Saturday morning, November 14, 12–12:50 CST

Add this to your calendar

Gesture, The Mimetic Hypothesis, and Musical Feels

Juan Chattah (University of Miami), Chair

Being Cecil, Feeling Feldman: Gestural Analysis of Two Avant-Garde Piano Works

Christa Cole (Indiana University Bloomington)


Despite recent sociological, technological, and composer-specific scholarship on the twentieth-century musical avant-garde (Piekut 2014; Iverson 2018; Cline 2016), analytical tools available for engaging with aleatory and improvisatory musics remain under-established. In this paper, I present an analytical approach that accounts for the listening and performing body, applying a gestural analysis to piano works by Cecil Taylor and Morton Feldman. My approach considers the intersections between instrumental affordances (Windsor 2017; De Souza 2017), pianistic gestural conventions (a concept I develop), and listener subjectivity (Cumming 2000), while addressing layers of mediation in performance and reception. I take a personal, “mimetic” listening experience (Cox 2016) as the basis for investigating a broader question: How might a body-oriented analysis shed light on potential approaches to this repertoire?

To explore this question, I analyze two video performances of Taylor’s and Feldman’s music, identifying and categorizing “foundational gestures”—discrete, identifiable performer movements that may be observed, described, and (potentially) replicated. Building on this categorization and description, my analysis builds a body-centric gestural lexicon for Taylor’s and Feldman’s piano music. This identification and analysis of bodily gestures, along with their corresponding sounding musical gestures, opens the door for listeners to engage with this music in new ways. Because aleatory and improvisatory works often feature realizations that differ widely between performances or lack a score altogether, these kinds of gestural readings prove especially beneficial for the analyst.

Mimetic Invitation in Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices

Crystal Peebles (Ithaca College)


With its post-minimalist diatonicism, strong rhythmic pulse, and melodic repetition throughout all four movements, the surface of Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices is quite accessible, but I argue that its general public acclaim results from various degrees of mimetic invitation within this composition, a perspective also explored by Fulton 2019. Drawing from Cox’s (2011) mimetic hypothesis, I illustrate how these degrees of mimetic imagery, most notability a work’s “singability” and “dancability,” correspond with the formal structure in the “Allemande” and “Passacaglia.” Further, I map the opposition of mimetic attenuation and invitation onto the ideas of individualism and community. Shaw’s use of intertextual references throughout this piece (Belcher 2019), especially those from American vernacular traditions eliciting communal participation, support this reading. This perspective casts the listener as an active agent in the creation of a musical community. As this represents a subjective, bodily way of knowing this music, it raises the important question: whose voice and body is represented in this analysis (Cusick 1994)? While I can experience a narrative of communal joy in this composition, others may experience a systematic oppression of the voice of the “other,” as sounds that I can’t imagine singing are exploited and exoticized (Davids 2019). Considering degrees of mimetic engagement and the way it shapes musical meaning as situated in the analyst, speaks to the wider concern of inclusivity in our field.

Musical Feels

Dora A. Hanninen (University of Maryland)

Dora A. Hanninen is Professor of Music Theory and Division Coordinator for Theory/ Composition at the University of Maryland. Author of A Theory of Music Analysis: On Segmentation and Associative Organization (University of Rochester Press, 2012), she received the SMT’s Outstanding Publication Award in 2010 for “Associative Sets, Categories, and Music Analysis” (Journal of Music Theory, 2004). In recent years, her work has turned to multimodal topics in music analysis, including two lectures presented in 2015 and 2016 on kinesthetic music analysis and musical movement, and “Images, Representation, and Visualization,” published in The Oxford Handbook of Critical Concepts in Music Theory, edited by Alexander Rehding and Steven Rings and published by University Oxford University Press (2019). A former member of the SMT’s Executive Board, and editorial boards of Music Theory Spectrum, Journal of Music Theory, and Music Theory Online, she was President of the SMT from 2015–2017.


When we think of music, we think primarily of sound. But musical experience is multifaceted and multimodal. Music performance, in particular, engages multiple faculties—aural, intellectual, visual, and kinesthetic. Musicians not only hear, but feel, sounds, as a complex choreography of precise physical actions, and qualities and dynamics of motion. This paper explores the grains and flows of somaesthetic experience (Shusterman 2012) that I call musical feels and illustrates how these might be incorporated in music analysis.

Part I identifies the phenomenon and considers framing issues of ontology, language, and first-person research methods. Musical feels are multimodal qualia—amalgams of sound, structure, sight or visual imagery, touch, and somatic and dynamic qualities of movement. I explain how musical feels intersect with but differ from musical gesture, musical feelings or emotions, and objective, measurable aspects of movement. Like Boretz’s (1989) “determinate feels,” musical feels are radically particular and subjective. But if we investigate feels carefully and speak clearly, they can be surprisingly intersubjective and so might be meaningfully included in music analysis.

Part II presents detailed analyses of the workings of several (for me, a pianist) especially intense musical feels. One is in the second movement of Bach’s Italian Concerto. Others come from works by Scarlatti, Brahms, and Berg. Paradoxically, the import of this paper lies not so much in the musical feels I discuss, as in those I cannot yet discuss, but hope to evoke and bring to vivid attention: they are yours and those of every other musician.