Historically, linguistic patterns depicting e.g. colour, taste, physicality and emotion have shaped how we have understood harmony and texture in music. Otherwise, why would so many examples from music literature speak of sonorities as dark, harmonies as spicy, rhythms as jagged or dominant chords as being released into tonics? Today, more than a full generation after the writings of Lakoff + Johnson & Ricoeur, we might ask if we would ever be able to convey in meaningful ways such dimensions of art and existence in non-metaphorical, categorical terms.
The way I use the term Metaphor takes its starting point in the theories by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, and to a lesser degree, Paul Ricoeur. If any of us still believe that our thinking is grounded in distinct categories, Ricoeur might argue that every observation of a newly encountered phenomenon starts with an embodied, often pre-linguistic comparison to similar experiences from other fields. This drinking cup looks like my folded hands, that sculpture looks like it affords sitting, those clarinets seem to behave like a swarm of insects, that piano sound is watery, and reading this sentence feels as if … (go ahead and finish the sentence by yourself). Lakoff & Johnson, especially in Metaphors we live by argue convincingly “that the human conceptual system is metaphorically structured and defined”. We find this tendency in much writing about music: the form of the music as a vehicle for taking the listener on a journey, or the music as a container for communicating (transporting) a specific emotion (an object) to the listener.
Early in this project, I imagined the above perspectives to be central to the artistic investigations of the project. However, I realized while reading and experimenting with applying these theories in my work, that as much as I find the topic of metaphorical-linguistic structures in the conversation on art and music in need of seriously being researched, it would not become the main focus in this project, and if done later, then maybe not by me. Researching that topic from the above starting point would become research on the structure of the language surrounding art. As such, it would have to become a theoretical study, and not necessarily to be even undertaken by an artist. This project’s main ambition, on the contrary, crystalized into applying and testing relevant perspectives and theoretical ideas, thorugh an artistic, creative process. The aim was to research through an artistic practice the musical phenomenon of klang (harmony, texture and timbre) – and to make interesting new music along the way. I would argue that the role of established metaphor theories in the project were to become critically restaged through the practical process of a.o. the card deck methodologies – se especially the pages Texture and Output.
Nonetheless, my reading on especially the theories of the inescapable embodiment of metaphorical cognition ended up influencing the project greatly, which will be explained in this exposition’s section on texture. I read or re-read texts that touch on the subject by a.o. Paul Ricoeur, George Lakoff, Rafael Núñez, Ursula le Guinn, Marilyn Nonken, Anthony Braxton, Helmuth Lachenmann, Gerard Grisey, Karlheinz Stockhausen & Pauline Oliveros. However, the resulting findings in the project ended up being not mainly about understanding texture and harmony through metaphor. As I deal with in the Reflections on Cognition and Methods text (on the page Output and conclusions), the project gradually pointed me towards another model for the relations between metaphor, embodiment, cognition and mental representation than a more strict metaphor theory would have led to.
Before turning down the volume of the metaphor perspective (…), I had created the "Metaphor Card Deck" (see pdf on the right) for using metaphorical thinking as an empowering tool for collective music creation. Instructing a group of young (pre-conservatory level) students for a seven-day project in 2019, I created the Metaphor Card Deck that called for the students’ individual creative reactions to a number of metaphors being presented to them. Freely based on Howard Gardner’s (empirically unsupported, though sympathetic) theory of the multiple intelligences, coupled with a chain of thinking from Lakoff & Johnson, the card deck contained words representing multiple kinds of metaphors: spatial metaphors, visual metaphors, narrative, logical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, orientational, existential, moral and ecological metaphors. Almost no obvious links to music vocabulary was present on the cards, therefore being left open to the creative interpretation of the musician.
As a pedagogical tool in that setting, at that time, the Metaphor Card Deck worked very well. Later on, while considering how or whether to bring this metaphor-based tool into use in professional contexts, coincidentially the project was about to shift its focus, mostly because by then my other Card Deck creations, the “Elements” and “Changes” card decks, started to create exactly the artistic outcome that I wanted (see the Texture page). Therefore, unfortunately the Metaphor Card Decks have not been seriously tested in a professional context. That can still happen at a later stage – which will have to be in another project. The Metaphor Card Deck can be seen here in a non-designed, beta version.
Let me finish this short discussion about the Metaphor Card Deck by mentioning that I believe there is a huge creative potential in coupling parameters and metaphors, which could be quasi-linguistically hinted at as “musical parameter A is to be imagined as depicting metaphor X”. The method is yours to grab. At the time of writing this, 2+ years after shifting my focus from the Metaphor Card Deck onto the Elements & Changes Card Decks, I am still curious as to what kind of music would come out of it, had I not found other ways of condensing textural and sonic ideas into my writing for ensembles of improvisers. An updated Research Question in this direction would in that case be something like:
- how can we develop new music and new ways of interacting among musicians and audience, by communicating about the music in exclusively metaphorical terms, when composing, instructing, rehearsing, disseminating and performing the music?
 Especially, but not limited to, Lakoff & Johnson: Metaphors we live by, 1980, and Ricoeur: The Rule of Metaphor, 1975.