ChapterPDF Available

On the Sensorial of Imagination

Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
Edited by Kathleen Coessens
Leuven University Press
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 3 20/06/19 19:09
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
Table of Contents
7 Introduction
Kathleen Coessens
15 Sound and Sense in Musical Phrases:
From the Art of the Keyboard to the Question of
Phrase and Melody
Michaël Levinas
Intermezzo 1
31 On the Sensorial of Aesthetics
Kathleen Coessens
47 Noise, Sound, Silence
Tim Ingold
Intermezzo 2
61 On the Sensorial of Music and Breathing
Kathleen Coessens
73 Sense versus Sensitivity in Composition:
A Phoney Debate?
Fabien Lévy
Intermezzo 3
89 On the Sensorial of Human Beings
Kathleen Coessens
101 Extreme Interpretation?
Some Observations on Rachmaninoffs Version of Chopins
Third Ballade in A-Flat Major, Op. 47
Lasse Thoresen
Intermezzo 4
133 On the Sensorial of the Human Body in Performance
Kathleen Coessens
151 Reflections on the Politics of Sentiment
Score for Performing the Criticality of a Sonic Sensibility
Salomé Voegelin
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 5 20/06/19 19:09
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
Table of Contents
Intermezzo 5
169 On the Sensorial of Imagination
Kathleen Coessens and Vanessa Tomlinson
183 Notes on Contributors
187 Index
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 6 20/06/19 19:09
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
Kathleen Coessens
Kathleen Coessens
Tim Ingold
Michaël Levinas
Fabien Lévy
Lasse Thoresen
Vanessa Tomlinson
Salomé Voegelin
Production manager
Heike Vermeire
Managing editor
Edward Crooks
Series editor
William Brooks
Studio Luc Derycke
Cover design
Studio Luc Derycke
Cover image
© Bert de Keyser—Opera Leedberg
December 2018
Friedemann bvba
Wilco, Amersfoort
(The Netherlands)
© 2019 by Leuven Univer sity Press /
Universitaire Per s Leuven /
Presse s Universitaires de Louvain.
Minder broedersstr aat 4
B-300 0 Leuven (Belg ium)
ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7
eISBN 978 94 6166 291 0
D/2019/18 69/14
NUR : 664
All r ights reser ved. Except in those cases
expressly determined by law, no par t of this
publicat ion may be multiplied, saved in au-
tomated data f iles or made public in any way
whatsoever wit hout the express prior wr itten
consent of t he publishers.
This bo ok is published in the Orpheus In stitute
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 190 20/06/19 19:10
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
Intermezzo 5
On the Sensorial
of Imagination
Kathleen Coessens and Vanessa Tomlinson
Orpheus Institute, Ghent, and Grif fith Universit y, Queensland
The senses appear on the boundary between the inside and the outside of
human experience. They are like an open door through which light, impres-
sions, and air enter, are exchanged, and merge with the light, impressions, and
air that were there before, exchanging inner and outer. While perception and
sensoriality appear to be experiences that happen in real time, the sensorial can
and most of the time does inhabit imagination in very precise ways. Sensorial
imagination is related to human experience, to sensorial remembrance, and is
based on sensorial knowledge. It happens in the present, is sustained by the
sensorial knowledge of the past, and projects itself by way of sensorially driven
expectations towards the future. Our sensorial imagination leads our interpret-
ations, expectations, and actions. Offering background information as well as
projecting expectation, it is an important cue for understanding the world, for
creating synaesthetic associations, and for making connections between our
experience and knowledge and those of others.
Sensorial imagination has for a long time been linked mainly to vis-
ual imagination. The word imagination even contains a visual reference to
“image.” However, not all our experiences are related to the visual. Just start to
think about everyday experiences like the wind, water, a dark country path, a
hidden heap of rubbish: all these experiences are sensorial in different modal-
ities: haptic, olfactive, auditory, motoric. In the context of art, and specifically
music, this multi-sensory presence—involving a synaesthetic approach—is of
uttermost importance. A musician sees a score, hears the music, has a haptic
and motoric sense of how to interact with both, and can anticipate this in an
imaginary multi-sensorial mode.
In this text, we will approach sensorial imagination as a powerful tool for
acting and for obtaining a desired outcome in the arts. While not totally pre-
determined, sensorial imagination is still not the same as whatever could be
possible, and thus is different from mere fantasy. In life, it makes possible an
exchange between humans concerning non-present events and situations. In
artistic experience, it stirs an aesthetic reception by opening up potential inter-
pretations and associations. Conversations, stories, and books often involve
sensorial imagination, as this imagination fills in the experiential context and
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 169 20/06/19 19:10
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
Kathleen Coessens and Vanessa Tomlinson
background behind the words. While an audience, when confronted with an
artwork or art representation, will tend to use sensorial imagination to enhance
and contextualise aesthetic interpretation, artists continuously use sensorial
imagination to prepare or plan their work, as a powerful tool of orientation
towards the desired outcome. In artistic practice, the sensorial “fore-feeling” or
“fore-thinking” of a possible realisation pushes artists to continuously bridge
the gap between embodied action and artistic reception, between the ideal
sensorially imagined artistic output and the present and resulting real out-
put. Musicians need to imagine perceptually what the possibilities of different
sounds and phrases in a music piece are, and how the next harmonic and mel-
odic development must sound. Visual artists need to imagine visually whether
this or that piece of wood can become a statue and then imagine haptically
how it can be carved to obtain the desired artistic image; such imagination will
then lead the hand and the eye in the realisation. An artist’s imagination can be
considered a guiding tool that, in advance of each realisation, projects for the
artist him- or herself the potential artistic outcome, and offers a selection of
possible or desired high-level expectations. As such, sensorial imagination con-
tinuously sustains and enriches the trajectory of an artistic practice and directs
the unfolding of an artistic creation, work, or performance.
