Jan, Steven (2009) Evolutionary Thought in Music Theory and Analysis: A Corrective to ‘Babelization’? In: L'analyse Musicale aujord'hui: crise ou (R)evolution?/Music Analysis Today: Crisis or (R)evolution? International Conference 2009, 19th - 21st November 2009, Strasbourg, France.

The growing diversity – some might say ‘Babelization’ – of music theory and analysis over the last 30 years is arguably a consequence of wider changes in musical scholarship, including its increasing interdisciplinarity. An overarching centripetal paradigm might usefully draw together the various centrifugal strands of theory and analysis in order to link ostensibly isolated discourses. This is not to impose a false consensus upon diverse and innovative research, but rather to identify underlying commonalities and to foster constructive dialogue using a mutually intelligible conceptual vocabulary and methodological framework. Evolutionary theory is offered as a candidate paradigm; in particular, it is the meme concept which offers a powerful unifying force in musical study. By means of four case studies focusing on significant current trends in theory and analysis, I explore how memetics might serve as a meta-narrative connecting a number of seemingly disparate areas:
– Schenkerism and the hierarchic replication and evolution of formal-structural schemata.
– Pitch-class set theory, neo-Riemannian transformational theory, and the evolution of (a)tonal organization.
– Implication-realization theory and the shaping of musical patterning by psychological constraints.
– Computational musicology, the identification of replicated patterns, and the agent-based simulation of counterfactual evolutionary scenarios.
I conclude by arguing that memetics can also illuminate the evolutionary development of theory and analysis itself, as a verbal-graphical-conceptual ‘memeplex’ subject to the selection pressure of perceived ‘fit’ with the music it seeks to model and with the wider intellectual climate.

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