Why music gives us so many emotions

Why music gives us so many emotions

The music is the most abstract art and has the most concrete effects: with sounds, nothing but sounds, it puts men in a trance or makes them walk in step, it makes us dance or cryemotion. Precisely because it is the art of sounds. The sound universe is indeed emotional from the outset, because the natural function of sounds, for living beings, is an alert function. The sounds inform him about what is happening, they constantly wake up his biological alarm system. These permanent changes in the state of the world are the source of all emotion.

This listening tension is followed by the relaxation of a return to calm, regularity – or silence. This opposition of tension in the face of unexpected events and relaxation in the face of expected or familiar events is the foundation of all musical emotion. With one essential difference: when we hear music, we stop hearing each sound as generated by its natural cause (as when we are suddenly warned of an event), we hear a single sound process, as if the sounds were caused by each other.

Thus, the series of collisions of the train against the rails is no longer heard as a series of warnings (the train leaves), but as a single rhythm: ta-ta-tomta-ta-tometc.

A self-sufficient universe

Sounds have lost their functional value, they are heard for themselves, they acquire musical value. The sound universe is therefore self-sufficient, there are no visible objects or even of lyrics. (Most of the music composed in the world is accompanied by lyrics, but to highlight the emotional value specific to the music and not to confuse it with that of the lyrics, we will only take examples of instrumental music.)

In any sound event, we can distinguish between the event itself (it happens, tam!) and its quality (it is low or high, for example). The two aspects have distinct effects on us: rather physical in one case (’emotional’ effects), rather spiritual in the other (emotional effects).

Music can move us if the sequence of events is regular: a beat for example (pom-pom-pom), a measure (pom-popom, pom-popom), or a rhythm (regular sequence of irregular cells, tagada- tsoin-tsoin, tagada-tsoin-tsoin). We’ll stamp our feet, we’ll clap our hands, we’ll fuss alone, we will dance even in pairs if the measure is marked and allows each to anticipate the movements of the other.

These emotions on which
we don’t put words

Even if physical and emotional effects are often mixed, the strictly emotional effects are rather due to the relationships between the pitches of the notes and their melodic or harmonic effects. It is necessary to distinguish between two main types of musical emotions: “qualified” emotions (sadnessgaiety, serenity, worry, angeretc.) and “unqualified” emotions (“this music moves me”).

The former have long been studied by psychologists. They highlighted the relationships between different musical factors (slow or fast tempo, regular rhythm or not, major, minor or other mode, attacks, etc.) and different emotional climates. There is a fairly good cross-cultural universality of basic emotions, determined by two oppositions which are affect (cheerful/sad) and dynamics (restless/calm), as well as by their different combinations.

Thereby, the same movie sequence shot will change meaning according to the climate created by the music that supports it. We go so far as to attribute certain emotional traits to the music itself: for example, we say that it is happy – which seems to be an abuse of language (only a living being can be happy or sad), but this can be explained easily: she moves like a cheerful person, with great rapid leaps, harmonious chords, etc.

More opaque at first sight are the unqualified musical emotions. Let’s first eliminate the purely subjective emotion, that which music provokes in such and such a person because listening to it has been associated with such and such an experience. It is simply due to the associationist work memory – this is what can lead us to say: “Do you hear, darling? It’s our song!”

The properly aesthetic emotion, on the other hand, is that which music sometimes provokes when we are content to listen to it for its own sake. It is aroused in us by what we hear in it – for example by what is called, too vaguely, its “beauty”. Often the two types of emotions, qualified and unqualified, mingle: we hear with delight that beautiful music is sad. It is the delicious pleasure of tears.

To be in harmony with the world

The alchemy of aesthetic emotion obviously varies according to the music and according to individual tastes or moods. However, there are constants.

There is no musical emotion without an aesthetic attitude. You have to be “all listening”, “nothing but listening”, so to speak. Emotion can then arise from attention to the expressiveness of the melodic line. We sometimes hear there as a voice which speaks, which confides, which questions, in short which would express its personal emotions (according to a theory going back to Rousseau).

In classical music, it is often the part of the interpreter, its imperceptible pauses or accelerations, its crescendos and decrescendos, its accentuations, in short, its way of “phrasing” as an actor “sets the tone”. But less “expressive” music can be aesthetically stunning: the pleasure of a fugue is born from the auditory understanding of the intertwining of the thousand internal causalities that intertwine there and, even more archaic, from the recognition of the same motif which returns, more or less transformed, shifted , modulated, as the child that we were recognized with wonder the return of a familiar tune.

Music is a series of linked events that we understand as such. So there are two types. There are those that can be called “watchmaking”, which tend towards stability, self-reproduction and whose climate tends to minimize internal tensions so as not to have to constantly soothe them.

The emotion they create is the one we feel when we feel in harmony with a world whose course we would like to stop in order to be able to contemplate it. This is, for example, the climate of certain ragas (where the permanence of a drone expresses the hoped-for permanence), of Gregorian chant, of certain “planatory” electronic music, or today of that ofArvo Part.

Create internal tensions to better soothe them

But ordinary aesthetic emotions are produced by music that can be called “thermodynamic”, because it tends on the contrary to permanently create internal tensions in order to appease them and thus feed their own movement. This is the case with most Western or African music, whether tonal or modal, scholarly or popular.

Each part of the musical discourse is made up of tensions (harmonics, melodic, rhythmic) leading to relaxation (a perfect chord, a tonic, a strong beat, a repetition, etc.). The tension is the unexpected part of the music which is appeased by the expected return to a firm and reassuring base. Each tension-relaxation opposition can be inserted into another tension-relaxation opposition, so that one expects, in sentences or complex movements, appeasements locally underpinned by other tensions.

Musical emotion is made of the perception of all these deferred tensions. Because music whose unfolding would be totally unpredictable would remain opaque to us: it would no longer be heard except as a chaotic series of sounds. Conversely, predictable music causes us no emotion: “Brother Jacques”, we liked it… a long time ago. Today, nothing is happening.

The real without the real

Emotion is therefore infinitely variable, but obeys a constant law: music moves us all the more because, in its unfolding, each of its events seems to us the most unexpected possible when it occurs and the most retrospectively predictable as soon as it occurs. it happened.

Less unforeseen in the present means that we hear something mechanical in the music, it seems to us devoid of inventiveness: the emotion drops. Less retrospective predictability means that we hear less internal necessity in the music and that its unfolding seems less clear to us due to its internal causalities: the emotion drops. But according to the sensitivity of each, according to his habits or his education, we will favor the foreseeable in the present, a little more mechanical, or the unforeseeable in the past, a little more complex.

This is how we find in the art of sounds the infinite variety of emotions that real events can cause us, but purified of their reality and transfigured by the power of art.

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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