A post by Jennifer Church.
How does imagining contribute to our ability to experience sounds as music? Most people, when they listen to music, imagine a variety of things: a singer, a rising line, a swirl of activity, an approaching disaster, and so on. Some of these imaginings seem more closely connected to the music than others, but how are we to understand the notion of ‘closeness’ and when, if ever, is such imagining necessary?
Let us start with an easy case, where the connection is not close and the imagining is not necessary. When I hear an opera by Monteverdi I imagine La Fenice, where his music was often performed. This may enrich my current listening experience – perhaps by reactivating the attentiveness I had when I myself visited La Fenice, perhaps by triggering associations with other Italian music from the same era. This imagining is certainly not necessary for me to experience the sounds as music. The object of my imaging – La Fenice – is both metaphysically and phenomenologically distinct (and in that sense distant) from the object of my current listening experience – a Monteverdi opera.
Then there is representational music. A funeral march may represent people marching at a funeral, rising and falling sounds may represent choppy waves, and so on. In order to experience the sounds as representational (not just believe that they are representational), a listener must (a) imagine the thing that is represented and (b) imagine someone using the sounds to represent that thing. Although musical representation (like linguistic representation) can be almost purely conventional, much of it is based on recognizable resemblances – resemblances between the sound of drums and the sound of marching feet, resemblances between ups and downs in pitch and ups and downs in the surface of water, and so on. In this case the thing we imagine is phenomenologically ‘closer’ to the sounds we hear in virtue of their evident similarities.
Not all music is representational, of course, and representational music can be experienced as music even if we don’t experience it as representational (just as a representational painting can be experienced as a painting even if we don’t experience it as representational). For many people the most important thing about experiencing sounds as music is that we experience them as expressing feelings. Given that music doesn’t itself have feelings, a question arises as to how it is that we come to experience the sounds as expressing feelings. It seems that we must (a) imagine the feelings that are expressed, and (b) imagine a subject that is expressing those feelings through the sounds we hear. Like musical representation, much of musical expression is based on recognizable resemblances between the sounds and gestures and movements (both internal and external) of feeling humans and the sounds and gestures and movements of a piece a music: erratic staccato sounds resembling the feelings and movements of jittery people, low slow sounds resembling the feelings and movements of heavy-hearted people, rising open sounds resembling the feelings and movements of exuberant people. So, again, where there are such similarities, the thing we imagine (the feeling person) is phenomenologically close to what we hear. An extra degree of closeness occurs, moreover, when it is ourselves that we imagine feeling jittery or heavy-hearted or exuberant, or if we mirror the feelings of those we imagine; for that brings the content of our imagining closer what we feel as well as closer to what we hear.
There is also a closer relation between part (a) and part (b) of the requisite imagining when sounds are experienced as expressive than when sounds are experienced as representational. For, in the case of expression, the expression of X must be criterial for the existence of X; an expression of X must necessarily be evidence for the existence of X. What this means for the experience of music as expressing feelings is, I think, this: when we imagine a subject expressing a feeling through sound, we must also imagine that subject as having that feeling.
Once we imagine a subject expressing itself through sounds, we can project backwards from the sounds to the feelings that are being expressed through those sounds. The expressive capacities of a musical phrase or a musical progression or a musical juxtaposition often extend far beyond what has previously been observed in human behavior. Indeed, as Lennon points out, extending (versus replicating) feeling is at least part of the point of artistic expression. So, in many cases, imagining a subject expressing themselves in the sounds doesn’t just enable us to hear the sounds as expressive of someone’s feelings, it also enables us to use our imagination to discover feelings that we wouldn’t otherwise have known.
