When we listen to music there comes a distinct experience of the passing of time. As the music changes, develops and grows, certain ‘events’ in the sound mark out a subjective feeling of time. Our awareness of following this passage of time (our listening whilst listening to ourselves listening, to put it phenomenologically) allows for the experience of travelling through time with the illusion of traversing through space – the illusion of motion.

It is hardly surprising then that there is so much music in animated features, and indeed, why there is music accompanying films at all. Music is a metaphor for human consciousness (of Being) and animation is heightened because of its inclusion of music; music’s ‘transitoriness’ gives substance to images which themselves are an illusion of motion and which exist through time and the illusion of space and depth.

The illusion of space is less convincing than the illusion of motion (and thus time). We understand very well that the images we see on a screen do not have the depth and space that we actually see – we could not reach out and enter the filmic setting. We are very aware of the illusion at a perceptual level. Motion, on the other hand, is harder to see through. It is on a similar plane to music where temporality is measured against a different standard.

Music forces us to let go of the usual means by which we measure time. If our experience of time is governed by the rhythms of heartbeats, breathing, or a clock ticking, when we listen to music it is the musical durations that we are internally measuring, and musical time that we are experiencing.

Crafted motion in animation is a representation of time. Experiential time, as Daniel Yacavone (2015: 212) says, gives us a sense of self, an experiential ‘I’, or ‘quasi-subject’ from which we can experience the objective reality that comes with animated space (or with the knowledge that that space is animated). In an animation the experience of the objective reality (space) by means of motion (time) is surely affected by the obvious crafted quality of both.

Therefore, it makes sense that such extra-objective space would require an extra level of temporalisation: a further need for music to tie more tightly the connection between time and space, and movement. Animated motion gives a representation of time where music can give a far more subjective presentation and thus sensation of time. Music can allow an animation a subject through which we might perceive and ‘look’ – or ‘listen’ – and from which we might experience the objective world created by the depiction and illusion of space.

That of music and sound, as they appear with animation, is, I believe, a promising avenue of further study. Particularly in terms of movement, since both animation and music present an illusion of movement and both reinforces the uncanny in the other. A holistic approach of phenomenology, sound theory, animation theory, cognitivism among others would surely yield exiting results.



Brophy, P. (1993). ‘The Animation of Sound’. In: A. Cholodenko (ed.) The Illusion of Life: Essays on Animation. Power Publications, pp. 67-11.

Clarke, David (2011). ‘Music, Phenomenology, Time Consciousness: Mediation after Husserl’. In: D. Clarke & E. Clarke (eds.) Music and Consciousness, Oxford U. P., p. 1-28.

Langer, S. K. (1953). Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art. Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Yacovone, D. (2015). Film Worlds: A Philosophical Aesthetics of Cinema. Columbia U. P.


Sarah Rundell has recently completed her MA in music at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). She holds a BMus graduate and Musicology. This contribution springs from her masters dissertation which took a phenomenological look at music and sound in 3D animation.