Saturday 10 October 2015

Herby Widmaier and Gerald Merceron: On Music [no download]

Once again science gives us a non-explanation for the joy of music in the new scientist: the fact it's able to trigger the release of opioids in the brain, much as we have heard regarding exercise, sex, drugs, etc.  Is this a satisfying explanation to anyone?  Why is it that certain acoustic waves, in horrifically complex patterns as you can see from the wave breakdowns in Fourier analysis, can cause such delight in a receptive human mind?  We can accept the mathematical explanation, provided by the ancient Greeks-- in fact we are forced to, thus the octave is a 2:1 ratio, the fifth is a 3:2 ratio, etc., the inference being that in some way the brain finds the simplicity of it appealing, perhaps because it is easier for it to deconstruct or analyze, but moving beyond this to the allure of melodies becomes too complex for such a breakdown very quickly, in the same way that a Feynman analysis of the presumed quantum particle of graviton quickly leads to nonsensical infinities...  Evolutionary explanations abound: Darwin's explanation was that it was analogous to bird song and thus a mating performance which could have been sexually selected for, with the best song being selected by choosy mates, leading to a competition between individual efforts, etc.  It's like the evolution of language in a sense, it's a bit mysterious how it might have been initiated and in fact may forever remain inexplicable.  If those are its origins, how could that apply to humans when there is no sex difference for reception or creation?  The reasoning goes that it started in that unassuming way and then became embedded into culture as a social bonding tool.  (However, each time I hear about groupies or other girls adulating someone like Justin Bieber, this sexual selection model pops up in my head.)  And indeed I've mentioned frequently how music is definitely a very social art, it cannot exist without a listener, it serves in all human tribes to bond people together (despite the prevalence of solo listening models today like ipods and those huge hipster headphones), it is without a doubt a form of beautified communications between human beings like novels and poetry.  The aspect that seems most mysterious to me always is the intense connection with emotions that music has.  It's hard to deny there are some 'hardwired' ways in which we see such a connection, for example, minor intervals or chords appearing sad or at least, tiring to all humans, major intervals appearing optimistic or energizing.  The echoes of natural sounds are everywhere too in music, and clearly the recognition of such, like hearing tinkling notes on a piano evoking water, create a great deal of enjoyment for obvious reasons, due to the seeming purification of the white noise into distinct waveforms which we can process with resemblances from memory.  But where does the initial pleasure come from, neurologically?  To say that an octave or 2:1 ratio releases endorphins or excites opioid receptors in the brain is purely a tautology.  Why does the octave have that quality?  I think the answer must be a combination of all the above factors, the purification of white noise into individual personalized notes must have been an invention which self-perpetuated among the oldest human tribes and became selected for, whatever the reason might have been, and widespread due to its social adhesiveness.  From the primitive origins as evidenced by a typical pop song on the radio heard today with its insistent and retarded repetitiveness and anaesthetic 4/4 beat, it amazes me how far the complexity was taken when one listens to the most progressive compositions as evidenced here:

A very very hard to find album which I am now searching for, after hearing the title track with its astonishing chamber arrangement.  Stunning stuff, again, from Haiti.  If anyone knows of the existence of a copy of the full LP somewhere, please post a message.  (Btw apparently the expression, literally head without body, is an idiom for someone who eats a lot. )

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