The consensual view from within the humanities appears to be that music is cultural rather than natural; music is viewed as constituted of practices, concepts and perceptions that are grounded in particular social interactions and constructions. As Geertz (1973) put it, in promoting a semiotic and interpretive approach to culture, "man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun", and within Geertzs humano-centric web of culture there is little room for the "natural". For Treitler (1980), "Meaning in music is a function of the engagement of codes or orders by the note-complexes of which the musical event is comprised", and musical phenomena are thus "intelligible only in the light of an interpretation which intuits the purpose or intention that they embody".
Indeed, Abbate (1991) has suggested that “There is nothing immanent in a musical work (beyond the material reality of its written and sonic traces) and our perceptions of forms, configurations, meanings, gestures and symbols are always mediated by verbal formulas, as on a broader scale by ideology and culture. ” "Music" is seen as the expression of discrete, contingent, socially conditioned factors in respect of which a generalisable - and hence scientific - account is neither relevant nor possible (Cross, 2001). Shepherd and Wicke (1997) published their book “Music and Cultural Theory”.
The aim of this book as stated in the initial pages is ‘to feed musicology into cultural theory, to consider the implications for cultural theory of a viable theory for the social and cultural constitution of music as a particular and irreducible form of human expression and knowledge’. The authors see their initial task ‘to interrogate those forms of cultural theory which have been central to its development since the late 1950s’ and ‘to determine where the application of cultural theory has had some success in grasping affect in music as socially and culturally constituted’.
This book and other similar works help cultural theorists to appreciate music and help musicians or musicologists to recognize the work they do from the viewpoint of theories of culture and society. Music is different things and does different things in different cultures; the bundles of elements and functions which are music for any given culture may overlap minimally with those of another culture, even for those cultures where "music" constitutes a discrete and identifiable category of human activity in its own right.
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