movement conjuring signs

on speech music, work music, and dance music


This is the first of a series of texts that should be read in the following order

Movement conjuring signs
Sonorous beings and absolute music
Auditory mimesis and music

Whoever is not familiar with the concept of 'mimesis' should first read 'Mimesis'


'Movement conjuring signs' is the term with which I designate signs that elicit the performance of a movement. These signs can be minimal, and then only signal when a movement has to start, but they can also provide information on the course and the timing of a more sophisticated and/or longer movement. They develop into signs that unfold in time, the elements of which belong to the elaborated system of what we use to call 'music'.

Traditionally, movement conjuring signs play a central role in working and dancing. The formerly very important domain of work music has practically disappeared due to the introduction of machines and the increasing importance of mental labour. The place of work music has been taken by dance music. As we shall see, movement conjuring signs play an important role in speech as well, where, as an analogy to work music and dance music, we will speak of speech music.

It is tempting to just speak of 'music' rather than of 'movement conjuring signs'. But, otherwise that with language, where we have the term 'literature' to distinguish the sophisticated and/or mimetic use of language from the ordinary, there is no such term for music. The term 'music' refers indiscriminately to ordinary as well as to the artistic (mimetic) music, where there is no longer talk of conjuring up speech or dance movements. Furthermore, the domain of movement conjuring signs is not confined to the domain of the audible: there are also visual movement conjuring signs, and, more important, the domain of mimetic music is broader than that of movement conjuring signs. Thereforen it is more appropriate to introduce the new designation 'movement conjuring signs'. It allows us to delineate the privileged domain of auditory movement conjuring signs - the domain of speech music and dance music - from the domain of movement conjuring signs in general. To make the necessary distinctions within the domain of music, we have to resort to further distinctions like that between ordinary music (speech music and dance music) versus mimetic music, of which absolute music is a subdomain. That will be the subject in 'Auditory mimesis and music'.

Let us therefore in a first text explore the domain of movement conjuring signs, and show how it comes to full bloom in the domain of speech and dance music.


The most elementary movement conjuring sign is a sign for the execution of a one-off movement. To execute such a movement, there is no need of a genuine movement conjuring sign: the mere perception of something that elicits the reaction suffices. The only use for a movement conjuring sign here would be the signalling of the moment at which the movement should begin, as with the start shot of a race.

Far more useful is the use of movement conjuring signs when a task consists of the repetition of elementary movements: think of knitting, hammering, cutting, or sawing. When no external or internal obstacle prevents the repetition, a sense of meter will establish itself - a sense of moving toward a culmination point where the energy is released at regular intervals. The question raises which of the many phases of a movement can serve as a point of reference. Most movements turn out to consist of two parts - think of hammering on an anvil. First, the hammer has to be brought to a starting position, then the blacksmith strikes the anvil, whereupon he has to bring the hammer to the starting position again. The bringing of the hammer to the starting position is the 'arsis', the striking of the hammer is the 'thesis'. The thesis begins when the muscles begin to exert force on the hammer to strike, and the arsis when the muscles begin to exert force to bring the hammer at the starting position again. The former movement is stronger than the latter: the thesis is accented, and the arsis unaccented. The remarkable thing is that the measure does not begin when the exertion of force begins, but when it stops (when the hammer comes down on the anvil), and when the hammer is brought to its starting position again - the end of the thesis, hence, as well as the end of the arsis. Thus we get two reference points: the first and the second beat. The beat is the endpoint of a movement that begins with a run up. We can render this state affairs as arrow, the point of which is the equivalent of the beat and the shaft the equivalent of the run up. The dark arrow is the thesis (downbeat) and the light one the arsis (upbeat).


The feeling of meter works like a sign that structures the course of the movement: the measure indicates that something of a given duration has to be repeated within an given lapse of time and on what moment.

