From 1970 to ca. 2008, I wrote, thought, talked and taught (not necessarily in that order) about issues in musicology and semiotics. My own graduate training was not “ology” oriented–I studied composition. After I came to Toronto, semiotics became a field of great fascination for me. I am greatly indebted to the mentorship of Prof. Paul Bouissac, then president of the Toronto Semiotic Circle for getting a start. I had an earlier, amateur interest in the linguistics of Noam Chomsky, but not the good sense any proper –ology grad student would have had to concern myself with bibliographies, background reading and such like. (That earlier interest had led me to write up an algorithm for generating melodies with computers back in the days of punch cards.)
I don’t consider myself a very active scholar at present, but I try not to brush off requests and inquiries. My academic interests focused in three areas:
Metrical theory (much more sketched than published.)
General Semiotic Theory (For me this is the core. See just below a note on what semiotics is. My first book, Elements of Semiotics, develops that idea.)
Applications of semiotic theory to music. (Best of this, to around 2003, collected in “Is Language a Music?“)
“Semiotic” comes from a Greek word for sign. Most people involved with semiotics or with semiology are focused on interpreting signs, giving that term the widest possible sense you can imagine. My angle is less popular. For me, semiotics is primarily a method for comparing different media (such as language, mathematics, music, writing, etc., etc.) with respect to their capacities for reference and structure. Reference includes what you might associate with “meaning” or “significance”. Structure includes, grammar, composition, and so on. My book, Elements, builds this outlook. Some people have told me it’s a good book. Nobody has told me it is easy. One very expert critic said it gives “a musician’s take” on the field. That is literally true, but I did not mean it to show.
3 thoughts on “Scholarly interests”
Regards, long overdue, Peter Breit
I love complements and don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth; yet, according in my own head, my book about semiotics is “Elements of Semiotics” (1995, I think) and “Is Language . . . ” is more a book about music, a semiotical book to be sure.
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