Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

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Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by Crow » April 17th, 2012, 4:27 pm

Igor Stravinsky wrote:...I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc. Expression has never been an inherent property of music. That is by no means the purpose of its existence. If, as is nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this is only an illusion and not a reality. It is simply an additional attribute which, by tacit and inveterate agreement, we have lent it, thrust upon it, as a label, a convention -- in short, an aspect which, unconsciously or by force of habit, we have come to confuse with its essential being.
He later noted, "Today I would put it the other way around: Music expresses itself."

In other words, when you play A-B flat-E, no matter how much you want to say, "My baby left me and I feel so bad," all you are really saying is, "A-B flat-E."

Thoughts?
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Re: Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by NoteBoat » April 17th, 2012, 7:26 pm

Crow, are you familiar with Leonard B. Meyer's book "Emotion and Meaning in Music"? He does an admirable job of looking at the arguments from all sides.

He starts by laying out the two opposing views of aesthetics, the absolutist view (the meaning of any art, is contained entirely within the work itself) and the referentialist position (music gains meaning by reference to concepts, emotional states, etc. that lie outside the scope of the work itself). He also examines the positions of the formalist (the meaning of music is intellectual, expressed by the relationships found in the music itself) and the expressionist (the relationships found in music are capable of exciting emotions in the listener).

Stravinsky's quote shows him to be an absolute formalist. Meyer's position is more of an absolute expressionist, which is a view I share.

He goes on to examine what he feels are errors in various approaches to the psychology of music, including exposing the differences between "emotion" and "mood". He explores how the structure or form of music sets up expectations in the listener, and how uncertainty and surprise can elicit emotional response - and how pushing the limits of expectation change the response. He even gets into different definitions of "meaning" in the context of the musical experience.

Anyway, it's a good book, but not a particularly easy read.

In my personal view, music is a language, and languages express things. If I tell you about a red car, I'm making the assumption that your experience of red matches my own, and that we both have the same general idea of what a car is. In my mind I may see a candy-apple red Ferrari; you may see a rose colored Fiat (or vice versa). But we have a general meeting of the minds, and that's enough for communication to take place. It's not like we're sharing architectural drawings, even though we all act as if language is that precise.

I equate music to spoken language because both are expressed in sound. And even if you don't have a vocabulary in a musical genre, you can appreciate it for the rhythms and cadences - just like language. A few years ago I went to Brazil to study samba in its native state; I didn't speak Portuguese, but I loved the sound of it. Oddly enough, speaking Spanish allowed me to read Portuguese with some accuracy - but there's a difference between grasping a meaning on paper and in sound... just like in music!

Just like language, music evolves as culture changes. Today's hip words are tomorrow's cliches, destined to join zoot suits and sarabandes as examples of days gone by. And just like language, music can incite sadness, joy, angst, or a thousand other shades of feeling. Just like language, that same story or tune may prompt a slightly different emotion tomorrow. Communication is tied in to the state of the listener; tomorrow my image of a red car might be a dark pink VW beetle. Language presupposes the minds of the speaker and the audience align... as long as both act like they do, communication takes place - even if I haven't put my exact red car into your mind.
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Re: Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by Alan Green » April 17th, 2012, 10:23 pm

I studied Stravinsky's "Rites of Spring" at Uni. It left me cold, which I guess tells me a lot about Stravinsky and explains why I find his comments ill-founded.
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Re: Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by s1120 » April 18th, 2012, 1:55 am

Well if the mind sees, or hears an illusion, to it its real. Whether it is or not. And also it's not that “my baby left me, and I feel so sad” is really saying A-B flat-E…. but that someone chose to use A-B flat-E to describe the sound of “My baby left me, and I feel so sad” . Notebook, I like the example of the red car, I have used the same idea before explaining stuff to people. And to bring it farther down…. It not so much that you think fire red sports car and they rose colored Fiat…. Maybe the the red you see, to them looks like blue? My eyes and mind could see colors totally different colors, and who would know? Would I call your grass green, sky blue? Music has too much of an impact on all people, all ages, and from all times to NOT have feelings built in.
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Re: Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by cnev » April 18th, 2012, 4:29 am

I tend to agree on the surface with Stravinsky, notes are just notes the so called emotions are how are minds react to it, but the notes themselves don't have emotions, emotions are a human state of mind.

