Dissertation Index

Author: Palfy, Cora S.

Title: Musical Agency as Intersubjective Phenomenon

Institution: Northwestern University

Begun: February 2014

Completed: April 2015


This dissertation explores the perception of agency in musical works through an interdisciplinary lens spanning music theory, music cognition, and psychological research. Through a methodological approach informed by ecological music theory, musical agency is redefined as the virtual experience of social affordances in music. The dissertation addresses the idea that perceived musical agency emerges from an active, bodily response to music as a social entity.

Music can contain social affordances, such as social attunement and behavioral cuing, which are explored in relationship to meter. I connect attunement and cuing to two metrical processes, entrainment and metrical dissonance. Metrical entrainment, or the prediction of temporally patterned sound events, activates brain regions commonly associated with feelings of intersubjective interaction and prosocial behavior. Entrainment provides a foundational affordance over which metrically dissonant behavioral cues may contrast, confusing and disrupting the previously heard and embodied patterns. Those cues provide a felt external push against the listening body, encouraging listeners to identify a cause. By engaging with the way a listener\'s body feels changed or disrupted by the music, the shifting bodily states that a shape a listener\'s understanding of and relationship to musical agents are addressed. The dissertation concludes with the integration of my methodology for agential emergence into two preexisting methodologies for tracking and defining musical agency, those of Karl and Hatten. By showing the roots of agency through its emergence, this dissertation demonstrates that narrative accounts can be deepened and enriched through an engagement with ecological theory.

Keywords: Musical agency, embodiment, virtuality, ecology, narrative


Chapter One: Musical Agency in the Literature
Chapter Two: Ecology and Virtual Agency
Chapter Three: Synchrony and Meter
Chapter Four: Behavioral Cues and Agential Disruption
Chapter Five: Agential Analyses
Chapter Six: Final Thoughts


Cora S. Palfy

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