Research on the perception of post-tonal music has been largely neglected by music theory and related disciplines. Music theories generally tend to establish static models of structural hierarchy that have been found to be ill-fitting for most post-tonal styles. The variety of post-tonal music and the observation that the perception of post-tonal structures is highly dependent on intra- and extra-musical contexts provokes the question of how a context-sensitive theory of post-tonal music might be formulated.
The present research project responds to this challenge by developing a non-universalist, context-sensitive theory of post-tonal sound organization that takes into account distinctive facets of the post-tonal repertoire. The proposed theory reflects three types of post-tonal contexts: (1) intra-musicalcontexts are approached by means of an adaptive model of musical perception in which sound events can be flexibly categorized according to the musical context both during and after the listening process; (2) subject-specific contexts are incorporated by building upon different conceptual and auditory perspectives, rather than upon an "ideal" listener; following the '"performative" stance of music theory and analysis, a broad spectrum of listening strategies to post-tonal music is suggested without favouring a single unified perception model; (3) performative contexts are taken into consideration by comparing different performances of the same work and discussing the impact of performance on perceptual organization. By taking up perception-related approaches from the fields music theory (Hanninen, Ockelford), music psychology (Déliège), and compositional theory (Lachenmann, Schaeffer) our theory mediates between theory and empirical research, for example by substantiating a prominent position for elementary perceptual capacities (contour, streaming, segmentation etc.) as well as principles of "discovery learning" during the perception process within analyses of post-tonal music.
The project is organized in three main fields of research: (1) A comprehensive historical review of theories of music perception from various disciplines will help to specify the project’s morphosyntactic framework continuously. (2) Thorough analyses of representative post-tonal works, based on sketch- and score-oriented as well as computer-aided spectral analytical methods, are at the centre of the project and contribute to the elaboration of morphosyntactic modules. The idea of morphosyntax presumes that Gestalt-oriented and time-oriented relationships between surface-derived sound events, sequences, and transformations constitute elementary layers of musical meaning which point beyond the confines of purely "intra-musical" structures. This approach allows us to demonstrate interactions between local morphological organization, syntactic perceptual coherence, large-scale form and contextual meaning. The resulting network of morphosyntactic modules stands for a flexible, but coherent field of listening strategies that is open to further refinement and may also provide models for empirical research. (3) Systematic studies on the interrelations and differences between tonal and post-tonal music perception as well as everyday auditory perception, developed together with cooperating scholars, create multiple points of interaction with the other two fields of research.