Burgess Laughlin

In listening to music, what do you experience?

75 posts in this topic

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

But nature isn't relentless, it just is what it is (waves fall over, wind blows); it is only metaphorically described as relentless, and only in the context of human values.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

But nature isn't relentless, it just is what it is (waves fall over, wind blows); it is only metaphorically described as relentless, and only in the context of human values.

Exactly. But the metaphorical meaning and the context of human values are certainly relevant to evaluating music. Time has evaluative and cognitive significance to man, evaluative significance to all living beings, and no significance at all to inanimate objects (since there is nothing that has meaning to inanimate objects.)

From the tune, I got a sense of thinking/contemplation, punctuated by monotony (the ticking) -- and too little range or variety for my taste. It's funny that one adjective used (by GMartin) to describe the tune was restful, while the title is 'Restless.' It did seem restful to me -- sort of -- except for the "click click click."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Exactly. But the metaphorical meaning and the context of human values are certainly relevant to evaluating music. Time has evaluative and cognitive significance to man, evaluative significance to all living beings, and no significance at all to inanimate objects (since there is nothing that has meaning to inanimate objects.)

From the tune, I got a sense of thinking/contemplation, punctuated by monotony (the ticking) -- and too little range or variety for my taste. It's funny that one adjective used (by GMartin) to describe the tune was restful, while the title is 'Restless.' It did seem restful to me -- sort of -- except for the "click click click."

Rose, your response (and GMartin's) makes me wonder what effect the title of the piece has in determining, though perhaps only for some listeners, the nature of each listener's response. And, consequently, are there more varying interpretations among listeners to music which doesn't have a descriptive title? My tentative answer would be yes, based on a little reading of other people's responses to music.

Then the question is, Does the mind give itself an order to interpret a certain piece of music a certain way?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

btw, I listened to Restless here, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00005QK3V

and it doesn't have vocals.

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.)

hi Jay! I keep forgetting to say I agree with you about the TV shows Hogan's Heroes and Gilligan's Island [the case of the lost thread!].

I agree that it makes little impact on me; slightly negative I'd say. In a shopping mall, I might not mind it; it sort of scurries me on to the next store and item.

I really value silence and real melody; this is neither, imho. Its ticking is a useless ticking; not suitable for dancing yet irritating because it constantly demands my attention.

Burgess, I love your question, how would an artist characterize "restless."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

hi Michael!

The Thomas Crown Affair was a great movie! I can well imagine [though can't recall] enjoying the soundtrack even more because of the movie. I haven't seen the older version, when was that, Stephen? You all may recall Jack Wakeland wrote an excellent review [of the 1999 version I believe] in TIA a while back.

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). ...

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

The 2 excerpts above that I heard didn't make a lot of impact on me, but what it did make was on the positive side, not the negative side. I do think there's a similar restless feeling to it, but it's an enjoyable restlessness. One is bouncing back and forth between a few really good choices. Sort of a good shopping spree; Christmas shopping with all your siblings, gossiping and giggling about the best presents for whom.

Both of these pieces are too light for me to enjoy seriously and too jumpy to urge me to dance. However, the second is danceable; I just tried it. That's a big plus in it's favor. A minus is that it sounds too much like a movie soundtrack; a lot of fluff and promise and has yet to deliver. I can't recall where it's played in the movie, maybe placement would make a difference too. Or, rather, surely it would.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I haven't seen the older version, when was that, Stephen?

The original The Thomas Crown Affair was in 1968, starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. I seem to be in the minority here about this, but I thought it far superior to the 1999 remake. It is worth seeing the movie if just for the chess game scene between Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. Exuding sex without touching each other and remaining fully clothed, just playing chess. The director for the remake couldn't even conceive of such a scene, much less pull it off as did Norman Jewison.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The original The Thomas Crown Affair was in 1968, starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. I seem to be in the minority here about this, but I thought it far superior to the 1999 remake. It is worth seeing the movie if just for the chess game scene between Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. Exuding sex without touching each other and remaining fully clothed, just playing chess. The director for the remake couldn't even conceive of such a scene, much less pull it off as did Norman Jewison.

