intellectual vanities… about close to everything

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Sweet Music – The Basis of Consonance

leave a comment »

Ever since ancient times, scholars have puzzled over the reasons that some musical note combinations sound so sweet while others are just downright dreadful. The Greeks believed that simple ratios in the string lengths of musical instruments were the key, maintaining that the precise mathematical relationships endowed certain chords with a special, even divine, quality. Twentieth-century composers, on the other hand, have leaned toward the notion that musical tastes are really all in what you are used to hearing.

Now, researchers think they may have gotten closer to the truth by studying the preferences of more than 250 college students from Minnesota to a variety of musical and nonmusical sounds. “The question is, what makes certain combinations of musical notes pleasant or unpleasant?” asks Josh McDermott, who conducted the studies at the University of Minnesota before moving to New York University. “There have been a lot of claims. It might be one of the oldest questions in perception.”
The University of Minnesota team, including collaborators Andriana Lehr and Andrew Oxenham, was able to independently manipulate both the harmonic frequency relations of the sounds and another quality known as beating. (Harmonic frequencies are all multiples of the same fundamental frequency, McDermott explains. For example, notes at frequencies of 200, 300, and 400 hertz are all multiples of 100. Beating occurs when two sounds are close but not identical in frequency. Over time, the frequencies shift in and out of phase with each other, causing the sound to wax and wane in amplitude and producing an audible “wobbling” quality.)
The researchers’ results show that musical chords sound good or bad mostly depending on whether the notes being played produce frequencies that are harmonically related or not. Beating didn’t turn out to be as important. Surprisingly, the preference for harmonic frequencies was stronger in people with experience playing musical instruments. In other words, learning plays a role — perhaps even a primary one, McDermott argues.
Whether you would get the same result in people from other parts of the world remains to be seen, McDermott says, but the effect of musical experience on the results suggests otherwise. “It suggests that Westerners learn to like the sound of harmonic frequencies because of their importance in Western music. Listeners with different experience might well have different preferences.” The diversity of music from other cultures is consistent with this. “Intervals and chords that are dissonant by Western standards are fairly common in some cultures,” he says. “Diversity is the rule, not the exception.”
That’s something that is increasingly easy to lose sight of as Western music has come to dominate radio waves all across the globe. “When all the kids in Indonesia are listening to Eminem,” McDermott says, “it becomes hard to get a true sense.”
Individual Differences Reveal the Basis of Consonance

Josh H. McDermott1,Andriana J. Lehr2 and Andrew J. Oxenham2
1 Center for Neural Science, New York University, New York, NY 10003, USA
2 Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA
Received 5 March 2010; revised 7 April 2010; accepted 8 April 2010. Published online: May 20, 2010. Available online 20 May 2010.
Summary Some combinations of musical notes are consonant (pleasant), whereas others are dissonant (unpleasant), a distinction central to music. Explanations of consonance in terms of acoustics, auditory neuroscience, and enculturation have been debated for centuries. We utilized individual differences to distinguish the candidate theories. We measured preferences for musical chords as well as nonmusical sounds that isolated particular acoustic factors—specifically, the beating and the harmonic relationships between frequency components, two factors that have long been thought to potentially underlie consonance . Listeners preferred stimuli without beats and with harmonic spectra, but across more than 250 subjects, only the preference for harmonic spectra was consistently correlated with preferences for consonant over dissonant chords. Harmonicity preferences were also correlated with the number of years subjects had spent playing a musical instrument, suggesting that exposure to music amplifies preferences for harmonic frequencies because of their musical importance. Harmonic spectra are prominent features of natural sounds, and our results indicate that they also underlie the perception of consonance.
Highlights ► Sounds with harmonic frequencies, and that lack beats, are preferred by listeners ► Only preference for harmonic spectra predicts preference for consonant chords ► Preferences for harmonic spectra, consonant chords correlate with musical experience ► Suggests harmonic frequency relations underlie perception of consonance

Written by huehueteotl

May 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Music, Neuroscience

Where Music Comes From: Musicality Matters For Emotion

leave a comment »

Music is one of the surest ways to influence human emotions; most people unconsciously recognize and respond to music that is happy, sad, fearful or mellow. But psychologists who have tried to trace the evolutionary roots of these responses usually hit a dead end. Nonhuman primates scarcely respond to human music, and instead prefer silence.