With bipedal movement, two movements are performed simultaneously. Ideally, both movements will be performed within the same meter. Here, meter also synchronises. But the two movements do not run parallel: the thesis of one movement is the arsis of the other::


In principle, we get a succession of thesis's, but the succession is read as an alternation nevertheless. A similar analysis applies to the throwing of a ball. When the child throws the ball up, the thesis is completed when the hands release the ball, and the arsis when they grasp the ball again. Depending on how high the ball is thrown, time may be organised in a measure of two or three:


A similar asymmetry emerges when one of the legs is amputated, like with the 'ivory stride' of Ahad pacing around in his cabin. The movement can then be organised in a measure of three. To find a more appropriate match, the measure can be divided in five, with two beats for the thesis and three for the arsis..

Let us remark that the duration of a measure can increase or decrease (accelerando or ritardando, think of the train in Honegger's Pacific 231).

It should also be noticed that not only meter makes us expect events: also a series of complete unpredictability makes us look out for the next unpredictable event.


In principle, the perception of meter has nothing to do with sound - just think of movements like knitting, sewing, sowing and writing, which are inaudible. But in other activities, sound is inherent. There are several possibilities. In many activities, thesis as well as arsis are audible: just think of sawing. In these cases, sound functions as a natural auditory sign that marks the measure. This is helpful when a movement can be accomplished undisturbed - when there is no information to be processed that would prompt to adjust the course of the movement. The attention is then concentrating on the only information that remains to be perceived: the sound of the movement, so that the organism can totally be absorbed by the activity. In other cases - as with the locomotion of many land animals - it is only the thesis that produces sound. That is not a problem with movements of short duration or with alternating movements. But with movements of longer duration, there is a propensity to sonify the arsis. And that is from the beginning the case with movements that make no sound ('heiho' with rowing). In all these cases, an exherent sound is added to the movement as an autonomous sign.

Inherent or exherent sound is especially welcome when two or more people have to perform the same action. That is often the case with working (rowing, mowing, marching), but foremost with dancing. Inherent or exherent movement conjuring signs allow to synchronise movements without having to look at each other (for example the movement of the rower behind us):.


The sonification of measure (beat) is also helpful when workers have to perform the same movement one after another, as with threshing or forging:


Parts of a single movement can be subsumed under a single measure, but movements can also be concatenated into more encompassing wholes, as when the same dance movement is performed in different directions, so that a series of measures has to be subsumed under a more encompassing hypermeter. A problem arises when the concatenated measures differ in length - think of the metrical feet in poetry that may consist of two or three syllables. Such asymmetric units may be combined into new meta measures, that can then be repeated as new units consisting of an odd number of beats - measures of 2 + 3, or 2 + 4 + 3 , or 2 + 2 + 3. The thesis of the first of the constituent measures can be accented more than that of the following, but as soon as meta measures are grouped in a still higher level unit (as with the organisation of verses into a strophe), this method is no longer feasible. We shall see that in speech and dance music the introduction of pitch can solve the problem. In poetry there are other possibilities like rhyme.


The measure is the central factor in the temporal structuring of movement. But the sonification can go further than the mere sonification of thesis and arsis.

As soon as measure and beat can be divided, the possibility of introducing rhythm is given. We can speak of rhythm as soon as the in essence inaudible beat of the measure is sonified differentially: instead of sonifying all the beats indifferently, only the first and the last of a measure of three may be sonified, or one beat may be divided in two or three sonified parts.

A movement is characterised not only by its thesis and arsis, but also by the duration of its constituent elements. Whereas the movement of the hammer ends when it hits the anvil and can be resumed after a shorter or a longer rest, the movement of grinding with a millstone is continuous. To give account of variations in the duration of the movement, we can replace blunt beats with shorter or longer notes, with legato and staccato and so on.

As soon as not only the measure of the movement, but also the duration of its components come to be sonified, the dialectic of heard and unheard - implicit - meter can unfold, exemplary in the syncope, an audible, sustained note that jumps over the beat. But above all an intricate auditory sign system can now be developed, whereby diverse characteristics of a movement are translated into sounds with different accents and duration. It should be stressed that we are not dealing here with an auditory imitation of movements, but with signs that are motivated by analogy - sonifications, the auditory counterparts of 'visualisations' like temperature curves (see 'motivation of signs'). This sign system enables a fairly precise determination of movement patterns - think of the characteristic patterns of diverse dance forms.