Let me increase the minority. I enjoyed the original a lot more than I did the re-make.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The original The Thomas Crown Affair was in 1968, starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. I seem to be in the minority here about this, but I thought it far superior to the 1999 remake. It is worth seeing the movie if just for the chess game scene between Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. Exuding sex without touching each other and remaining fully clothed, just playing chess. The director for the remake couldn't even conceive of such a scene, much less pull it off as did Norman Jewison.

It sounds like a must-see! You're right, the 1999 female lead wasn't that great. It was the story-setup that was the best. Thank you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd like to add something to Betsy's comments, if I may. My background in music is as an enthusiastic amateur listener and semi-professional guitarist. I welcome correction from experts. My comments reflect what I believe to be true based on my own context of knowledge.

Just strumming A major and A minor chords on my guitar creates different moods. Both chords contain the same intervals - a major third and a minor third - but in a different order. The difference is that the C is natural in the minor chord, and in the A major chord, it's C sharp. The three tones of the major chord (In this case, A, C#, and E - a major "triad") - correspond to naturally occurring harmonics of the fundamental tone, A, so the result is more harmonically unified.

There's also more to mood than just the key signature. Here's a good example: the "Pink Panther Theme" by Henry Mancini has a playful, sassy feel - yet it's in a minor key. The mood is also affected by time signature, tempo, accents, syncopation, instrumentation, etc.

I read someplace that we hear music the way we do because of the structure of our inner ear. The snail-like shape of the cochlea causes us to perceive frequency changes logarithmically, not linearly. If you double the the frequency, it is perceived as the same note. I'm not sure why this is so I'd love to hear it if anyone knows more detail about this.

I would also recommend listening to "Adventures in Good Music" by Dr. Karl Haas. Unfortunately it's only broadcast on NPR as far as I know. Dr. Haas passed away a few years ago but many stations still play his program regularly. He always has a theme for his show, and uses recordings, and his own piano, to demonstrate concepts relating to his theme.

This is in interesting subject to me - thanks for bringing it up, Burgess!

Have you--or anyone--ever researched psychological/emotional states in people after they have listened to certain kinds of music?

For instance--if you have two people, in separate rooms, who are in precarious emotional states, and one listens to, say, The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, and the other listens to the "Emperor" Concerto by Beethoven--what were their reported emotional states afterward?

I haven't read all the posts yet; is there a reference anywhere to such an experiment?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can speak only for myself. My father wrote a book called THE SCIENCE OF MUSICAL SOUND, which drew on and expanded on the ideas of Helmholtz, but it was too technical for me -- about all I got out of it was that "tone color" is very important to me, along with the more familiar elements of melody and rhythm and the variuous forms in which they are expressed.

From childhood, I have felt a pleasurable physical as well as emotional response to music, a kind of galvanic flush that makes my hairs stand on end. Oddly, I've never seen or heard anyone else refer to this except Antonio Damasio, in LOOKING FOR SPINOZA. My first real experience with music, although I can't remember it, was when my mother took me to see Disney's FANTASIA. It was my introduction to, among others, Igor Stravinsky -- but until I saw the Joffrey Ballet's recreation of the original version of THE RITE OF SPRING on TV, I couldn't get those dinosaurs out of my head!

Music may be programmatic or not, but we all bring our accidental associations to it. Once while visiting my grandparents in California, THE NUTCRACKER was playing on the radio while I looked out the window at an oilfield where what they called "grasshoppers" were pumping away, and ever since the "Coffee: movement has reminded me of that oilfield. The first time I listened to Shostakovich's CELLO CONCERTO, I happened to be reading Lester del Rey's "Nerves," a story about an accident at an atomic plant first published in 1942. I still associate passages in the concerto with scenes in the story. And the thing is, del Rey himself couldn't stand anything by Shostakovich!

I never learned to read music, which I very much regret, and never had any formal education in it. I picked up on some of the romantic classics from their use as themes on old radio and TV shows and movie serials One of the serials, I can't remember which, used Brahms' ACADEMIC FESTIVAL OVERTURE, and an old TV show called TALES OF TOMORROW a snippet from (I learned a decade later) Prokofiev's ROMEO AND JULIET. But for some reason I developed a taste for the exotic/nationalist/pop crossover composers like Villa Lobos, De Falla and Kodaly, Gershwin and Weill and Poulenc, as well as the three B's, Tchaikovsky, Mahler and the rest. Every once in a while, I'd latch onto something else -- THE STING put me on a ragtime kick, and from there I started in on its successors, stride piano and boogie woogie. I am not a huge fan of, but can enjoy some artists in pop genres (Holly Dunn in country, for example), but have never developed a taste for heavy metal (It gives me a headache.) or so-called Christian pop (which is as artificial in its own way as socialist realism). I could probably enjoy some rap, if it weren't for the nasty lyrics and the nasty behavior of its artists and fans.

