Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Cool Media

According to McLuhan’s theory of media (McLuhan, 1994), cool media are sources of information that are not high definition, and which do not emphasize one sensory modality over all others.  In other words, they are incomplete sources of information, and require the active participation of an audience to complete the message.  Modern minimalist classical music provides one example of a cool medium.  Minimalism took advantage of the active role of the listener, and exploited repetition to deliberately produce aural illusions.  The ultimate effect of a minimalist composition is not a message created by the composer and delivered to a (passive) audience, but is instead a collaborative effort between musician and listener.  “The mind is mesmerized by repetition, put into such a state that small motifs can leap out of the music with a distinctness quite unrelated to their acoustic dominance” (Griffiths, 1994, p. 167).  From a perceptual point of view, it is impossible to maintain a constant perception of a repeated sound segment.  During the course of listening, the perceptual system will habituate to some aspects of it, and as a result – as if by chance – new regularities will emerge.  “The listening experience itself can become aleatory in music subject to 'aural illusions'” (Griffiths, 1994, p. 166).  This is in contrast to traditional classical music, to which the conduit metaphor applies, because the musical piece is viewed as a vessel in which the composer transports a particular message to be received by a passive audience that does not contribute to or alter the intended communication.


  1. McLuhan, M. (1994). Understanding Media: The Extensions Of Man (1st MIT Press ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  2. Griffiths, P. (1994). Modern Music: A Concise History (Rev. ed.). New York: Thames and Hudson.

(Added November 2010)