From perception to perceptual imagination
An experience of imagination is different from a real perceptual experience.
In real perception, what can be experienced has to exist. The content itself
is independent of the perceiver: it is part of the environment. How it can be
perceived depends upon the physiological and sensorial capacities of the per-
ceiver. The different senses offer the medium or link between the outer world
and the inner. Similar perceptual experience is shared by members of the same
living species, thus allowing intersubjectivity, the possibility of interaction, and
sharing the same world. The similarity of perceptual experience is an outward
move, which is sharable to quite a large degree: there is a high level of similarity
between what you see and what I see when we are looking at the same moun-
tain, just as there is a high level of correspondence between what you hear and
what I hear when attending the same music performance—the condition is of
course that we share similar human perceptual capacities as well as similar tem-
poral and spatial situations.
In contrast to real perceptual experience, perceptual imagination is an
experience in which the content is much more dependent upon the perceiver.
Instead of directing the attention outwards, the imagining person focuses
inwards. When you and I imagine a dog barking, our experiences will have a
lower similarity than when we hear a real dog barking—I might think of a small
dog with a fast, rather high-pitch sound while you might think of a dog you
know whose bark is very heavy and low. However, there are limits to what we can
imagine. On the one hand, by sharing human physiological characteristics and
the same world we still share some level of similarity. Take the example of the
dog barking: our perceptual imagination of the sound will depend upon real-
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 170 20/06/19 19:10
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
On the Sensorial of Imagination
life situations and upon the experience and life trajectory of the perceiver—for
example, how many dogs you have already heard barking, whether you have a
dog yourself. On the other hand, as we all have more or less different trajec-
tories in life and some differences in physiological constitution, some idiosyn-
crasy will always impose itself.
While we will not discuss here the philosophical and phenomenological lit-
erature or studies on different kinds of imagination, we can briefly mention
that perceptual or sensorial imagination is but one specific kind of imagina-
tion. The main other kind of imagination is what is called conceptual or prop-
ositional imagination (Williams 2003, 188). Conceptual imagination implies
the conception of possibilities in which elements of argumentation, of hypo-
thetical construction or heuristics, are at work developing an understanding
of “imaginative situations.” Such a proposition is usually “imagine that x.” The
order or content of things as well as its logic can be extremely unreal in relation
to life situations. Propositional imagination often includes or plays with beliefs
or desires (McIver Lopes 2003, 207).
Both kinds of imagination are not exclusive: while possibility is more a part
of conceptual imagination and extension than of sensorial imagination, there
are no sharp boundaries: both can play a part in possibility and/or extension
(Williams 2003, 193). Both kinds of imagination allow for certain free manipu-
lations: “All imaginative activity allows a free variation of its contents” (Ihde
2007, 207). We can find conceptual approaches to imagination in music, for
example, when certain musical structures and music theories offer a tentative
framework for a composition. In these developments, the music is imagined
not (only) in a perceptual way, but in its conceptual construction—or is first
imagined in a conceptual way before being perceptually imagined.
In sensorial imagination, the author approaches the “quasi-perceptual”: the
order of things imagined is continuous with the world order we inhabit and
perceive (Williams 2003, 192). The experience offers an extension of the per-
ception and awareness of the world and often involves a personal, rather sub-
jective recall or revival of past experiences. As such an extension, it “occurs”
as an experience, having a certain duration and location. It necessarily calls
into action one or more of the senses to create a “quasi-perception” inwards.
The instruction is usually “imagine x,where x is something that is selectively
available to perception, depending upon the kind of perception and upon sen-
sorial memory and remembrance. For example, imagine running barefoot on
gravel—this may give you an immediate (imagined) sensation of what the real
experience would be like.
When we state that sensorial imagination relies upon the different senses
that can direct themselves inwardly, we seem to enter into a conflict between
the notions of the senses and of imagination. Perception and imagination seem
to be opposites: the first is the real-time mediator between the outer and inner
worlds, while imagination is something exclusively inward, detached from real
time and the world. However, the capacity for imagining perceptual experien-
ces, as in real life, is a powerful ability of human beings that can function as a
pre-mediator for actions or experiences to come. Human beings thus have a
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 171 20/06/19 19:10
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
Kathleen Coessens and Vanessa Tomlinson
sensorial capacity that extends beyond the here and now and is related to past
and future experiences.
