Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Embodied Cognition

Compare this idea, that the body takes abstract thoughts literally (see Abstract Thoughts? The Body Takes Them Literally, by Natalie Angier) with this idea — that the integration of the human body into performance is a fundamental problem with electronic music (see "Human Bodies, Computer Music", by Bob Ostertag). In the first case, the field of embodied cognition shows us how the body reacts to abstract ideas. In the second case, the lack of body is seen as limiting to the art form. Perhaps the study of embodied cognition might hold some clues as to why electronic music and computer art in general are cold to our "senses". Though we can grasp the abstract idea of computer art we have no experience connecting the idea of the art to our bodies. We have all seen live performances of music in which the bowing of the violin, the strumming of the guitar, the blowing of a horn, or the beating of a drum were all accompanied by corresponding volume, pitch, intensity and the emotions of the performers. With a recorded performance, we still react in empathy with performers we have seen. The abstract idea of a song is felt with our bodies partly because we have been trained by performance artists to feel what they emote. Correspondingly, if we sense that the body was removed from the performance, with electronics, we react less with our bodies. You get into a hard rock guitar solo as though you were the guitarist, but computer code and electronics tamp down all those emotions. We can't imagine a programmer strutting, thrashing, and banging out code.

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