Institut Jean Nicod

Accueil > Séminaires/Colloques > Soutenances de Thèse et HDR > PhD defense - Léo Migotti "Investigating musical meaning : Empirical (...)

PhD defense - Léo Migotti "Investigating musical meaning : Empirical evidence for a music semantics"


Date : Thursday 31 August at 4.30pm

Lieu : Salle des Actes, on the first floor of the main building at 45 rue d’Ulm (staircase A). If you would like to attend in person or by videoconference, please fill in the following form for organisational purposes :


Jury :

  • Isabelle CHARNAVEL, University of Geneva, Reviewer
  • Jonah KATZ, University of West Virginia, Reviewer
  • Emmanuel CHEMLA, CNRS (LSCP), President of the jury
  • Claire PELOFI, New York University, Examiner
  • Philippe SCHLENKER, IJN (CNRS) - New York University, Supervisor
  • Jean-Julien AUCOUTURIER, FEMTO-ST (CNRS), Co-supervisor


Abstract :

Does music have meaning ? And if so, what kind of meaning ? It has recently been argued that music has a semantics, i.e. a system of rules mapping the form of music (what we perceive) to musical meaning (what music evokes). In this dissertation, we present four experiments designed to test the main claims of music semantics by having music interact with language, visual perception, and body motion. Our results first show that when embedded in language, musical meaning can be divided into the different slots of the linguistic inferential typology : the mechanisms generating meaning can take musical stimuli as input. The second experiment shows that music can refer to visual objects and that musical properties can be interpreted as properties of these objects : in particular, pitch and loudness can be understood in terms of energy and distance. Third, we provide an analysis of how music can evoke body motion through a case study on music representing walks, and show that at least five properties are involved, ranging from time structure to more complex conditions on consonance and tonal relations. We finally show that musical properties such as pitch can directly affect gait patterns in ways that are surprisingly consistent with semantic representations from musical pitch. Together, our findings support the core assumption that music is referential, as its properties can be mapped to properties and domains beyond music itself.