A Phenomenology of Musical Absorption

Cham: Springer Verlag (2018)
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This book presents a detailed analysis of what it means to be absorbed in playing music. Based on interviews with one of the world’s leading classical ensembles, “The Danish String Quartet”, it debunks the myth that experts cannot reflect while performing, but also shows that intense absorption is not something that can be achieved through will, intention, prediction or planning – it remains something individuals have to be receptive to. Based in the phenomenological tradition of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty as well as of Dan Zahavi and Shaun Gallagher, it lays out the conditions and essential structures of musical absorption. Employing the lived experience of the DSQ members, it also engages and challenges core ideas in phenomenology, philosophy of mind, enactivism, expertise studies, musical psychology, flow theory, aesthetics, dream and sleep studies, psychopathology and social ontology, and proposes a method that integrates phenomenology and cognitive science.



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The conclusion summarizes the findings of this investigation broken down into the themes of “the absorbed reflective self”, “the absorbed minimal self”, and “the absorbed body”. I show that the question of “who is playing?” can be answered by referring to a minimal bodily, affective, and emotional s... see more

The Hive Mind: Playing Together

This chapter analyzes the different ways in which the DSQ performs as a group. I criticize trends in the psychology of music that puts too much emphasis on shared predictions, plans, and musical representations and instead present the phenomenology of the various perceptual and agential modes of awa... see more

Performative Passivity

The first chapter in the third section of the book begins by presenting the limitations in thinking of absorption as either reflective or pre-reflective, or as a peculiar combination of the two. Instead, I take my departure in the DSQ’s core description of the “music coming by itself”. I explicate t... see more

Schizophrenia and Ipseity Disturbances

This chapter looks at ex-static absorption and Reflectionhyper- herein from the perspective of so-called “ipseity disturbances” found in the literature on Phenomenological psychopathology. These are changes in self-awareness that putatively unify the various heterogeneous syndromes contained in the ... see more

Dreaming and Sleeping

This chapter assesses what the phenomenology of different kinds of dreaming and sleeping can teach us with respect to musical absorption. Drawing on Evan Thompson’s work, I trace certain analogies between on the one hand, absorbed not-being-there and dreamless sleep and, on the other hand, ex-static... see more


This chapter engages with the question of whether musical absorption is not some kind of “flow” experience. I analyze Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow to draw a twofold negative conclusion to the question. Firstly, the theory is so general and conceptually underspecifying, especially with regard to... see more

Artistic and Aesthetic Experience

In this chapter, I use scholarship from the phenomenology of Self-awareness bodily self-awareness to expand on the expertise debates. Using Legrand and Ravn’s ethnographically inspired work on absorption in dance as well as Dufrenne’s notion of “adherent Reflectionadherent” to characterize a general... see more

Expertise, Mind Wandering, and Amnesia

In this chapter, I look at what discussions on the nature of expertise might have to contribute to our understanding of musical absorption. I analyze the work of Hubert Dreyfus, John Sutton et al., and Barbara Montero to find useful thinking on the relation between thinking and coping or intelligenc... see more

A Topography of Musical Absorption

This chapter produces distinctions in the form of a topography of Musical absorptiontopography of that give a conceptual grasp of the various kind of experiences described in the last chapter. The DSQ members differ in their perception of how to focus while playing, how to practice, and the signific... see more

From Ragdoll to Battle Commander: The Experiences of Musical Absorption

This chapter is a description of the four members of the Danish String Quartet, Frederik Ø, Rune, Asbjørn, and Fredrik vis-à-vis their focus and kind of awareness in practicing and performing. It gives an overview of their general performance gestalt as well as of those more unusual experiences of a... see more

How Should We Study Musical Absorption? The Phenomenological Interview

Even if I am an amateur musician, I don’t have first personal access to the kinds of experiences to which brilliant musicians refer. This is problematic for my aim of constructing a phenomenology of musical absorption. But it also points to a limitation to traditional phenomenology, which, if restri... see more


In the introduction to this book, I take the following conundrum to motive the entire project: musicians sometime claim to be unsure of whether it really was they who performed a just past concert. They experience a musical absorption, an altered state of awareness in which their sense of self drama... see more

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Revisiting the Six Stages of Skill Acquisition.B. Scot Rousse & Stuart E. Dreyfus - 2021 - In Teaching and Learning for Adult Skill Acquisition: Applying the Dreyfus & Dreyfus Model in Different Fields. Charlotte, NC, USA: pp. 3-28.
Exploratory expertise and the dual intentionality of music-making.Simon Høffding & Andrea Schiavio - 2021 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 20 (5):811-829.

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