Movement, Action (and Gesture) revisited

Ok, so I have been discussing the concepts of movement, action and gesture with various people since I posted this entry, and I have come to disagree with myself. Marcelo pointed out that an action doesn’t necessarily have to involve a movement, as touch and other types of manipulation should also be considered an action. After all, holding down the keys on a piano after the attack results in no movement, but it is certainly an action.

While, I still think my previous model of actions as chunks of movements holds, it should just be extended to also include manipulation. Action is thus overlapping with the concept of movement, and is not only a subset of it as I have previously suggested. But what about neural activity in the brain, and what about muscle tension? Should these also be considered actions, or would they be considered as integral to the contact actions (at least when talking about instrument actions)?

Concerning the relationship between action and gesture, I am getting more and more certain that I prefer to leave gesture as an entirely mental concept. If we use action to denote physical/physiological movement and/or manipulation, and say that sound-producing actions create the sound, then we could also say that it is the combination of the perceived action and perceived sound (+ other modalities) that constitutes the gesture. I have made a sketch trying to illustrate this:


That makes sense today, but we’ll see how it feels tomorrow.

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Alexander Refsum Jensenius is a music researcher and research musician living in Oslo, Norway.

4 thoughts on “Movement, Action (and Gesture) revisited”

  1. In my own analysis of gesture semiotics I propose two uses of the word gesture: gesture-simple and gesture-complex. Gesture-simple refers to emblematic gestures, cultural gestures, co-speech gestures and such where a direct association exists between form and meaning, both in production and perception.

    The gesture-complex refers to the process whereby additional meaning is attributed to an act (in intention and perception preferably, but it can go wrong indeed). A gesture-simple can double as a gesture-complex in the same way that one can speak words of courage.

    But it seems important to keep the two processes clearly separated.

    As far as music-making is concerned: I think that playing an instrument, whether a guitar, piano or sensor-gloves to create sound are indeed practical actions, and not gestures. I have a hard time accepting the notion of ‘gestural control of music’, just because the shape of the instrument or controls change.

    It gets different if additional meaning is attributed to the sounds or music created. If a musician succeeds in getting his expressive message across to an audience then I think we could see this as musical gestures (as a form of the gesture-complex). And yes, that would be a mental thing.

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