Music Association with other forms of work – Wency

Music Association with other forms of work

Last weekend I did an interesting psychological test which I personally think is highly semiotic so it might not be a bad idea to start from it. In this test, there are overall seven questions each of which plays a different piece of music, based on the music, you are asked to choose which painting, scene, drink, etc. that you think fits best with the piece and at last the result will show you the gender construction of you. The details are as follows.

  1. Which painting do you think fit best with the music?
  2. What time do you think fit best with the music?foggy morning; b. sunny morning; c. a nightfall with beautiful setting sun; d. a night full of stars
  3. What kind of drink do you think fit best with the music?
  4. What do you think is expressed by the piece of music? a. The excitement of seeing an old friend. b. The expectation for a great future. c. Missing the lover who is far away. d. The helplessness of the unfair destiny
  5. Which scene comes into your mind while hearing this piece of music? a. A farm boy walking on the field. b. A driver driving on the highway. c. A wanderer lying on the window. d. The brave soldier on a battle ground
  6. Which place do you think the music comes from?
  7. Use a word to describe your feeling towards the piece of music.a. Despair; b. glory; c. rebirth; d. quiet.

This test serves as a combination of how opinions, comments and verbal or visual associates to music (Tagg, 1999, p.33). After listening to a piece of music, we first get an immediate interpretant of the piece based on the then based on the codes and categories we have learned within the sociocultural system we are in, we are thus able to add other associations for building a stack of multiple interpretant, which, according to Peirce, is a way of Dynamic Interpretants (Irvine, 2018, p.18). Our previous experiences somehow build into our memory that enables the successive connotation to happen (Tagg, 1999, p.5). Take the second question as an example, what I heard from the piece was a combination of two electrical guitars and a drum where the tonic guitar and the rhythm feats well together in harmony and the drumbeat feats exact at each point, in addition, though not sure which key the song is playing, I could tell that the piece is played within a major mode. But the knowledge of the frames within this piece is not the only source for me as a receiver to interpret the piece. I also come up with several words such as relax, straightforward, cozy, free, happy through listening to the melody.

But at this point, my interpretation is still more or less ambiguous and I can’t depict a specific scene according to these words. As for me, the reason why I couldn’t give a specific description is that those words could stand for several different scenes, probably several friends sitting near an outdoor swimming pool, or me sinking in my bed in a sunny, warm afternoon after having all my homework done. Luckily, the options in these questions somehow gives me a hint or a constrain for my depiction. Since a symbol may have an icon or an index incorporated into it, by looking at the symbolic description of each of the scene, I was able to go to my memory, find out similar experiences I’ve been through before seeing the symbolic forms of these scenes, in this way, these four scenes somehow becomes the instances of the prototype, i.e., my original previous experience which is unique in a 4 dimensional space (i.e., a 3 dimensional space and the other dimension stands for time) (Irvine, 2018, p.19). Then, if we consider each scene as a new starter, i.e., the first signifier in our second connotation process, we can therefore develop other lists of symbolic representamens for each scene, by comparing the list I developed through hearing the music and the list I developed through these four scenes, I would be able to select the one that satisfies the largest number of matches: I remember a typical 80s movie scene where on a highway of California, there was a stunning nightfall and three cow boys are singing and yelling on ragtop. In this way, the interpretant of music also moves through the timeline where historical styles and moments are recalled and also a California style is highly cultural defined (Irvine, 2018, p.11).


Now what’s interesting is that I barely have any clear concept of what, for example, blue, Jazz, folk, pop music would be like, nevertheless, as a person who has a very limited vocabulary of describing different established music genres, I can somehow distinguish different token-instantiation of types, i.e., different song elements based on their frames including rhythm patterns, instrument and timbres, melody, harmony repetitions, etc. that they belongs to types, or better, they are objects or instances of different classes (Irvine, 2018, p.8). Such concept of different genres, though not clearly described, constrains the range of the following signified I would come up with during the connotation.

Besides, appropriate elements of the respondents’ sociocultural habitat, such as age, gender, nationality, education, profession, etc. also count into the whole procedure of communication, i.e., how the information is transferred from transmitter to the receiver and the degree to which the information is interpreted as what the transmitter expected (Tagg, 1999, p.33). In this test, while I and most of my friends are sharing a similar cultural background, we respond highly different according to each music piece. This, according to Tagg, is an intersubjectivity from the receiving end (Tagg, 1999, p.22). Now if we move back to the association chart I draw, every individual, even in a same cultural background, is holding a unique memory which affects the whole process where she or he see a form of representamen (e.g. a music piece or a painting), select in a short reaction time the elements in the large scale and generate meanings ongoingly based on these signifiers and further ones. To be sure, I would slightly criticize this text for containing more or less gender stereotype, but the mode one uses to think and interpret symbols, though one can argue that happens unconsciously, as for me is highly context embedded. If we move back to the basic communication model according to Tagg, each component is therefore mutually interactive with others, therefore, while work of art can be considered as a macro unit in a dialogic, the response is multi-directed and somehow unpredictable (Irvine, 2018, p.14).



  1. Irvine, M. (2018). Introduction to Visual Semiotics.
  2. Irvine, M. (2018). Popular Music as a Meaning System.
  3. Tagg, P. (1999). Introductory notes to the Semiotics of Music.