Sunday, 10:30 am–12:00 pm

Modeling Tonal Systems

Chair: Panayotis Mavromatis (NYU)

  • ‘L’art ne progresse pas, mais il se transforme’: Reconsidering Teleology in Fétis’s Historiography
    Caleb Mutch (Columbia University)
  • What are Scale-degree Qualia? A Critique of Cognitivism and a Philosophical Account
    Benjamin Hansberry (Columbia University)
  • Program

    ‘L’art ne progresse pas, mais il se transforme’: Reconsidering Teleology in Fétis’s Historiography

    François-Joseph Fétis’s fame largely relies upon his popularization of the concept of tonalité and his novel account of music history, which arises from that idea. In the last twenty years Rosalie Schellhous and Thomas Christensen have argued that Fétis’s historiography draws upon Kant, the early German Idealists, and Hegel. In their desire to demonstrate links between these philosophers’ dialectical understandings of history and Fétis’s history of music, they emphasize the progress-oriented aspects of his narrative, and consequently struggle to account for Fétis’s tenet that “art does not progress, but transforms itself.”

    This paper seeks to balance the equation. Elements of Fétis’s life and writings demonstrate that he often viewed older and foreign music as transformations of tonality, just as valid as his day’s music. To explain these non-teleological aspects of Fétis’s perspective, I turn to Johann Gottfried von Herder, an important forefather of anthropology, demonstrating that Herder’s views on human history and progress foreshadow, and almost certainly influenced, those of Fétis.

    I conclude by suggesting a possible synthesis of these interpretations. In a late work, Fétis writes that music’s definitive constitution emanates from “progressive transformations,” suggesting that in his old age Fétis was perhaps seeking a reconciliation of these two conflicting strands of his history: rather than opposing them, Fétis appears to be working his way toward a synthesis of the two, in which he can recognize both music’s change over time and, simultaneously, the inherent value of earlier and foreign music.


    What are Scale-degree Qualia? A Critique of Cognitivism and a Philosophical Account

    The concept of scale degrees is among the most important in tonal theory. One interpretation of what we experience when we hear scale degrees is that we hear “qualia,” introspectively available features of an experience that define “what it is like” to have that experience.

    Recently, Steven Rings (2011) has incorporated scale-degree qualia into Lewin’s generalized interval systems and uses use GISes to model tonal phenomenology. Though Rings leaves the definition of scale-degree qualia open, understanding of scale-degree qualia clarifies a tonal GIS’s relationship to musical experience. This paper examines the nature of scale-degree qualia, arguing against a cognitive account (specifically that of Huron 2006) in favor of an account based in philosophy of mind, which examines experience qua experience.

    Huron’s cognitive account differs from that of philosophers of mind first by conflating “what it is like” to have experience with the emotions that accompany that experience, second by prioritizing quantitative tests and surveys, which may not account for listeners’ experience, but instead show how listeners conceptualize their experience. In contrast, I reintroduce qualia as they are understood in philosophy of mind. In order to awaken intuitions about qualia, I first recount a famous thought experiment: Jackson’s colorblind scientist (1982). From this and other thought experiments, I distill several relevant features of qualia and show how they apply to scale-degree qualia in particular. From these features, I develop a positive account of scale-degree qualia, discussing the kind of analytical results they can produce in a tonal GIS.