A new report by Charles Snowdon, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and musician David Teie of the University of Maryland shows that a monkey called the cotton-top tamarin indeed responds to music. The catch? These South American monkeys are essentially immune to human music, but they respond appropriately to “monkey music,” 30-second clips composed by Teie on the basis of actual monkey calls.

The music was inspired by sounds the tamarins make to convey two opposite emotions: threats and/or fear, and affiliation, a friendly, safe and happy condition.

The study reported that the monkeys could tell the difference: For five minutes after hearing fear music, the monkeys displayed more symptoms of anxiety and increased their movement. In contrast, monkeys that heard “affiliative” music reduced their movements and increased their feeding behavior — both signs of a calming effect.

Snowdon, a longtime researcher into primate behavior, says the project began with an inquiry from Teie, who plays cello in the National Symphony Orchestra: Had Snowdon ever tested the effects of music on monkeys? When Teie listened to recordings made in Snowdon’s monkey colony at the psychology department at UW-Madison, he readily discerned the animal’s affective state, Snowdon says. “He said, ‘This is a call from an animal that is very upset; this is from an animal that is more relaxed.’ He was able to read the emotional state just by the musical analysis.”

Teie composed the music using specific features he noticed in the monkeys’ calls, such as rising or falling pitches, and the duration of various sounds, says Snowdon, who notes that monkeys are not the only ones who use musical elements to convey emotional content in speech. Studies show that babies that are too young to understand words can still interpret a long tone and a descending pitch as soothing, and a short tone as inhibiting.

“We use legato (long tones) with babies to calm them,” Snowdon says. “We use staccato to order them to stop. Approval has a rising tone, and soothing has a decreasing tone. We add musical features to speech so it will influence the affective state of a baby. If you bark out, ‘PLAY WITH IT,’ a baby will freeze. The voice, the intonation pattern, the musicality can matter more than the words.”

Snowdon, who has sung in choirs for most of his life, adds, “My talking does not necessarily tell you about my emotional state. When I add extra elements, change the tone of voice, the rhythm, pitch or speed, that is where the emotional content is contained.”

Monkeys interpret rising and falling tones differently than humans. Oddly, their only response to several samples of human music was a calming response to the heavy-metal band Metallica.

The study opens a new window into animal communication, Snowdon says. “People have looked at animal communication in terms of conveying information – ‘I am hungry,’ or ‘I am afraid.’ But it’s much more than that. These musical elements are inducing a relatively long-term change in behavior of listeners. The affiliative music is making them calmer; they move less, eat and drink at a higher rate, and show less anxiety behavior.”

This change in behavior suggests that for cotton-top tamarins, communication is about much more than just information. “I am not calling just to let you know how I am feeling, but my call can also stimulate a similar state in you,” Snowdon says. “That would be valuable if a group was threatened; in that situation, you don’t want everybody being calm, you want them alert. We do the same thing when we try to calm a baby. I am not just communicating about how I am feeling. I am using the way I communicate to induce a similar state in the baby.”

The similarities in communications between monkeys and people suggest deep evolutionary roots for the musical elements of speech, Snowdon says. “The emotional components of music and animal calls might be very similar, and from an evolutionary perspective, we are finding that the note patterns, dissonance and timing are important for communicating affective states in both animals and people.”

Biol. Lett. published online before print September 2, 2009, doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.0593
Affective responses in tamarins elicited by species-specific music.
Charles T. Snowdon and David Teie
Author for correspondence (

AbstractTheories of music evolution agree that human music has an affective influence on listeners. Tests of non-humans provided little evidence of preferences for human music. However, prosodic features of speech (‘motherese’) influence affective behaviour of non-verbal infants as well as domestic animals, suggesting that features of music can influence the behaviour of non-human species. We incorporated acoustical characteristics of tamarin affiliation vocalizations and tamarin threat vocalizations into corresponding pieces of music. We compared music composed for tamarins with that composed for humans. Tamarins were generally indifferent to playbacks of human music, but responded with increased arousal to tamarin threat vocalization based music, and with decreased activity and increased calm behaviour to tamarin affective vocalization based music. Affective components in human music may have evolutionary origins in the structure of calls of non-human animals. In addition, animal signals may have evolved to manage the behaviour of listeners by influencing their affective state.

