Aug 22, 2007 Uncategorized
My friend John Bowman recently conducted an interview with Daniel Levitin, a former session musician and studio producer who went on to earn an MSc in Cognitive Science and a PhD in Psychology. He recently put out a book called, “This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of Human Obsession,” which I haven’t read yet but saw in the store and thought looked fascinating. You can read the interview (which I recommend) here.
What he says at the end of the page about expectations and sometimes fulfilling them and sometimes violating them is something I’ve been saying for a long time about why some songs work well and others don’t. I think there’s more to it than that, but I’ve always thought that that was a huge factor. But I think that he also overlooks the personality of the listener when he describes it that way. I think that just as there are people who don’t like to try new foods and whose favourite recipes are the ones that come closest to the way they expect it to be done and then on the other side there are people who love to try new foods and their favourite recipes for traditional dishes are ones that do a surprising new thing with it, there’s a great deal of music that’s set up to meet your expectations, and then there’s music that’s set up to violate your expectations, and there are people who like one or the other (of course, most of these are continuums and most songs and most listeners fall somewhere in between). When I listen to music, I actively and consciously feel my brain “writing the song” along with the music, and when it does something I wanted, that can be deeply satisfying in its own way, especially if I thought that was a clever thing, but when it does something totally unexpected, that’s often where I get really excited. But then, I know other people who really dislike the unexpected things.
I think this comes into play most strongly in film soundtracks, because they do unexpected things to put you on edge and they do familiar things in order to evoke a cachet of emotional responses tied to those things.
But I think that there’s also energy and texture, which play a big role. If you think of a song as a flow of energy, then there are bumps in the surface texture which can shape that flow, and those bumps can collect energy and then release it, like you would charge up a power and then use it in a video game. And I think that a lot of techno is about that establishing a flow, and then putting something in the flow that dams it and collects energy, and then when you’ve built up a sufficient level, removing that bump and letting it all go, then starting to collect it again, etc.