Some things I really had to LOOK for: concert music by film composer Nino Rota, for example. I had a hunch it must exist, and sure enough it did -- but recordings didn't start coming out until the last 15 years or so (I can heartily recommend a CD that includes his SYMPHONY ON A LOVE SONG and CONCERTO SOIRÉE FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA). I'm also a big fan of Angelo Badalamenti, another film composer, whose work covers a wide range from classical to jazz and electronic. But it's hard for me to EXPLAIN anything about this, altough I can point to some examples of technique, like Badalamenti combining techno and modern jazz quartet in a piece called "The Truth is Out There" for the ARLINGTON ROAD soundtrack, or the way Villa Lobos develops a simple carioca melody at the end of his CHOROS NO. 12.

All I can say for sure is that music is intensely personal to me. There was a character in a favorite sf story of mine, Cordwainer Smith's "No, No, Not Rogov," who captures it for me: "Take me back to the music, I want to be with the music, I really am the music."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Music may be programmatic or not, but we all bring our accidental associations to it. Once while visiting my grandparents in California, THE NUTCRACKER was playing on the radio while I looked out the window at an oilfield where what they called "grasshoppers" were pumping away, and ever since the "Coffee: movement has reminded me of that oilfield. The first time I listened to Shostakovich's CELLO CONCERTO, I happened to be reading Lester del Rey's "Nerves," a story about an accident at an atomic plant first published in 1942. I still associate passages in the concerto with scenes in the story. And the thing is, del Rey himself couldn't stand anything by Shostakovich!

Speaking of Shostakovitch, one day my very best friend (now departed), rolled up at my house growling about how he had just blown $28 on a CD that sounded like cats yowling on a wall. It's going in the garbage he said. I had never heard Shostakovitch's violin concerto, but when I told him I wanted to hear it, he told me to keep it. The next time I saw him, I told him that expecting the worst, I had closed my eyes and let the music take me where it would. In the opening bars, I saw a Western dusty town, with tumble weeds and not a breath of air. After he listened with me, he said, for me to go and buy my own disc, he was keeping his. We had a good laugh over this, but it is the way I listen to music; I run movies in my head. How could one listen to Shostakovitch's ferocious 8th, without seeing war scenes? For me, music has been a mood thing primarily, since my technical knowledge is near nil.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

For me, music has been a mood thing primarily, since my technical knowledge is near nil.

While musical knowledge is no doubt a good thing, as is all knowledge, I've never bought the idea that you have to have any technical musical training whatever in order to enjoy music. When you listen to a classical music station, generally, the quality of the music is inversely proportional to the length of the time they feel they need to describe the piece. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, etc., don't need to be explained, their brilliance stands alone and "speaks for itself", as a means of self-contained enjoyment just by the listening.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While musical knowledge is no doubt a good thing, as is all knowledge, I've never bought the idea that you have to have any technical musical training whatever in order to enjoy music. When you listen to a classical music station, generally, the quality of the music is inversely proportional to the length of the time they feel they need to describe the piece. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, etc., don't need to be explained, their brilliance stands alone and "speaks for itself", as a means of self-contained enjoyment just by the listening.

