Sul gusto musicale

Perché preferiamo certe musiche piuttosto che altre?

A questa domanda cerca di rispondere Daniel Levitine nel suo saggio “My Favorite Things Why Do We Like the Music We Like?” – Our Brain on Music.

La nostra esperienza di ascoltatori inizia nel grembo materno

… Inside the womb, surrounded by amniotic fluid, the fetus hears sounds. It hears the heartbeat of its mother, at times speeding up, at other times slowing down. And the fetus hears music, as was recently discovered by Alexandra Lamont of Keele University in the UK. She found that, a year after they are born, children recognize and prefer music they were exposed to in the womb…

E’ lì che nascono i nostri gusti.

Nell’esperimento di Alexandra Lamont la mamma in attesa ascoltavano musiche ben precise…

… one year later, Lamont played babies the music that they had heard in the womb, along with another piece of music chosen to be matched for style and tempo… Lamont then determined which one the babies preferred…

Ma come si fa a capire quale musica preferisce un bambino di un anno? Ci sono tecniche piuttosto affidabili…

… a technique known as the conditioned head-turning procedure, developed by Robert Fantz in the 1960s, and refined by John Columbo, Anne Fernald, the late Peter Jusczyk, and their colleagues. Two loudspeakers are set up in the laboratory and the infant is placed (usually on his mother’s lap) between the speakers. When the infant looks at one speaker, it starts to play music or some other sound, and when he looks at the other speaker, it starts to play different music or a different sound. The infant quickly learns that he can control what is playing by where he is looking; he learns, that is, that the conditions of the experiment are under his control. The experimenters make sure that they counterbalance (randomize) the location that the different stimuli come from; that is, half the time the stimulus under study comes from one speaker and half the time it comes from the other. When Lamont did this with the infants in her study, she found that they tended to look longer at the speaker that was playing music they had heard in the womb… conditioned head-turning procedure… A control group of one-year-olds who had not heard any of the music before showed no preference…

Sembra che ai piccoli piacciano di più le musiche ritmate.

Ora sappiamo che il gusto musicale precede il linguaggio ma soprattutto che le esperienze fetali non vengono affatto dimenticate…

… It appears that for music even prenatal experience is encoded in memory, and can be accessed in the absence of language or explicit awareness of the memory…

E che dire dell’ “effetto Mozart”? C’è chi ha sostenuto che ascoltare Mozart sia d’aiuto allo sviluppo delle nostre facoltà cognitive. Subito è scattata la richiesta di sussidi

… U.S. congressmen were passing resolutions, the governor of Georgia appropriated funds to buy a Mozart CD for every newborn baby Georgian…

Purtroppo, questi studi sono fallati. Poco male, sarebbe offensivo considerare la musica come “strumentale” ad altro…

… Personally, I found all the hubbub a bit offensive because the implication was that music should not be studied in and of itself, or for its own right, but only if it could help people to do better on other, “more important” things… If I claimed that studying mathematics helped musical ability, would policy makers start pumping money into math for that reason?…

La musica a scuola è sempre il parente povero cosicché si crede di poterne alzare lo status dicendo “che fa diventare più intelligenti” ma così si rischia di peggiorarne l’immagine…

… Music has often been the poor stepchild of public schools, the first program to get cut when there are funding problems, and people frequently try to justify it in terms of its collateral benefits, rather than letting music exist for its own rewards… The problem with the “music makes you smarter” study turned out to be straightforward: The experimental controls were inadequate…

In genere si registrano piccole differenze nelle abilità spaziali ma solo quando la competizione è tra la pratica musicale ed il nulla. Una situazione poco realistica.

… Compared to sitting in a room and doing nothing, music listening looked pretty good. But if subjects in the control task were given the slightest mental stimulation—hearing a book on tape, reading, etc.—there was no advantage for music listening…

Inoltre, mancherebbe un rendiconto spiegazione causale

… Another problem with the study was that there was no plausible mechanism proposed by which this might work—how could music listening increase spatial performance?…

Inoltre, è bene distinguere tra il breve e il lungo periodo: le variazioni registrate negli esperimenti del “Mozart effect” riguardano solo l’immediato…

… Glenn Schellenberg has pointed out the importance of distinguishing short-term from long-term effects of music. The Mozart Effect referred to immediate benefits…

Cio’ non toglie che il contatto prolungato con la musica non abbia effetti sul nostro cervello, solo che nessuno è in grado di collegare questa incidenza ad un’ innalzamento delle facoltà cognitive. Lo sperimentatore più serio è al momento Gottfried Schlaug, ecco le sue scoperte…

