Research Topic

Music and the embodied mind: A jam session for theorists on musical improvisation, instrumental self-extension, and the biological and social basis of music and well-being

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"As animals our lives are marked by rhythms, and the rhythmical activities of ventilation and heart beat are tangible evidence of the life force in each of us", Taylor and colleagues write in their (1999) Physiological Reviews article on the cardiovascular and respiratory system. With this "life force" as a ...

"As animals our lives are marked by rhythms, and the rhythmical activities of ventilation and heart beat are tangible evidence of the life force in each of us", Taylor and colleagues write in their (1999) Physiological Reviews article on the cardiovascular and respiratory system. With this "life force" as a pulse reverberating deep through the body, it's as if our heart beat and breath breaks the silence of non-life as rhythms of nature that move us like music. One might ask: Are we not something akin to an instrument of music, our lives, something of an improvisation? What is the nature of the undeniably intimate relationship between music, the body and mind?

Concerns like these have been common to both scholars and performers alike. For instance, Einstein once reported that "I see my life in terms of music" and that "Life without playing music is inconceivable for me". In Phenomenology of Perception Merleau-Ponty discussed the "kinetic melody" of the body, while the great jazz musician and saxophone improviser Ornette Coleman explained his technique as one of "activating the idea that's going through my nervous system". Sally Ness (1992) further discussed "the dynamic mentality of one's neuromusculature" during her analysis of dance in Body, Movement, and Culture, and the saxophone inventor Adolphe Sax argued that the "true" musician and their music "exist through each other, and are but one". Advancements in the cognitive sciences have additionally enabled new evidence regarding the bodily basis of music perception, cognition, and action to come to light, inspiring fresh insights and more empirically informed theorizing.

Yet despite a wide and growing interest in the relationship between music, the body and mind, along with promising technological advances, relatively little empirical and theoretical work has been explicitly devoted to investigating the topic of music and the embodied mind, and what work does exist remains largely dispersed across different publication sources spanning different academic fields. Accordingly, the aim of this Research Topic will be to unite an interdisciplinary group of scientists, theorists, and performers to address several of the liveliest questions regarding music and the embodied mind.

Scientists working on music from all disciplines are encouraged to submit original empirical research, philosophers and theorists of music are encouraged to submit fresh hypothesis and theory articles, and musicians as well as dancers are encouraged to submit perspective and opinion pieces reflecting their first-person knowledge of these performing arts. The aim is for an integration of theory, empirical data, and first-person reports in order to better understand, and drive new research on, the topic of music and the embodied mind.

Articles of interest include, but are not limited to, those discussing musical improvisation, self-extension through musical instruments, the evolution and development of music, the biological and social basis of music and well-being, and conceptual frameworks for understanding the nature of music and the embodied mind more generally. Critical commentary will also be warmly received.

Abstract submissions should not exceed 1,000 words and will be carefully selected by the Frontiers editor.

* I would like to give my warm thanks to Joshua Redman and Courtney Hawkes for their kindness and collaboration. The topic image for this research topic is courtesy of Elizabeth Attenborough, and I would like to extend my appreciation to her also.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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