While some experiences of sensory imagination involve only one sensorial
modality, others often involve different senses—they are multi-sensorial or
synaesthetic. A synaesthetic translation or interaction can be part of imagin-
ing a certain sensorial experience—I can imagine for example the smell of
someone’s house only by first imagining the interior visually. A certain specific
sensorial imagination can also be part of a much larger complex of sensorial
imagination. When you imagine the dog barking, the auditory imagination
could be accompanied by the visual remembrance of a dog you know, its smell,
and so on.
One instruction to imagine something can also be realised independently by
way of different senses. “Imagine a cube” can be visual as well as haptic. While
the instruction “imagine a cube” is the same, the haptic imagination—con-
cerning shape, texture, corners, and edges—will be experienced in a very dif-
ferent way than the visual one, where symmetry, plane, and three-dimensional
vision occur (McIver Lopes 2003, 214).
Sensorial imagination and experience
Perceptual imaginative experiences are highly complex. Moreover, the ability
to sensorially imagine is deeply linked to the experience of the person imagin-
ing: it relies upon physiological abilities as well as cultural affordances, object-
ive situations as well as subjective interpretations, life history, conceptual and
perceptual possibilities, and past experiences and future projections.
If in real life one had not experienced a cube or heard a dog barking, imagin-
ing such situations would be impossible or totally fantastic: “The creative activ-
ity of the imagination depends directly on the richness and variety of a person’s
previous experience because this experience provides the material from which
the products of fantasy are constructed. The richer a person’s experience, the
richer is the material his imagination has access to” (Vygotsky 2004, 14–15). The
closeness between imaginative experience and real-world perception is indeed
an important factor of having a satisfying experience, because “imagining an
object interferes with the ability to perceive it” (McIver Lopes 2003, 217).
The line between perception and sensorial imagination thus also runs
through experience and the remembrance of these experiences. Perception
itself is loaded with previous perceptual experiences and thus with the remem-
brance and imagination of these experiences, feeding perception again and
again: “There is no perception which is not full of memories. With the immedi-
ate and present data of our senses we mingle a thousand details out of our past
experience” (Bergson 1911, 24). From the moment something is perceived, each
subsequent perception of something else related to it is influenced, sustained,
and interpreted by way of previous perceptual experiences, and so is each
imagined perception that follows. Remembrance and the memory of previous
perceptual, lived situations not only offer a framework for further observation
of and interaction with the world, but also enhance the capacity and richness
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 172 20/06/19 19:10
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
On the Sensorial of Imagination
of perceptual imagination and its role in knowledge and creation. Perceptual
experience and sensorial imagination form a deeply entangled complex and
dynamic web for coping with and understanding the world.
In The Perception of the Environment, Tim Ingold (2000) describes how imagin-
ation is an activity of uttermost importance in our relation with the world.
Dynamical and respective intentional movements between imagination and
action, between preparation, expectation, and enactment show that imagin-
ation—and sensorial imagination as mentioned previously—is an undeniable
part of (artistic) creation.
Ingold refers to three important aspects of imagination in the practical
experience of the world, which are even more important to the notion of devel-
oping skills and creation. A first point concerning imagination is its part in a
design process where reality and imagined elements merge. Myriad products
from one’s own imagination—like a virtual world—are present in the atten-
tion to this world. Thus attention, while originally fed by sensorial and other
experiences, is “turned inwards on the self: in other words it becomes reflexive”
(Ingold 2000, 418). Second, realising an artwork involves holding this imagin-
ative world in place through an activity that draws continuously upon this
imagination. Plans, strategies, projections, and representations are part of the
present and prepare the future activity of the craftsman or artist. These feed the
practical realisation, both in advance and during the process of creating. A deep
relationship between ongoing practice and imagination develops, like a kind of
intentional movement between what can be and what is, between imagined
realisation and practical enactment. It is interesting here that it is possible to
go over,” to “simulate” in one’s imaginative world future actions and creations,
as in a mode of preparation. Ingold’s third point refers to temporospatially
dependent characteristics of the possibilities of imagination: “However much
he may be ‘wrapped up’ in his own thoughts, the thinker is situated in a time
and place and therefore in a relational context” (Ingold 2000, 418). This deep
relationship, in which imagination starts from the experienced world, is pri-
mordial: “We do not have to think the world in order to live in it, but we do have
to live in the world in order to think it” (Ingold 1996, 118). Similarly, we have to
listen to the world to develop imaginative listening and create music.
While memories play a continuous, not always clearly defined, role in every-
day life, perceptual imagination is of utmost importance in understanding
ways of knowing, linking space and time through experience and meaning-
making. Imagination is at the heart of perception and of intentional action, as is
stressed by both Henri Bergson, from a point of view of time and remembrance,
and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, from the point of view of the body. We “know” a
table has four feet, even though often we only see two or three of them. Our
previous perceptual and embodied interactions with tables offer us a coher-
ent idea of the constitution of a table. Great would be our surprise if, pushing
down on the table, we suddenly realised that the fourth foot was missing—and
our sensorial imagination false. This example of a table also involves the possi-
bility that perceptual imagination turns out to be false. This means that the
use of sensorial imagination to enhance knowledge and understanding needs
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 173 20/06/19 19:10
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
Kathleen Coessens and Vanessa Tomlinson
to be done in a methodological way. In a previous intermezzo, we referred to
Goethe’s exploratory experimentation. Goethe’s proposed notion of real sen-
sorial imagination is one of the steps for a method of experimentation relying
upon human experience and exploration.