All kinds of sounds may serve to sonify meter and rhythm. Although the use of the voice - which is always disposable - is obvious, from way back man has resorted to more sophisticated musical instruments, that can produce not only sounds of diverse duration, but above all a whole array of pure intervals and sustained tones. Next to accent and duration, also pitch can be used as an analog sign: the difference between high and low may serve as an analogy to high and low, left or right, before and behind. Cadences can indicate the end of a movement. In the West, experimenting with polyphonic chant laid bare the possibility of structuring time through successions of chords: beginning and end, but also provisional stop and so on. Whereas meter an rhythm can at best provide a pattern that spans a couple of measures (think of a characteristic dance pattern), variations in pitch structure or a succession of chords are able to structure units of greater length, exemplary in the chord schemes of dances. We now dispose of a complex interplay of meter, rhythm and pitch (for example a succession of I - IV - I - V - I -) that can be visualised as follows:

→ →→

Through the introduction of musical instruments, an increasingly sophisticated system of auditory movement conjuring signs is brought into existence which is called 'music', and which is the counterpart of that equally sophisticated sign system: human verbal language.

To illustrate the eminent power of this system to structure the course of time, it suffices to listen to an example from dance music: 'Rock around the clock' of Bill Haley (till 0' 40"), and two examples of different kinds of music that we will introduce later: the first stanza of 'Hor che'l ciel' from Monteverdi (till 1' 50'') and the first measures of the Allegretto from the seventh symphony of Beethoven (till 0' 55").


Up to know, we took it for granted that movement conjuring signs are auditory. That is not the case: they can also be visual, as is illustrated by the often impressive synchronisation of the courtship dance of grebes. Also with humans, there are impressive examples of visual synchronisation, as with the movements of Tai Chi or of the juggling artist. Apparently, we are able to conjecture the course of a movement from a tiny fragment. It is mostly the culmination point of a movement that functions as a sign of the thesis, not otherwise than the pounding of the hammer on the anvil. Visual synchronisation, however, has a serious drawback: it is seriously hampered when the actor has to concentrate on the environment in which he has to move, and above all when the partners are not visible - temporarily, as often whit dancers, or in principle, as with rowers.

It is remarkable, then, that only humans seem to make use of auditory movement conjuring signs as a means of synchronising movements. We surmise that the role of movement conjuring signs in speech paved the way. Let us also remark that the synchronous execution of movements is rather exceptional in the animal world. Many animals continue to move on their own pace, also when moving in groups - think of shoals of fish, a swarm of birds or a herd of buffalos. That goes also for the emission of auditory expressions: frogs, sheep, and wolves croak, bleat or howl each at their own pace.

Although there are many animals that produces tones, the domain of auditory movement conjuring signs - the domain of music - is a typically human trait - just like verbal language.

Musicalised language (1)

We already pointed to the fact that some movements are not audible at all, whereas in other movements, sound is inherent to the entire movement or to parts of it. Time has come to introduce a third kind of movement: speaking and emitting auditory expressions like laughing or weeping. Let us examine how the production of auditory expressions or speech and the production of movement conjuring signs are combined.

Auditory expressions are not especially interesting for our subject: they are often repeated, but do not consist themselves of repeated elements (weeping, crying, shouting) - with the sole exception of laughing. In this domain, movement conjuring signs only begin to play a role after the introduction of instruments (see below: speech music revisited).

Things are totally different with speech. Speaking consists of producing a series of syllables combined into words, sentences, and so on. There is only one real thesis in that activity: the tension that is built up by the arsis of breathing in, and released by a series of minor thesis's, like with laughter. We would expect a concatenation of syllables with the same length and the same pitch. But that is apparently not the case.

To begin with, not all the syllables are accented equally, as in laughter: some are accented, others not. The question arises why such a distinction is made. Semiotics may be part of the explanation: accentingdraws the attention to the most informative part of the word or word group. However that may be, through the alternation between accented and unaccented, a number of syllables are subsumed under a foot, and the concatenation of these feet is an activity that is organised like every other activity: the constitutive elements are subsumed under a measure (foot) and the measures are combined into regular or irregular 'verses'. The organisation can proceed to higher levels: stanza, poetical forms. On these higher levels, the organisation can include additional movement conjuring signs like rhyme schemes.

