Friday, February 19, 2016

Manipulated by music

Here's my music psychology column from the latest issue of Sapere magazine.


Does Alex, the ultra-violent delinquent in Anthony Burgess’ novel A Clockwork Orange, find something in Beethoven that matches his psychopathic tendencies? Does Beethoven perhaps even incite them? We’re left to guess. It seems more than mere coincidence however, that 16 years after Stanley Kubrick’s notorious movie of the novel, musicologist Susan McClary argued that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, one of Alex’s favourites, articulates a rapist’s rage.

That suggestion drew much criticism, even derision. But behind it seems to lie the suspicion that music can influence behaviour, for better or worse. It’s an ancient idea. Aristotle felt that the wrong kind of music can lead a person astray, while the right kind cultivates good citizenship. Such convictions meant that music was strictly regulated in Athens and Sparta. The Greeks organized their music in terms of modes – a little like our major and minor scales – and Plato insists that the Dorian mode is the one to induce bravery and resolve. Armies have long marched to war to the sounds of martial music, whether it’s the skirling of a Scottish bagpipe or Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” blasting from the attack helicopters in Apocalypse Now.

That’s just one arena in which music is thought to manipulate mood. Ever since efficiency became the mantra of the modern workplace, employers have hoped that music will boost workers’ productivity. There’s a great deal of wishful thinking and shoddy science in this field, but some serious study too. The stereotype is of factories piping music to workers engaged in robotic routines, but in fact much of the interest is in using music to boost creativity. One study in 2012 found that workers in a computer software company solved problems faster and had better ideas when allowed to listen to music of their choice: a sign that positive mood makes for better work, rather than an indication of specific links between the type of music and productivity. The effects were small, though, and almost non-existent for expert workers.

Retailers have a strong interest in this stuff. Can music make people buy more? I’m afraid so. It’s been shown that certain musical genres enhance our receptiveness to – and what we’ll pay for – certain products. We’ll pay more for mundane products like toothbrushes and light bulbs when we hear country music, and more for products connected to “social identity” (jewellery, pin badges) when listening to classical music. But sellers beware: get the musical choice wrong, and it’s worse than no music at all.

1 comment:

conspirachi said...

Mr. Ball The study about classical music shopping preferences reflects the logarithmic tuning origins of Western music and Western math.

Michael Hudson’s essay, “Music as an Analogy for Economic Order in Classical Antiquity” in Jürgen Backhaus (ed.), Karl Bücher. Theory, History, Anthropology, Non-Market Economies (Marburg:Metropolis Verlag, 2000): pp. 113-35

“Pythagoras became the patron saint of the most anti-democratic clubs. They used the principles of musical harmony as a patina of pseudo-science to give intellectual legitimacy to a movement whose worldly consequences were anything but harmonious. The Pythagorean clubs became a network of civic cults rising above the local sphere to which most clubs related. There seems to have been some connection with the Delphi temple (the name Pythagoras means “voice of Pythia,” the snake-goddess of Delphi and its oracle). They have been likened to the Free Masons, in that they served as a kind of Council of Foreign Relations or New World Order…. Archytas [the collaborator of Plato] developed the musical scale into a political metaphor for the scales of justice. What gave music this imagery of social balance and just proportion was the ability of its mathematics of harmonic (“geometric”) proportions to serve as an analogy for how inequities of wealth and status rendered truly superior men equal in proportion to their virtue — which tended to reflect their wealth. By this circular logic the wealthy were enabled to rationalize their hereditary dominance over the rest of the population.”

And then this - "secret of the sect" as math professor Luigi Borzacchini calls it:

"The 'demusicalization' of the theory of proportions by Plato is shocking." (Borzacchini, p. 281 of his academic article on the topic, "Incommensurability, Music and Continuum: A Cognitive Approach").... "...this 'removal' seems really astonishing!"

"All of them, however, can not avoid the occurrences of the never ending paradox connected to the syntactic paradigm. Below the surface of the antinomical form, we can maybe reveal the deep 'preestablished disharmony' of the link between human knowledge and reality."

Math professor Luigi Borzacchini

Yep - Western science is inherently disharmonious because of the secret music origins that covered up the noncommutative harmonics of natural resonance.