Exact sensorial imagination in the arts
Following Goethe, three conditions have to be fulfilled to use sensorial
imagination as a reliable tool for acquiring knowledge: time, perception, and
observation. To perceive the whole of a situation, to understand an object or
an action in its totality, a durable engagement between the observer and the
observed, between subject and object, is needed: “My thinking is not separate
from objects; that the elements of the object, the perceptions of the object,
flow into my thinking and are fully permeated by it; that my perception itself is
a thinking, and my thinking a perception” (Goethe 1988, 39). This means that
the observer takes an active part in the whole unfolding of the phenomena to
be known. The observer’s perceptual or sensorial attention is directed by a
continuous intention to understand better and more completely (S. T. Miller
Goethe gives the study of a plant as an example of the method of exact sen-
sorial imagination: one can only understand a plant and its process of living
by observing the plant over a long period of time, from different angles, very
deeply and methodically, making diverse observations, starting from an out-
ward point of view, and moving inwards toward a complex image of what it is
“to be a plant.” Each independent observation offers only a partial, separate
insight into the plant, which is related to an individual perceptual moment and
offers only parcelled knowledge. However, we can never perceive the totality of
the plant: in neither an absolute way nor a temporal way. By bringing together
all our different observations and interactions with the plant in different con-
texts, we can fill the gap between all the different individualised moments to
build a more complete understanding of it: “This imaginative filling in of the
gaps yields a sort of inner time-lapse movie that coherently morphs from state
to state. But it is much more than an inner visual experience—rather it is filled
with dynamic relations between unfolding qualities, qualities carried initially
through the process of sensation, but which begin to have a life of their own,
and which take on more and more significance” (S. T. Miller 2009, 14). Such
exact sensorial imagination, when developed in a highly methodological way,
offers the most complete image or knowledge possible when we think about
the totality of a certain flower: we have some kind of afterimage of all our
experiences with a flower, we have a memory of it, a creative imagination where
the concept and idea work simultaneously and reveal a sensorial knowledge of
the flower where all observations of it and interactions with it come together in
an independent idea of that flower (D. Miller 1988, xix). A correct description
and understanding of a flower is only possible after a coherent (re)construc-
tion of experiences that can only be brought together in human imagination—
as different perspectives and insights never exist together in reality. It is only
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 174 20/06/19 19:10
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
On the Sensorial of Imagination
by way of imagination that separate experiences in time can be conflated and
that “the fullness of time can be grasped and represented” (Simms 2005, 170).
Such imagination then becomes something very concrete: it is simultaneously
experienced as outer and inner, both perceptually experienced and cognitively
abstracted. It offers a way out of time dependency, as it is “a matter of retaining
past forms of the phenomenon while anticipating the forms the phenomenon
will likely take as it unfolds into the future” (Robbins 2005, 120).
We can extend exact sensorial imagination to become a strong method for
both aesthetic appraisal and artistic creation. Sensorial imagination as a meth-
odological tool in music creation—both interpretation and composition—
involves observation and interaction of great depth, where time, insistence
and persistence, accuracy and attunement of body and mind, integration of
the instrument, and score and sound, by way of sensory driven action, repeti-
tion, and variation, are necessary elements. Such a method offers us insights
into how artists adapt to constantly changing environments; how performers
engage with outside objects (scores) and translate them through their percep-
tual and embodied practices into expressions from within; and how composers
move observation, perception, and imagination towards transformation and
In the first place, exact sensorial imagination makes possible a potential
overview and deep sensorial understanding of an artistic creation’s complex
process, components, and potentialities. By way of meticulous observations
and try-outs of numerous sensorial perspectives, the artist develops embod-
ied, sensorial, and intellectual schemata—ways of interpreting, acting, and
reacting—of what can be realised, relying upon this growing network of sen-
sorial and embodied imagination. Think of a pianist who for years has sensor-
ially explored and observed all possible interactions between his or her body
and instrument. Bringing together all these specific and individual moments
of observation and interaction with the instrument results in a dynamic, com-
plex, and very sensible and sensorial tool of imagination encompassing artistic
expertise as a whole.
Second, and following from this, exact sensorial imagination makes possible
a continuous adjustment in time and a reflection upon time-based actions
and processes of artistic creation, in relation to the range of potentialities that
could take place. Before an artist realises an artwork, he or she has continu-
ously to produce something that lies behind the bounds of experience—it is
in the domain of still unrealised potential. The range of possible intentions
and expectations of a pianist’s exact sensorial imagination tool allows the pian-
ist to adjust his or her actions in a situation to realise a specific sound. Thus,
real sensorial imagination permits intentional activity for anticipation and for
Two brief examples of musicians, composers Pierre Schaeffer and Béla
Bartók, will give an idea of what exact sensorial imagination can mean.
