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Language Of Music Really Is Universal

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posted on Mar, 21 2009 @ 10:49 AM

ScienceDaily (Mar. 20, 2009) — Native African people who have never even listened to the radio before can nonetheless pick up on happy, sad, and fearful emotions in Western music, according to a new report published online on March 19th in Current Biology. The result shows that the expression of those three basic emotions in music can be universally recognized, the researchers said.

Source here.

I find this quite interesting, as music can be expressed by math. What I find amusing and amazing is that this is REALLY complex math we are talking about, and it seems brains are wired to recognize it somehow. Any ideas, opinions?

posted on Mar, 21 2009 @ 10:59 AM
link what's the math equation to make a hit song? lol

interesting article. I wonder what Western music they played for those tribal people.

posted on Mar, 21 2009 @ 12:02 PM

Originally posted by rawsom
I find this quite interesting, as music can be expressed by math. What I find amusing and amazing is that this is REALLY complex math we are talking about, and it seems brains are wired to recognize it somehow. Any ideas, opinions?

Sure. The brain does an amazing job of analyzing the pressure waves striking the eardrum for their informative content. What's happening is essentially Fourier analysis (yes, that's maths, pretty difficult maths too) with all kinds of other factors like source location, depth and distance perception, Doppler effects and so on making the equations even more complex. The brain does all this by, I believe, analyzing the individual signals posted in by the nerves attached to each of the little hairs in our cochlea. What happens in the brain after that is pretty much anyone's guess. There must be a hell of a lot of sorting and comparing going on.

Unbelievably complex stuff. Probably analogue too, rather than digital, though I couldn't say that for sure. Mindboggling if it is. Let me see what I can dig up.

As to the study, it sounds a bit ad hoc to me. Still, the conclusion is hardly surprising. A lot of the emotional tone in music probably comes from the evocation of natural sounds to which we tend to have automatic reactions, such as the roar of a predator, the moaning of the night wind or the chirruping of a bird. Then consider the human voice: here you have an instrument that makes a wide range of sounds whose emotional freight is instantly declared to the auditor: it croons, it murmurs, it coaxes, it snarls, it rages, it screams with pain or whimpers with fear. And many instruments, such as the saxophone shown on the article page, are usually played in such a way as to mimic these expressions of the human voice.

So yes, I'm hardly surprised that people react to the same music in fairly similar ways, no matter what culture they belong to.

However, there are cultural differences. In Western music, it is conventional to regard music in minor keys as melancholy or contemplative, while tunes in a major key are thought of as joyous or martial. This distinction is not universal. The elaborate mood conventions of Indian classical music, where each mode or rag evokes very specific associations, are also pretty specific to that culture. There are plenty of other examples.

And then, of course, there's good old personal taste.

Complicated stuff, music. Talking about it in words is fun but it ties you up in knots. Music is best understood by listening to it and playing it, I feel. Oh, and composing it too, if one had the talent. Sadly, I don't.

[edit on 21/3/09 by Astyanax]

posted on Mar, 21 2009 @ 01:02 PM
To me, what's interesting is their reaction to it even though they couldn't understand the words (only an assumption here), yet the emotion of the song still got through.

This is pretty much the same music principle I lived with throughout my life until somewhere around my mid-twenties. I was completely oblivious to the poems and lyrics to every song I had ever heard until I realized around age 24 that there was even more to be enjoyed and savored than I had previously been aware. My theory is that I was pretty much bred this way having played musical instruments from a very young age (6-7), but this study also confirms my own belief that musical tone, melody, harmony, rhythm, tuning and nuances like staccato, forte, pianissimo, crescendo, allegro all actually lend to the evocation of certain feelings deep within the person absorbing it - leaving the lyrics and poem seemingly on the surface as pure bonus material meant to supplement the style of music.

The first time I ever heard Every Breath You Take by the Police, I thought it had an exceptional tone quality meant to make me feel comfortable and relaxed. Not as much as Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd (there's a guy who knows nuance), but still, it had a slightly different feel - a fresh kinda feeling - a unique tone quality seemingly meant to afford a certain novelty that people need from time to time. But after I started becoming aware of actual story lines, plots and pure lyrical poetry I listened to it again, and to my surprise, it forced me to do a little soul searching (who had I ever dedicated this song to or put on a cut CD(?) /embarrassment), and research into what Sting's main objective into the song was. It's truly a great song by the way; you just need to be highly aware of the person you'd be dedicating it to. If you both love and trust each other, it's awesome (80's), but if one loves and one doesn't it can be quite detrimental to your objectives (lol).