… the front portion of the corpus callosum—the mass of fibers connecting the two cerebral hemispheres—is significantly larger in musicians than nonmusicians, and particularly for musicians who began their training early…musicians have… larger cerebellums than nonmusicians, and an increased concentration of gray matter… Whether these structural changes in the brain translate to enhanced abilities in nonmusical domains has not been proven…

Torniamo al gusto musicale: se inizia a formarsi nel grembo materno un ruolo importante lo svolge l’ambito culturale in cui cresce il bambino che mostrerà sempre una particolare predilezione per la musica a lui più vicina…

… There were reports a few years ago that prior to becoming used to the music of a foreign (to us) culture, all infants prefer Western music to other musics, regardless of their culture or race…

Il bambino riconosce ed apprezza i suoni consonanti

… infants do show a preference for consonance over dissonance. Appreciating dissonance comes later in life, and people differ in how much dissonance they can tolerate… Appreciating dissonance comes later in life… There is probably a neural basis for this… neurons in the primary auditory cortex—the first level of cortical processing for sound—synchronize their firing rates during dissonant chords, but not during consonant chords. Why that would create a preference for consonance is not yet clear… Trehub also showed that infants are more able to encode consonant intervals such as perfect fourth and perfect fifth than dissonant ones, like the tritone… infants are more able to encode consonant intervals such as perfect fourth and perfect fifth than dissonant ones… In other words, our brains and the musical scales we use seem to have coevolved. It is no accident that we have the funny, asymmetric arrangement of notes in the major scale…

Jenny Saffran e Laurel Trainor hanno lavorato a lungo sulla relazione del bambino con le frequenze dei suoni ascoltati…

… there is evidence that infants can also attend to absolute-pitch cues if the task requires it, suggesting a cognitive flexibility previously unknown…

Trehub e Dowling si sono concentrati sulla melodia e l’orecchio infantile…

… Trehub, Dowling, and others have shown that contour is the most salient musical feature for infants, who can detect contour similarities and differences even across thirty seconds of retention… contour is the most salient musical feature for infants…

Questa sensibilità melodica si riflette sui colloqui tra genitore (specie mamma) e bambino…

… Fernald and Trehub have documented the ways in which parents speak differently to infants than to older children and adults, and this holds across cultures. The resulting manner of speaking uses a slower tempo, an extended pitch range, and a higher overall pitch level. Mothers (and to a lesser extent, fathers) do this quite naturally without any explicit instruction… parents speak differently to infants than to older children and adults, and this holds across cultures… The resulting manner of speaking uses a slower tempo, an extended pitch range, and a higher overall pitch level… motherese helps to call the babies’ attention to the mother’s voice, and helps to distinguish words within the sentence. Instead of saying, as we would to an adult, “This is a ball,” motherese would entail something like, “Seeeeee?” (with the pitch of the eee’s going up to the end of the sentence). “See the BAAAAAALLLLLL?” (with the pitch covering an extended range and going up again at the end of the word ball)…

I vocalizzi dei bambini sono un’altra modalità di rapporto con la musica…

… Very early in childhood, most children start to spontaneously vocalize, and these early vocalizations can sound a lot like singing… The more music they hear, the more likely they are to include pitch and rhythmic variations in their spontaneous vocalizations…

La semplicità è la porta attraverso la quale il bimbo entra nel mondo della musica. Poi cominciano le loro esplorazioni su territori più avventurosi…

… Young children start to show a preference for the music of their culture by age two… At first, children tend to like simple songs, where simple means music that has clearly defined themes… and chord progressions that resolve in direct and easily predictable ways… As they mature, children start to tire of easily predictable music and search for music that holds more challenge… Researchers point to the teen years as the turning point for musical preferences. It is around the age of ten or eleven that most children take on music as a real interest…

La nostalgia influenzerà sempre i nostri gusti, cosicché la musica ascoltata nell’infanzia avrà un peso notevole. Dopo i vent’anni la nostra mente si chiude, diventiamo più ottusi, cosicché è molto più difficile fare nuove scoperte…

… As adults, the music we tend to be nostalgic for, the music that feels like it is “our” music, corresponds to the music we heard during these years. One of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease (a disease characterized by changes in nerve cells and neurotransmitter levels, as well as destruction of synapses) in older adults is memory loss. As the disease progresses, memory loss becomes more profound. Yet many of these old-timers can still remember how to sing the songs they heard when they were fourteen… There doesn’t seem to be a cutoff point for acquiring new tastes in music, but most people have formed their tastes by the age of eighteen or twenty. Why this is so is not clear, but several studies have found it to be the case. Part of the reason may be that in general, people tend to become less open to new experiences as they age… most people have formed their tastes by the age of eighteen or twenty…