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 175 20/06/19 19:10
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
Kathleen Coessens and Vanessa Tomlinson
Pierre Schaeffer’s aesthetic reflections in A la recherche d’une musique concrète
(1952) were complemented by a very systematic study of sounds in his Traité des
objets musicaux (1966). He was fascinated by extra- musical noises—objets sonores
(sound objects)—and patiently observed and collected them, unleashing them
from their physical sources, and reconfigured them as building blocks of a
potentially infinite new language. This new anthropology of sound evolving
into composed music developed from Russolo, via Varèse and Schaeffer, to the
contemporary technological and electronic creation of soundscapes. It led to
archives of sounds and perspectives on sounds, and became part of a new line
of music creation.
Béla Bartók provides another example; his subject of observation and explor-
ation was folk music, “in the form in which it lives, in unbridled strength . . . and
not by means of inanimate collections of folk music” (1976, 318)—a quotation
that reflects the Goethean notion of “entering the experience.” Exploration
and variation are present in the recordings, scores, and annotations Bartók
made in his notebooks, which led to authentic creations by way of his sensorial
imagination—which was highly sensitive to voice and speech-like rhythms and
sounds (Durey 1955, 10). Bartók’s focus on a methodology similar to exact sen-
sorial imagination led him to revise transcriptions he had made of folk songs,
years after first hearing the music, on the basis of his remembrance of the ori-
ginal songs, and to add some annotations to his transcriptions.
Artists and musicians like Schaeffer and Bartók were fascinated by sensor-
ial information about the outer world—ecological, instrumental, cultural
sounds—and had a deep interest in exploring, transforming, and experi-
menting with these materials, once they had gathered all possible points of
view in their overarching exact sensorial imagination.
From auditory imagination to imaginative listening
What does it mean for a being to be immersed entirely in listening, formed by
listening or in listening, listening with all his being? (Nancy 2007, 4)
What does it mean to exist according to listening, for it and through it . . . ? (Ibid., 5)
To be listening is always to be on the edge of meaning. . . . But what can be the
shared space of meaning and sound? (Ibid., 7)
Listening happens on different levels of awareness. Because the world already
exists before we become present in it, we enter an “already” sounding world.
That is also what Bartók’s and Schaeffer’s works refer to.
Our first auditory experiences engage with what Don Ihde calls primary
listening, which is the listening that precedes one’s own speech: “I hear the
voices of others, of things, of the World long before I speak my own words”
(Ihde 2007, 115). The world is full of sounds. Our first words and noises dis-
appear in our experience and memory of the sounds of the world. We don’t
remember when we said our first word. We don’t remember how we listened
to that word before it had meaning. The human voice more and more echoes,
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 176 20/06/19 19:10
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
On the Sensorial of Imagination
resonates, and sounds with the world, answering and questioning it. Over
time, the auditory realm moves towards more and more signification. Some of
these primary experiences disappear forever: once we speak a mother tongue,
and once that language makes the world significant, we can no longer move
towards our previous experience of its “primary” sound or listen to it as we did
before it made the world significant. We can experience that primary listening
again when hearing an unknown language—like when listening to the sounds
of another culture. Once signification becomes part of experience, auditory
perception is doubled through previous experiences; thus, the experiential
perceptual mode of listening is coupled with the imaginative mode (Ihde 2007,
117): the sounds and voices of the world are doubled with one’s own sounds and
voices. New experiences are enriched with old experiences, and thus poten-
tially with imagination, as the sounds of the outer world find resonance in the
inner world—they merge with my remembrances of multiple auditory experi-
ences and with my own voice. Idhe’s phenomenological writings point to the
notion of polyphony between outer and inner, between the perceptual and the
imaginative modes of experience (Ihde 2007, 119).
An outer experience and an inner experience of hearing and listening evolve
and become richer and potentially more varied over time. The first is percep-
tual listening, the second, imaginative listening.
The notion of imaginative listening is a kind of auditory imagination. Like all
sensorial imagination, it can be part of a larger whole of imagination, includ-
ing different sensorial imaginative approaches, links, or translations. While
imaginative listening relies originally upon perceptual experiences and rem-
nants of ulterior experiences, it is potentially an experiential and complex
activity of its own.
By exploring and experimenting with imaginative listening in a musical situ-
ation, Vanessa Tomlinson wanted to unravel aspects of its nature. Her compos-
ition Music of the Imagination (2013) is a work for audience and timekeeper. Each
audience member receives a small envelope containing eight cards—the first
seven cards have listening instructions on them, while the final card asks the
audience member to return to their favourite sound. The following introduc-
tory instruction is read aloud to the audience: “In this work you will be asked to
undertake a series of ‘imaginative listenings.’ You will receive a series of cards
with instructions on them such as ‘Listen to the sound of . . . . . . . . . .’ Your task
is to try, as hard as possible, to listen to that sound—in your imagination. You
look at the first card only until the cue from the timekeeper (after around 30").
Then you will change to the next card. This process continues. At some point,
one of your cards will say ‘return to your favourite sound.’ Enjoy.
