Proceedings of the 56th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2012, San Jose, CA, USA, 56th Annual Proceedings of ISSS

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A Phenomenology of Polyrhythmic Music

Adrian Yee


The thesis I will develop in this paper is the claim that polyrhythms have a property of ‘emergence’ that is distinct from the perception associated with atomic rhythms, as aided by the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel's theory of phenomenology. I will argue that the specific qualia sensations associated with apprehending polyrhythms are distinct from both the sensations of mono-rhythmic music and polyrhythmic music taken as just the sum of atomic rhythms. Using Hegel’s text, The Phenomenology of Spirit, I will demonstrate how Hegel’s concepts of ‘Sense-Certainty’ and ‘Perception’ play a crucial role in understanding the cognition of polyrhythms at the phenomenological level. Using Hegelian concepts such as: the indexicality of ‘Here’ and “Now’ and the perception of ‘Also’ and ‘One’, I will demonstrate how polyrhythms are a specific phenomena that is greater than the sum of its parts, such as how a chair is not perceived as a bunch of wood arbitrarily constructed but as a unified whole. The key difference that I will make is that it is possible for a listener to apprehend a coherent soundscape that is perceived as a unified whole while at the same time retaining the multitude of differences contained within it; in this sense, polyrhythms have an ‘emergent’ property. In part 1 of this paper, I will discuss Hegel's phenomenology of music, as aided by the section on 'Consciousness' within the chapter on 'Perception' ; in Part 2, I will describe the Hegelian understanding of poly-rhythms as two terms of my own: 'notion-of-polyrhythm' and 'itself-of-polyrhythm'.

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