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Doctoral dissertation project of Gabriele Giacosa

Music and Phenomenology - An Enactive Approach (working title)

Research on music is traditionally limited by a divide between abstract and empirical perspectives, resulting in evident inconsistency of conceptions. The goal of this project is to make ground for a transdisciplinary explication of music, conceiving of it as an intrinsically meaningful and intersubjective bio-cultural phenomenon. I shall argue that, whereas most research is centered on a posteriori conceptions related to ‘order’, the initial focus should be set on the phenomenological experience of music. Relying on the neuro-biological assumption of the innateness of the cognitive capacity to perceive music in humans, I focus on the minimum features required for sound to be perceived as music – i.e., the identification of music.

Background for the project is my definition of music as “sound produced with the main intention to produce sound”, derived from a previous research project. Relying on Jean Molino’s semiological tripartition of the musical fact, I split the traditional concept of order into an intention to produce sound and the requirement for intelligibility. This conception also allowed for a distinction between music and “sound art”. Here, I shall expand such model, adhering to the perspective of cognitive semiotics, in order to avoid the reductionist tendency to move directly from abstract conceptions to empirical evidence. Comparing representationalist and enactivist approaches, I shall draw on evidence – from phenomenology, neuroscience, and social psychology – on intentions, perception, and the developmental concept of “teleomusicality”, in order to obtain a more consistent perspective focused on the perceiving mind.

The working goal shall be set on achieving a bottom-up description of the identification of degrees of intentions in music in intersubjective terms, aligned with 4E cognition. The ideal evaluation case will be a modified version of the Turing Test where a listener, unaware of the source and context in which a given sound is produced, is required to tell whether the sound perceived is music. I shall take Shaun Gallagher’s conceptions of intentionality and agency (as related to direct perception) as a starting point, allowing for a different interpretation of the role played by the neural systems involved in intention understanding and social cognition. I wish to show that music is better understood in terms of – and can be a useful study case for evaluating – intentionality in social and context-related action.


Short biography

Gabriele Giacosa is a doctoral student in Systematic Musicology at the University of Cologne, and a collegiate member of the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School. His project is supervised by Prof. Uwe Seifert (UoC), Prof. Jordan Zlatev (Lund University, waiting to finalize a co-tutelage agreement), and Prof. Shigeru Taguchi (Hokkaido University). His research focuses on interdisciplinary conceptions of music and language, connecting philosophy, phenomenology, cognitive sciences and semiotics.

Gabriele holds a B.A. in DAMS (Cultural Studies, Musicology – 2015) from the University of Turin; his thesis revolved around a philosophical and cultural analysis of Schoenberg’s Farben, also with external help from Luigi Pestalozza. In 2017, he obtained a Research M.A. (cum laude) in Musicology from Utrecht University, already shifting towards the intersection of philosophical and empirical perspectives on music and language. During his Master’s, Gabriele also studied at the University of Bologna for a semester. From January 2020, he will also be a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for the Metal Music Studies journal.

Contact: gabriele.giacosa(at)



“Different Levels of Perception of Prosodic Categories in Music and Language”
February 2019, Spring School “Language and Music in Cognition: Integrated Approaches to Cognitive Systems”, University of Cologne

 “How do we distinguish degrees of intentions in sounds in immediacy? – A case study”
July 13-14 2018, Workshop “Musical ‘Meaning’, Social Interaction, and Teleofunctionalism”, Humboldt University of Berlin


Cover photo: A 4E Vitruvian Listener – Music perception between mind, body and the external world (Foto: Luca Ferrari) // Portrait photo: Patric Fouad