CHAP1 - 1 Introduction The world provides an endless stream...

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Unformatted text preview: 1 Introduction The world provides an endless stream of unfolding events that can surprise, delight, frighten, or bore. Such emotions provide the intimate experiences that define our personal lives. Sometimes emotions are overwhelming—as when we experience great pleasure or great agony. More often, emotions add subtle nuances that color our per- ceptions of the world. Emotions add depth to existence; they give meaning and value to life. How do emotions arise? What purposes do they serve? What accounts for the dis- tinctive feelings we experience? These questions have stimulated philosophers for centuries. More recently, these questions have inspired the curiosity of psychologists and cognitive scientists. But they are also questions that attract the attention of the “practitioners” of emotion. Playwrights, novelists, poets, film directors, musicians, choreographers, comedians, and theatrical magicians all have a professional interest in what distinguishes delight from boredom. Therapists, game designers, carnival operators, and traffic engineers have good reasons to try to understand what causes people to be surprised or fearful. Even advertisers and politicians have practical motivations for understanding how the flux of events shape human emotional experiences. It is no coincidence that the performing arts have figured prominently in attempts to understand the dynamics of emotion. Over hundreds of years, poets, actors, come- dians, and musicians have developed a sort of folk psychology about how certain emotions can be generated. Of the many arts, music has perhaps faced the most onerous challenges. Where the poet or playwright can evoke sadness by narrating a recognizably sad story, musicians must create sadness through abstract nonrepresen- tational sounds. Where a comedian might evoke laughter through parody, wordplay, or absurd tales, musicians must find more abstract forms of parody and absurdity. Where magicians evoke awe by appearing to transgress the laws of physics, no com— parable recipe exists for creating musical awe. Despite the difficulties, musicians have amply demonstrated an exquisite skill in evoking the profoundly sad, the twistedly absurd, and the deeply awe-inspiring. 2 Chapter 1 In each of the arts, codes of practice, heuristic rules of thumb, and speculative theo— ries have been passed from teacher to student across the generations. These folk psy— chologies are based on a combination of intuition and tried-and—true techniques. In music, composers absorb a number of cliches—useful devices that are most easily observed in film scores. Trained musicians will readily recognize some commonplace examples: tragedy can be evoked by using predominantly minor chords played with rich sonorities in the bass register. Suspense can be evoked using a diminished seventh chord with rapid tremolo. Surprise can be evoked by introducing a loud chromatic chord on a weak beat. For many thoughtful musicians, such clichés raise the question, “Why do these techniques work?” To this question, an ethnomusicologist might add a second: "Why do they often fail to work for listeners not familiar with Western music?” And an experienced film composer might insist on adding a third: "Why do they sometimes fail to work, even for those who are familiar with Western music?” In addressing these questions, intuition and folk psychology provide important starting points. But if we want to probe these questions in depth, we must ultimately embrace a more systematic approach. In theorizing about music and emotion, it is inevitable that we must move beyond folk psychology to psychology proper. Many of the arts achieve specific emotional effects through a sort of stylized depic- tion or representation of common emotional displays. The mime exaggerates human body language and facial expressions. The cartoonist distills these same expressions into a few suggestive pen strokes. Even when a dancer aims for a strictly formal per- formance, her body mOVements will still tend to imply natural gestures or socially defined expressions. Music too involves mimicry of some natural emotional expres- sions. But aesthetic philosophers and music commentators have long noted that music is not a “representational” art in the way that painting or sculpture can be. How is music so successful in evoking emotions when its capabilities for representing the natural world seem so constrained? In the 19505, the renowned musicologist Leonard Meyer drew attention to the importance of expectation in the listener’s experience of music. Meyer’s seminal book, Emotion and Meaning in Music, argued that the principal emotional content of music arises through the composer’s choreographing of expectation. Meyer noted that com- posers sometimes thwart our expectations, sometimes delay an expected outcome, and sometimes simply give us what we expect. Meyer suggested that, although music does contain representational elements, the principal source for music’s emotive power lies in the realm of expectation.1 As a work of music theory, Meyer’s approach was pioneering in its frequent appeals to psychological explanations. Despite Meyer’s interest in psychology, however, Emotion and Meaning in Music was written at a time when there was little pertinent psychological research to draw on. In the intervening decades, a considerable volume .0.» flax. magma, 1,4. x . H». M Wwflmww, . Introduction ' 3 of experimental and theoretical knowledge has accumulated.2 This research provides an opportunity to revisit Meyer’s topic and to recast the discussion in light of con— temporary findings. The principal purpose of this book is to fill in the details and to describe a comprehensive theory of expectation—a theory I have dubbed the “ITPRA” theory. Of course, expectations are not the province of music alone; expectation is a con— stant part of mental life. A cook expects a broth to taste a certain way. A pedestrian expects traffic to move when the light turns green. A poker player expects an opponent to bluff. A pregnant woman expects to give birth. Even as you read this book, you have many unconscious expectations of how a written text should unfold. If my text were abruptly to change topics, or if the prose suddenly switched to a foreign language, you would probably be dismayed. Nor do the changes need to be dramatic in order to have an effect. Some element of surprise would occur if a sentence simply ended. Prematurely. Any theory of musical expectation necessarily presupposes a general theory of expectation. The ITPRA theory is intended to