This is only one example, however my point is simply this: I too believe that music is, has been, and will always be a universal language meant to provoke mood, feeling and emotion on a grandeur scale and afforded to every level of consciousness and sentience by it's subtle nuance and universal harmonic equation. A great song is any song that would be unbearable to never hear again, and I can think of a plethora of songs I wouldn't mind broadcasting into space indicating some level of our evolutionary progression into the universe for others to hear.

Indeed, if there are other species of life "out there", I'm sure their music will sound different, but I assure you, it will have the same mood evoking, thought provoking, emotion producing effects that ours does...if not more unthinkable properties we have yet to break the threshold of consciousness or capacity to understand. Music has always been subtle, subjective and subconscious - something for our inner being to admire, but I believe that when the pure equation and mathematics of it is fully understood, the human race will afford itself another major evolutionary jump of consciousness and universal understanding.

Isn't it amazing how only 12 varying tones can be put together in so many ways and still be something never quite heard before? (This is actually a highly narrow-minded trick question, but I believe it gets the message across to my truly intended recipient...your subconscious.)

posted on Mar, 22 2009 @ 02:26 AM
I cannot really reply anything, you people go way beyond my understanding of music and its effects on large scale. Propably because I never had the chance to study it, my parents thought it was pointless. I disagreed, and couldn't get my will through. Of that I am a bit bitter, but the rest is pretty much ok life. Music was what helped me to get through it, I could always listen to it.

This whole study is provable also by the fact that you can find people who are similar to you by participating in online communities that share same kind of taste for music. You will quickly notice that people tend to get same moods. I'm not sure if taste affects at all.. What do you guys think? If somebody just doesn't want to be "controlled"/affected by music considering certain moods, but does get them, and that is why it doesn't fit their tastes very well?

I don't like death metal, speed metal or hard metal for that matter, because those are too depressing for me. Other people want to be affected by depressive music, so they like that kind of music. I don't want to, I want to be affected by other feelings. Thus, music can be universal although people prefer to be affected by different moods.

posted on Mar, 23 2009 @ 03:28 AM
reply to post by rawsom

If you're interested, I have some links for you.

How little gray cells process sound: they're really a series of computers
A quick, layman-friendly news report on recent research in hearing, conducted mostly on animals (bats are popular). Apparently the brain uses parallel processing by large numbers of neurons to extract information from the sonic environment.

Hearing and sound: hearing provides a temporal Fourier analysis, as vision does a spatial one.
A detailed but not at all difficult description of how we extract information from pressure changes in the air around us (i.e. sound). Starts with the structure of the ear and moves inwards from there. All the basic information you need is here.

Maastricht University researchers produce 'neural fingerprint' of speech recognition.
They mapped brain activity associated with hearing and showed that each individual speech sound, when heard, produces a characteristic pattern of activity, a 'neural fingerprint'.

Hearing, Speech and Language
An entire university course on the subject. Only if you're really, really keen.

posted on Mar, 23 2009 @ 03:46 AM
Agreed, universal, indeed

As soon I seen your post, I remembered this:

Music is an interstellar language from a highly insignificant planet one of nine in our system which sails through time and space till the next one,

the next


Big Bang...

Yello - Solar Driftwood

posted on Mar, 23 2009 @ 03:51 AM
Thank you.

I will look into this in more detail :-)

posted on Mar, 23 2009 @ 03:57 AM
reply to post by lagnar

I was completely oblivious to the poems and lyrics to every song I had ever heard until I realized around age 24 that there was even more to be enjoyed and savored than I had previously been aware. My theory is that I was pretty much bred this way having played musical instruments from a very young age (6-7), but this study also confirms my own belief that musical tone, melody, harmony, rhythm, tuning and nuances like staccato, forte, pianissimo, crescendo, allegro all actually lend to the evocation of certain feelings deep within the person absorbing it - leaving the lyrics and poem seemingly on the surface as pure bonus material meant to supplement the style of music.

I am a writer by profession and a musician for love. The above paragraph struck a very deep chord in me. I think it may have been a #9sus11 or something equally dissonant.

Obviously - being a writer and a lifelong reader - my interest in song lyrics developed in parallel with my love of music. Moreover, I used to be a choirboy. Obviously, I was conscious of the lyrics of the hymns and anthems I sang.

When I first began playing in bands, some time in my late teens, the first thing I noticed was that most other musicians didn't have a clue what the songs they played were about. Most of the time, they simply didn't listen to the lyrics at all. In the fullness of time, I married a bass player who is also an avid reader (in the literary, not musical sense). To my amazement, even a person as steeped in words as my (now ex-) wife rarely bothered to listen to the words in the songs she played.

I suppose this is the moment for some simpleminded person to come along and say that 'music is right-brain while words are left-brain', or 'words are from Mars and music is from Venus', or similar guff. Anyone who's kept up with the current state of neuroscientific research knows the truth is far more complicated than that. Still, it does seem that musicians are rarely gifted with great verbal skills. And I can testify from personal experience that writers aren't the world's greatest musicians, either.

