Rolf Inge Godøy

Motor Constraints Shaping Musical Experience

We have in recent decades seen a surge in publications on embodied music cognition, and it is now broadly accepted that musical experience is intimately linked with experiences of body motion. Going further into this, it is also clear that music performance is not something abstract and without restrictions, but something traditionally (i.e. before the advent of electronic music) also constrained by our possibilities for body motion.
There are a number of biomechanical constraints reflected in musical sound, such as maximal speeds of human motion, need for rest, economy of effort, and avoiding strain injury, and there are also constraints of motor control, such as the need for grouping and planning ahead. These constraints often lead to a fusion or contextual smearing of sound producing body motion and in turn also affecting the sound output, thus effectively contributing to shaping musical sound.

One such prominent constraint-based phenomenon is so-called phase-transition, designating the fusion of otherwise singular actions into more superordinate actions with increasing speed of body motion, e.g. as happens when we accelerate the performance of any rhythmical pattern from slow to fast. Another constraint-based outcome is so-called coarticulation, meaning the fusion of otherwise distinct body motions into more superordinate body motion, entailing also a contextual smearing of musical sound. In our research on music-related body motion we see evidence of such body motion constraints on the shaping of musical sound. We can even claim that we expect such constraints reflected in segmentation, phase-transition, and coarticulation in music, hence, that we may speak of a mutual attunement of bodily constraints and perception in music. Such constraint-based phenomena in musical performance could then be seen as an alternative to more traditional notation-based paradigms in music research.