Burgess Laughlin

In listening to music, what do you experience?

75 posts in this topic

Restless

Can we take a particular example of music as a focal point for talking about what we experience when we hear it?

The music may evoke certain emotions, but I realize now that I am providing the scenes and the stories around them. I suppose most listeners might experience the same emotions -- but see different scenes and imagine different stories, if any.

I find the title fairly appropriate to the emotion that it conveys to me. I find the constant tick...tick...tick.. a little distracting. The emotional range seems fairly narrow, but on the dark side. It would make good background music for a movie scene about someone going through some of the emotions you describe.

I like the first major harmonic shift up from the original minor key (sounds like a sus4/7th chord). The shift has an uplifting feeling. The piece has characteristics of Minimalism in that it repeats pretty much the same ideas over and over. It has an Impressionistic feel too, in that the overall harmonic progression and the mood it conveys is fairly static. No big Romantic highs or lows. The static quality, to me, also makes it somewhat restful or dreamy.

It is well-played.

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At the age of 62, I have only now begun listening -- truly listening -- to music. My tiny but ever growing collection of CDs so far includes smooth jazz, classical (Pachelbel, Albinoni, Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Rachmaninov, and Johnson), and marches (Sousa).

When I listen, I experience individual emotions at times, such as elation or poignancy or yearning. But sometimes I also see scenes such as a walk up a steep mountain path, or galloping across a rolling countryside. Occasionally I experience fragments of a story: someone doing something as part of a longer thread of action (not further defined).

I love stories, especially success stories. I wonder, am I "reading in" most of what I experience when I listen to music? I wonder too if my reading-in is a result of the nature of music: being limited to one medium, sound, its main role is to evoke -- evoke emotions felt before, evoke scenes seen before, evoke storylines lived or viewed vicrariously before.

I know nothing about esthetic theories. What explanations have been offered that objectively account for the effects of music?

Perhaps something I wrote a few years back may interest you:

Does the emotional response to music depend on the "subjective view of the listener" ?

For me, music is 'mood stuff', a means of creating emotions. (For others, there may be added dimensions of technique, structure, complexity etc.)

If emotions are results of values we hold, in a given set of circumstances, or context, can we use music to evoke emotions outside of that context?

If a mystic writes a music piece to reflect his irrationality, he is using music to evoke in himself, the emotions he feels when he, say, thinks about life after death. If he recreates those emotions (joy, fear, bewilderment, awe etc.), is it possible for someone with a more objective view of life to respond with similar emotions on hearing the music?

My ideas on this, assume that while all humans have different ways of achieving their emotions (Different causes for a given emotion, or a given cause resulting in very different emotions), most humans areable to _feel_ similar emotions.

An example follows.

Let's say a religious person feels a certain emotion when he sees a painting of J.C. on the cross. (eg. joy, awe, sadness, reverence) and writes music to evoke the corresponding emotion.

A non religious person seeing the same painting feels differently. (eg contempt, disgust, amusement, anger).

Is it possible for the non religious person to listen to the music of the religious person, and feel the some emotions as the writer of the music?

Here is my provocative view. I believe the answer is yes. Why? Because the music indicates an _emotion_, and not the _cause_ of the emotion.

For instance, if the music brings a feeling of awe and grandeur, the non religious person my be visualizing the space shuttle blasting off. Thus, the same emotion is tied to different ideas.

Music seems to stand cause and effect on it's head Actually it's the _music_ which _causes_ the emotion, which then asks the brain to come up with a mental picture to accompany the feelings.

Other aspects of music involve cadence or rhythm. There is order in rhythm and the brain can follow organized ebb and flow with great pleasure...at times wanting to bring the whole body to move to the pulse. The more primitive humans require a very simple beat to follow, one that quickly bores the more educated mind.

Impressionistic music may be "blurry", but some emotions _are_ dreamy and floating. Tranquil may be the word. Unfocused is not necessarily irrational, when appropriate.

There was a TV program called "What is Music?", which seems to confirm the relationship between sound and emotion. People from many different cultures and backgrounds had virtually universal agreement on whether music was sad, happy or angry.

