Following the heard

I would describe myself as aurally blessed but visually cursed. How bad is it? I have absolutely no sense of direction and part of this is the fault of poor observation. If I visited your house on two consecutive days and the living room had undergone a change of colour that fell short of drastic, it’s quite possible I wouldn’t notice.

That’s why I was intrigued to see a few posts on Dave Gray’s Visual Thinking in Practice (from the CAIS Conference) on Laurie Bartels‘* blog, Neurons Firing. Among the links** was a short video from Visual Thinking Strategies featuring some eloquent observations of paintings by primary school pupils.

I understand that visual input takes up 90% of the brain’s processing power and it seems a shame for this to be undernourished. However, I also find myself frustrated at the difficulty experienced by people – including pupils – to articulate musical content. There are various levels to this:

  • description of techniques – seen in action; the need for one identified in the music; identifying the individual elements in a compound technique

  • description of concepts heard in music – ascending; descending; scale; sequence; repetition; variation etc.

  • description of mood of music – even after many years, many people do not get beyond happy/sad – a vocabulary too coarse and impoverished to depict their everyday emotional life

The third of these strikes me as the most problematic. Is it possible to calibrate and database the expressive intention as encoded musical content of a composition in the way that LTS has for concepts? Or is it simply a subjective minefield, best avoided?

*Laurie also contributes to the Sharp Brains  blog

**Another interesting link was to an Online Encyclopaedia of Western Signs & Symbols