The field of interactive music systems (IMSs), beginning in the 1980s, is still relatively young and fast moving. The field of music theory-analysis, during the same period (since 1980), has undergone a major transformation in terms of technological innovations, flexibility, and breadth. The two fields have not really caught up with each other. It will be interesting to see what arises as they do — especially as both fields have become more concerned with the role of the body and embodied cognition. Framed in terms of contrasting epistemological orientations, this essay considers some relevant developments in IMSs, music cognition, and music theory and analysis, leading up to the present. The most popular approaches to music cognition and to IMS design are rationalist (Ashby 2010), exploiting the ‘correct’ embodiments of music (Godøy 2004, Leman 2007, Paine 2009) based on affordances (Gibson 1977, Kelso 1998). This essay, however, advocates a pragmatist
(Ashby 2010) approach inspired by music analysis and exploiting the potential of kinesthetic learning (associative learning). Prompted by a progressive approach to music analysis, theory, perception, and cognition (Dubiel 1999, Mailman 2007), interactive music technology can also be constructive, flexible, and progressive, by exploiting kinesthetic learning from immersion in new and unusual motion-to-sound mappings derived from dynamic formal processes in analysed music. In this way, immersive interactive systems offer an opportunity systematically to learn new associations based on principles theorised in response to analysis. Experience of these systems essentially ‘rewires the brain’, thereby exemplifying what Korsyn (2004) has attributed to Lewin’s (1986, 1987) approach to music perception: the ironist approach, as formulated by Rorty (1989). Thus a pragmatist ironist experimental (PIE) approach is articulated. Rather than committing to any particular ways music is
already embodied, this approach acknowledges the flexible nature of embodied musical experience. It forges and uses interactive music technologies continually to redescribe and therefore reform how music is embodied, thereby disembodying to re-embody music, expanding how music is heard, contemplated and experienced.