An ecological approach to similarity and categorisation in music

Eric Clarke and Nicola Dibben,
Music Department,
University of Sheffield,
Sheffield S10 5BR,

Abstract A view of categorisation in music is proposed which questions the notion of similarity as a single, continuous dimension. According to this view, categories are a consequence of the relatedness of events, where relatedness is understood as a function of the dialectical relationship between listener and musical material. The notion of relatedness by virtue of iconic resemblance (the view of similarity and categorisation most commonly encountered in music theory) is contrasted with, and understood within, a model of relatedness based upon common specification (e.g. of a musical function, genre or cultural category). This approach therefore includes issues of social and historical context and meanings as being vital to an understanding of similarity and categorisation in music. An exploratory empirical study provides preliminary confirmation of this theory and implications for further empirical investigation are considered.