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The Sound Of Music

Hamilton, Andy



M Nudds

C O'Callaghan


According to the acousmatic thesis defended by Roger Scruton and others, to hear sounds as music is to divorce them from the source or cause of their production. Non-acousmatic experience involves attending to the worldly cause of the sound; in acousmatic experience, sound is detached from that cause. The acousmatic concept originates with Pythagoras, and was developed in the work of 20th century musique concrète composers such as Pierre Schaeffer. The concept yields important insights into the nature of musical experience, but Scruton's version of the acousmatic thesis cannot overcome objections arising from timbral and spatial aspects of music, which seem to relate sounds to the circumstances of their production. These objections arise in part from music's status as a performing art rooted in human gesture and behaviour. Hence I defend a two-fold thesis of "hearing-in", which parallels Richard Wollheim's concept of "seeing-in": both acousmatic and non-acousmatic experience are genuinely musical and fundamental aspects of musical experience. Musical sounds are essentially part of the human and material worlds. While the acousmatic thesis is ultimately unpersuasive, however, the concept of the acousmatic places an interesting interpretation on traditional debates. It is also the case that a more developed musical understanding tends towards the acousmatic. I conclude by considering some implications for the metaphysics of sound, arguing that the two-fold thesis of the experience of music implies that one can experience the location and production of sounds through hearing alone.


Hamilton, A. (2009). The Sound Of Music. In M. Nudds, & C. O'Callaghan (Eds.), Sounds and perception : new philosophical essays (146-182). Oxford University Press

Publication Date Nov 26, 2009
Deposit Date Feb 18, 2009
Publisher Oxford University Press
Pages 146-182
Book Title Sounds and perception : new philosophical essays.
Keywords Music, Acousmatic, Aesthetics.
Publisher URL