Replicating sonorities: Towards a memetics of music

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The memetic paradigm is herein applied to music. While memetics has been used to elucidate a wide variety of cultural phenomena, its concerns to date have largely been with memes in the realm of verbally-expressible concepts. In view of this, this paper represents an attempt to integrate the central concerns of analytical musicology with a neo-Darwinian meme-selectionist perspective. Such a viewpoint may be used, it is argued, to unify, under a systematic new paradigm, understanding of both local issues of musical structure and organization, and global issues of musical style configuration and its diachronic change. Against the grain of several suggestions in the memetics literature, a minimalist view of the musical meme is taken, seeing it as consisting, at the lower extreme, of configurations of as few as three or four notes. The hierarchic location of musical memes is a central concern here, both in cultural hierarchies - i.e., the replication of patterning at different strata within a culture - and in structural hierarchies - i.e., the replication of patterning at different strata within a work, including the level of the global structural archetype. Leonard Meyer's perspective on culture is employed to frame consideration of the first phenomenon, whilst the analytical method of Heinrich Schenker is employed to comprehend the second. In order to understand how musical memes partake of meaning in association with verbally-mediated concept memes, the semiology of Ferdinand de Saussure and Jean-Jacques Nattiez is employed. The article concludes with observations on the transmission and mutation of musical memes, and an account of how this process engenders the evolution of musical styles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-51
Number of pages51
JournalJournal of Memetics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2000


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