear Greg,
  As we know, a flurry of musicological studies on rhythm in the 90s by Hasty, Kramer, and more started a still gradual acceleration of interest in musical time. Much of this work is, bluntly, insufficiently bold or radical, in my view. Is a study of pulse perception in fact a study of perception? Musical pulse can and should be said to begin when pulse is not "perceived," externally, but felt and generated internally. I realize that the contrast of internal and external here is awkward, indeed misleading. But I think that's the point. Musical experience, especially in terms of pulse and rhythm, is both the ideal focus for psychological research into that difference altogether and at the same time, demands conceptual clarification and philosophical heavy lifting. Is perception an applicable term for pulse experience, for example? Wittgenstein said "an internal experience demands external criteria"; if ever there was a case for this, in all directions, pulse is it. By recording a subject's tapping, we can measure to some ridiculously small fraction of a second precisely what someone is feeling. That I know of, there is nothing remotely analogical for colour or image experience, no such clear sign of connection and identity between percept and experience. 
  It seems to me self-evident that a statement such as "pulse perception & experience is indistinguishable from its external manifestations such as tapping or dancing" is reasonable. If it is, then the entire philosophy of perception needs an overhaul. For all its brilliance and nuance, for example, the phenomenological tradition treats problems of perception on the same split model of subject and object as Descartes--arguably, because it ignores or brushes past rhythm and pulse. (Alfred Schutz was a promising exception; had he lived, we might be much farther along today.)
  All of this to say that your surmises about the bodily basis and biases for pulse and beat experience seem well grounded; again, pulse and rhythm offer tangible connections between physiological and mental processes that are ostensibly unparalleled in other forms of experience, and proffer prospects for redefining such distinctions that are at once exhilarating and absolutely necessary. I haven't tried to demonstrate this formally, but I suspect that demonstrating the duple and/or triple biases in rhythmic experience may ultimately require some very sophisticated form of cross-cultural analysis. I don't know the status in present day psychological research of models like Ray Birdwhistell's work in the 50s, but it certainly holds some promise in this area.
Cheers & Best,
MichaelTrent UniversityPeterborough, Oshawa  
> From: gregkarl at frontier.com
> Date: Wed, 29 Feb 2012 14:21:32 -0500
> To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
> Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Binary Bias in Metric Perception Studies
> Michael,
> I am pretty sure they meant "perceiving as" because the isochronous  
> clicks would be evenly spaced temporally and identical in every other  
> way. Under these conditions, perceived metric groupings could only be  
> subjective—at least that is how I parse the jargon-heavy prose:-)
> I was hoping to differentiate between two kinds of hypotheses:
> 1) Duple preference based on bodily structure—Just as humans use base  
> ten because we (well, most of us) have ten digits on our hands, so  
> perhaps we prefer (most naturally hear, that is) binary metric  
> groupings because we have two legs(?).
> 2) Duple preference based on some aspect of perceptual or cognitive  
> processing.
> Greg Karl
> Jay NY
> On Feb 28, 2012, at 8:36 PM, Michael Morse wrote:
> > Like Greg, I'm a little confused here too. Do you mean "blank  
> > pulse" and "duple and triple meter"? ("isochronous clicks," "  
> > binary/ternary 'measures')? The word "preference" has me puzzled,  
> > too, ditto "subjective"; although a matter of perception, more  
> > strictly of "perceiving as" rather than "perceiving"--perhaps  
> > that's what you mean by "subjective"?--such orientations don't seem  
> > to me altogether voluntary. You can see the famous illustration as  
> > a duck or as a rabbit, and sometimes decide to see it as one or the  
> > other; but mostly the alternatives happen of themselves, often  
> > oscillating without and even against our will.
> >
> > What is the aim of this project?
> >
> > MW Morse
> > Trent University
> > Peterborough, Oshawa
> >
> >
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