Next, the alternation of accented and unaccented leads to differences in pitch, that come to function as additional movement conjuring signs. Within the foot, the differences may remain minimal, but on the level of the verse (or sentence), there is generally an encompassing accent that is marked primarily by pitch, so that concatenations of sentences or verses come to sound like a primeval form of melody.

movement conjuring sign

The introduction of movement conjuring signs helps to organise the sounding material of language in measures and hyper measures, and to synchronise meter and pitch. But they are indispensable in synchronising the articulation of groups of speakers in religious ceremonies (praying), sport manifestations (speech choirs), or demonstrations (scanning of slogans). When the whole community speaks together, its members tend to speak not only in the same measure, but also on the same tone (or in octaves or fiths). The succession of syllables tends to be pronounced on fixed tones combined in elementary melodies of two notes ('Left, right!, 'Heiho!' or slogans like 'ˇEl pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!") or more complicated melodic patterns (battle cries of the Zulu or American soldiers. Fixed, sustained tones appear also with shouting to bridge distances 'Wake up!" or to reach large crowds..

But there is more. Speaking is not always a monologue, like a prayer, war cries or slogans. More often, it is a dialogue or polylogue. The speaking of one partner presupposes the silence and listening of the other. The listener has to concentrate on the message of the speaker. The content of what he says may suffice to keep the attention going. But the synchronising potential of meter and melody are additional means of drawing the attention - the well known 'hypnotising' potential of meter and melody. But, otherwise than dance, which consists in the repetition of a pattern of movements that seldom outgrows the level of a hyper measure, many speech acts have a rather complex structure. That is why intermediary cadences have to be inserted (which in written text are rendered by comma's, brackets, quotation marks and what have you). And it should be clear when an intervention is finished, so that the roles can be changed (question, answer, statement and riposte and so on). All this additional information can only be provided through tonal inclinations. The repetition of measures has to be organised in a more encompassing tonal structure - the speech melody (which is not yet sung on fixed and sustained tones) as a more complex movement conjuring sign that structures the course of the dialogue.

Such combination of speaking with metric and tonal movement conjuring signs can be called ' speech music'. The existence of speech music is all too easily overlooked, because it is only natural to concentrate on the meaning and not on the signifying - verbal and musical - material. To become fully conscious of the musical character of speech music, we can resort to examples where the verbal dimension is neutralised. That is naturally the case with foreign speakers, or with poems written in an imaginary language, like those of Hugo Ball. We can also resort to repetition like Diana Deutsch. But really revealing is listening to the cooing and babbling of baby's or to compositions like 'Speakings' from Jonathan Harvey, where het verbal dimension of speech music is neutralised through playing it on musical instruments ('instrumental speaker').

Speech music not only consists of auditory signs for the structure of the verbal communication: it is also condensed with the whole array of non-verbal auditory expressions, which is only extended through its combination with speaking (think of expressions like speaking with a groaning of trembling voice): all kinds of subtle nuances in the melody, rhythm, meter and tempo that contribute to the emotional freight of the verbal communication.Here is not the place to examine this system of condensed expressions, it suffices to point to its existence.

For our subject, it is important to mention that this condensation of speech with auditory expression extends to the combination with visual expressive movements of the face, hands, arms, and the body as such (expressive ways of staying or moving). The course of speech condensed with auditory expression has to be coordinated with the corollary visual expression, as when clenched fists are raised when scanning 'ˇEl pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!'. Because there are usually more syllables than expressive gestures, several syllables have to be spoken on one gesture. Through the combination of expressive speech with visual expression, the inherent movement conjuring signs of the speech melody are turned into exherent movement conjuring signs for the production of visual expressions:

movement conjuring signs expressive gestures

Thus it comes that in speaking - the human activity par excellence - is grounded the propensity to use the inherent movement conjuring signs of speech as a means of conjuring up and synchronising visual expressions. We surmise that this is the basis of the propensity to use the speech melody as movement conjuring sign for movements in general. We shall see how the use of the voice is extended or replaced with the use of musical instruments. That leads to further development of the system of movement conjuring signs: it is uncoupled from the task of organising speech and freed from the shortcomings of the human voice.