* music evolution
* vocal communication
* affective responses
* tamarins
* species-specific music

Written by huehueteotl

September 3, 2009 at 7:39 am

Posted in Music, Psychology

Simply Listening To Music Affects One’s Musicality

with one comment

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have demonstrated how much the brain can learn simply through active exposure to many different kinds of music. “More and more labs are showing that people have the sensitivity for skills that we thought were only expert skills,” Henkjan Honing (UvA) explains.

“It turns out that mere exposure makes an enormous contribution to how musical competence develops.”* The results were recently presented at the Music & Language conference, organized by Tufts University in Boston, and will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Performance and Perception.

The common view among music scientists is that musical abilities are shaped mostly by intense musical training, and that they remain rather rough in untrained listeners, the so-called Expertise hypothesis.

However, the UvA-study shows that listeners without formal musical training, but with sufficient exposure to a certain musical idiom (the Exposure hypothesis), perform similarly in a musical task when compared to formally trained listeners.

Furthermore, the results show that listeners generally do better in their preferred musical genre. As such the study provides evidence for the idea that some musical capabilities are acquired through mere exposure to music. Just listen and learn!

In addition, the study is one of the first that takes advance of the possibilities of online listening experiments comparing musicians and non-musicians of all ages.

*Eichler, J. (2008, July 13), ‘Can’t get it out of my head’, Boston Globe, p. N6.

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. (in press)
Exposure influences expressive timing judgments in music.
Honing, H. & Ladinig, O.

Abstract (from the lead author’s hp)
This study is concerned with the question whether, and if so to what extent, listeners’ previous exposure to music in everyday life, and expertise as a result of formal musical training, play a role in making expressive timing judgments in music. This was investigated by using a Web-based listening experiment in which listeners with a wide range of musical backgrounds were asked to compare two different recordings of the same composition (fifteen pairs, grouped in three musical genres), one of which was tempo-transformed. The results show that expressive timing judgments are not influenced by expertise levels, as suggested by the expertise hypothesis, but by exposure to a certain musical idiom, as suggested by the exposure hypothesis. Apparently, frequent listening to a certain musical genre allows listeners, with and without formal musical training, to implicitly learn the timing patterns that are characteristic for that style, and to use this (implicit) knowledge to discriminate between a real and a tempo-transformed recording. As such, and in addition to what has recently been shown in the pitch domain (Bigand & Poulin-Charronnat, 2006), the current study provides evidence in the temporal domain for the idea that some musical capabilities are acquired through exposure to music, and that these abilities are more likely enhanced by active listening (exposure) than by formal musical training (expertise).

Written by huehueteotl

August 14, 2008 at 7:46 am

Posted in Music

Get Rhythm – Intelligence And Rhythmic Accuracy Go Hand In Hand

leave a comment »

People who score high on intelligence tests are also good at keeping time, new Swedish research shows. The team that carried out the study also suspect that accuracy in timing is important to the brain processes responsible for problem solving and reasoning.

//" kann nicht angezeigt werden, weil sie Fehler enthält.

Researchers at the medical university Karolinska Institutet and Umeå University have now demonstrated a correlation between general intelligence and the ability to tap out a simple regular rhythm. They stress that the task subjects performed had nothing to do with any musical rhythmic sense but simply measured the capacity for rhythmic accuracy. Those who scored highest on intelligence tests also had least variation in the regular rhythm they tapped out in the experiment.

“It’s interesting as the task didn’t involve any kind of problem solving,” says Fredrik Ullén at Karolinska Institutet, who led the study with Guy Madison at Umeå University. “Irregularity of timing probably arises at a more fundamental biological level owing to a kind of noise in brain activity.”

According to Fredrik Ullén, the results suggest that the rhythmic accuracy in brain activity observable when the person just maintains a steady beat is also important to the problem-solving capacity that is measured with intelligence tests.

