The article introduces an empirical approach to studying music’s extrinsic meanings, based on the idea of musical topos as a set of musical entities that is delimited and furnished with meaning by extramusical associations in a listener population. The proposed methodology involves free, associative responses as well as responses on semantic variables addressing the imagery. After deriving potential topical structures for a given musical domain from the quantitative results, the structures are substantiated by using them to guide a rule-based, qualitative analysis of the free responses. The approach allows a view to the topical organization of a musical domain in which the identity of each musical topos is fixed in extrinsic terms, by a set of semantic fields that is unique to the topos in question. An application of the approach to contemporary “motivational” production music yields an organization of such semantic fields into three topical categories—Intimacy, Potency, and Speed.

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