Let us examine, next, how auditory movement conjuring signs can be used to command the movements of workers and dancers that do not make noise, so that the movement conjuring signs have to be exherent.

A first possibility is that the workers or dancers find new ways of sonifying their movements: through the use of appropriate footwear, bells on ankles and wrists, castanet's, or through introducing movements that produce sounds (clapping hands and so on). But especially with dancing, the very hands that after being released from productive movements could freely be used to express feeling, are then subordinated again to a new practical function.

More obvious, then, is the use of the instrument that is always at our disposal, and that does not bereave arms and legs from their freedom of movement: the voice, which is familiar with the production of movement conjuring signs that are also used as exherent movement conjuring signs for expressive movements. It suffices to revert the normal relation: instead of expressive movements amplifying the content of the spoken message, the spoken words are now referring to the movements. That is possible by using words that effectively refer to ('characteristics of) the movement ('Up and down','Left, right!'), or words that are merely empty sounds like 'heiho' for rowers,Wagner's 'Heiatoho' for the Valkyries and for countless children's rhymes ('eni beni subtraheni, devi davi dominee,/ike brokke kasi nokke zinke zanke traus). Below, we shall see how this use of speech develops into full singing on dance music.

But the most popular solution is the use of musical instruments. The human voice has its shortcomings: above all limitations in volume, timbre, duration and articulation. That is why man, inspired by the sounds that are produced during allkinds of productive activity, proceeded to develop a whole array of instruments. He thereby seems to have an overt predilection for instruments that produce pure tones - obviously for the same reason as why the evolution of aural communication opted for vocal instruments that tend to produce pure tones; because they clearly distinguish themselves from other natural sounds, also because the attack of a tone is more marked that that of a noise, but above all because tones, precisely because they are homogeneous, can clearly be distinguished from each other as different tones on the broad spectrum of the audible. Next to attack and accent, also pitch can now fully be mobilised as an analog sign for diverse spatial orientations of the movement. Our scheme of the inherent movement conjuring signs of speech finds its counterpart in the scheme of exherent movement conjuring signs as follows:

musician movement conjuring sign working or dancing

Tones are most easily produced by fingers or sticks on appropriate resonating objects. But it is above all the use of strings and pipes that gives a new impetus to the production of sounds: next to percussive attacks, also a whole array of sustained tones can now be produced. The tones are arranged in scales. Henceforward, also exherent movement conjuring signs come to encompass the whole realm of tones.

In that the production of movement conjuring signs is now uncoupled from speech as well as from the concrete movements of work and dance, their development is no longer constrained by the limitations of the human voice, nor by the inertia of working of dancing bodies or the resistance of the processed materials: fingers (with most instruments) and hands and arms and their prostheses in sticks of all kinds (percussion instruments) can produce the whole gamut from fast and light to slow and heavy movements. Rhythms can be composed from a whole array of mathematically organised units from very short to very long. An ever more diverse array of instruments is able to produce all kinds of timbres. Thus a sophisticated system comprising all kinds of attacks, timbres and tones is developed that far surpasses the possibilities of the human voice or the production of sounds that are inherent to human production.

That system is not always used in its entirety. Pitch may be neutralised - reduced to one single tone - so that the system consists only of meter and rhythm (think of the music of the Japanese Taiko drummers), or the fully developed tonal spectrum may by added by this metric and rhythmic base:

metric/rhythmic metric/rhythmic

There are practically no pure examples to illustrate this kind of purely exherent music: mostly, the short melodic patterns that help to conjure up dance movements are sung, so that they tend to develop into speech music. We will analyse the more common examples of such combination of speech and dance music below.

Musicalised language (2)

That movement conjuring signs are endemic in the domain of speech, a central human activity, may have been responsible for the development of an auditory rather than a visual system of movement conjuring signs. But it is only the transposition of this system from voice to instruments, with the corollary transformation from inherent to exherent, that leads to the full development of the system of musical movement conjuring signs. And this development leads in its turn to an 'instrumentalising' of speech music.