L’età dell’adolescenza è cruciale, cerchiamo nuovi gruppi a cui unirci per formare la nostra identità, la musica gioca qui un ruolo di primo piano…

… During our teenage years, we begin to discover that there exists a world of different ideas, different cultures, different people… We also seek out different kinds of music. In Western culture in particular, the choice of music has important social consequences. We listen to the music that our friends listen to. Particularly when we are young, and in search of our identity, we form bonds or social groups with people whom we want to be like, or whom we believe we have something in common with… This ties into the evolutionary idea of music as a vehicle for social bonding and societal cohesion… To some degree, we might say that personality characteristics are associated with, or predictive of, the kind of music that people like…

La funzione principale della musica è quella di avvicinarci al nostro prossimo in un’ intimità che si realizza anche tra sconosciuti…

Dopo i vent’anni cercheremo di ridurre le nuove musiche ascoltate agli schemi per noi tradizionali, e questo sarà fonte di molte incomprensioni e abbandoni.

E’ un po’ come la lingua parlata. Ci sono delle basi neurologiche che spiegano la nostra ottusità nel far evolvere il nostro gusto…

… If a child doesn’t learn language by the age of six or so (whether a first or a second language), the child will never learn to speak with the effortlessness that characterizes most native speakers of a language. Music and mathematics have an extended window, but not an unlimited one: If a student hasn’t had music lessons or mathematical training prior to about age twenty, he can still learn these subjects, but only with great difficulty, and it’s likely that he will never “speak” math or music like someone who learned them early. This is because of the biological course for synaptic growth. The brain’s synapses are programmed to grow for a number of years, making new connections. After that time, there is a shift toward pruning, to get rid of unneeded connections. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to reorganize itself. Although in the last five years there have been some impressive demonstrations of brain reorganization that used to be thought impossible, the amount of reorganization that can occur in most adults is vastly less than can occur in children and adolescents…

L’equilibrio tra semplicità e complessità è decisivo per provare un piacere musicale e naturalmente la collocazione del punto d’equilibrio è affare soggettivo.  Possiamo dire che la percezione del bello dipende da come “abitiamo” questo punto cruciale che ognuno di noi possiede.

… The balance between simplicity and complexity in music also informs our preferences. Scientific studies of like and dislike across a variety of aesthetic domains—painting, poetry, dance, and music—have shown that an orderly relationship exists between the complexity of an artistic work and how much we like it. Of course, complexity is an entirely subjective concept. In order for the notion to make any sense, we have to allow for the idea that what seems impenetrably complex to Stanley might fall right in the “sweet spot” of preference for Oliver…

Ciascuno di noi possiede degli schemi armato dei quali entra in contatto con la musica: difficoltà e semplicità dipendono da come una data musica si adatta ai nostri schemi…

… In a sense, schemas are everything. They frame our understanding; they’re the system into which we place the elements and interpretations of an aesthetic object. Schemas inform our cognitive models and expectations. With one schema, Mahler’s Fifth is perfectly interpretable, even upon hearing it for the first time… listeners will be aware that most symphonies from Haydn to Brahms and Bruckner typically begin and end in the same key. Mahler flouts this convention with his Fifth, moving from C-sharp minor to A minor and finally ending in D major. If you had not learned to hold in your mind a sense of key as the symphony develops, or if you did not have a sense of the normal trajectory of a symphony, this would be meaningless; but for the seasoned listener, this flouting of convention brings a rewarding surprise, a violation of expectations, especially when such key changes are done skillfully so as not to be jarring… Lacking a proper symphonic schema, or if the listener holds another schema, perhaps that of an aficionado of Indian ragas, Mahler’s Fifth is nonsensical…

Un’idea di brutto:

… When a musical piece is too simple we tend not to like it, finding it trivial. When it is too complex, we tend not to like it, finding it unpredictable—we don’t perceive it to be grounded in anything familiar… the right balance between simplicity and complexity in order for us to like it. Simplicity and complexity relate to familiarity, and familiarity is just another word for a schema…

Ma che cosa è “troppo semplice” o “troppo complicato”? Si tratta di concetti che hanno a che vedere con la nostra capacità previsionale…

… An operational definition is that we find a piece too simple when we find it trivially predictable, similar to something we have experienced before, and without the slightest challenge… indeterminacy leads to tension and expectations, and the tension is finally released when the game is over… When music is too predictable, the outcome too certain, and the “move” from one note or chord to the next contains no element of surprise, we find the music unchallenging and simplistic…

