Avon Books Inc.1998. ISBN 0-380-78209-X

Robert Jourdain takes a more technical approach to the question "What is music?", aiming to cover a lot of ground.

He looks at music as a mood enhancer used by different people in different ways. There seem to be some universal features such as the correct music for film scores to emphasize love, suspense, anger etc., but it is also personal, in that one mans exciting beat is anothers boredom and irritation.

The book, I think mistakenly, sticks mostly to classical music. A true comprehensive study of the emotional impact of music should look at the music that most people listen and react to, rather than the (admittedly more interesting) minority classical area.

He follows the trail of sound from the most simple to the most complex, from chapter 1, "From sound.... " to chapter 10 " ecstasy."

Hearing is identified as the most recent sense, following behind the evolution of vision, touch, taste and smell. Animals react to sound, and so do we, although we can take things to a higher level of analysis in what we hear. Our unique sound is structured speech (essential to us) and seemingly not so essential music.

Speech ranges from the very simple and satisfying, designed to communicate basic desires, to the complicated and difficult, designed to communicate complex ideas - potentially also satisfying, but in an intellectually more structured way.

Similarly, music ranges from the simple melody that gives an easy pleasure, to more complicated orchestral music that can deliver pleasure through more careful listening and appreciation of its structure.

He shows that music is unnatural in that it mostly deals in vibrations that emanate from 1 (which can be any frequency) and its simplest divisions; 2,3 giving1/2 2/3 etc. In contrast, natural sounds can be any fraction, depending for example(top)

on how strongly the wind is rustling some leaves. It's the structure that makes the music, and as Jourdain says, "it is not the waltz's notes, but rather relations between those notes that makes a body want to dance."

On page 85 he interestingly gives rules for handling these relations (ie. in composing a melody) that seem to amount to a (chaotic?) edge. If the composition is more predictable it will be boring and if it is less predictable it will be confusing and irritating.

He relates the more personal kinds of music mood enhancement to the effects of different drugs. As he says, "Psychologists have long known that different personality types are attracted to different types of drugs, legal and illegal. There's a parallel here. We "take" a certain type of music to steer our central nervous systems towards a particular condition: hard rock as the frenzied rush of cocaine; easy-listening genres as a martini; cheery supermarket Muzak as a pick-me-up cup of coffee; cool jazz as a laid-back marijuana high; the far flung landscapes of classical music as the fantasy realm of psychedelics.

Throughout the text he uses Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther" theme to illustrate his points, making an interesting contrast on page 294: The theme has a stealthy feel to it as you imagine a panther creeping along. The word "stealth" conjures up some ideas but as he says, "The music mimics stealth; it doesn't name it." - Hence the directness and emotional impact as it doesn't have to pass through the verbal stage. There is a sort of instinctive reaction and as he points out, "A nervous system must always be on the lookout for the most important activities to which to devote itself. This is the ultimate purpose of emotion."

So the conclusion, although he doesn't spell it out, is that; music that mimics (usually pop music) triggers emotions, and that music that creates a complex harmonic structure (usually classical) triggers a cooler aesthetic appreciation and emotion only to the extent that it mimics.

This book is highly recommended.

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