Music, Affect and Atmospheres: Meaning and Meaningfulness in Palauan omengeredakl

Birgit Abels


In this article, I explore facets of the complex musical experience afforded by omengeredakl, a genre of traditional vocal music from Palau, Western Micronesia. The concept of atmosphere will lead me to propose a conceptual distinction between musical meaning(s) and musical meaningfulness as well as enable an integrated analysis of both. With this, I am pointing at weaknesses in some of the recent ethnomusicological literature on atmosphere: atmosphere should not be identified with affect, or looked at as part of a two-stage process in which affective experience is followed by reflective interpretation. The potential of atmospheres for the study of music lies precisely in that the concept enables us to transcend this and other pairs of opposites. Overcoming this binary will allow us to draw closer to the efficacy of music: after all, the proverbial “power of music” exceeds the impact of affective experience and discursive meaning by far. 


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