You certainly don't need any technical knowledge to appreciate music. For that matter, you don't need any critical theory to appreciate literature, although it may enhance our appreciation. What I would say is that any esthetic theory of music should account for how we actually experience it, as well as explaining the techniques. Broad experience is s plus -- it ehances my appreciation of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major, for example, to be able to recognize the homage to Gershwin in it. Still, there are cases in which technical knowledge would at least satisfy my curiosity. For example, take Ravel's "La Valse" and the waltz from Khatchaturian's "Masquerade." I can sense that they give a nostalgic or even ironic spin to the classic Viennese waltzes of Strauss. But I don't know just HOW they do this.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Speaking of Shostakovitch, one day my very best friend (now departed), rolled up at my house growling about how he had just blown $28 on a CD that sounded like cats yowling on a wall. It's going in the garbage he said. I had never heard Shostakovitch's violin concerto, but when I told him I wanted to hear it, he told me to keep it. The next time I saw him, I told him that expecting the worst, I had closed my eyes and let the music take me where it would. In the opening bars, I saw a Western dusty town, with tumble weeds and not a breath of air. After he listened with me, he said, for me to go and buy my own disc, he was keeping his. We had a good laugh over this, but it is the way I listen to music; I run movies in my head. How could one listen to Shostakovitch's ferocious 8th, without seeing war scenes? For me, music has been a mood thing primarily, since my technical knowledge is near nil.

I've made up a science fiction scenario in my head based on his tenth symphony. The vast loneliness of space in the first movement, for example, until some war fleet pops out of hyperspace. Nothing whatever to do with the composer's intentions, obviously.

As you may know, Shostakovich worked his initials (DSCH in German musial notation) into the score for that one, as if to tell the recently departed Stalin, "I'm alive and you're dead. Now I can be ME." I even read once that there is also a musical code for "Stalin umer" (Stalin is dead) in the score, but I'm doubtful about that -- I don't see how it could be done.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I came across the following in Antonio Damasio’s LOOKING FOR SPINOZA: JOY, SORROW AND THE FEELING BRAIN (Harcourt 2003), pp. 102-103

<<There is an intimate and telling three-way connection between certain kinds of music, feelings of either great sorrow or great joy, and the body sensations we describe as "chills" or "shivers" or "thrills." For curious reasons, certain musical instruments, particularly the human voice, and certain musical compositions, evoke emotive states that include a host of skin responses such as making the hair stand on end, producing shudders, and blanching the skin. (9) Perhaps nothing is more illustrative for our purposes than evidence from a study conducted by Anne Blood and Robert Zatorre. They wanted to study neural correlates of pleasurable states caused by listening to music capable of evoking chills and shivers down the spine.(10) The investigators found those correlates in the somatosensing regions of the insula and anterior cmgulate, which were significantly engaged by musically thrilling pieces. Moreover, the investigators correlated the intensity of the activation with the reported thrill value of the pieces. They demonstrated that the activations were related to the thrilling pieces (which individual participants handpicked) and not to the mere presence of music. Curiously, on other grounds, it is suspected that the appearance of chills is caused by the immediate availability of endogenous opioids in the brain regions modified by these feelings.(11) The study also identified regions involved in producing the emotive responses behind the pleasurable states—e.g., right orbitofrontal cortices, left ventral striatum, and regions that were negatively correlated with the pleasurable state—e.g., right amygdala—much as our own study did.>>

I’ve had this kind of experience since I was about ten years old – especially the hair standing on end and a warm flush. Damasio’s citations are below, and it seems surprising to me that there has apparently been so little research on a phenomenon so fundamental to human nature – and even to the very sense of personal identity. Note that in the Blood-Zatorre study, the thrilling pieces were "handpicked" by the participants – not just any music would do. I’m reminded of a passage from Cordwainer Smith’s "No, No, Not Rogov" (1958): "Take me back to the music, I want to be with the music, I really am the music."

9. Jack Panskepp, "The emotional sources of chills induced by music," MUSIC PERCEPTION 13 (1995), 171-207

10. Blood and Zatorre, "Intensely Plesaurable Responses to Music Correlate with Activity in Brain Regions Implicated in Reward and Emotion," PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (2001), 11818-23

11. Abraham Goldstein, "Thrills in Response to Music and Other Stimuli," PHYSIOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGY 3 (1980), 126-169

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I came across the following in Antonio Damasio’s LOOKING FOR SPINOZA: JOY, SORROW AND THE FEELING BRAIN (Harcourt 2003), pp. 102-103

<<There is an intimate and telling three-way connection between certain kinds of music, feelings of either great sorrow or great joy, and the body sensations we describe as "chills" or "shivers" or "thrills." For curious reasons, certain musical instruments, particularly the human voice, and certain musical compositions, evoke emotive states that include a host of skin responses such as making the hair stand on end, producing shudders, and blanching the skin. -169

For me, it's Richard Strauss's Thus Spake Zarathustra. The opening has such a perfect resolution with sparkling orchestration, that it made the perfect dramatic statement in the movie 2001.