--

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I don't listen to classical music, but I'd like to respond to the subject with respect to the type of music I listen to. I'd say my music could generally be described as "soft rock," with a female singer and vocals as the most prominent sound.

Since there are lyrics, there is an explicit meaning in words that doesn't exist (in the same form) in classical music. The non-vocal portions of the music, rather than conveying ideas directly, provide an emotional context that supports and emphasizes the meaning of the words. I don't know much about muscal notes or the technical aspects of music, but I know that different sounds convey different emotions to me. For example, slow music would tend to be sad, whereas fast would tend to be more active; for the faster music, this could be forceful, low notes conveying anger or smooth, high notes conveying happiness. Those aren't the only options of course, but I think that should convey what I mean by sounds complementing the mood of the words.

With respect to just the vocals, I get a reaction that is similar to what I'd feel in response to a passionate speaker, though it's more emotional and less content-filled. The specific emotions I experience depend entirely on the song. The focus of a song is typically on something very narrow--getting over a difficult breakup, appreciating an accomplishment, or a small vision for how something could and should be.

I love listening to music partially because it can do so many things. I can listen to a song in order to more fully immerse myself in an emotion I'm feeling, to transform my emotional state, or even as a generic purposeful background to accompany me throughout my day.

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I don't listen to classical music, but I'd like to respond to the subject with respect to the type of music I listen to. I'd say my music could generally be described as "soft rock," with a female singer and vocals as the most prominent sound.

Since there are lyrics, there is an explicit meaning in words that doesn't exist (in the same form) in classical music. The non-vocal portions of the music, rather than conveying ideas directly, provide an emotional context that supports and emphasizes the meaning of the words. I don't know much about muscal notes or the technical aspects of music, but I know that different sounds convey different emotions to me. For example, slow music would tend to be sad, whereas fast would tend to be more active; for the faster music, this could be forceful, low notes conveying anger or smooth, high notes conveying happiness. Those aren't the only options of course, but I think that should convey what I mean by sounds complementing the mood of the words.

With respect to just the vocals, I get a reaction that is similar to what I'd feel in response to a passionate speaker, though it's more emotional and less content-filled. The specific emotions I experience depend entirely on the song. The focus of a song is typically on something very narrow--getting over a difficult breakup, appreciating an accomplishment, or a small vision for how something could and should be.

I love listening to music partially because it can do so many things. I can listen to a song in order to more fully immerse myself in an emotion I'm feeling, to transform my emotional state, or even as a generic purposeful background to accompany me throughout my day.

I suppose you would be surprised to hear that I generally tune out the words. It doesn't bother me that I don't understand Italian when I listen to Opera. As long as I understand the context, I let the music do the talking. Modern lyrics are not often admirable I find. I enjoy Cole Porter though (for example), as he blends music and intelligent words so well.

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I suppose you would be surprised to hear that I generally tune out the words. It doesn't bother me that I don't understand Italian when I listen to Opera. As long as I understand the context, I let the music do the talking. Modern lyrics are not often admirable I find. I enjoy Cole Porter though (for example), as he blends music and intelligent words so well.

With regard to a language I don't understand (which is all but English) I can still enjoy the words, but merely as musical, emotional, sound. I have noticed that I do get tired after extended listening to songs (even in English), and when I then put on some symphonic music I have a sense of relief, as in "Ah, now some REAL music", and my mind stirs into sharper focus.

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Intriguing. The central question of this topic-thread is: What do you experience in listening to music? I experience something different than your experience: A restlessness (as neatly captured by the title of the piece) in contrast to the steady, relentless passing of time, specifically time passing in the quiet of the dark of night, when all that can be heard is the ticking of a clock. I hear the tick-tick as background that provides a setting, and the other music (I don't know the terms for describing it) brings out the theme concept, restlessness.

Yes, Burgess, I, too, hear the restlessness of the piece, but for me it is not central, it is not the major motivating essence of the music (or of the man). He may be restless, but underneath he is calm and certain.

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I'd like to suggest another piece for examination here, one I've mentioned before on THE FORUM: Glider Pt. 1 by Bill Conti, from the soundtrack to The Thomas Crown Affair (1999 version, starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo). I initiated a poll about it, although you might not want to read my post there before hearing the song, to avoid pre-judgment.