The audience is in a concert setting—whatever that may be in the particu-
lar situation. Each envelope contains cards that will inspire a variety of lis-
tening experiences: two for experiential listening, two for material listening,
two for conceptual listening, and one for internal listening. Each listening
attitude, provoked by the written prompt, helps provide a lexicon of listen-
ing approaches, hypothetically transferable to other musical settings. These
prompts provide multi-sensorial gateways into our imagination and memory,
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 177 20/06/19 19:10
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
Kathleen Coessens and Vanessa Tomlinson
placing the act of sound production in the imagination of each individual
performer and audience member, all of whom are required to locate sound—
through memory, experience, and context. The sonic residue discovered as well
as the transitional or liminal space between the located sounds forms a pri-
vate listening experience for each active audience participant mapped onto the
geo-cultural specificity of the individual. Material, existential, conceptual, and
internal kinds of listening all refer to different kinds of sensorial imagination.
In material listening there is an external object to listen to; the sound being
imagined can be found, recorded, documented, and listened to by another, in
alignment with notions of sensorial imagination. The imagined sonic object
can also exist as an example of the sound, repeatable in different locations with
a similar set of variables. For instance “Listen to the sound of water as it falls
over rocks” is a broad enough invitation that a listener will be able to scroll
through a number of locations—possibly through visual recall—to locate a
particular example of this sound. At that point sonic analysis comes into play—
how wide is the waterway, how deep is the waterway, how big are the rocks,
how steeply does the water fall, how fast is the water flowing, is it in an open
space, is it sheltered, are there reflective surfaces near by, am I listening alone?
What may begin as location scouting in the memory, soon amasses a wealth
of detailed information, necessary to cognise the particularity of that sound.
Alternatively, a generic version of “water over rocks” can be located, which has
the sonic tendencies of the aforementioned attributes, but without a specific
site. Material listening is an imagined analysis of sound; it recalls one’s aware-
ness and experience of sound quality. The longer the listener can focus on the
sound, the more detail they will discover in the imagined sound.
Experiential listening relies on personal memory of lived experience and
relationships. In this instance a prompt such as “Listen to the sound of your
grandmother’s kitchen” requires a process very different from material lis-
tening to access sonic material. The sonic material resides within memory
but another sense may be required to reach the sound because these “sound
memories” may not be vivid and may need to be reconstructed. For instance, in
this example it may help if one thinks about the size, shape, and layout of the
kitchen. It might also be useful to think about the kitchen’s function—who
uses it, what is being talked about in it, is there laughter, crying, or chatter, is
it crowded or spacious, what does the hum of the room sound like, what does
it sound like when the washing-up is being done, what can be smelt, what is
the temperature? All these aspects together make it possible to reconstruct the
memory of a place, and listen to the sound of that place, merging imagination
with remembrance of multiple auditory experiences. It may be a particular
event, day, or time or it might be a generic memory, but whichever way it cannot
be revisited, recorded, or verified. The sonic material exists only in the memory
of the individual, and, once again, the more time one has to reconstruct the
environment, the more vivid the details will become.
Experiential imaginative listening requires us to go through different sen-
sory gates to access the auditory. We have first to recall the most entrenched
or the most vivid perception (be it visual, haptic, atmospheric, olfactory, aural)
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 178 20/06/19 19:10
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
On the Sensorial of Imagination
and from there move to the sound. The access of auditory imagination linked
to private remembrances is thus often synaesthetically mediated.
The third layer of listening explored is conceptual listening—which is
the most intangible, imaginative, and multi-sensorial. Conceptual listening
requires a deeply internal search, which may in fact recall specific material
sound, shared by others, or it may recall aspects of experiential listening. The
instruction “Listen to the sound of autumn” is clearly culturally and geograph-
ically specific—dependent on the presence or absence of deciduous trees, on
meteorological transformations and climate. Other conceptual listening may
depend on coinciding with other celebratory activities such as birthdays or
similar anniversaries. As with other prompts in this category—such as Listen
to the sound of the desert, Listen to the sound of urgency, Listen to the sound
of happiness—the first step is to relate this ideal to personal experience. And,
in fact, it may lie beyond personal experience—if one has never been to a
desert—and rely instead upon the fantastical imagined soundworld of one’s
built up database of information about deserts. In conceptual listening it may
be possible to relocate the exact site of one’s experience, but it is almost impos-
sible to record the soundworld as one has imagined it. Conceptual listening
exists only in the imagination, but may be triggered by a universal concept of
sound—for example, laughter, leaves, or insects.
This category seems to imply the creation of a multi-sensorial realm that can
then be translated into the auditory. It starts to question sound that becomes
symbolic, transcendent, or metaphorical. Can this be? Why does a certain
sound stand for “happiness”? Could you sonify that sound? Would others agree
that that sound stands for happiness?
These three concepts of auditory imagination can be considered in terms
of internal, subjective listening or external, objective listening—relating back
to our notions of perceptual and conceptual listening. This affords us the
opportunity to go deeper into the internal, and actually listen to ourselves with
prompts such as Listen to the sound of your heart beating, Listen to the sound
of yourself crying, and Listen to the sound of your hands caressing your body.
