Musical Sense-Making and the Concept of Affordance: An Ecosemiotic and Experiential Approach

Biosemiotics 5 (3):391-409 (2012)
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This article is interdisciplinary in its claims. Evolving around the ecological concept of affordance, it brings together pragmatics and ecological psychology. Starting from the theoretical writings of Peirce, Dewey and James, the biosemiotic claims of von Uexküll, Gibson’s ecological approach to perception and some empirical evidence from recent neurobiological research, it elaborates on the concepts of experiential and enactive cognition as applied to music. In order to provide an operational description of this approach, it introduces some conceptual tools from the domain of cybernetics with a major focus on the concept of circularity, which links perception to action in a continuous process of sense-making and interaction with the environment. As such, it is closely related to some pragmatic, biosemiotic and ecosemiotic claims which can be subsumed under the general notion of functional significance. An attempt is made to apply this conceptual framework to the process of musical sense-making which involves the realisation of systemic cognition in the context of epistemic interactions that are grounded in our biology and possibilities for adaptive control. Central in this approach is the concept of coping with the environment, or, in musical terms, to perceive the sounding music in terms of what it affords for the consummation of musical behaviour
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