Parliamo qui di concetti relativi

… Of course, different people, with different personality types, react differently to such unanticipated journeys, musical or vehicular. Some react with sheer panic (“That Stravinsky is going to kill me!”) and some react with a sense of adventure at the thrill of discovery (“Coltrane is doing something weird here, but what the hell, it won’t hurt me to stick around awhile longer, I can take care of my harmonic self and find my way back to musical reality if I have to”)… Music that involves too many chord changes, or unfamiliar structure, can lead many listeners straight to the nearest exit, or to the “skip” button on their music players… The structure presents a steep learning curve, and the novice can’t be sure that the time invested will be worth it… People may tell you that Schönberg is brilliant, or that Tricky is the next Prince, but if you can’t figure out what is going on in the first minute or so of one of their pieces, you may find yourself wondering if the payoff will justify the effort…

Il gradimento potrebbe essere rappresentato da una U invertita dove sulle ascisse mettiamo il grado di complessità della musica. Ogni ascoltatore possiede la sua U rovesciata ma cio’ non implica una concezione estetica relativistica poiché il punto di massimo della U rovesciata è un assoluto…

… The orderly relationship between complexity and liking is referred to as the inverted-U function because of the way a graph would be drawn that relates these two factors. Imagine a graph in which the x-axis is how complex a piece of music is (to you) and the y-axis is how much you like it… relationship between complexity and liking is referred to as the inverted-U function… The inverted-U hypothesis is not meant to imply that the only reason you might like or dislike a piece of music is because of its simplicity or complexity. Rather, it is intended to account for this variable. The elements of music can themselves form a barrier to appreciation of a new piece of music…

Un altro elemento che informa il nostro gusto musicale è la dinamica dei pezzi ascoltati…

…But even the dynamic range of a piece—the disparity between the loudest and softest parts—can cause some people to reject it. This can be especially true for people who use music to regulate their mood in a specific way. Someone who wants music to calm her down, or someone else who wants music to pep him up for a workout, is probably not going to want to hear a musical piece that runs the loudness gamut all the way from very soft to very loud, or emotionally from sad to exhilarating (as does Mahler’s Fifth, for example)…

Le frequenze possono essere altrettanto importanti…

… Pitch can also play into preference. Some people can’t stand the thumping low beats of modern hip-hop, others can’t stand what they describe as the high-pitched whininess of violins. Part of this may be a matter of physiology; literally, different ears may transmit different parts of the frequency spectrum, causing some sounds to appear pleasant and others aversive…

E che dire del ritmo?…

… Rhythm and rhythmic patterns influence our ability to appreciate a given musical genre or piece. Many musicians are drawn to Latin music because of the complexity of the rhythms. To an outsider, it all just sounds “Latin,” but to someone who can make out the nuances of when a certain beat is strong relative to other beats, Latin music is a whole world of interesting complexity: bossa nova, samba, rhumba, beguine, mambo, merengue, tango—each is a completely distinct and identifiable style of music… For other listeners, rhythms that are too simple are the deal-breaker for a style of music. The typical complaint of my parents’ generation about rock and roll, apart from how loud it seemed to them, was that it all had the same beat…

Il timbro, un parametro a lungo trascurato, oggi è ridiventato centrale. Qui la familiarità sembra particolarmente importante poiché la memoria gioca un ruolo centrale…

… The first time I heard John Lennon or Donald Fagen sing, I thought the voices unimaginably strange. I didn’t want to like them. Something kept me going back to listen, though—perhaps it was the strangeness—and they wound up being two of my favorite voices… Having listened to thousands of hours of both these singers, and tens of thousands of playings of their songs, my brain has developed circuitry that can pick out their voices from among thousands of others, even when they sing something I’ve never heard them sing before. My brain has encoded every vocal nuance and every timbral flourish, so that if I hear an alternate version of one of their songs—as we do on the John Lennon Collection of demo versions of his albums—I can immediately recognize the ways in which this performance deviates from the one I have stored in the neural pathways of my long-term memory…

Per le preferenze le precedenti esperienze risultano imprescindibili, una povertà di esperienze pregresse potrebbe precluderci molti generi musicali…

… As with other sorts of preferences, our musical preferences are also influenced by what we’ve experienced before… If you had a negative experience once with pumpkin—say, for example, it made you sick to your stomach—you are likely to be wary of future excursions into pumpkin gustation. If you’ve had only a few, but largely positive, encounters with broccoli, you might be willing to try a new broccoli recipe… The types of sounds, rhythms, and musical textures we find pleasing are generally extensions of previous positive experiences we’ve had with music in our lives… We take pleasure in the sensory experience, and find comfort in its familiarity

Con l’ascolto condividiamo una bellezza e ci abbandoniamo mostrando la nostra vulnerabilità, a volte, per farlo, è necessario sentirsi sicuri, è necessario abbracciare non solo la musica ma i valori dell’autore. Anche per questo certe persone non riescono ad apprezzare, per esempio, il Wagner proto-nazista. Questa esigenza ci fa capire anche la propensione all’idolatria dell’artista.

