Is memory relational or absolute?

Daniel Levitin in Delancey Place:

“The big debate among memory theorists over the last hundred years has been about whether human and animal is relational or absolute. The relational school argues that our memory system stores information about the relations between objects and ideas, but not nec­essarily details about the objects themselves. This is also called the con­structivist view, because it implies that, lacking sensory specifics, we construct a memory representation of reality out of these relations (with many details filled in or reconstructed on the spot). The constructivists believe that the function of memory is to ignore irrelevant details, while preserving the gist. The competing theory is called the record-keeping theory. Supporters of this view argue that memory is like a tape recorder or digital video camera, preserving all or most of our experiences accu­rately, and with near perfect fidelity.

“Music plays a role in this debate because — as the Gestalt psycholo­gists noted over one hundred years ago — melodies are defined by pitch relations (a constructivist view) and yet, they are composed of precise pitches (a record-keeping view, but only if those pitches are encoded in memory).

More here.