Multistability and Ambiguity

When sensory input suggests multiple equally plausible interpretations to our perception, the input is termed "multistable". In this sort of situation, there are multiple equally solid interpretations of the input.

Two examples of multistable images

Multistability is a device used to create tension, instability and ambiguity in music and other forms of art. These unstable states create a sense of built-up energy and an expectation of movement. They can also be used to draw the audience into unfamiliar relationships with familiar material. Perception inherently involves generalization and a process of artificial stabilization. Perceptions can be wrong. Perception involves a significant degree of feedback, where assumptions about what is being perceived change the way the lower levels of perception interpret the sensory input. In this way, perception can get locked in, bound to misinterpret input over and over again, based on invalid assumptions and resisting contrary evidence from the senses. Composers and artists often work to challenge perceptual (and cognitive habits by constructing states of instability and ambiguity which resist attempts to draw them into resolution. This is sometimes describes as "opening" or "cleaning" the eyes and ears of the viewer / listener.

Where this is at play in a piece of music, it is important to find a way to represent this ambiguity or instability in the translation, as it is a fundamental part of the work. Where translation resolves intentionally unresolved forces it betrays the intent of the composer or artist.