There is in the first place the transformation of speaking into singing: the transition from speaking on a variable - descending or ascending - tone (gliss) to singing on a fixed tone from a scale. We already described how a transition to singing could be observed with speaking to crowds or distant people, or when speaking together (in religious ceremonies or political manifestations). After the example of instruments, also the voice can now proceed to the singing of more less complex melodies. That makes it possible to govern larger units than verses (stanzas). But the 'instrumentalising' can encompass more than singing like an instrument: the course of a melody can be structured by adding chords, and the meter can be amplified by adding percussion (see Diana Deutsch' version of 'Sometimes behave so strangely'). Thus, speech music is uncoupled from speaking in the strict sense; it is no longer inherent, but exherent, and it no longer conjures up only the pronunciation of syllables, but the playing of the musician as well - exemplary in the singer who accompanies himself on the guitar. Finally, singing itself may be relegated to instruments that begin to sing without words (wordless), like in Mendelsohn's 'Lieder ohne Worte'. The growing autonomy of the speech melody is sealed in the standard melodies on which different texts are sung in different strophes (think of the melody in the finale of Beethoven's ninth symphony').

The development of singing leads to a special genre: the (non-mimetic) song that may consist of pure vocal singing, singing with instrumental accompaniment (chords, percussion), or instrumental singing with or without accompaniment (solo or in choir). The song can be about praying, lamenting, grief, joy or being in love. The songs are not always personal ad hoc creations: more often they are preformed, standardised texts on standardised music, especially when singing in choir (think of national anthems). It is only a short stride from using standardised songs as a means of expressing actual feelings to imitating imaginary singers: the transition to musical mimesis, where speech music comes to full bloom. Another transition to mimesis is when the sung text is narrative. We will deal with these forms of mimetic music in 'Auditory music and mimesis'

movement conjuring signs

Let us remark that musical instruments, in taking over the role of the voice, may become a kind of prosthesis that provides new ways of expression (were it only flaunting one's virtuosity, or, more sophisticated: Sequenza V). That applies not only to singing, but also the production of non-verbal auditory expression: the scanning of war cries may be replaced with warriors or cops beating on their shields (Zulu), or protesters jingling their keys like in the Velvet revolution, firing of salvo's on machine guns, and what have you. A new impetus is given to the creation of all kinds of auditory signals and sign: think of bells, gongs, sirens, ringtones, claxons, steam whistles, military signals and so on. These signals often develop into sophisticated forms of music, think of the orthodox bell ringing.


The development of speech music is the prelude to its integration in dance music.

The combination with movements of the body can be inaugurated through speech music itself. Even more than speaking, singing favours the assumption of visual expressions, which, in the wake of the heightening of speaking to singing, may develop into full dance movements, especially when the singing is accompanied by or relegated to musical instruments, so that all the drawbacks of the voice can be lifted.

The coupling with dance movements can also be elicited by the dance music itself. We already know how speech music can be used as exherent movement conjuring sign for movements of the body ('Left! Right'' 'Heihoi!). Nothing is more obvious than to complement the movement conjuring signs of the dance music with the singing of phrases that refer to the dancing: 'Rock around the clock', 'Let's dance', 'I'll rock you', 'Asi se baila el tango'- or as a metaphor: 'Roll over Beethoven',..- or even of empty formulas like ''heybaberiba' or 'olé" (Massai). These words are then sung on speech music, and the exherent movement conjuring signs for the dance can be condensed with the movement conjuring signs for singing.

This leads to a combination of speech music and work or dance music: the whole array of lullabies, marching songs, rowing songs, but above all the standard formula of contemporary dance music: dance music with a melody (in so far as text and music are non-mimetic).

The speech music need not always be sung: it is often purely instrumental - wordless - song, exemplary in the waltz or the march. We are dealing here with elementary melodic patterns for basic dance patterns, that may develop into a 'melody' through transposition on the diverse chords (exemplary in the arpeggaition of the chords like in 'Rock around the clock').

