Monday, February 13, 2012

Researchers have found...

I think I'm turning into a crank about so-called 'scientific' research into music. Every time I read an article, like this in the Wall Street Journal about Adele, I want to scream, or crush an acciaccatura! I guess they publish stuff like this to increase circulation, just as the scientists involved are doing this kind of research to show how relevant they are. But really! Let me share with you the remarkable 'secret' all those researchers turned up: appoggiaturas add expression which has an effect on the listener. Uh-huh. And every single musician has known this fact for, oh, the last seven or eight hundred years. What do you think all those textbooks on harmony talk about? How to polish your tuba? Here is how the WSJ adroitly puts it:
researchers have found that certain features of music are consistently associated with producing strong emotions in listeners ... British psychologist John Sloboda conducted a simple experiment. He asked music lovers to identify passages of songs that reliably set off a physical reaction, such as tears or goose bumps. Participants identified 20 tear-triggering passages, and when Dr. Sloboda analyzed their properties, a trend emerged: 18 contained a musical device called an "appoggiatura." An appoggiatura is a type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound. "This generates tension in the listener," said Martin Guhn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who co-wrote a 2007 study on the subject. "When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good."
 Was all musical knowledge suddenly sucked out of the universe recently and someone forgot to tell me? How can this possibly quality as 'news' or 'research'? Are these scientists this utterly ignorant of the simplest facts about the structure of music? If so, why for Pete's sake are they qualified as researchers into music? In my favorite textbook on harmony, which is 650 plus pages long, the appoggiatura is first discussed on page 43. It is as if these 'researchers' have almost complete ignorance of the basic materials of music.



Michael Scott said...

Well, at the risk of sounding all curmudgeonly, let me say that I listened to a report of this "research" on NPR tonight.

What I thought was that Adele's music had the power to invoke great emotion in me, too, for instance, taking the nearest appoggiatura and sticking it in the woman's eye.

She has a voice that makes chalkboard screeches sound positively Heavenly.

They, the appoggiaturi, also explain why a friend finds the "piano" music of Floyd Cramer so difficult to listen to.

Nathan Shirley said...

Next they'll discover minor chords sound sad and major chords sound happy.

What really gets me is this (new?) trend of posthumous psychiatric diagnosis (and the wide reporting of it). "Psychologist says Schumann bipolar"

Bryan Townsend said...

Cool! I'm not the only curmudgeon. Hi Michael--believe it or not, I had to Google Floyd Cramer! Amazing the gaps in one's knowledge of music history. Thanks for filling that one in. Yes, I intentionally avoided any comment on Adele herself because I wanted to focus just on these idiot 'researchers'.

Nathan, do you have a link to the 'research' on Schumann? I think we should meet this unfortunate trend with ridicule whenever possible.

Nathan Shirley said...

Just search for 'Schumann' and 'bipolar', or really just about any dead composer, artist, writer and your choice of over-diagnosed mental disorder. You're sure to find a wealth of garbage!