I found three online samples which, taken together, let you hear about half the song. Listen to them in this order to start at the very beginning of the track:

  1. Barnes & Noble
  2. MSN
  3. Amazon.com

(Some scrolling may be necessary to locate the samples.)

Note, however, that you really need to hear the whole piece to appreciate it fully, because the ending completely resolves the "tension" that grows throughout. I recommend acquiring the CD, which has many excellent tracks besides this one. In particular, Caban la Ka Kratchie by George Fordant is delightful, and Sting does a lovely rendition of Windmills of Your Mind. (Samples of those two tracks are available at the Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com links above - again, play them in that order because they present sequential segments of the songs.)

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Inotherwords, I am experiencing this music as if it were a single entity, one man. The different parts of the music represent, for me, different parts of his mind and soul.

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Yes, Burgess, I, too, hear the restlessness of the piece, but for me it is not central, it is not the major motivating essence of the music (or of the man). He may be restless, but underneath he is calm and certain.

I should add that I do understand your interpretation, and that there are pieces of music which I listen to in which different instruments and/or contrasting melodies represent separate things in reality. So, I guess I would have to say that I choose (though not consciously) to listen to certain pieces one way, and others another.

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I'd like to suggest another piece for examination here, one I've mentioned before on THE FORUM: Glider Pt. 1 by Bill Conti ...

I found three online samples which, taken together, let you hear about half the song. Listen to them in this order to start at the very beginning of the track:

  1. Barnes & Noble
  2. MSN
  3. Amazon.com

I couldn't get the MSN clip to play, but based on the short clips from the other two sources, it seemed like a very spirited piece of music, rich in tone and quality. Probably worth buying the whole thing and listening to it in its entirety.

p.s. I didn't care much of the remake of the movie (I much preferred the original) but apparently that fact did not stand in my way of enjoying the little of the music I heard.

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I couldn't get the MSN clip to play, but based on the short clips from the other two sources, it seemed like a very spirited piece of music, rich in tone and quality. Probably worth buying the whole thing and listening to it in its entirety.
I'm slightly biased ;), seeing as I simply LOVE this piece, so it might not surprise anyone when I say that I think this song alone is more than worth the cost of the CD.
p.s. I didn't care much of the remake of the movie (I much preferred the original) but apparently that fact did not stand in my way of enjoying the little of the music I heard.
Whatever one's opinon of the film, Glider Pt. 1 IMNSHO stands entirely on its own as an amazing little work.

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Can we take a particular example of music as a focal point for talking about what we experience when we hear it?

I can suggest what I -- as a non-musician -- think is a simple example: Tom Grant's smooth-jazz piece, "Restless."

I don't get a feeling of restlessness when I listen to it. It doesn't have much emotional impact on me - it is more like background music. Calm, maybe a little sad. (I think the background "tick-tick" or whatever it is, is distracting.)

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Can we take a particular example of music as a focal point for talking about what we experience when we hear it?

I can suggest what I -- as a non-musician -- think is a simple example: Tom Grant's smooth-jazz piece, "Restless." (My copy is in an album by Tom Grant, an album called "Reprise.") Is there some way to make a link to a sample so that everyone can hear the sample?

First, I hear the metronome-like sound in the background. In me, that cognitively evokes "time passing," particularly late at night, and that recognition in turn evokes memories of pacing while wrestling with some problem in my work, in my relationships, or in my direction in life. There are powerful emotions involved in those areas. Besides the emotions that I feel, I see a whole scene -- of pacing, of wrestling with an issue, perhaps leading to a resolution.

The music may evoke certain emotions, but I realize now that I am providing the scenes and the stories around them. I suppose most listeners might experience the same emotions -- but see different scenes and imagine different stories, if any.

Your comments bring up an issue with me. While the piece "Restless" is pleasant to listen to, the imposed rhythm is something I have grown quite adverse to in general. So much modern music has the beat superimposed over the music, as if put the music into a straight jacket, that it puts me off. The extreme example, is the Doof Doof Doof you can hear from punk cars blocks away. How much more 'mature' when the pulse is contained within the music. For example, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, or Stan Kenton's Peanut Vendor

Some pieces I hear never vary the canned drums from start to finish, and are boring in the extreme.

