Saturday, January 3, 2009

Why Musicians Make People Weep- and Computers Don’t
Public Library of Science, August 28, 2008

By: Michelle Minke


A recent study in PLoS ONE proved that music is more able to soothe if played by a musician compared to a computer. At the University of Sussex, England, Neuroscientists looked at brain responses of people who listened to live musicians compared to computerized music. They found limited emotional response to the computerized music, especially when there were unexpected chord changes.

A study by Stefan Koelsch, Phd in Psychology completed a test on 20 non musicians that consisted of playing excerpts of piano sonatas. These participants were measured for electric brain responses and for skin conductance as a result of emotional response. Brains responded with clear electrical activity to musical changes when performed live and in computerized music, however activity was much more evident when performed by a musician. This indicated that the brain understands the “musical grammar” despite having no musical ability. This study also revealed that the brain was more likely to search for musical meaning from a musician whom they had an emotional connection to when compared to the computer.

Experience is affected by emotional response as well as an understanding of a musician’s intent, even if someone has not received any formal musical training. It is apparent that a listener enters into a relationship with a performing artist and is stimulated to higher degree with the activity of creation than associating with a computerized sound.


The main affect of this neurological response is obviously the element of emotion. I believe much pop culture music lacks this element. Much of the sound is derived from computerized instruments and has the reason effect of noise, or manipulated sound as noted above.

During the 9/11 ceremonies at ground zero the choice to hire opera singer, Renee Fleming, as opposed to a contemporary pop idol sound, was in fact reflective of the emotional attachment, the organizers of the event wanted to create. They accurately believed that there was nothing more emotional than the sound that comes from natural human artistry. Manufactured or amplified instrumentation is altered to create sound. When sound comes from a musician naturally as opposed to manipulated, true emotion is experienced by an audience.

I think that classical music would probably be more appreciated if a greater number of people experienced it live instead of a mechanical system. The emotional affect is then the judgement of that experience, opposed to just hearing sound.

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