Interesting what you say about Every Breath You Take. As you're probably aware, the song is basically an updated version of the Lieber & Stoller classic, Stand By Me, which is based on what I call the Prom Night Slow Dance chord progression: I-III-IV-V. This is a conventional, indeed, cliché progression which also underpins songs like Blue Moon and Love Hurts and evokes - in most cases - conventional, indeed cliché emotions.

But Every Breath... offers something a little different. Instead of going I-III-IV-V-I, it goes I-III-IV-V-III. Instead of a nice, comforting, conventional modulation to the tonic, every stanza ends on a creepy, insinuating minor third, serving notice that something isn't quite right here. The happy Fifties world of prom nights and wiener cookouts evoked by that chord progression is being subverted by something darker. Didn't you notice that, and didn't it make you listen to the lyrics more closely?

posted on Mar, 23 2009 @ 11:57 PM
There are additional theories to the way we interact with music.
Here is a table which suggests a consonant effect between pitch temp which can even be associated with color. People who associate color with music are thought to have synesthesia.

My favorite concept though is the Pi and Fibonacci sequence in music which has its own thread on here

I suppose music that made them feel fearful would have use dissonance, atonal melody and awkward rhythm. I also agree with not having an ear for death metal and the like, it really is an acquired taste.

posted on Mar, 24 2009 @ 03:57 AM

Originally posted by JRSB
Here is a table which suggests a consonant effect between pitch temp which can even be associated with color.

I don't know what 'pitch temp' is. As far as I am aware there is no such term in musical theory or psychoacoustics. Do you mean the frequency of beats when two notes of nearly equal pitch are sounded together? I have never heard of this being associated with colour.

However, the association of musical pitches with colours has quite a long history, some of which is described on a different page of the site you linked to.

'Pitch' and 'colour' are two words with the same meaning. The meaning is 'frequency' - the number of cycles or vibrations a wave goes through in a fixed period of time, usually a second. 'Pitch' is the frequency of a sound wave. 'Colour' is the frequency of a light wave. It's as simple as that.

However, direct comparisons between pitch and colour are problematic. As you can see from the link above, people who tried to match the two could never agree on what colour to assign to each pitch. There's a reason for that, which I'll come to in a second.

Before I go there, I think it's important to remind ourselves that the people who tried to make these correspondences were not scientists. Most were musicians. I don't know whether they even knew that pitch and colour were examples of the same phenomenon, frequency. The Fourier mentioned on the page is Charles, an obscure socialist philosopher, not Joseph, the physicist in whose honour the Fourier series and Fourier transform are named. A strange coincidence, that the father of frequency analysis should have the same name as a man interested in relating pitches to colours! Odder still, they were contemporaries in eighteenth-century France.

* * *

The reason why direct comparisons between pitch and colour are difficult is because the brain interprets them in completely different ways.

Our eyes see colours rather like a TV camera sees them. A rain of photons of different frequencies (colours) falls upon them. But we have sensors for only three colours (or rather colour bands, conventionally labelled red, blue and green), which give off a signal when photons of the appropriate frequency impinge upon them. These signals are then 'mixed' in the brain to give us the wide spectrum of colours we see. So, to identify different colours in different parts of the visual field, the brain has to synthesize the signals from three kinds of sensor.

Our ears, on the other hand, receive only one signal: a pattern of varying air pressure against the eadrum. Your cochlear hairs analyze this wave into different frequencies, which your brain then sorts into groups it labels as different 'sounds' in your environment.

So seeing is dependent on synthesis, hearing on analysis. I'm oversimplyifying, but that's more or less it.

Synaesthesia certainly exists; I've experienced it myself, back in the day when I used to treat my body as a chemistry lab. And it's as easy as pie to convert pitch into colour and vice versa using the right electronic equipment. But the assignment of colours to pitches is entirely arbitrary. I could design my electronic synaesthesia machine to flash purple light when it heard a bass tone and red when it heard a treble tone, implying an inverse relationship between colour and pitch, or hook it up so that bass was red and treble purple (direct relationship) or just at random - bass is green, midrange is purple, treble is blue, and so on. In the end, it's a meaningless correspondence.

I suppose music that made them feel fearful would have use dissonance, atonal melody and awkward rhythm.

Dissonance - that is to say, interfering tones or harmonics - is a characteristic of nearly all natural sounds, including the ones we find soothing, such as a gentle wind in the trees or waves breaking on a beach. The only consonant sounds are those that have a 'musical' timbre to them: birdsong, say, or the sound of telephone wires strummed by the wind. White noise, the sound you hear when your radio or TV is switched on but not tuned to a station, is the most dissonant sound there is, yet no-one finds it frightening. On the other hand, the blast of a heavy truck's air horn or the sound of a police siren can both be very frightening if heard under the right conditions, though both are musical sounds.

