March 8th, 2009

storyteller doll

Music and Emotion

Thursday night's "Music and the Brain" lecture at the Library of Congress was by Steven Brown from McMaster University. The title was "From Mode to Emotion in Musical Communication." He started out by talking about models for emotion. The most memorable part of that was his distinction between two types of disgust, nothing that the things that people find most disgusting are feces and politicians. The point is that disgust for an object is not actually the same as the moral judgement one might feel towards a politician.

The major point Brown made was that music is good at representing emotion, but does not really induce emotion. Some of the aspects of how music represents emotion also apply to language, but mode is unique to music. His (obvious) example was the Western association of major keys with happiness and minor keys with sadness. He did mention that this was very culturally specific, which cuts out a lot of potential objections. (I've noted in the past that Jew are capable of being perfectly happy in minor keys.) I was, however, disappointed that all of the examples he played (two Beethoven pieces and a clip from the movie, "Vertigo") were Western, as I'd have liked to know more about, say, how emotion gets represented in Indian ragas.

This was still interesting, but I don't think I really learned anything new. I'm still enjoying the series and I'm looking forward to the other two lectures this month.