Another, all be it more bleak, is Mahler's 5th, opening. They used this in the documentary, The Fall Of Eagles, relating to the collapse of Empires in WW1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
For me, it's Richard Strauss's Thus Spake Zarathustra. The opening has such a perfect resolution with sparkling orchestration, that it made the perfect dramatic statement in the movie 2001.

Another, all be it more bleak, is Mahler's 5th, opening. They used this in the documentary, The Fall Of Eagles, relating to the collapse of Empires in WW1

A lot of Villa Lobos (just one example) does it for me -- a very different kind of music, but the same effect. There's something here that needs to be explored further, but I woudn't know how to go about it. Somebody once came up with a theory of "lovemaps." I think there must also be "artmaps," for want of a better term. Any psychologists here want to take it up?

Something I've become fascinated with over the past two decades is the evolution of film music. Thiis was once in a purely neoclassical vein, as with Korngold and Herrman -- a tradition that continues today with John Williams. There are also lots of jazz and pop scores, but what interests me most is the synthesis of classical, jazz, pop and even techno elements in the work of composers like Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone, Angelo Badalamenti and, most recently, Sean "24" Callery.

I've had some contact with Badalamenti, with a view to writing an extended piece about him. He grew up in a household where his father was a big time opera fan and his older brother was a jazz musician and brought fellow jazz players over to visit. Much later, in the sixties, Badalamenti collaborated with Jean Jacques Perry, a pioneer of electronic music. That was when electronic music was a novelty, and treated as such in albums like Switched On Bach. But it has since developed into an art form. You can get some idea of the synthesis from Badalamenti's original music for THE BEACH (not the same as the song album for the same movie), with its odd blend of lush orchestral melody and percussive techno themes. What's especially interesting is that the techno elements, too, have an emotional resonance. There's one sound effect I call the Buzzsaw, because it sounds rather like a circular saw cutting a piece of wood, except that it has some sort of pitch or timbre -- it's become a motif for the mysterious-sinister, and I've heard it used by other composers, even on a daytime soap opera. In other sound tracks, Badalmenti has combined techno and modern jazz quartet styles, or modern jazz quartet style and classical chamber music form.

One of these days I've got to get him to sit down in front of a recorder and talk about this.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I know nothing about esthetic theories. What explanations have been offered that objectively account for the effects of music?

Allow me to hazard a guess:

1. There are "wired in" responses to certain sound sequences that trigger glandular and neurological reactions. For example high pitch screeching provokes a grit-the-teeth make-it-go-away aversive response. I don't think that is learned. High pitch loud sounds are just painful.

2. Some sound sequences are conventions. One learns to associate a meaning and perhaps an emotion with such tunes and modes. Essentially what we "feel" is learned. Such conventions will be culturally conditioned so a piece of music that brings tears in one place may have no such effect in another place.

Or a combination of the two.

Here is a related question to chew on. We regard a pure tone with frequency X as the "same" note as a pure tone of frequency 2*X (octave). Is this learned or is this physiologically "wired in"? I have wondered about this for a long time but I have not gotten a convincing answer to the question. Maybe you have heard or read something on the matter.

Bob Kolker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I know nothing about esthetic theories. What explanations have been offered that objectively account for the effects of music?

Allow me to hazard a guess:

1. There are "wired in" responses to certain sound sequences that trigger glandular and neurological reactions. For example high pitch screeching provokes a grit-the-teeth make-it-go-away aversive response. I don't think that is learned. High pitch loud sounds are just painful.

2. Some sound sequences are conventions. One learns to associate a meaning and perhaps an emotion with such tunes and modes. Essentially what we "feel" is learned. Such conventions will be culturally conditioned so a piece of music that brings tears in one place may have no such effect in another place.

Or a combination of the two.

Here is a related question to chew on. We regard a pure tone with frequency X as the "same" note as a pure tone of frequency 2*X (octave). Is this learned or is this physiologically "wired in"? I have wondered about this for a long time but I have not gotten a convincing answer to the question. Maybe you have heard or read something on the matter.