provide such a general theory. The theory is ambitious in scope and aims to account for all of the main psychological phenomena related to expectation. In particular, the ITPRA theory endeavors to account for the many emotion-related elements of expectation. The theory attempts to explain how expectations evoke various feeling states, and why these evoked feel- ings might be biologically useful. The story of expectation is intertwined with both biology and culture. Expectation is a biological adaptation with specialized physiological structures and a long evolu- tionary pedigree. At the same time, culture provides the preeminent environment in which many expectations are acquired and applied. This is especially true in the case of music, where the context for predicting future sounds is dominated by cultural norms. In attempting to understand expectation, it is essential to take both biology and culture seriously. Accordingly, my text will freely meander through such topics as physiological and evolutionary psychology, learning, enculturation, style, and music history. From an evolutionary perspective, the capacity to form accurate expectations about future events confers significant biological advantages. Those who can predict the future are better prepared to take advantage of opportunities and sidestep dangers. Over the past 500 million years or so, natural selection has favored the development of perceptual and cognitive systems that help organisms to anticipate future events. Like other animals, humans come equipped with a variety of mental capacities that help us form expectations about what is likely to happen. Accurate expectations are adaptive mental functions that allow organisms to prepare for appropriate action and perception. But what about the emotional "feelings" that are often conjured up as a result of expectations? What gives anticipation or surprisa their distinctive phenomenological 4 ' Chapter 1 characters? The story of emotion is intertwined with the psychology of behavioral motivation. Emotions are motivational amplifiers.3 Emotions encourage organisms to pursue behaviors that are normally adaptive, and to avoid behaviors that are normally maladaptive. In this regard, the emotions evoked by expectation do not differ in func- tion from other emotions. As we will see, the emotions accompanying expectations are intended to reinforce accurate prediction, promote appropriate event-readiness, and increase the likelihood of future positive outcomes. We will discover that music-making taps into these primordial functions to produce a wealth of compelling emotional experiences, In this way, musicians are able to create a number of pleasur- able emotional experiences, including surprise, awe, “chills,” comfort, and even laughter. The biological purpose of expectation is to prepare an organism for the future. A useful place to begin is to consider, in general, what it means to be prepared. Preparation When you switch on a light, electrical energy streams down a convoluted path of wires from a distant power station. The speed with which this happens is impressive. The electricity flows at nearly the speed of light, which means that the power you consume was generated less than one one—thousandth of a second earlier. There is no time at the power station to "gear up” for your demand. The turbine generators must already be producing the electricity that the power company thinks you (and other customers) might need. Any energy generated that is not used by current customers is simply wasted: fuel is burned for no good reason. Clearly, power companies have a strong incentive to anticipate precisely how much power should be produced at any given moment in time. All biological organisms consume power-power to maintain metabolisms, to move muscles, and to spark nervous systems. This power is expensive. It must be generated from the food the animal consumes, and gathering food is difficult, time—consuming, and very often dangerous. As with the electrical grid, the amount of power required by an organism changes from moment to moment, so it is important for the animal to avoid waste by matching the amount of energy generated with the amount the animal needs. Commercial power producers employ teams of statisticians whose sole job is to try to predict power demands. They estimate what time people will get up on Saturday morning, how many people are likely to watch the big game on TV, and whether the outside temperature will entice customers to turn on their air conditioners. The pre- dictive models used by utility companies are elaborate and impressive feats of human ingenuity. But like so many other human creations, the complexity and efficiency of these predictive models pale when compared with the achievements of nature. mxmwmmmu .. . Introduction 5 Organisms are constantly trying to conserve energy. Bodies (including brains) drift toward low states of arousal when no action or thought is needed. In a static unchalw lenging environment, minds grow bored and bodies grow limp. We respond to these environments by invoking nature's all-purpose energy-conservation strategy—sleep. Of course, sometimes the events of the world do require some appropriate action, and so the body and mind must be roused in preparation, Like a machine that has been turned off, a certain amount of time is needed for us to “power up.” When you unexpectedly hear the sound of a barking dog, your heart will quicken and the volume of blood flowing to your muscles will increase. At the same time, an important hormone, norepinephrine, will be released in your brain making you more alert and attentive. In truly dangerous situations, this response, quick as it is, may prove to be too slow. Like a power “brown out,” the demands of the body might momentarily exceed the supply of resources. Many animals have become another animal’s dinner in the split second required to respond to danger. If only one could have known in advance to increase the power output and pay closer attention. If one could have antici- pated the danger, a more effective response might have been rallied. Over the eons, brains have evolved a number of mechanisms for predicting the future. The biological purpose of these mechanisms is to prepare the body and mind for future events while simultaneously minimizing the consumption of metabolic resources. From a physiological perspective, there are two interrelated systems that influence metabolic consumption: arousal and attention. The arousal system controls heart rate, respiration, perspiration, and many other functions associated with move- ment. The attention system is more subtle. Attention spurs the brain to be more engaged with