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While the piece "Restless" is pleasant to listen to, the imposed rhythm is something I have grown quite adverse to in general. So much modern music has the beat superimposed over the music, as if put the music into a straight jacket, that it puts me off.

For anyone: If you were a composer, if you had chosen "restless" as your theme concept, and if you wanted, in part, to portray the relentless passage of objective time, how would you do it?

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Modern lyrics are not often admirable I find.

Agreed. There are only three singers I regularly listen to, and even then I don't like all of their songs. However, I have found that I don't have to agree with the song's full meaning in order to really appreciate it.

One song I like implicitly advocates anarchism. I don't agree with that view, but the theme of the song is removing controls. I appreciate the singer as an honest person who sees a problem and the song conveys the uplifting emotions associated with wanting to live in a freer society. If I heard the singer say she understood and rejected the Objectivist view of the role of government, I wouldn't expect to like the song.

Singers are passionate while they're singing, and that is probably what I enjoy most about the songs. It's the feeling of someone having something important to say, and hearing it in a more emotional manner than conversation alone provides.

With regard to a language I don't understand (which is all but English) I can still enjoy the words, but merely as musical, emotional, sound. I have noticed that I do get tired after extended listening to songs (even in English), and when I then put on some symphonic music I have a sense of relief, as in "Ah, now some REAL music", and my mind stirs into sharper focus.

I have almost the opposite reaction. While I love songs like Stars and Stripes Forever at a July 4 fireworks show, if I hear those same songs for an extended period of time without the fireworks they fade into the background and I forget about them.

That's part of my reason for posting about songs with vocals in this thread. Usually when I have a reaction to something drastically different than most Objectivists, it is an error I need to correct. I know my responses are different, and wish to understand why.

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Singers are passionate while they're singing, and that is probably what I enjoy most about the songs. It's the feeling of someone having something important to say, and hearing it in a more emotional manner than conversation alone provides.

It seems that here the medium is more important than the message. I find that because music is so good at causing emotions, that it tends to give more 'meaning' to 'messages' than they deserve. However, take away the music, sit across the table with the writer, and ask: just what are you trying to say? Chances are that he will be a new age airhead, saturated with leftist ideology and drugs. My cop-out is that there are always exceptions, and I'm generalizing.

I might add that I feel the same way about many actors and film directors. Their style exceeds their substance. There is something wrong with a director who starts "Sin City" and "Kill Bill" with the cold blooded in your face execution of an innocent woman. I don't want to delve farther into his mind, in spite of good stylization.

As Royce mentioned, words are fine simply as part of the music. In my opinion very few modern songs have words that can stand up to objective evaluation.

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Yes, Burgess, I, too, hear the restlessness of the piece, but for me it is not central, it is not the major motivating essence of the music (or of the man). He may be restless, but underneath he is calm and certain.

You have aptly identified something which was peripherally nagging at me. The scene I had imagined from this piece, at the end of a mental chain starting with the music itself, includes a man who is, essentially, calm and certain, and who in this particularly important moment in his life is restless in dealing with a value-laden problem. The tick-tick, as of a mechanical clock, is perfect accompaniment for this middle-of-the-night scene. (I have been there.)

The reaction I have to this piece, "Restless," is, in outline, the same sort of chain of reactions I had listening to a very short piece by Rachmaninoff. I heard it on a local classical radio station. The title was something like "Seagulls" or "Sea Shore." My reaction was immediate, roughly in this order:

1. I heard the sounds.

2. I automatically recalled an emotion.

3. I automatically evaluated the emotion evoked as good in some respect.

4. I automatically saw a scene.

5. I automatically imagined a storyline, at least as a fragment.

6. I then chose to put the experience into words.

The first five steps are, for me, automatic. With music I like, I go through the whole process, including step 6. With music I don't like, I can't go through the whole process. A locking up of the mental gears occurs at step 2 or later. Maybe that is one reason I don't like certain music: It doesn't evoke an emotion; it doesn't prompt an evaluation; it doesn't lead me to see a scene; or it doesn't stimulate me to imagine even a fragment of a storyline.