… Safety plays a role for a lot of us in choosing music. To a certain extent, we surrender to music when we listen to it—we allow ourselves to trust the composers and musicians with a part of our hearts and our spirits; we let the music take us somewhere outside of ourselves. Many of us feel that great music connects us to something larger than our own existence, to other people, or to God… We want to know that our vulnerability is not going to be exploited. This is part of the reason why so many people can’t listen to Wagner. Due to his pernicious anti-Semitism, the sheer vulgarity of his mind (as Oliver Sacks describes it), and his music’s association with the Nazi regime, some people don’t feel safe listening to his music. Wagner has always disturbed me profoundly, and not just his music, but also the idea of listening to it. I feel reluctant to give into the seduction of music created by so disturbed a mind and so dangerous (or impenetrably hard) a heart as his, for fear that I might develop some of the same ugly thoughts. When I listen to the music of a great composer I feel that I am, in some sense, becoming one with him, or letting a part of him inside me… This accounts for the fandom that surrounds popular musicians—the Grateful Dead, the Dave Matthews Band, Phish, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles, R.E.M., Ani DiFranco. We allow them to control our emotions and even our politics—to lift us up, to bring us down…

L’arte realizza una connessione intima con l’autore, per questo gran parte delle canzoni hanno per oggetto l’amore…

… The power of art is that it can connect us to one another, and to larger truths about what it means to be alive and what it means to be human. When Neil Young sings “Old man look at my life, I’m a lot like you were . . . . Live alone in a paradise that makes me think of two. we feel for the man who wrote the song…” We hear vulnerability in unlikely places and it brings us closer to the artist. David Byrne (of the Talking Heads) is generally known for his abstract, arty lyrics, with a touch of the cerebral. In his solo performance of “Lilies of the Valley,” he sings about being alone and scared. Part of our appreciation for this lyric is enhanced by knowing something about the artist, or at least the artist’s persona, as an eccentric intellectual, who rarely revealed something as raw and transparent as being afraid… This may explain why the most common form of musical expression, from the Psalms of David to Tin Pan Alley to contemporary music, is the love song…

L’esplorazione di nuove musiche è un’attività che non tutti possono permettersi, abbiamo visto come dopo i vent’anni il nostro fisico ci gioca contro, ma nell’era di internet e degli accessi facilitati è una qualità valorizzata…

… Some of us are more open to experimentation than others in all aspects of our lives, including music; and at various times in our life we may seek or avoid experimentation… As Internet radio and personal music players are becoming more popular, I think that we will be seeing personalized music stations… I think it will be important that whatever form this technology takes, listeners should have an “adverturesomeness” knob they can turn that will control the mix of old and new, or the mix of how far out the new music is from what they usually listen to…

Lo schema con il quale “ascoltiamo” puo’ esserci tramandato ma più spesso nasce spontaneamente dagli ascolti ripetuti. Da quello schema dipenderanno le nostre preferenze future…

… Our music listening creates schemas for musical genres and forms, even when we are only listening passively, and not attempting to analyze the music. By an early age, we know what the legal moves are in the music of our culture. For many, our future likes and dislikes will be a consequence of the types of cognitive schemas we formed for music through childhood listening… our early exposure is often our most profound, and becomes the foundation for further musical understanding…

COMMENTO PERSONALE

Una trattazione convincente di come nasce il gusto musicale, almeno a livello fisiologico. Mi chiedo come queste informazioni possano in qualche modo informare una teoria estetica. David Levitine sostiene che il gradimento potrebbe essere rappresentato da una U invertita dove sulle ascisse viene posto il grado di complessità della musica. Poiché si insiste sulla soggettività di concetti come “semplice” e “complesso” parrebbe che siano favorite delle concezioni estetiche relativiste. Ma così potrebbe non essere poiché il punto di massimo della U rovesciata è un assoluto, nel senso che in alcuni ascoltatori puo’ situarsi più in alto che in altri.

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