Earlier this week, ScienceOmega.com
reported on a US study that investigated how dissonant and jarring music is able to evoke deep-seated emotional responses from listeners. The article, Dissonant music evokes our ‘inner animal’
, explains how a UCLA-based research team discovered that such music shares distinctive characteristics with distress calls from the animal kingdom.
The team, which comprised both scientific and musical expertise, played various types of music to test subjects before gauging their reactions to the different compositions. The pieces ranged from the blandest elevator music to arrangements that move from an easy-listening stroll to the musical embodiment of Picasso’s take on Dora Maar’s face. The test subjects – a group of trusting undergraduates – were then asked to rate the different compositions depending on how arousing they found them and on whether they viewed them as being positive or negative.
Melodic, soothing sounds, such as birdsong and Terry Wogan, seem to reinforce the status quo by letting us know that everything is as it should be. Jarring sounds, on the other hand, like squawking and Richard Madeley, are there to let us know that something is amiss and that it’s time to hightail it out of there. It’s the natural order of things.
When a sample featured distortion, listeners tended to rate it as exciting but negative. The researchers contend that this is because dissonant music is often akin to the voices of distressed animals. Therefore, the reactions demonstrated by the test subjects could be attributable to music’s ability to evoke our ‘inner animal’.*
When you think about it, this all makes perfect sense. Many believe that human beings are hot-wired to wake when a baby cries. Many new parents would love to test this theory if only they could get to sleep in the first place. Melodic, soothing sounds, such as birdsong and Terry Wogan, seem to reinforce the status quo by letting us know that everything is as it should be. Jarring sounds, on the other hand, like squawking and Richard Madeley, are there to let us know that something is amiss and that it’s time to hightail it out of there. It’s the natural order of things.
Another interesting finding made during this study, was that if dissonant music accompanies unevocative imagery, arousal levels are placated but negative feelings persist. Again, this makes perfect sense. To test my assertion, sit and watch ITV’s The Jeremy Kyle Show
for five minutes.** You are sure to see the blandest imagery paired with the most offensive sounds, and this concoction will leave you feeling simultaneously unstimulated and negative about life.
These findings got me thinking about the shape that dissonant music of the future might take. If we are still being emotionally manipulated by sounds that haunted us some 250,000 years ago, perhaps generations a quarter of a million years hence will be perturbed by the sounds of today. Here are my top three predictions concerning the evocative noises that will inhabit the music of Homo sapiens
In third place, I have opted for the vuvuzela. Hopefully, this ‘instrument’ will be a short-lived phase of modernity, destined to be forgotten along with the party-hooter of antiquity. However, if it does make an indelible mark on humankind’s consciousness, it could well provide a droning backdrop to the pop music of tomorrow.
In second place is the drill. This sound, of course, could take any number of different guises. Whether pneumatic, orthodontic or domestic, the whir is sure to be a musical feature that will needle the primitive emotions of humanity’s children.
My choice for the most antagonising sound of modernity might well surprise you. Unlike noises three and two, this is a short sharp spurt of audible agony. It is a sound that – in my opinion – encapsulates the futility of the human condition; a sound that already has the potency to induce involuntary grimaces at will. I am of course talking about the sound that signifies that your version of Microsoft Windows has encountered an error.
So there it is. The current crop of dissonant music might invoke animalistic warning sounds from our primitive past, but it is nothing in comparison to my nightmarish vision of future disharmonies. A vuvuzela baseline will support a chorus of jarring drilling, whilst the drum of error alerts arhythmically attack the souls of its audience. It’s almost enough to make you embrace the present.
* I propose further research on Lion Bars
** Obviously, don’t
*** Homo ultimatus