the world. Instead of looking at nothing in particular, our gaze becomes focused. Instead of tuning out a conversation, we pay close attention to what is being said. Instead of daydreaming, we become grounded in the here and now. All of this takes energy. Arousal and attention levels fluctuate according to both the actual and the antici- pated demands of the environment. When we think of arousal and attention reacting to the environment, there is a tendency to think foremost of them as increasing. However, the arousal and attention systems can also reduce or inhibit responsiveness. The experiences of boredom and sleepiness are no less manifestations of metabolic fine-tuning than are the experiences of excitement and exhilaration. We may also tend to think of arousal and attention as systems that deal necessarily with the uncertainties of life, But even if we knew with exact precision and certainty all of the future events in our lives, we would still need anticipatory mental and cor- poreal changes to fine-tune our minds and bodies to the upcoming events. Suppose, for example, that I know that at 9:18 A.M. I will encounter an obstacle on the path requiring me to steer my bicycle around it. This godlike foreknowledge does not absolve me from having to attend to the object and make the appropriate motor 6 ‘ Chapter 1 movements at the appointed time. Nor can I execute any of the needed mental or corporeal maneuvers before they are required. 30 perfect knowledge of the future would not change the fact that attention and arousal levels must fluctuate according to the moment. Of course, such perfect knowledge of the future doesn’t exist; we do live in a world in which the future is uncertain, and this uncertainty does make it more difficult to produce the optimum arousal and attention. How do we prepare for a future that has untold possibilities? Sometimes this uncertainty doesn’t matter. There are some situa- tions where the precise outcome is highly uncertain, but where all of the potential outcomes would require the same type of mental and physical preparation. In a casino, a roulette croupier has no idea which number will appear on the wheel, but the croupier’s ensuing actions are highly practiced: collect the chips from the losing bets and reward any successful bets. While the croupier’s actions are obviously guided by the result on the roulette wheel, the croupier’s response depends very little on the specific outcome—unlike the responses of the gamblers! These sorts of situations are not commonplace, however. More commonly, different outcomes will require different optimum responses. The body typically faces a quan- dary: which of several possible outcomes does one prepare for? In preparing the body and mind for these outcomes, our instincts are depressingly pessimistic. Like a grum- bling naysayer, nature tends to assume the worst. Consider, for example, the slamming of a door. Even though we may see that the door is about to slam shut, it is difficult to suppress the impending startle or defense reflex. We know the door poses no danger to us, but the sound of the slamming door provokes a powerful bodily response anyway. Despite our annoyance, nature knows best: it is better to respond to a thou— sand false alarms than to miss a single genuinely dangerous situation. As we will see later, nature’s tendency to overreact provides a golden opportunity for musicians. Composers can fashion passages that manage to provoke remarkably strong emotions using the most innocuous stimuli imaginable. As every music—lover knows, simple sequences of sounds hold an enormous potential to shape feelings. As we will see, it is nature’s knee—jerk pessimism that provides the engine for much of music’s emotional power~including feelings of joy and elation. The object of expectation is an event in time. Uncertainty accompanies not only what will happen but also when it will happen. Sometimes the when is certain but not the what. Sometimes the what is known, but not the when. Later, we will see how music manipulates both kinds of uncertainty, and how the different what/when com- binations produce different emotional responses. Along with what and when, brains also predict where and why—but these are more specialized operations. For sound stimuli, the where expectations are associated with physiologically ancient structures for sound localization. Musicians have sometimes manipulated the locations of sounds (as in the antiphonal works of Giovanni Gabrieli lmw.&'.u.;;r win ‘ i Introduction 7 or the electroacoustic works of Karlheinz Stockhausen), but they have less often manipulated listener expectations of location. The why expectations are associated with physiologically recent structures associated with conscious thought. In contrast to the what and when of prediction, the where and why components of auditory expectation have played little role in musical organization and experience. But they represent opportunities for future enterprising composers. Emotional Consequences of Expectations As I have noted, the ability to anticipate future events is important for survival. Minds are “wired” for expectation. Neuroscientists have identified several brain structures that appear to be essential for prediction and anticipation. These include the substan- tia nigra, the ventral tegmental area, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the lateral prefrontal cortical areas.4 Most people will regard such biological facts as uninteresting details. For most of us, the more compelling details pertain to the subjective experi- ence. From a phenomenological perspective, the most interesting property of expecta- tion is the feeling that can be evoked. What happens in the future matters to us, so it should not be surprising that how the future unfolds has a direct effect on how we feel. Why precisely do expectations evoke various feeling states? I propose that the emo- tions evoked by expectation involve five functionally distinct physiological systems: imagination, tension, prediction, reaction, and appraisal. Each of these systems can evoke responses independently. The responses involve both physiological and psycho- logical changes. Some of these changes are autonomic and might entail changes of attention, arousal, and motor movement. Others involve noticeable psychological changes such as rumination and conscious evaluation. Outcomes matter, so the evoked emotions segregate into positive and negative kinds. That is, the feeling states are valenced. Positive feelings reward states deemed to be adaptive, and negative feelings punish us for states deemed to be maladaptive. The word “de...
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