Music, Mind and the Serious Zappa:
The Passions of a Virtual Listener
Ulrik Volgsten

Stockholn University
ISBN 91-7265-020-6
207 pp, paperback, 30 x 21 cm

Doctoral dissertation. Public defence was in December 16, 1999.

First edition 1999 (246 pp), second edition 2009. Published in series Studies in musicology, ISSN 1103-6362.


This dissertation argues that music is always ideological. For this thesis two lines of argument are given. The first states that music is always ideological because it requires verbal discourses about itself. The second line of argument states that music is always ideological because it influences the listener affectively.

That language is necessary for talk about music is trivial. The point is rather that talk about music is necessary for auditive behaviour to turn into complex cultural artefacts. Without language humans would have no more music than birds, whales or duetting apes.

At the other extreme, musical experiences are affective in nature. To have a musical experience is to experience an affective unfolding through time. Affect (as distinguished from the emotions) refers to the amodal properties of perception-such as intensity, shape, rhythm-and lies at the heart of human communication. With its roots in early mother-infant interaction, affective communication is inherently social. Together with discourses about music, the affective properties of musical experiences makes music into an extremely subtle, and thereby efficient, ideological manipulator in various types of social contexts.

Finally, the theoretical conclusions reached will be exemplified by introducing a virtual listener, the various facets of whose listening experiences are captured by different analytical methods and listening reports as applied to some of the "serious" music by Frank Zappa. Central for the explanation of these listening experiences are the "passions," that is, the affects, moods and emotions that the music evokes in the listener, or that the listener takes the music to express.

Ulrik Volgsten:

In the doctoral thesis Music, Mind and the Serious Zappa -The Passions of a Virtual Listener, I devote some sixty-five pages to the "serious" music of Frank Zappa. Among other things I discuss the extent to which he built his compositions on guitar solos. I also discuss whether this can be seen as a Modernist or Postmodernist attitude towards musical material and composition.

Full text is downloadable –




Foreword to the
2nd edition


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