Bob Kolker

I have read that tests across many cultures, found that they could agree on what was sad music, and happy music. Some music makes you want to dance. So, here culture is not a factor, although there is no doubt that appreciation of music IS quite often dependent on what your brain has grown up with.

As regard your question; a doubling of the frequency results in harmony half the time. The sound waves of the higher frequency synchronize on every second oscillation with the lower frequency. So, in that way, they are the same note, except twice as many of them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I experience the sensation of sound with variable harmonic structure and variable volume. Sometimes I even tap my toes.

Bob Kolker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Here is a related question to chew on. We regard a pure tone with frequency X as the "same" note as a pure tone of frequency 2*X (octave). Is this learned or is this physiologically "wired in"? I have wondered about this for a long time but I have not gotten a convincing answer to the question. Maybe you have heard or read something on the matter.

Bob Kolker

That's a really good question. Music, from the teensy bit I've studied, is very mathematical. But I think the ability to recognize two octaves as the same note is physiological, by that I mean that without training, someone could recognize that two octaves of A share some quality that is distinct from other sounds.

Another interesting thing is whether the consonance or dissonance of two notes is physiological: I think it is. Speaking from a Physics standpoint, I'm pretty sure (from reading and just listening to my bass guitar) that the vibrations associated with dissonant notes are unstable, whereas the vibrations of the strings associated with consonant notes are more stable and correspond to a lower energy mode.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1. There are "wired in" responses to certain sound sequences that trigger glandular and neurological reactions...

2. Some sound sequences are conventions. One learns to associate a meaning and perhaps an emotion with such tunes and modes. Essentially what we "feel" is learned...

Or a combination of the two.

A very closely intertwined combination. Since man must learn to identify and place a unique conceptual tag on any given emotion, to that degree it is learned. But also, man can experience emotions as "automatic barometers" because it is part of his nature. I think it is very clear that the same can be applied to music. Western Tonality was developed in order to conform to and exploit certain metaphysical given aspects of man and nature: physiology, conceptual mentality, emotional mechanism, acoustical physics. Western Tonality allows for the greatest variation and nuance of expression of thoughts and emotions. So the composer with a firm grasp of it can choose very conciously how to "play endlessly upon our emotions".

Here is a related question to chew on. We regard a pure tone with frequency X as the "same" note as a pure tone of frequency 2*X (octave). Is this learned or is this physiologically "wired in"? I have wondered about this for a long time but I have not gotten a convincing answer to the question. Maybe you have heard or read something on the matter.

(This is a version of another I post I did on the topic.)

The curvature of the cochlea (the snail shell shaped part of the inner ear) is the reason humans can identify two pitches at a ratio of 2:1 as a strong unison sound and thus called the octave and furthermore the reason that both pitches have the same letter name in scales. This is a crucial fact in the intervallic structure of music. If the cochlea was a straight tube we couldn’t identify the octave as a unison sound and the musical alphabet would have to be organized differently (possibly with no repetition of letters). Studies have suggested that octave identification is learned (not surprising). But the point here is that the reason it can be learned is due to the cochlea.

After the 2:1 ratio of the octave, we cut it in half (split the octave in half) by a ratio of 1.5:1. This results in the fifth. Next is 1.25:1, which results in the major third, etc. This occurs because of the logarithmic nature of the major scale on a frequency scale. Human hearing is of course also very logarithmic in structure. Remember that the cochlea is not only curved but also a pattern of circular diminishing tubular shape (thus the snail shell analogy). The placement of the little hairs (cilia) on the tube walls is crucial because sound waves move these little objects and this movement is what triggers the nervous tissue that gets translated into electrically impulses that the brain identifies as “hearing sounds”. The overtone series is also logarithmic in nature with wider intervals at the bottom and with the intervals becoming progressively smaller as the pitches climb higher.

The Greek system with it's ratios was called Just Intonation. It was found to be limited it that one could not transpose from one key to the next. Those familar with the history of equal temperament tuning already know this story. The point is that even though the ratio theory had to be "fine tuned" it is still the basis for our tonal musical systems. Also, in equal temperament the ratios that still maintain the closest relationship to basic ratios the Greeks identified is of course the octave, fifth & third.