“We know that accuracy at millisecond level in neuronal activity is critical to information processing and learning processes,” he says.

They also demonstrated a correlation between high intelligence, a good ability to keep time, and a high volume of white matter in the parts of the brain’s frontal lobes involved in problem solving, planning and managing time.

“All in all, this suggests that a factor of what we call intelligence has a biological basis in the number of nerve fibres in the prefrontal lobe and the stability of neuronal activity that this provides,” says Fredrik Ullén.

J Neurosci. 2008 Apr 16;28(16):4238-43.
Intelligence and variability in a simple timing task share neural substrates in the prefrontal white matter.

Neuropediatric Research Unit Q2:07, Department of Woman and Child Health, Karolinska Institutet, SE-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden.

General intelligence is correlated with the mean and variability of reaction time in elementary cognitive tasks, as well as with performance on temporal judgment and discrimination tasks. This suggests a link between the temporal accuracy of neural activity and intelligence. However, it has remained unclear whether this link reflects top-down mechanisms such as attentional control and cognitive strategies or basic neural properties that influence both abilities. Here, we investigated whether millisecond variability in a simple, automatic timing task, isochronous tapping, correlates with intellectual performance and, using voxel-based morphometry, whether these two tasks share neuroanatomical substrates. Stability of tapping and intelligence were correlated and related to regional volume in overlapping right prefrontal white matter regions. These results suggest a bottom-up explanation of the link between temporal stability and intellectual performance, in which more extensive prefrontal connectivity underlies individual differences in both variables.

Written by huehueteotl

April 21, 2008 at 8:45 am

Was Plato Right? – Music Has Its Own Geometry

leave a comment »

The connection between music and mathematics has fascinated scholars for centuries. More than 2000 years ago Pythagoras reportedly discovered that pleasing musical intervals could be described using simple ratios.

And the so-called musica universalis or “music of the spheres” emerged in the Middle Ages as the philosophical idea that the proportions in the movements of the celestial bodies — the sun, moon and planets — could be viewed as a form of music, inaudible but perfectly harmonious.

Now, three music professors — Clifton Callender at Florida State University, Ian Quinn at Yale University and Dmitri Tymoczko at Princeton University — have devised a new way of analyzing and categorizing music that takes advantage of the deep, complex mathematics they see enmeshed in its very fabric.

Writing in the April 18 issue of Science, the trio has outlined a method called “geometrical music theory” that translates the language of musical theory into that of contemporary geometry. They take sequences of notes, like chords, rhythms and scales, and categorize them so they can be grouped into “families.” They have found a way to assign mathematical structure to these families, so they can then be represented by points in complex geometrical spaces, much the way “x” and “y” coordinates, in the simpler system of high school algebra, correspond to points on a two-dimensional plane.

Different types of categorization produce different geometrical spaces, and reflect the different ways in which musicians over the centuries have understood music. This achievement, they expect, will allow researchers to analyze and understand music in much deeper and more satisfying ways.

The work represents a significant departure from other attempts to quantify music, according to Rachel Wells Hall of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. In an accompanying essay, she writes that their effort, “stands out both for the breadth of its musical implications and the depth of its mathematical content.”

The method, according to its authors, allows them to analyze and compare many kinds of Western (and perhaps some non-Western) music. (The method focuses on Western-style music because concepts like “chord” are not universal in all styles.) It also incorporates many past schemes by music theorists to render music into mathematical form.

“The music of the spheres isn’t really a metaphor — some musical spaces really are spheres,” said Tymoczko, an assistant professor of music at Princeton. “The whole point of making these geometric spaces is that, at the end of the day, it helps you understand music better. Having a powerful set of tools for conceptualizing music allows you to do all sorts of things you hadn’t done before.”

Like what?

“You could create new kinds of musical instruments or new kinds of toys,” he said. “You could create new kinds of visualization tools — imagine going to a classical music concert where the music was being translated visually. We could change the way we educate musicians. There are lots of practical consequences that could follow from these ideas.”