The condensation of movement conjuring signs for work or dance movements with those for singing, often entails that the rhythm of the words has to be adjusted to those of the dance movements: they are pronounced faster or slower or spread over several notes (melisma), or the notes have to be repeated or prolonged. Often entire words are repeated ('Rock, rock, rock'). The propensity to sing words that function as movement conjuring signs often elicits the propensity to mobilise sounds that are inherent to the dance movements as well (Calusul Oltenesc.)

movement conjuring signs working or dancing

As a rule, the words that are sung on dance music refer to the dance itself. But the working or dancing situation may prompt a shift to the narrative or to the lyric or dramatic mode: when David Bowie finishes his song 'Let's dance' with the section ''If you say 'run', I'll run with you', he begins to stage himself as a lyric or dramatic character - wherewith the threshold to mimetic music is crossed, of which more in 'Auditory mimesis and music'.


The playing of dance music is a skill that often invites to competitive showing off of the prowess of the singer or the musician. The musician feels inclined to vary on the basic pattern of the dance music. The attention shifts from the dance movements to the playing of the musicians: it is no longer the dancer who invents new dance movements, but rather the musician who invents new rhythmic, melodic or harmonic variations - as if the dance music no longer is meant to conjure up dance movements, as rather the improvisation of the musician. Thereby, playing dance music leads to sophisticated and virtuoso performances, like with the Flamenco, which is in its turn an occasion to perform sophisticated dance movements, if dancing is not suspended altogether (Buleria, Paco de Lucia, or Hungarian Rock of Ligeti). Dance music is thus transformed into 'play music', where the movement conjuring signs become inherent again, this time to the playing of the musician. The design of music as well as dance is elevated to new heights. At the same time - especially when dancing is relegated to the background - the way is paved for a transition to absolute music, of which more in 'Sonorous beings and absolute music'. The playing itself thereby takes a new flight and is generalised into pure virtuoso playing as such: exemplariy in the 'Etudes' of composers like Czerny, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Ligeti), although, as we shall see in 'Auditory mimesis and music' the virtuose playing is combined there with mimetic elements.


Although it is helpful to make a distinction between speech music, which organises speech or singing in the (non-mimetic) song, and work or dance music, which organises (non mimetic) movements of the body,both kinds of music do practically not appear in pure form. Even in the purest song, the movement conjuring signs of the song tend to command also visual expressions, and most dance music contains repeated melodic patterns, however elementary.

Like Proteus, music appears in many guises, and that tends to escape the attention because, otherwise than Proteus, the many guises tend to merge into ever new hybrids. The formula of 'melody with rhythmic-metric accompaniment' is so archetypal, that we are all too easily inclined to think of music in terms of this combination of two kinds of music. In what follows, we will get acquainted with still other kinds of music, and with still more kinds of combinations.


The system of auditory movement conjuring signs reaches new heights as speech music and dance music, but it only comes to full bloom when it crosses the threshold of mimesis and releases itself as absolute music from the constraints imposed by the task of organising speech and dance, as we shall demonstrate in the next texts.

In expectance, it is important to stress that movement conjuring signs are signs (semiosis), not imitations (mimesis) of the movements that they organise. The relation with the movements can be described in terms of the different kinds of motivation of signs (see 'Semiosis and mimesis''). When movement conjuring signs are inherent to the movement, we are dealing with image signs (sensorily reduced similarity: from the movement only the sound). When movement conjuring signs are exherent, there is no longer some kind of identity, but rather analogy: we are then dealing with sonifications, the audible counterparts of visualisations like temperature curves). The diverse parameters of sound are used as analog material: length, pitch, timbre, volume. These signs are 'abstract': precisely because they are analog they can be filled in at random (just like a 'curve' can refer to temperature as well as to stock prices). That applies especially to exherent signs for dance movements; even very determined movement conjuring signs like for instance a tango, can conjure up the most diverse dance movements. That is precisely why most dance patterns are conventional and have to be learned. That is only in principle also the case with inherent signs: a verse scheme may be filled in with countless verses, but in each concrete poem the words are inseparable from the conjuring signs.

It should be noted, however, that dance music can conjure up movements that are not human or cannot be performed by humans. That is the case with mimetic dance music: music that conjures up the movements of dancers who imitate animals or other imaginary beings. Nearly related is the equally mimetic imageconjuring music, music that conjures up mostly visual representations. And also speech music with lyric and dramatic or narrative text belongs to the domain of mimetic music. All these kinds of music will be dealt with in 'Auditory mimesis and music'.