Insofar as people express their feelings through movement (inner as well as outer, facial as well as bodily), sounds must seem to move if they are to resemble those movements and, more generally, if they are to seem expressive of a feeling subject. But there is no movement without space; in order to be heard as moving, pitches must be heard as rising or falling, leaning or clashing, suspended or settled, and so on. Here we encounter a truly foundational role for the imagination. We can’t perceive these spatial qualities of sounds; we must imagine them, and that imagining must so infuse our experience of sounds that we end up experiencing the sounds as spatial. Insofar as this imagining is phenomenologically inseparable from our experiencing sounds at all, it must count as the type of imagining that is ‘closest’ to our experiences of sound.
Even if we abandoned the view that sound must be experienced as expressing feelings in order to be experienced as music, I don’t think we could abandon the view that sound must be experienced as moving in order to be experienced as music. Tracking these multidimensional movements may be the only thing really necessary for experiencing sound as music. But once we experience sounds as moving, I don’t think we could stop experiencing them as expressive – perhaps not of feelings, but of something. We are designed to imagine forces behind the movements we observe, and we are designed to see movements as expressions of those forces. We may also be designed to experience moving things as living things, in which case experiencing sounds as moving will automatically lead us to experience sounds as expressive of living things (and vice versa: experiencing sounds as expressive of living things will automatically lead us to experience them as moving).
 There are different candidates for this imagined subject: a composer (perhaps oneself as a composer), a performer, a conductor (perhaps oneself), an indeterminate persona, acoustic creatures, and so on. See Matravers’  critical discussion of Levinson , Davies , and Walton . Also Noordhof  and Trivedi  for variations on this requirement. I am disinclined to engage in arguments over just which of these sorts of imagining are appropriate. Different people will imagine differently-situated persona (depending in part on their own experiences as a composer or performer or conductor, and depending in part on the nature of the relevant musical ‘gestures’) and different music will suit different sorts of imagining. Cf. Ridley 
 Lennon  makes this point nicely.
 Scruton  and  offers detailed and compelling defenses of this claim.
 There are probably different sources for this imagining – from the experience of producing or feeling sounds in different places in one’s body, to learning certain notational practices. The more automatic the associations become, the more unconscious the imagining is likely to become. See Church  and .
 Strawson  chapter on “Sounds” offers a Kantian defense of the need for sounds to seem spatial in order for them to be objects of experience.
Church, Jennifer (2008) “The Hidden Image: A Defense of Unconscious Imagining and its Importance”, American Imago 65.3: 379-404.
Church, Jennifer (2013) Possibilities of Perception (Oxford University Press)
Davies, Stephen (1994) Musical Meaning and Expression (Cornell University Press)
Lennon, Kathleen (2011) “Imagination and the Expression of Emotion” Ratio XXIV: 282-298
Levinson, Jerrold (1996) “Musical Expressiveness” in The Pleasures of Aesthetics (Cornell University Press): 90-125
Levinson, Jerrold (2005) “Musical Expressiveness as Hearability-as-Expression” in Matthew Kieran (ed.), Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art (Blackwell)
Matravers, Derek (2003) “The Experience of Emotion in Music” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 61.4: 355-363
Matravers, Derek (2007) “Expression in Music”, in Kathleen Stock (ed.), Philosophers on Music: Experience, Meaning, and Work (Oxford University Press)
Noordhof, Paul (2008) “Expressive Perception as Projective Imagining” Mind and Language 23.3: 329-358
Ridley, Aaron (2007) “Persona Sometimes Grata: Expressive Music”, in Kathleen Stock (ed.), Philosophers on Music: Experience, Meaning, and Work (Oxford University Press)
Scruton, Roger (2009) “Movement” in his Understanding Music: Philosophy and Interpretation (Continuum International Publishing Group)
Scruton, Roger (1997) The Aesthetics of Music (Oxford University Press)
Strawson, P.F. (1959) Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (Methuen & Company)
Trivedi, Saam (2001) “Expressiveness as a property of the music itself” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 59: 411-420
Walton, Kendall (1994) “Listening with Imagination: Is Music Representational?” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 52.1: 47-61