“But to me,” Tymoczko added, “the most satisfying aspect of this research is that we can now see that there is a logical structure linking many, many different musical concepts. To some extent, we can represent the history of music as a long process of exploring different symmetries and different geometries.”

Understanding music, the authors write, is a process of discarding information. For instance, suppose a musician plays middle “C” on a piano, followed by the note “E” above that and the note “G” above that. Musicians have many different terms to describe this sequence of events, such as “an ascending C major arpeggio,” “a C major chord,” or “a major chord.” The authors provide a unified mathematical framework for relating these different descriptions of the same musical event.

The trio describes five different ways of categorizing collections of notes that are similar, but not identical. They refer to these musical resemblances as the “OPTIC symmetries,” with each letter of the word “OPTIC” representing a different way of ignoring musical information — for instance, what octave the notes are in, their order, or how many times each note is repeated. The authors show that five symmetries can be combined with each other to produce a cornucopia of different musical concepts, some of which are familiar and some of which are novel.

In this way, the musicians are able to reduce musical works to their mathematical essence.

Once notes are translated into numbers and then translated again into the language of geometry the result is a rich menagerie of geometrical spaces, each inhabited by a different species of geometrical object. After all the mathematics is done, three-note chords end up on a triangular donut while chord types perch on the surface of a cone.

The broad effort follows upon earlier work by Tymoczko in which he developed geometric models for selected musical objects.

The method could help answer whether there are new scales and chords that exist but have yet to be discovered.

“Have Western composers already discovered the essential and most important musical objects?” Tymoczko asked. “If so, then Western music is more than just an arbitrary set of conventions. It may be that the basic objects of Western music are fantastically special, in which case it would be quite difficult to find alternatives to broadly traditional methods of musical organization.”

The tools for analysis also offer the exciting possibility of investigating the differences between musical styles.

“Our methods are not so great at distinguishing Aerosmith from the Rolling Stones,” Tymoczko said. “But they might allow you to visualize some of the differences between John Lennon and Paul McCartney. And they certainly help you understand more deeply how classical music relates to rock or is different from atonal music.”
Science 18 April 2008: Vol. 320. no. 5874, pp. 346 – 348
DOI: 10.1126/science.1153021

Generalized Voice-Leading Spaces
Clifton Callender,1 Ian Quinn,2 Dmitri Tymoczko3*

Western musicians traditionally classify pitch sequences by disregarding the effects of five musical transformations: octave shift, permutation, transposition, inversion, and cardinality change. We model this process mathematically, showing that it produces 32 equivalence relations on chords, 243 equivalence relations on chord sequences, and 32 families of geometrical quotient spaces, in which both chords and chord sequences are represented. This model reveals connections between music-theoretical concepts, yields new analytical tools, unifies existing geometrical representations, and suggests a way to understand similarity between chord types.

1 College of Music, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306, USA.
2 Music Department, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.
3 Music Department, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.

Written by huehueteotl

April 21, 2008 at 7:47 am

Posted in Music

Hunting And Gathering / Ensemble, c’est tout

leave a comment »

Ensemble, c’est tout (2007)

Director: Claude Berri

Writers: Claude Berri , Anna Gavalda (novel)

Release Date: 16 August 2007 (Germany)
Genre: Drama / Romance
Plot Keywords: Doctor / Elderly Woman / Stuttering / Neighbor / Inheritance
(Cast overview, first billed only)

Audrey Tautou … Camille Fauque
Guillaume Canet … Franck
Laurent Stocker … Philibert Marquet de la Tubelière
Françoise Bertin … Paulette
Alain Sachs … Medecin du travail
Firmine Richard … Mamadou
Béatrice Michel … Carine
Kahena Saighi … Samia
Hélène Surgère … Yvonne
Alain Stern … Chef restaurant
Halima Guizani … Infirmière
Juliette Arnaud … Aurélia
Danièle Lebrun … La mère de Camille
Li-Ting Huang … Serveuse
Madeleine Cofano … La coiffeuse


Also Known As: Hunting and Gathering (Europe: English title)
Runtime: Germany:97 min (European Film Market)
Country: France
Language: French

A fabric like of dreams: three slightly excentrical, nonetheless highly gifted late-twens (or early thirties?) bumping into eachother and trying to ease their somewhat melancholical megalopolis life in a anytime-nowhere that looks amazingly like Paris. “Together one is less lonely” – as the German Title suggests. Claude Berri, adapting a novel by Anna Gavalda, throws a struggling young artist who works as an office cleaner at night, a young aristocrat misfit, a cook, and an elderly grandmother into an apparently normal chaos.

