Monday, October 13, 2008

A Composer's Approach to Music,Cognition and Emotion

A Composer’s Approach to Music, Cognition and Emotion By David Keane
From the Musical Quarterly, vol.68, no.3 (July 1982), pp.324-336
Published by: Oxford University Press
Located on Jstor
Posted by Justine Butkovich

To begin his article Keane poses the question: “What makes a piece of music pleasurable and interesting?” This is a critical question each composer must keep in mind while composing even though no one really knows the answer, they must believe they do. He gets into some detail about how the proto musical exploration of a child is overwhelmed by language development and how the discouragement of useless noise hinders their free sound exploration. He disagrees with the way in which music is taught because music cannot be adequately represented by words. Many times throughout the article he mentions the antecedent and consequent aspect of music. He suggests that we are attached to this action in music because it reflects our natural rhythms, inhalation and exhalation, and birth and death. He concludes that the unconscious mind and the conscious mind are the two things that will decide for us what we like and what we don’t like to listen to. The two aspects of music that draw our attention are cognitive (interestingness) and sensory (pleasantness) attractants. He concludes that in order to create a piece that people will enjoy; the cognitive attraction of the piece must reach not only the unconscious but also the conscious mind.

This article was very interesting to read as it had many facets to it. I didn’t totally understand why he took the path he took to arrive at his conclusion; a lot of it had nothing to do with what makes a piece pleasurable or not. As I read through the article I noticed many fascinating subjects I would love to delve into further such as: proto musical exploration, the instruction of music and the conscious and even more interesting the unconscious mind. I am very curious about the effects music has on children and how what we are surrounded with influences our taste for art and music. I also find it so interesting to read that the learning of language can discourage our exploration of sounds as a young child. Is Keane suggesting that we shouldn’t push our children to learn how to talk too soon? Then maybe we should encourage them to sing first and then learn how to talk. I like that idea! I thought what Keane suggested about the rigidity and impediment on personal exploration is a topic that could be discussed quite deeply. I agree that music can’t be adequately represented by words and or is misrepresented by words often. I think we need to do more listening than talking and more feeling than knowing. We can do all the research and talk about what needs to happen in order to perform a piece effectively but if we don’t hear what we feel and feel what we hear then something significant is missing. Like Keane suggests, this comes from within and we need to take the time by ourselves to discover this truth in music making. This reminds me of an old saying, “the more you learn the less you know.” When you think about this statement it is so true. Kids make decisions based on their feelings rather than on an intellectual impulse because they have not been conditioned yet by society to do what is supposedly “correct.” I can recall myself as a 10-year-old child having some advanced musical instincts that no one taught me. I just followed what I felt and was probably influenced by the classical music my parents played often and the more mature pop music my older siblings listened to as well. I started to write songs all by myself without any one putting this idea in my head, this is just what started to happen. I was left alone to discover what I had inside of me and it just poured out for years. I agree that we don’t always need to be taught something we already know, we just have to want to discover for ourselves what is inside of us. The unconscious mind is something that is very hard to understand and in my opinion is so hard to tap into when we have such a strong conscious mind. Fortunately, music is one of the only things in the world that can break through our complex conscious mind and reach into our unconscious mind. Like Keane suggests, pleasant music isn’t enough for our complex mind, we need music that is interesting and I think that is why we keep listening to music and why it will never grow old. There are so many aspects of music that we just can’t get enough of and that’s what keeps our mind interested and our subconscious satisfied.

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