Philosophy Talk

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June 3, 2024 12:50 PM-1:50 PM

Contemporary Music Notation: What, and Who, Is It For?

Gabe Rabin

New York University Abu Dhabi

Abstract: What, and who, is contemporary music notation (the ubiquitous system of horizontal lines with flag-adorned circles) for? The obvious answer is that the system is for representing music. I argue that this answer is woefully incomplete. I offer an alternative teleological conception, according to which music notation’s purpose is to support the playing of music by sight. Sometimes the goals of representing music and facilitating the reading of music by sight pull in opposite directions. The compromise between these two teleological functions has resulted in the system of contemporary music notation we see today.


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