I cannot say anything about the dialogs in French, but in German they are often trivial or even pathetic. What worked well, is the big shot of neuroticism placed into the movie, seemingly distilled from the novel. Camille (Audrey Tautou) with Amelie-Eyes in close-up, is looking for happiness in the big city djungle. On top of her cleaning job she is punished with her ever quizzical mother, who does not know better but to criticize her daughter’s eating habits. (Their conversations are longer, but that is roughly the gist of them). Returning from one of those meetings with her mother, Camille meets Philibert (Laurent Stocker). He stutters, and his manners are somewhat bizarr, which the viewer is probably meant to take as a clue for an extraordinary and fantastic event. As such, the two do agree to dine together – yeah, just like that. Later, as the fragile girl is catching a cold, it is only natural that the bizarr guy stumbles into her house by chaste and chivalrous coincidence, and brings her to his more lavish abodes, shared already by his somewhat grumpy roommate Franck (Guillaume Canet). Franck is a chef in a noble restaurant, and has an old granny to look after, because she broke her leg. He feels, who would be amazed, bitter about that empty life of his, or so he tells is tearful grandmother. As in opposition to the other’s he compensates for this melancholy with sex and drugs. (His musical preferences are the only good bits of music in the whole musette-ish soundtrack in bad Yann-Tiersen-style, b.t.w.). Now the scene is set for some clashes and mutual idiosyncrasies, that are, naturally, all overcome by doing good. Hence the idiosyncrasies turn into deep mutual bonds and so the now much happier trefoil orchestrates sick grannie’s move into the appartment, and next back into her own house, where she dies. Catharsis: the aristocrat’s lavish abodes are sold – and stretta: the stuttering aristocrat stops selling postcards and, having become a successful standup comedian, he moves with his new girlfriend. The grumpy cook and the thorny artist do move away from Paris, and take over a bistro. They all live there happily ever after and produce babies in between hearty customer service. The aforementioned grandmother was dead anyway. Love, success as recompensation for life’s lack of justice so far… So much about this.

That this sounds like Franck himself compared to a lovely, charming and nonchalant movie, is certainly one of Berri’s biggest achievements. But more than once the boundaries of charme and nonchalance are overridden by rightaway sirupous kitsch. The characters are condensed into something beyond reality, and hence beyond real sympathy too. Candid dialogues do not make up for shallow stories.

Who likes anytime-nowhere stories with happy end, is sure better off with Chocolat (2000). It has it all, and is just a charming little nothing. Neither Amelie nor Ensemble… seem to have added much to this.

Written by huehueteotl

September 10, 2007 at 3:17 pm

Posted in Movies/Books, Music

11:14 (2003)

leave a comment »



Greg Marcks


Greg Marcks

Release Date:

1 September 2005 (Germany) more


Comedy / Crime / Drama / Thriller more


Fate can change in seconds more

Plot Outline:

The events leading up to an 11:14 PM car crash, from five very different perspectives. more

Furious, brilliant, full of black humour and goofy surprises, the directing debut of Greg Marcks is hard to beat. Like MEMENTO or IRREVERSIBEL it tells a story about la forza del destino in five different strings of events, that finally are ingeniously woven together.
Along with this are coming great actors: Hilary Swank, Rachael Leigh Cook, Tom Hanks’ son Colin Hanks, Henry Thomas, Patrick Swayze and Barbara Hershey.

Admitted that in 20 minutes the figures are accomplishing an awfull lot of things, like clearing crime scenes, make car trips, run back and forth, and even lose their penis. Yet, I do LOVE this clever little black comedy, about, in the end, nothing but a tragic accident during sexual intercourse.

Written by huehueteotl

September 7, 2007 at 9:32 pm

Posted in Movies/Books, Music