Re: Emotional Association with Structure/Patterns/Sounds

Subject: Re: Emotional Association with Structure/Patterns/Sounds
From: Eliot Handelman (
Date: Wed Sep 28 2005 - 23:09:28 EDT

Morgan Sutherland wrote:

>Could somebody point me in the direction of research/books/ideas about
>why certain structures and patterns resonate on different emotional
>levels to different people. Questions like, why are some chords "sad"
>and others "scary". Why do we like the stander
>verse-chorus-verse...... structure and all that jazz.
>I feel like there should be a significant amount of research in this area.

The short answer is that we don't know why chords seem sad or scary, or
why people
like music at all.

 Of course there's
a great deal of research on music and emotion -- you could check out
Stephen McAdam's work
in measuring "tension" in a piece of music by rigging up an auditorium
with little pads that
people can press to communicate the kind of tension they feel in
response to the music. This
is probably cutting edge at presesnt -- but you can see how far away it
is from answering
questions like "why does this chord feel sad."

There's also a certain amount of brain-scan stuff happening (especially
here in Montreal). You
might find Dan Levitin's work an interesting way of trying to penetrate
into the mysteries
of which part of the brain lights up when we're listening to something
we like. Brain
scan, however, doesn't tell us HOW something is happening. It tells us
WHERE it's
happening (or that something IS happening.)

The second part of your question is "why do people like standrad song
forms," and
this is also complicated I think. Someone could say "well you learn it
and it's obviously
simple, etc," but this doesn't explain why we LIKE it. A certain music
cognition person
said that we like things when they're "optimally" complex, ie neither
too simple
nor too complicated, but I find this answer very unsatisfactory, since
it neglects to
say why we like anything at all. I ruminated today on my show about how the
answer may involve something like the biological basis of children's
games, which I believe
permeate all art, and which might reflect on the structure of our
consciousness. This
gets into the area of evolutionary psychology, which is about the idea
that our brains
evolved as they did through selection for various social strategies: for
example, that we're
adapatd to reasoning since it's advantageous in detecting liars and
cheats-- a problem which
we haven't yet been able to solve in the form of an effective spam filter.

So the answer to why do we like ABA or whatever may look like this:
because it reflects a
certain kind of social behavior that we're genetically programmed for.
The game has
 significance in all areas of life: I was reflecting on
Freud's discussion of the "little hans" game of "fort-da" but now I'm
getting a bit tired
and so I'll have to leave with that.

-- eliot


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