Jean-Marc Chouvel

Form – Structure – Cognition: The Contribution of Cognitive Analysis to the Conceptual Clarification of the Notions of Form and Structure

The form/structure dialectic is central to cognitive analysis’s concepts. There is not form on one side and structure on the other, but a strong conceptual nesting about different cognitive functions. This point is crucial to understand the fundamental issues of music, without any theoretical prejudice on style or corpus. It is to be noted that the idea of this analytical tool is born from the usual confusion, at the end of the 20th century, in the field of contemporary music, which made almost synonymous, sometimes, the two terms.
The purpose of this communication is to reassess the ideas I developed in my book Analyse musicale. Sémiologie et cognition des formes temporelles (L’Harmattan, 2006, esp. pages 35 to 100). This will raise awareness on the theoretical precision of the concepts, and thereby, allow to address the question about the parallel dialectic of continuity and discontinuity.
The algorithm of cognitive analysis performs a complete and comprehensive description of form and structure in a musical piece. But this meticulous description may encounter difficulties, revealing generally very specific musical issues. I will give some examples of these difficulties and how they can be overcome, emphasizing on what they reveal. I will also try to show how a rigorous method such as that proposed by the cognitive algorithm leads to consider the idea that the form and structure of a piece are not unambiguous characteristics, but also depend on a number of competitive or simultaneous criteria which may involve, for instance, several interpretations and listenings of the same work.