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Intriguing. The central question of this topic-thread is: What do you experience in listening to music? I experience something different than your experience: A restlessness (as neatly captured by the title of the piece) in contrast to the steady, relentless passing of time, specifically time passing in the quiet of the dark of night, when all that can be heard is the ticking of a clock. I hear the tick-tick as background that provides a setting, and the other music (I don't know the terms for describing it) brings out the theme concept, restlessness.

Burgess, what do you mean by the "relentless passing of time"? To me, that phrase suggests that time is a foe, and, of course, "relentless" properly only applies to man, since it is chosen. A man may be relentless in the pursuit of a goal, but obviously, time doesn't have a goal.

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Burgess, what do you mean by the "relentless passing of time"? To me, that phrase suggests that time is a foe, and, [...]

One of the conventional synonyms of "relentless" is "unbending." That is the general sense in I which I used the term. (The word "relent" is related to the Latin word lentare, which means "to bend.")

Time passes, whether I want it to or not, and whether I solve the problem I am facing or not -- and that makes me restless with eagerness to get on with finding a solution, as I pace at two o'clock in the morning.

[...] of course, "relentless" properly only applies to man, since it is chosen.

Nature is relentless too, in conventional usage of the term. My dictionary, under "relent," offers the example, "The winds relented" -- meaning they abated. Relentless winds keep on blowing no matter what my wishes are.

A man may be relentless in the pursuit of a goal, but obviously, time doesn't have a goal.

Yes, a man may be unbending in his pursuit of a goal. No, time doesn't have a goal. So? (Rhetorical)

Drawing from the various conventional usages which my dictionary lists for "relent" and "relentless," I infer the terms conventionally apply both to man and nature (other than man). "The man rowed relentlessly against the relentless tide." However, the former may now be the primary conventional usage and the latter an anthropomorphic meaning by transference. If so, we may be seeing an ironic double change in meaning: Originally applied to nature, then to man, and finally back to nature again.

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One of the conventional synonyms of "relentless" is "unbending." That is the general sense in I which I used the term. (The word "relent" is related to the Latin word lentare, which means "to bend.")

Time passes, whether I want it to or not, and whether I solve the problem I am facing or not -- and that makes me restless with eagerness to get on with finding a solution, as I pace at two o'clock in the morning.

Nature is relentless too, in conventional usage of the term. My dictionary, under "relent," offers the example, "The winds relented" -- meaning they abated. Relentless winds keep on blowing no matter what my wishes are.

Yes, a man may be unbending in his pursuit of a goal. No, time doesn't have a goal. So? (Rhetorical)

Drawing from the various conventional usages which my dictionary lists for "relent" and "relentless," I infer the terms conventionally apply both to man and nature (other than man). "The man rowed relentlessly against the relentless tide." However, the former may now be the primary conventional usage and the latter an anthropomorphic meaning by transference. If so, we may be seeing an ironic double change in meaning: Originally applied to nature, then to man, and finally back to nature again.

Interesting. I have known of forces of nature being described as relentless,

but never time. Thank you.

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Interesting. I have known of forces of nature being described as relentless,

but never time. Thank you.

I just posted a poem (His Fortune) in which I used a bit of relentlessness for man and nature. Time does something else.

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Interesting. I have known of forces of nature being described as relentless,

but never time. Thank you.

Definitely, time has been described as relentless.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omar_Khayyám

The Rubaiyat, by Omar Khayyam [possibly improved by Edward FitzGerald's translation].

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

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Definitely, time has been described as relentless.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omar_Khayyám

The Rubaiyat, by Omar Khayyam [possibly improved by Edward FitzGerald's translation].

Anne, I don't interpret this passage to mean the relentlessness of time, but merely that one cannot change what has been done. Not that time is relentless in going on, but that one can't travel back through it.

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Interesting. I have known of forces of nature being described as relentless,

but never time. Thank you.

Time is nature in action. Without it, nature wouldn't be relentless ;)

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