While these sounds are externally verifiable, they are not reproducible from
the perspective of internal listening. And they are extremely difficult sounds
to locate. It seems logical that you can hear the sound of your heart beating,
but trying to listen to it takes extraordinary effort. And to hear oneself cry, one
has to imagine how one cries, when one cries, and obviously what that might
sound like either from an external perspective or from an internal perspective.
It is almost impossible to imagine this without imagining the trigger for cry-
ing in the first place—which loops straight back to concepts of experiential
The score Music of the Imagination invites an auditory exploration and dir-
ects the imagination, while remaining uncontrolled. However, it is not pure
introspection, as the instruction cards, which change after a fixed time, force
the listener/performer to engage with the next step. The listeners deal with a
disturbing situation: they are asked to respect the time and space of the score,
the instructions, and the signal for changing cards, but their composition and
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 179 20/06/19 19:10
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
Kathleen Coessens and Vanessa Tomlinson
related listening is totally free. It explores deep private experiences, happening
in the sensory world of each listener’s mind.
The score and its categories of sounds provide new windows into understand-
ing our relationship to listening in general. How do we listen to Beethoven?
How do we listen to new music—as in music that has not been heard before?
How do we listen to our surroundings? How are we attentive to our sounding
environment? We listen to what we know, what we remember, and what we
imagine. We listen from the perspective of our most private experiences, and
we listen from the perspective of a shared experience.
The questions concerning auditory imagination remain open; we have only
proposed some possible pathways. The Jean-Luc Nancy quotations that
opened this section can only be answered by an open ended view of sound that,
like all sensorial imagination, resonates between inner and outer: “To sound
is to vibrate in itself or by itself: it is not only, for the sonorous body, to emit a
sound, but it is also to stretch out, to carry itself and be resolved into vibrations
that both return it to itself and place it outside itself” (Nancy 2007, 8).
However, we have demonstrated that sensorial perception, embodied aes-
thetics, and exact sensorial imagination are intertwined elements needed to
understand the world. For artists, they are the basic tools to intervene and cre-
ate. A musician needs a strong auditory imagination tool: a dynamic framework
that relates the acquired schemata of the body and the senses with the musical
expectations and intentions of artistic realisation. Sensorial imagination is
part of a web of artistic practice in all its mental, physical, and sensorial com-
ponents. When applied in detail and exactness, it offers a fine methodological
approach that can be shared and may grow through education and artistic
training, but that is also a tributary of individual experiences, sensibility, and
Bartok, Béla. 1976. “The Influence of Folk
Music on the Art Music of Today.” In
Bela Bartok: Essays, edited by Benjamin
Suchoff, 316–19. London: Faber and
Faber. First published 1920 as “Der
Einfluss der Volksmusik auf die heutige
Kunstmusik” (Melos 1 [17]: 384–86).
Bergson, Henri. 1911. Matter and Memory.
Translated by Nancy Margaret Paul and
W. Scott Palmer. London: George Allen
and Unwin. First published 1896 as
Matière et mémoire: Essai sur la relation du
corps à l’esprit (Paris: F. Alcan).
Durey, Louis. 1955. “Hommage à Béla
Bartók.” In “Béla Bartók: L’Homme et
l’Oeuvre,” special issue, La Revue Musicale
224: 10.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. 1988.
“Significant Help Given by an Ingenious
Turn of Phrase.” In Scientific Studies:
Goethe Collected Works, Volume 12, edited
and translated by Douglas Miller, 39–41.
New York: Suhrkamp. Essay written 1823,
published as “Bedeutende Fördernis
durch ein einziges geistreiches Wort.”
Ihde, Don. 2007. Listening and Voice:
Phenomenologies of Sound. 2nd ed. Albany:
State University of New York Press.
Ingold, Tim. 1996. “Human Worlds are
Culturally Constructed: Against the
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 180 20/06/19 19:10
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
On the Sensorial of Imagination
Motion (1).” In Key Debates in Anthropology,
edited by Tim Ingold, 112–18. Abingdon,
UK: Routledge.
———. 2000. The Perception of the
Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling
and Skill. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
McIver Lopes, Dominic. 2003. “Out of Sight,
Out of Mind.” In Imagination, Philosophy,
and the Arts, edited by Matthew Kieran
and Dominic McIver Lopes, 207–24.
Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Miller, Douglas. 1988. Introduction to
Scientific Studies: Goethe Collected Works,
Volume 12, edited and translated by
Douglas Miller, ix–xix. New York:
Miller, Seth T. 2009. “The Art of Nature:
Alchemy, Goethe, and a New Aesthetic
Consciousness.” Unpublished paper,
California Institute of Integral Studies.
It’s Elemental (website of Seth T. Miller).
Accessed 5 November 2018. http://www.
Nancy, Jean-Luc. 2007. Listening. Translated
by Charlotte Mandell. New York: Fordham
University Press. First published 2002 as À
l’écoute (Paris: Galilée).
Robbins, Brent Dean. 2005. “New Organs
of Perception: Goethean Science as a
Cultural Therapeutics.” Janus Head 8 (1):
Schaeffer, Pierre. 1952. A la recherche d’une
musique concrète. Paris: Seuil. Translated
by Christine North and John Dack as
In Search of a Concrete Music (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2012).