One of the basic applications of frequency ratio analysis of intervals is verification of the fact that the more consonant or “solid” sounding ratios are the lowest numerically or simplest. For example as ratios between notes in a melody & chord progressions get more complex, dissonance tension is built. As the ratios fall in complexity back to the more stable sounding consonant, simpler ratios tension is released into more consonant sounds.

As as example, this is "Ode to Joy" in major with basic chords:

http://www.truthagainsttheworld.com/MusicT...ojoyinmajor.mid

Since the melody only contains the first through fifth notes of the scale, the only note we have to alter is the third (lowered a hald-step to a minor third) if we want to change the meldoy from major to minor. But what a difference that one note makes:

http://www.truthagainsttheworld.com/MusicT...ojoyinminor.mid

Hopefully by listening to these examples one can clearly hear the difference between the "joyful" effect the major scale creates & the "sorrowful" effect the minor scale creates.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I know nothing about esthetic theories. What explanations have been offered that objectively account for the effects of music?

Here's my thought: The normal use of hearing is to perceive entities. When you hear birds, water, a squeaky door--these are all learned associations of the sound the entity makes with the entity, when we hear the characteristic sound, we mentally grasp the entity in much the same way as when we see it visually, the entity is virtually perceived, almost as if we were seeing it with our eyes. It is important to underscore the fact that unlike sight where the perception is direct, with sound the association is indirect and learned; we actually don't perceive the entity, it's only as if we did, because we learned that that entity makes a certain sound.

A "characteristic sound" *means* to us what we have associated it with, it is akin to a concept. I think music exploits this mechanism: A "characteristic sound" is a certain sequence of pitches delivered in a certain rhythm; to be able to identify the "song" of a bird is to be able to grasp music. The way we know that a bird is singing is that we have seen one sing before and remembered the association. We also make causal connections between the nature of the sound and the nature of the entity. A deeper sound might be associated with a larger entity; a bird singing in a different manner might imply that it's wounded; a door squeaking at a different pitch might indicate that it is being opened slow or fast. So it's not merely an association of a sound with an entity (like a word is associated with a concept); once we have learned how it varies and why, the specific nature of the sound indicates the specific nature of the entity's attributes.

Music is a human creation, but to qualify as such it must conform to our natural ability to associate entities and their attributes with characteristic sounds: in all music the patterns of the piece repeat themselves throughout with certain variations and embelishments; it would not be music if it did not. Just as a bird would not be a bird if there was not a certain similarity between all the times the bird sang. Hearing a bird and grasping its existence and identity is the same process as hearing music and grasping its meaning.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What I experience can vary by the type of music. I have very eclectic tastes, and I grew up in a musical family, which has added to my experience with music. My dad is a jazz musician, and I grew up with him turning the TV off and the music on. He played in the “Jazz Knights” in the United States Military Academy Band for most of my time growing up, so I was surrounded by other families with fathers and mothers in the bands. I’d go over to my friend’s house next door and classical music would be playing. To stand in the courtyard of the neighborhood, you would hear people practicing their instruments. Saxophones, flutes, and clarinets; French horns and trumpets; xylophones, pianos and drums; these were the sounds I grew up with. The music was almost as much a part of my family as my parents and sister. Some of my favorite memories are going to Trophy Point in the summers, an outdoor performance area overlooking the Hudson River, listening to my dad and his band. During the concerts you could literally watch the sun go down as the music played, sitting on a blanket in the grass and surrounded by history (Trophy Point is filled with monuments to our military history). Honestly it’s an experience I have much more fondness for now in the remembering that I did as a kid.

So I do sometimes listen to jazz, and I’ll think of those cool nights with trees blowing in the breeze and the music in the air. Or I’ll think of the records my dad gave me when I was little, and listening to them on my first player in my room. When I listen to classical music sometimes I’ll think of my friend Peter, whose dad was a trumpet player in the classical band. Most of the time, however, what I experience is like riding the music, feeling the notes like old friends. Also I played the alto sax from 5th grade through 12th, so sometimes I may feel the music as if I were performing it myself.

I also like quite a lot of popular music, although I’ve never cared for rap. When I read, I’m usually listening to either the radio or mp3s. Later when I hear one of the songs I’d been listening to, I may remember a scene from the book I was reading. As I said my tastes are very eclectic. One of my favs though is Billy Joel.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites