, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 229–266 | Cite as

A Biosemiotic and Ecological Approach to Music Cognition: Event Perception Between Auditory Listening and Cognitive Economy

  • Mark Reybrouck


This paper addresses the question whether we can conceive of music cognition in ecosemiotic terms. It claims that music knowledge must be generated as a tool for adaptation to the sonic world and calls forth a shift from a structural description of music as an artifact to a process-like approach to dealing with music. As listeners, we are observers who construct and organize our knowledge and bring with us our observational tools. What matters is not merely the sonic world in its objective qualities, but the world as perceived. In order to make these claims operational we can rely on the ecological concept of coping with the sonic world and the cybernetic concepts of artificial and adaptive devices. Listeners, on this view, are able to change their semantic relations with the sonic world through functional adaptations at the level of sensing, acting and coordinating between action and perception. This allows us to understand music in functional terms of what it affords to us and not merely in terms of its acoustic qualities. There are, however, degrees of freedom and constraints which shape the semiotization of the sonic world. As such we must consider the role of event perception and cognitive economy: listeners do not perceive the acoustical environment in terms of phenomenological descriptions but as ecological events.


adaptation and adaptive control cognitive economy coping behavior ecosemiotics enactive and experiential cognition epistemic control system event perception listener–environment interaction musical epistemology 


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  • Mark Reybrouck

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