———. 1966. Traité des objets musicaux: Essai
interdisciplines. Paris: Seuil. Reprinted with
an additional chapter 1977 (Paris: Seuil).
Translated by Christine North and John
Dack as Treatise on Musical Objects: An Essay
across Disciplines (Oakland: University of
California Press, 2017).
Simms, Eva-Maria. 2005. “Goethe, Husserl,
and the Crisis of the European Sciences.”
Janus Head 8 (1): 160–72.
Tomlinson, Vanessa. 2013. Music of the
Imagination. Unpublished score.
Vygotsky, Lev Semenovich. 2004.
“Imagination and Creativity in
Childhood.” Translated by M. E. Sharpe.
Journal of Russian and East European
Psychology 42 (1): 7–97. First published
1930 as Voobrazhenie i tvorchestvo v detskom
vozraste (Moscow: Gos. izd-vo RSFSR),
translated from 1967 republication
(Moscow: Prosveshchenie).
Williams, Christopher. 2003. “Seeing
Twice Over.” In Imagination, Philosophy,
and the Arts, edited by Matthew Kieran
and Dominic McIver Lopes, 187–206.
Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Sensorial Aesthetics_285x195_DEF.indd 181 20/06/19 19:10
Reprint from “Sensorial Aesthetics in Music Practices” - ISBN 978 94 6270 184 7 - © Leuven University Press, 2019
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's approach to science is a radical departure from the Cartesian-Newtonian scientific framework and offers contemporary science a pathway toward the cultivation of an alternative approach to the study of the natural world. This paper argues that the Cartesian-Newtonian pathway is pathological because it has as its premise humanity's alienation from the natural world, which sets up a host of consequences that terminate in nihilism. As an alternative approach to science, Goethe's "delicate empiricism" begins with the premise that humanity is fundamentally at home in the world: a notion which forms the basis for a Goethean science that gives primacy to perception, offers a more organic and holistic conception of the universe, and has as its goal the cultivation of aesthetic appreciation and morally responsive obligation to the observed. As an antidote to nihilism and as the basis for a more fulfilling and morally responsive science, Goethean science may serve as a kind of cultural therapeutics, a project which is necessarily interdisciplinary since it requires the integration of multiple ways of seeing from the natural sciences, the human sciences, and the humanities.
Full-text available
Goethe belongs to the phenomenological tradition for a number of reasons: He shared Husserl's deep mistrust of the mathematization of the natural world and the ensuing loss of the qualitative dimension of human existence; he understood that the phenomenological observer must free him/herself from sedimented cultural prejudices, a process which Husserl called the epoche; he experienced and articulated the new and surprising fullness of the world as it reveals itself to the patient and participatory phenomenological observer. Goethe's phenomenological sensibilities and insights become more apparent when his work is brought into dialogue with Husserl's thinking. In turn Goethe challenges Husserlian phenomenology to a more careful investigation of the natural world and human participation within its order. Both Goethe and Husserl are searching for a science of the qualitative dimension of being.
London: Faber and Faber. First published 1920 as "Der Einfluss der Volksmusik auf die heutige Kunstmusik
  • Béla Bartok
Bartok, Béla. 1976. "The Influence of Folk Music on the Art Music of Today." In Bela Bartok: Essays, edited by Benjamin Suchoff, 316-19. London: Faber and Faber. First published 1920 as "Der Einfluss der Volksmusik auf die heutige Kunstmusik" (Melos 1 [17]: 384-86).
Hommage à Béla Bartók
  • Louis Durey
Durey, Louis. 1955. "Hommage à Béla Bartók." In "Béla Bartók: L'Homme et l'Oeuvre," special issue, La Revue Musicale 224: 10.
Bedeutende Fördernis durch ein einziges geistreiches Wort
  • Johann Goethe
  • Wolfgang Von
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. 1988. "Significant Help Given by an Ingenious Turn of Phrase." In Scientific Studies: Goethe Collected Works, Volume 12, edited and translated by Douglas Miller, 39-41. New York: Suhrkamp. Essay written 1823, published as "Bedeutende Fördernis durch ein einziges geistreiches Wort." Ihde, Don. 2007. Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound. 2nd ed. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Human Worlds are Culturally Constructed: Against the
  • Tim Ingold
Ingold, Tim. 1996. "Human Worlds are Culturally Constructed: Against the
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
  • Dominic Mciver Lopes
McIver Lopes, Dominic. 2003. "Out of Sight, Out of Mind." In Imagination, Philosophy, and the Arts, edited by Matthew Kieran and Dominic McIver Lopes, 207-24. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Introduction to Scientific Studies: Goethe Collected Works
  • Douglas Miller
Miller, Douglas. 1988. Introduction to Scientific Studies: Goethe Collected Works, Volume 12, edited and translated by Douglas Miller, ix-xix. New York: Suhrkamp.
The Art of Nature: Alchemy, Goethe, and a New Aesthetic Consciousness
  • Seth T Miller
Miller, Seth T. 2009. "The Art of Nature: Alchemy, Goethe, and a New Aesthetic Consciousness." Unpublished paper, California Institute of Integral Studies. It's Elemental (website of Seth T. Miller).