Every input to our senses is a stimulus, available for us to interpret as information, and from which we can derive further information. Our physical sensory receptors--our ears, eyes, etc.--can well be thought of as information "transducers" which convert external stimuli--changes in air pressure, light, etc.--into nerve impulses recognized by the brain. Scientists and philosophers have advanced many conceptual models of what the brain does with these nerve impulses to derive knowledge and meaning. (C.f. Dobrian, Chris, "Music and Artificial Intelligence", regarding models of music cognition.) Regardless of the mechanism by which our brain accomplishes it, it is clear that we generate (interpret, deduce, recall, or create) information ourselves, stimulated by external information.
For example, when we hear a lion's roar, our ear drum simply receives continuous changes in air pressure. The cochlea, so we are taught, responds to the frequencies and amplitudes of those changes and conveys those responses to the brain. Our brain, by means largely unknown to us (past experience, instinct, deduction, instruction in roar analysis?) evaluates those time-varying frequencies and amplitudes as a lion's roar. Our brain then derives further information about the actual source of the sound and its meaning. A person in one time or place might interpret the sound to mean "My life is in danger. I must run away from the sound source immediately as fast and as far as I can." A person in another time or place might look around calmly for the electronic recording device that produced the simulation of a lion's roar. A person who had never learned to associate that sound with any particular source--e.g., a person who had never heard a similar sound before--might attempt to compare it with other known sounds, or might even remain unconcerned as to what produced the sound.
Music and language are related in so many ways that it is necessary to categorize some of those relationships. I will then address each category in turn.
First, there is the seemingly never-ending debate of whether music is itself a language. The belief that music possesses, in some measure, characteristics of language leads people to attempt to apply linguistic theories to the understanding of music. These include semiotic analyses, information theory, theories of generative grammar, and other diverse beliefs or specially invented theories of what is being expressed and how. This category could thus be called "music as language".
A second category is "talking about music". Regardless of whether music actually is a language, our experience of music is evidently so subjective as to cause people not to be satisfied that their perception of it is shared by others. This has led to the practice of attempting to "translate" music into words or to "describe" musical phenomena in words, or to "explain" the causes of musical phenomena. The sheer quantity of language expended about music is enormous, and includes writings and lectures on music history, music "appreciation", music "theory", music criticism, description of musical phenomena (from both scientific and experiential points of view), and systems and methods for creating music. These approaches may include the linguistic theories of the first category, as well as virtually any other aspect of the culture in which the music occurs: literary references; anecdotes about the lives and thoughts of composers, performers, and performances; analogies with science and mathematics; scientific explanations of perception based on psychology and acoustics; poetry or prose "inspired" by hearing music; even ideas of computer programs for simulations or models of music perception and generation.Culture in music cognition refers to the impact that a person's culture has on their music cognition, including their preferences, emotion recognition, and musical memory. Musical preferences are biased toward culturally familiar musical traditions beginning in infancy, and adults' classification of the emotion of a musical piece depends on both culturally specific and universal structural features. Additionally, individuals' musical memory abilities are greater for culturally familiar music than for culturally unfamiliar music. The sum of these effects makes culture a powerful influence in music cognition.
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