Are we just lab rats?

Are we just lab rats?

Fascinating article in the WSJ about how certain music sets off physical reactions, like chills and goosebumps, and keeps listeners coming back for more.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203646004577213010291701378.html?mod=WSJ_hp_mostpop_read

From the article: "Chill-provoking passages, they found, shared at least four features. They began softly and then suddenly became loud. They included an abrupt entrance of a new "voice," either a new instrument or harmony. And they often involved an expansion of the frequencies played. In one passage from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 (K. 488), for instance, the violins jump up one octave to echo the melody. Finally, all the passages contained unexpected deviations in the melody or the harmony. Music is most likely to tingle the spine, in short, when it includes surprises in volume, timbre and harmonic pattern."

The article considers Adele’s pop hit Someone Like You as a "textbook example."

Do certain ITM tunes have similar devices? Is there a particular sequence of notes that’s somehow more compelling than most? And do we have any choice but to like them, because our brains start dumping dopamine?

For me, one example is the B part of Star of the County Down, the waltz not the reel. I know this tune has reached cliche status for many, but I can’t help it. Goosebumps every time. At least now I know why.

Re: Are we just lab rats?

eek!

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Re: Are we just lab rats?

The first two bars of the third part of Trip to Durrow. And about a thousand other places in Beethoven and Mozart. How about those dancing violins in the coda of the first movement of the Eroica?

Re: Are we just lab rats?

Though, frankly, I wouldn’t like to think that anyone is contriving via music to elicit particular emotions in me. Couldn’t really see what he was on about with that Adele bit. Maybe I’m a bit biased against her because of my suspicion that she may be a Spurs supporter.

Re: Are we just lab rats?

This is *such* a poorly written article about music. It looks like Doucleff is a fan of Adele, and in her rush to show everybody just how much she loves her has misunderstood and misapplied the elements of Sloboda’s research. Just a really, really facile analysis and really not worth the time.

Who is running the editorial show over at WSJ these days, anyway?

Re: Are we just lab rats?

Steve, I agree. I don’t want to think that composers are contriving. But the possibility that they could be, and that it’d be effective, is interesting to me.

Upsetter, I didn’t have the same reaction to this article. The reporter didn’t apply Sloboda’s research to Adele’s song on her own. Dr. Martin Guhn did too. The usage of Someone Like You as an exemplar is supported with quotes from Guhn.

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I didn’t think it was a particularly good example to dwell on. Pity he didn’t quote the Mozart section he kept on about. It’s one of my favourite pieces.

Re: Are we just lab rats?

I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Two strings is still one more than you really need.

In the first half of the 20th century one string fiddles were fairly common. They might even do some fiddlers a bit of good by forcing them to move their hand about a bit.

http://www.pamelasmusic.co.uk/images/Forsale/bowed/Violinodd/Vod153.htm
http://www.pamelasmusic.co.uk/images/Forsale/bowed/Violinodd/Vod059.htm
http://strung-up.blogspot.com/2008/05/one-string-phono-fiddle.html

Re: Are we just lab rats?

sorry, wrong thread.

Re: Are we just lab rats?

I have just spent several lifetimes watching a play-through of Someone Like You on You-tube.

It struck me that poor Adele was the lab rat, or anyway that she’s been programmed for those movements and vocalisations by torture and being stood on hot bricks and stuff rather than by fervid enthusiasm of the heart. I felt rather sorry for her.

Her (or the composer’s) devices did not move me to irregular motions of the flesh or spirit. Rather, they put me in mind of being in this or that County Durham pub in the early afternoon when stuff just like that - from whatever decade - keens or hisses out of the loudspeakers without relief and turns the whole place into a vestibule of the undead. I suppose the idea is to inhibit the complement of diners and psychotics from going at each other and the bar staff with samurai swords, by making them feel so gloomy and mournful that they just sink into themselves, pretend they’re somewhere else, and drink.

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I’d guess the reason to use the Adele song as the primary example is because it’s popular right now. Makes for a topical story, being published a few days before the Grammys and all.

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Nicholas, such the cynic! I personally couldn’t attest to Adele’s motivations, or those of the fella who cowrote the song.

Regardless, it’s a hugely popular piece that resonates with many who listen to it. And it shares some traits with other pieces that have a similar effect, regardless of genre. That’s what peaked my interest and let me to wonder whether any Irish tunes share these qualities.

Re: Are we just lab rats?

*led me to wonder…

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What a woefully incomplete article and rehash of stuff well known by those in the classical world. I have to giggle at the idea of the appoggiatura being the key. Especially since that was once known as the "sob" to some composers. And of course the composer’s are contriving. If they are any good at all they know what works to move listeners in the style they compose in. Think about movie scores. That is what it is all about, wrenching the audience around. Everything from the dim7 chord at a moment of sudden angst (think radio soap operas and hammond organs) to the sobbing strings in the love scene to the long and gradually crescendo-ing low pitch and rhythm passage that signals something is about to happen as in Jaws (perhaps the dim7 chord 🙂 ). But the same thing is true in almost every style of music with the possible exception of traditional song and dance. And, I’m not so sure it doesn’t show up there, but just that it shows up less often.

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I haven’t read the article, but when I show my friends the difference between consonance and dissonance, they freak out when I play an Augmented 4th interval harmonically.

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It sounds like someone is trying to wrap some science around tricks that arrangers and composers have known for centuries. This doesn’t have that much application to session playing, but I think about this kind of thing whenever we are arranging songs for our group, start sparse and add elements, add a different instrumental between verses, find interesting harmonies for the choruses, put different instruments under the singer in different verses, put a twist at the end. When you are performing, evoking an emotional response from the audience is pretty much what you want to achieve.

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It sounds like a journalist who has happened on something that is new to them or their general readership and has decided to generate some copy out of it.

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Plenty of traditional tunes have a ‘hook’, though. Their composers and/or performers must have been aware these could be played to energise or impress people.

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I think the composer is mostly trying to appeal to themselves. If they like the way something sounds the casual listener will probably like it as well. They are searching inward rather than reaching outward when they write music. it just so happens that we are able to understand the inner workings of a composers mind in some sense by listening to their music, so it allows us to connect in ways that we can’t with other languages.

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I occurs to me that one of the "contrivances" in trad music is the choice of key changes from tune to tune in performance sets. Great for dancers and audiences alike.

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"Though, frankly, I wouldn’t like to think that anyone is contriving via music to elicit particular emotions in me."

"I think the composer is mostly trying to appeal to themselves. They are searching inward rather than reaching outward when they write music."

Sorry, but this naivete is in line with the born-yesterday reporter.
If you are really sincere, I have a nice bridge for sale…..

Can you mention anything humanmade in the arts that is *not* contrived to play on your emotions? (If so, I wdn’t want to partake.) Speeches, theater, musics of all genres, sitcoms, visual arts, food, drink, packaging, advertising, stories, movies, sports…..even an occasional "I love you".

The pretty tunes you play at sessions are emotionless? Sorry to hear it. You like them (emotional response) because they are pretty (an emotional, unscientific assertion). How many ugly tunes are played? If so, they would elicit our disgust emotion.

We hope you and your mates don’t play without emotion.

Composers who write for themselves only are few - and guess what - they write to appeal to their own emotions, or they wdn’t bother.

I hope that, by now, you don’t want my bridge…..
For which I thank you.
vlnplyr