Similarly, there is nothing particularly scary about atonal melodies. They can sound unpleasant, dull or meaningless, but if you want a really scary tune, go and listen to Mussorgsky, or Nine Inch Nails, or the first few seconds of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.

Awkward, jerky rhythms are never scary; they're either intriguing or just annoying. It is a pounding, insistent rhythm that terrifies: the steamhammer, the piledriver, the sound of marching boots. But the scariest sound of all is a single, loud, sudden sound very close to you.

As you may discern from these examples, it is circumstances and associations that give emotional weight to sound, far more than its musical attributes, if any.

posted on Mar, 27 2009 @ 11:26 AM
reply to post by rawsom

Actually a lot of western contemporary music is based on african music. It's not very surprising, though I haven't read the full article yet. And yes, it does reach the human being on a subconscious level, though I'm sure everyone does not feel the same things while listening the same song. I'm a musician too and when asked, lots of people say completely different things about a given song of mine, emotionally speaking. Even different things that I felt when I made them.

posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 02:16 AM
reply to post by Astyanax

I certainly did notice the "something darker" about Every Breath, in fact, if I remember right, at that age, it's probably what attracted me to it most - the "off" bit. And yes, after you learn of its origins, it's much easier to envision his eloquence. I'm obviously nowhere near your level of understanding, and I've been thinking about actually checking this out myself, but would you have knowledge about any potential mathematical relationship between frequencies that harmonize - like the Golden Ratio to vision? Obviously it would seem to be some kind of logarithmic equation, but is there a point on the graph where every note could harmonize with every other note (seemingly somewhere near the tip), and what kind of technology would have to be employed to produce such a sound?

By far, harmony is what I notice first about anything I hear...maybe it's a behavioral defect, but I catch myself harmonizing with a fan or car motor or or irritating whines all the time - a natural propensity to relieve irritation, perhaps. I wear headphones as to not disturb people around me with the decibel level at which I listen to music (I must hear everything it seems), but my wife catches me humming harmony all the time. I don't actually hear myself all too well, but the natural vibration in my head just seems to fit so perfectly that I can take for granted my tone and tuning as long as I pay a minuscule amount of attention to the feeling of the resonance...something I'm sure you're well aware of having been in choir. But it's like a nervous tick. I have no control. And when it seems I've got it under control and I let my guard down it starts again completely spontaneously. Something in my soul and in my subconscious compels me to harmonize with everything I hear. Insert some Allison Krause, and I'm done til she is.

I must tell you, in case you thought I meant to degrade lyrics in some way, that because I've expanded my musical appreciation to lyrics, music has never been better, and I certainly do feel I've somehow robbed myself of the first 24 years of my existence. How much better could my life have been had I listened to the artist's words? Terrible loss, indeed. I'll never discount any genre of music as I believe every sound has multiple accompanying harmonics and even the most distorted sound can have that natural resonance (akin to Tipler's perhaps(?)) I admire so zealously. I must say tho, it's fun catching up...there's still plenty of novelty left in music to keep my wife telling me to shut up for another 15 years. lol

Not to digress much, but would you be aware of some condition that requires a person to employ background sound, with the inevitable outcome of not doing so being the unbearable ringing of silence (it's the same sound you hear in your head when you push your lower jaw out to far)? I must use a fan while I sleep if for no other reason than to provide that constant, white, dissonant background sound. I'm assuming it's simply keeping my eardrums from stagnancy and decay...hyeah, I'm really more sure it has to do with having the volume up so high for so long listening to every nuance in everything I hear.

Sorry, I'm not up on the science, but if it's any measure of adherence to the cause of spreading music to every soul, I'm certainly up on the feel, mood, propensity development and behavioral aspects that music certainly has always had the inherent ability to provide.

EDIT: Spelling

[edit on 28-3-2009 by lagnar]

posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 02:58 AM
Just to say something on topic, I believe that future technologies will finally enable scientists to come up with an algorithm of perfect music. That will then destroy all meaning of artistic impressions as machines can create songs for us to listen to. I will wait for that day to happen, and when it does, i think humanity has lost a long time companion and will never rise again, until that alrogithm is destroyed by pressure of civil unrest.

But this is just my wild speculation about what happens when you take away something that is dear to all of us.

posted on Mar, 31 2009 @ 11:31 PM
reply to post by rawsom

I don't think any of the posts in this thread are off topic. It's a big subject you've opened, one with many aspects and dimensions. What exactly did you have in mind to discuss, then?

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