More like a catalyst in a chemical reaction, in this case the notes bring out emotions in an individual.
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Re: Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by Cat » April 18th, 2012, 4:33 am

Crow wrote:In other words, when you play A-B flat-E, no matter how much you want to say, "My baby left me and I feel so bad," all you are really saying is, "A-B flat-E." Thoughts?
I don't believe it, Crow. Computer-generated music, okay...not stuff done by fingers (etc). Too many vagaries and nuance. This is why there are conductors at symphony orchestras. I mean, the notes are right smack dab there on the sheets, right? Why have a conductor at all?

That's the difference...

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Re: Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by cnev » April 18th, 2012, 5:02 am

So then can someone explain exactly how one plays with emotion? If I stand there with a stone face can I still be playing with emotion?

If I play some blues and make all kinds of facial expressions while I'm playing...does that mean I'm playing with emotion?
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Re: Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by Crow » April 18th, 2012, 8:08 am

cnev wrote:So then can someone explain exactly how one plays with emotion?
That's my question too.
NoteBoat wrote:Crow, are you familiar with Leonard B. Meyer's book "Emotion and Meaning in Music"?
Thanks for the tip. I will find that book.
He also examines the positions of the formalist (the meaning of music is intellectual, expressed by the relationships found in the music itself) and the expressionist (the relationships found in music are capable of exciting emotions in the listener).
I don't think Stravinsky had the listener's feelings in mind. Unquestionably music can excite emotions in listeners. Do we as musicians need our own emotions to be involved in order to make good music -- music that excites emotions in others? Stravinsky suggests we don't; we do that through "tacit and inveterate agreement" and "convention." An example would be the convention that major keys are "happy" and minor keys are "sad." This speaks to the point about musical form setting up expectations. People have come to expect happy-major and sad-minor associations, and we play to (and with) those expectations.

Heinrich Schenker's works also examine musical meaning, and if I remember correctly, so did Leonard Bernstein's Norton Lectures on "The Unanswered Question."
In my personal view, music is a language, and languages express things. If I tell you about a red car, I'm making the assumption that your experience of red matches my own, and that we both have the same general idea of what a car is.
Yes, through "tacit and inveterate agreement." We have generations of mutual understanding about the terms "red" and "car." If musical language "expresses" anything, Stravinsky seems to say, it does so through the same means....
...even if you don't have a vocabulary in a musical genre, you can appreciate it for the rhythms and cadences - just like language. A few years ago I went to Brazil to study samba in its native state; I didn't speak Portuguese, but I loved the sound of it.
Have you ever been insulted in a foreign language & loved the sound of it? I have. Maybe you have, too! :)
Communication is tied in to the state of the listener; tomorrow my image of a red car might be a dark pink VW beetle. Language presupposes the minds of the speaker and the audience align... as long as both act like they do, communication takes place - even if I haven't put my exact red car into your mind.
Excellent points. The suggestion seems to be however that if I want listeners to dig my mood, my music has to "act like" their musical preconceptions of my mood. Play the blues, make all kinds of facial expressions, major for happy & minor for sad....

Alan, try the Firebird Suite. I don't think it will leave you cold. 8)
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Re: Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by cnev » April 18th, 2012, 9:44 am

The more I really think about it the more I agree with the Stravinsky quote. You can play the same piece of music to a hundred people and each could have a totally different emotion/whatever from hearing it.

If the music itself was carrying that emotion all would perceive it the same but they don't so to me that tells me it's how each individuals mind processes those sounds and then how those sounds effect the listerner. But the whole emotional part is purely a human trait and has nothing to do with the music.
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Re: Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by boxboy » April 18th, 2012, 9:57 am

Interesting discussion.
A bit of a digression, but there's a seminal film experiment that explores ideas of expression (literally) but also context and audience expectation:

'Kuleshov edited together a short film in which a shot of the expressionless face of Tsarist matinee idol Ivan Mosjoukine was alternated with various other shots (a plate of soup, a girl, a little girl's coffin). The film was shown to an audience who believed that the expression on Mosjoukine's face was different each time he appeared, depending on whether he was "looking at" the plate of soup, the girl, or the coffin, showing an expression of hunger, desire or grief respectively. Actually the footage of Mosjoukine was the same shot repeated over and over again.'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuleshov_Effect
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Re: Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by cnev » April 18th, 2012, 10:08 am

