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Music's Mystery:

The secret to music's emotion

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  • The Debate

    Music's Mystery

    Since the Pythagoreans first investigated the relationship between mathematics and harmony, we have developed theories to explain away the power of music. Is this an error? Should we relish the ineffability of music, or is this a capitulation to mindless romanticism?

    The Panel

    Composer Joanna Bailie, Cambridge systems physicist Michael McIntyre, and author of The Music Instinct Philip Ball ask whether it is possible to explain music's power.

    In association with the SHM Foundation

  • Find out more about speakers

Jump to what you want to see in the debate
  • Joanna Bailie
    The Pitch
    No single theory can explain the power of music
  • Michael McIntyre
    The Pitch
    We may analyse it, but we will never solve music's mystery
  • Philip Ball
    The Pitch
    We still don't know what makes for great music
  • The Debate
    Theme One
    How does music incite our emotions?
  • The Debate
    Theme Two
    Cultural illusions
  • The Debate
    Theme Three
    Mathematics and music
Want to learn more about our speakers?
Join the conversation

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abondano on 14/12/2014 3:56am

Joanna explains everything on one of her first sentences, "music is sound".

You could even see that the mathematician could recognize music firstly as form containg forces that produces tension or resolution. Then he later talks about the minimalistic works, but he only goes as far as this point. He didnt get, "music is sound". Would be a much better example to quote Cage 4 33. You can make music from a click, no tension, no expectation. And yet get deep feeling, as true as a deep though. Or create something with no expetasions and has verry powerful effect. They except as much of our ears that the musical event needs a reasonable, rational, or emotional background before everythig was put on place. Does the rain expects to sound beautiful?

rosinhaly on 08/11/2013 2:21pm

The emotional response we get to music is something very human in my mind. It seems difficult to believe that it's to do with McIntyre pleasant platonic objects or Ball's mislead expectations... Music does move us in a way that simple speech doesn't though, and perhaps Mark Changizi was right, when he suggested that music moves us because it's been culturally selected to sound like an emotionally expressive human.

Henry on 08/11/2013 12:32pm

I think it requires quite a leap of faith to take as a given that the reason why music incites emotion in us is due to the setting up of expectations which are then broken. There is almost nothing there to suggest that this is why music affects us, the fact that it does however is beyond question. Advances in neuroscience, most famously the creation and refinement of brain imaging, has shown that both listening to and creating music creates changes in our brain chemistry. Surely you cannot trick yourself by creating an expectation and then breaking it? Isn't that by itself already enough to undermine this theory?

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