‘A huge man is bursting out of a rock'. Bodies, motion, and creativity in verbal reports of musical connotation

Mihailo Antović*, Mats B. Küssner, Adrian Kempf, Diana Omigie, Sarah Hashim, Andrea Schiavio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study proposes a new approach to musical referentiality and its alleged tendency to relate to bodily experience and movement. To address this, we collected a corpus of 38,587 words (2,265 verbal descriptions of ‘associations’ or ‘imagery’ sparked by short musical excerpts by 554 participants from 32 countries). We tested the hypotheses that verbalizations containing clear references to bodies and/or their movement will (1) be prevalent in the data; (2) tend to be more creative than descriptions not containing such references; and (3) display similar underlying image-schematic structures, themselves hypothesized in cognitive linguistics to be a consequence of bodily interactions. Our analysis suggests that (1) descriptions containing references to human or animal bodies or body parts, and to movement, significantly outnumber those not containing such references, with a strong correlation between the invocation of bodies and movement; (2) descriptions containing references to bodies and movement are deemed more creative by an automated creativity assessment routine than those not containing them; and (3) a qualitative linguistic analysis of the most creative descriptions reveals some embodied, image-schematic similarities beneath outwardly very different verbalizations. These findings suggest that musical meaning, while open-ended, may be partly constrained by tractable principles.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of New Music Research
Early online date31 Jan 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • creativity
  • embodiment
  • mental imagery
  • motion
  • Music listening

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