So that to me reinforces what I just said, the emotion is in the listener not the music.
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Re: Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by greybeard » April 18th, 2012, 10:35 am

cnev wrote:If the music itself was carrying that emotion all would perceive it the same
Think about your reaction to a specific piece of music when you're happy and when you're sad - you react differently, so why shouldn't others react differently?
cnev wrote:....but they don't so to me that tells me it's how each individuals mind processes those sounds and then how those sounds effect the listerner.
Of course it is how an individual processes the sounds - and even the iindividual processes the sounds according to mood. That reinforces the emotional content of music, it isn't sterile and it isn't constant, it depends on the feelings of the listener.
cnev wrote:But the whole emotional part is purely a human trait and has nothing to do with the music.
Sorry, but it has been proven that animals react to music (there are those that maintain that plants also react to music).
Music is not just a sound, going into our ears, it consists of sound waves that are bombarding our physical structure and creating interference with the very fibre of our bodies. Animals have a similar structure, so why shouldn't they react similarly?
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Re: Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by Crow » April 18th, 2012, 10:50 am

greybeard wrote:...the iindividual processes the sounds according to mood. That reinforces the emotional content of music
Begging the question: What IS "the emotional content of music" if it's distinct from the listener's processes? How is it expressed apart from major-happy/minor-sad conventions?
greybeard wrote:
cnev wrote:But the whole emotional part is purely a human trait and has nothing to do with the music.
Sorry, but it has been proven that animals react to music
Do they react EMOTIONALLY to music? (I take it for granted that animals have emotional lives, so it wouldn't surprise me.)
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Re: Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by cnev » April 18th, 2012, 11:32 am

Sorry Grey I disagree. Music is sound that's all it really is, maybe the sound has varying intensity but it's still just sound. And who said major chords give a happy feeling...maybe to people familiar or use to Western music but I doubt everyone has the same feelings.

It's similar to art. Someone makes a painting and then other people interpret the meaning but to me anyway the painting has no meaning the meaning and emotions it illicits are ALL in the mind of the viewer they aren't part of the art itself.

And like Crow asked "What is the emotional element of music?" It's just a bunch of random sounds strung together.

Emotions are a feeling, music and art don't have emotions.

So I'm lying in bed at night and in the middle of the night I hear my door slowly sqeak as if it was opening....the sound (just like any other sound be it music or anything else) makes me feel scared (an emotion) so are you going to tell me the sqeaking door sound has emotion?

The other thing I've seen/heard that I always thought was funny was how many people on here always bash metal music or guys like Ywingve because when these shredders play they supposedly have no emotion..that's BS to me and I'm not saying that anyone in this thread ever said it but it's crap there's no difference between that and BB King playing a slow blues they are making sounds with a guitar one is no better or worse than the other it is what the listeners ears want it to be.
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Re: Emotion, expression, blah blah blah

Post by Liontable » April 18th, 2012, 2:09 pm

It's one of the greatest difficulties when learning to write, you know. One of the biggest pitfalls of new authors is that they do in fact write with emotion, but -what- they write fails to conceive emotion in readers: they automatically assume that the way they feel while writing is what others will feel while reading.

In my country English isn't a native language (obviously!). When young children here listen to the radio, they very often mistake a sad song for a happy one or something. "Con Te Partiro" is often mistaken for example due to Sarah Brightman's English translation. It's a love song instead of a sad one.

We learn to recognise certain patterns, and see how they might be a portrayal of emotions or link them. It has to become such a deep link that it becomes natural for us, in the same way that you will automatically read words if you see the letters. Jokes are funny because they create an absurdity, which creates tension, and then the tension gets released. If the given absurdity is not as deeply rooted (you might have seen circumstances where people really did believe all foreigners to be criminals for example), or it fails to build tension due to seeing it so many times maybe, the joke fails. Art might seem random to you, but someone "reading" it like a book might find it beautiful.

We "learn" music without knowing. No one teaches it, initially at least, so people develop differently. The question of emotions requires a very important nuance to the question: whose perspective are we looking from? An artist playing with emotion might seem completely blank to the audience. Many will describe it as "showing emotion", bringing out what's inside, in such a way that it connects to the audience. They find an audience with a somewhat similar state of mind (musical taste), and learn how to trigger the reactions. Certain notes, rhythms, anything. They learn to give the audience what they want.

This is how I look at it, in any case. But I'm probably with Greybeard on this one. Music in itself is noise, but we learn to give it meaning through patterns, connections: we learn to "read" music.

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