It is obvious then, that the refinement of the system of movement conjuring signs to the more or less sophisticated forms of speech music and dance music is a question of semiotic design - in case: 'musical design'. The refinement of the concomitant dance movements is movement design. In this respect, all these kinds of music may be compared with 'literature' in the sense of 'bellettrie' (and not in the sense of literary lyric, dramatic or narrative mimesis).


Since speech music and dance music are mostly combined, it is not useless to remind of the principial differences between both.

With speech music, the movement conjuring signs are inherent to speaking or (vocal or instrumental) singing. The design of movement conjuring signs is indissoluble from the design of speaking or singing itself. With dance music, the movement conjuring signs - the music - is exherent: it is only a means of conjuring up dance movements, which are not auditory, but visual phenomena. It is not the movement conjuring signs (the music), but rather the visual movements that are expressive.

It might be objected that dance music is also expressive without the dance. But that is only an impression. The music continues to function as movement conjuring sign. When the listener refrains from performing the movements, he either imagines dancers dancing on it, or imagines himself dancing on it. In both cases, the expression continues to be the expression of the dance, which is perceived visually or interoceptively. We should never forget that the information provided by the music is rather general - and analog at that: as we have seen, it has to be filled in with conventional dance patterns. It is not an easy task, but it suffices to listen to a particular kind of dance music as such - without making a visual representation of other dancers or without having the interoceptive experience of imagining oneself dancing, to realise the difference between the information provided by the music and by the dancers. It suffices, conversely, to imagine dancers performing other movements to the same music, to realise the degree to which movement conjuring signs are rather abstract and formal.

Of course, nothing prevents us from listening to the music as such: we then approach it as absolute music, as moving sound. Also the movements of these sounds are expressive, but they express something quite different from the movements of human dancers, precisely because we now listen to the sound as a phenomenon and not as a sign, so that the movements are taken literally, and no longer read as analog signs


This reminds us of the fact that we are not talking here of music as something to be listened to for its own sake, but of music as a sign that makes us sing or dance: as long as we do not enter the mimetic dimension, we enjoy our own singing and our own dancing, not the singing and the dancing of others as an audible or visual spectacle, and even less the worlds that are conjured up through musical mimesis.

It is crucial to highlight the difference. All those who sing the same music or dance on the same music find themselves in the same condition. They enjoy not only the fact that they communally enjoy being in the same condition, but the condition itself in the first place: all are brought into an erotic or aggressive, unbridled or self-controlled, cheerful or melancholy state (See Chapter XI on the orgy in 'The ecstasies of Eros'). When listening or looking at a performance, on the other hand, we enjoy (communally or not) something that we are not ourselves: it is not because I enjoy fireworks that I explode. There is a difference, hence, between what we will call 'sympathetic' versus 'contemplative' singing and dancing.

Confusion may arise from the fact that I cannot pray or dance along with other prayers or dancers, when I do not hear the praying or the music that conjures up my own praying or dancing. But that is another kind of listening than listening to the weeping of a child or the roraring of an avalanche or a weeping child: on hearing these sounds we react by comforting or by fleeing, whereas on hearing the sound of prayer or dance music, we react through joining the prayer or the dancing.

Only when we understand the difference on the level of non-mimetic music, will we be in the proper position to understand how it is that mimetic music - a particular form of auditory mimesis - does affect us so differently than visual mimesis. When we see the Mona Lisa, we do not join her smiling, whereas when we hear Monteverdi's Arianna lament, we at least feel the propensity to join her lamenting.


Music is in the first place a - just like language typically human - way of organising and synchronising speaking and singing, as well as bodily movements during work and dance, through the use of auditory movement conjuring signs. Just like speaking, cooking gardening or building, making music is a form of human production that can be elevated to the level of refined design. The domain of musical design falls apart in two subdomains: the domain of spoken or sung speech music (that can be instrumental or not), and the domain of spoken, sung of played work or dance music. Both kinds of music can be combined in diverse ways.

Music is hence, in the first place a sophisticated system of signs. But, just like language, that other sign system, it can also be used mimetically: in 'Sonorous beings and absolute music' we will examine the domain of absolute music, and in 'Auditory mimesis and music' the domain of auditory mimesis as such.

© Stefan Beyst, spring 2012.

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