Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Science & Music: Lost in music

Huron, David. "Science & Music: Lost in music." Nature (22 May 2008), 453, pg. 456-457. Web. 6 December 2011.
"Linguists know how fast languages disappear. Musical cultures may be an order of magnitude more fragile. It will be many centuries before the whole world speaks Mandarin. Meanwhile Western music has swept the globe faster than aspirin...We have perhaps just a decade or so before everyone on the planet has been brought up with Western music or its derivatives."

Homogenization of music across the world makes the task of a cognitive neuroscientist studying music more difficult. Do we perceive certain intervals as dissonant because of how our ears have been trained by environmental (cultural) stimuli, or are the intervals inherently dissonant to our ears because of our biological make-up? Is major naturally perceived as “happy” and minor naturally perceived as “sad?” If everyone in the world is exposed to the same styles of music, we won’t have any way to compare different musical languages to find ways to answer these sorts of questions. We won’t be able to discern whether “a behaviour [is] an innate cognitive disposition, or just an artefact of westernization.”

Other rich musical cultures are alive and well throughout the world, but people in countries such as China and India are constantly exposed to Western music, which infiltrates the music of those cultures. If we can study the music of those cultures in their non-Westernized forms now, we will probably gain more insight into the question of nature vs. nurture in the cognitive neuroscience of music.

In the same way some conscientious growers choose to plant heirloom seeds instead of the homogenized varieties more easily available, we should do what we can to encourage musicians across the world to maintain their musical cultures, and not only for the benefit of cognitive neuroscientists. Just as I often learn more through collaboration with a colleague with a different perspective from my own, the world benefits from the diversity of its cultures. Variety is the spice of life, as the old adage goes, and I’d rather not live in a bland world.


Amber Cunningham said...

You raise an important point. It is difficult to limit the influence of exposure...to anything! In one sense, exposure to varied styles of music (outside of our own western phenomenon) is such a positive. Some of the greatest western works were "exotic" symphonies heavily influenced by the sounds and methods inherent in the music of other cultures. Unfortunately the flip side is that as we are all influenced by each others music, it's possible for the original forms of our art to whither away. I don't know if this is a real risk, however I can imagine from a neurological research perspective, this influence presents a real problem. How much exposure to western music is required be for a non-western musical mind is infiltrated? Can we define this in some way? One think I know for sure, the brain is a very efficient machine and music seems to provide a lot of stimuli. I too, would like answers to many of our nature vs. nurture questions in regards to musical association and response. Hopefully there is still time to explore the possibilities before everyone has heard everything!

Alicia_Ritmundi said...

What an intriguing article. I am fascinated by culture and perception.

"Is major naturally perceived as “happy” and minor naturally perceived as “sad?” If everyone in the world is exposed to the same styles of music, we won’t have any way to compare different musical languages to find ways to answer these sorts of questions."

As quoted from the original blog, the question is posed regarding perception of major and minor musical styles and weather they have biological or cultural influences.

My stance is that the perception of musical styles has strong social roots. One should look at the context in which the major and minor styles have been performed. As an example, I perceive minor music as "happy",emotive, and moving (on many levels), where as major styles have less influence.

My family background is North American, my sub-culture is Afro-American from Kentucky. The musical style of the Negro Spiritual (a Western musical form)had a great influence on my family culturally as well as socially. The purpose for this statement is that numerous Negro Spirituals were written in minor keys accompanied by the texts of optimism.

In short, with a musical genre created as such, it is almost inevitable that a person who grew up with this music would find some sort of comfort/joy/"happiness" in a style of music which should be perceived as "sad".

Further research could investigate if the perceived incongruence of musical style and text would have an effect on the listner's perception of the music and how the music could alter the listener's mood.