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  • Writer's pictureKim Myer

Phenomenology through Disruption

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

The idea of this week’s blog task is to visually articulate the process and line of inquiry which led to the proposed research question. Scrawling through pages upon pages of ideas, connections and resources can be quite chaotic and difficult to communicate. Thus, using a mind map serves as a visual articulation of the process.

Mind Map

Finding the right research question was indeed a lengthy and continual process, my line of inquiry changing numerous times. Lost in a never-ending portal of possibility, I kept coming back to my original interest, which was philosophical in scope. The capacity to engage in a more open-ended and ambiguous questioning appears to be the most engaging, and arousing line of inquiry, all the while being the most frustratingly ambiguous. While I may not be on the right path, “the major aim of arts-based research is not to have the correct answer to the question or the correct solution to the problem; it is to generator questions that stimulate problem formation.” (Barone, p, 171)

What is the fundamental nature of music? This long running question has led to more questions and inquiries than there are philosophers’ stones. Can the act of listening to music bring the participant closer to the core of its essential nature; the object in and of itself. How can we explain its very nature when you are participating in the act itself? Maybe I don’t really want to know its fundamental nature, or maybe there’s reprieve in knowing I won’t find it anyway. However, such exploration is a way to “diversify the pantry of methods that researchers can use to address the problems they care about.” (Barone, p. 170). While I have no idea of the outcome, what draws me to phenomenology, besides Toby’s power of suggestion, is the potential for a more meaningful engagement with the fundamental nature of music. What I do know though is, my intended disruption to the structures of the musical experience aims to highlight how prediction and assumption have a definitive effect on the phenomenological experience.

As a discipline rarely explored on its own, music is one of the least used practices in arts-based research. (Leavey, 2015; Daykin, 2004; Smith 1997). Researched mainly in combination with multi-disciplinary fields such as art, dance, performance and film, music’s transience and lack of form have prevented it from becoming any form of absolute knowledge. Sensibilities such as expression, intuition, perception and interpretation, all being very hard to quantify and impossible to replicate.

In this respect, music acts as an ageless and disembodied spirit which can take on multiple forms and tongues. It has many voices and many representational forms. As LaBelle explains, “sound is already mine and yet not mine- I cannot hold it for long, nor can I arrest all its itinerant energy. Sound is promiscuous. It exists as a network that teaches us how to belong, to find place, as well as how not to belong, to drift.” (2010, p.17). While music cannot communicate what a word can, its ability to suggest and signify can be both observed and interpreted.

Like alchemists in search of the fundamental nature of matter, phenomenology arose by bringing the metaphysical back from its place in the heavens. (Dura, 2006; Burger, 1999). The position I will take is quite simple. In the vein of Merleau-Ponty’s existential phenomenology, I am the subject and the piece of music or sound is the object. Only through the subject, myself, can the object come into being. Like the Platonic notion of spirit which views “music as an imprint of the laws of nature in our spirit (….) a combination of sound and spirit” (Samama, 2015, p. 400), however transient or fleeting this occasion may be, engaging with its ethereal nature gives it form with which to communicate.

As sound is not a thing in itself, the phenomena can only be truly experienced through a certain level of prediction. In order to engage phenomenologically with music, my methodology will begin with an analogy.

After experiencing trees for 46 years, I am very familiar with their size, shape, sound, contours, and colour, so much so that there is no need to have conscious thought in regard to their being-ness. These assumptions hold together a set of beliefs and ideas in regard to what a tree is. However, if I was to one day look at a tree from a different angle and find them to be two dimensional, like a cardboard cut-out, I would not only be perplexed, I would immediately be aware of my assumptions and expectations regarding the depth and dimension of trees. In this respect you could conclude that this disruption to the flow of assumptive behaviour is what brought the trees being-ness back into consciousness. While I am aware that a tree is not music, clearly by the fact that it has form and makes sound independently of humans, my phenomenological investigation will follow this line of analogy, beginning with a disruption of the structures of the musical experience. In doing so, I aim to highlight how prediction and assumption have a definitive effect on the phenomenological experience.

On the whole this project examines the connection between phenomenology and music, the connection between music and research and the connection between research and phenomenology.

Disclaimer: ‘Music’ and ‘Sound’ are intermittently entangled within this proposal. While I acknowledge this to be problematic, at this stage its disentanglement requires more disentangling.


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