The following text was presented to the Gesellschaft für kritische Philosophie Nürnberg (GKP) in a presentation series, in November 1998 - in this case, on the topic of "Music and philosophy". A list of other topics presented in this series is contained in the presentation schedule of GKP-Homepage.
This presentation does not intend to offer readily available solutions; rather, it wants to try to gain a better understanding of the effect of music by applying perhaps quite provocative trains of thought – for, as with all emotions, the content of music is experienced quite individually, and an exchange on this topic is often even more difficult than the mutual exchange with respect to "normal" emotions and feelings. Thus, a part of music listeners maintains that the separation of music into "E" (entertainment) and "S" (serious) music is artificial and unjustified, while here – in agreement with, for example, the German 'music pope' Joachim Kaiser – a justification for such a separation will be attempted.
The Effect of Music
Music does not only have a psychic effect that has to be treated separately as it already represents a 'combined' phenomenon, but rather as a purely physiological effect, that can, obviously, be observed in all that is alive (all living things), be it plants, humans or animals. Quite obviously in this it (music) affects that system which we, with respect to human beings, call, in a more confusing than enlightening manner, the "vegetative system": the system of 'firmly wired' signals and impulses which, through the nervous tracts, transmits 'status reports' from the organs to the brain and, on the way back, transmits 'directive impulses' back to these. At best, the stimulating effect of music can be compared to the effect of the sun: its rays invigorate everything that is alive, as much as that which is alive will 'coccoon' and 'retreat back into itself' when the sun is covered by darkness – what, then, are the 'blue sky' and the 'invigorating force' of music?
First, I want to relate to you the results of an experiment which a Canadian Beethoven specialist with whom I have been in contact over the internet for some time has releated to me. She writes:
"To the effect of music on plants I can add the results of a 'personal experiment': of offshoots of the same plant that received equal treatment as to watering and light exposure (all rooms in which these plants were kept faced the same direction), only those survived that were kept there where I had 'CBC Stereo' (Classics and Beyond) play all day long at room noise level, regardless of whether I was 'there' or 'not'. The experiment was to 'show certain young people' what their 'boom boxes' and the music that comes streaming and hammering out of them can 'do to plants' – the 'poor things' eventually died."
Therefore, when even plants can be affected by music (the question may arise in one's mind): is this effect to be considered as taking place in the 'control mechanism' of the brain – or does it (music) directly affect the individual cells and their 'connecting core system of RNS membranes', so that the 'actual' effect of music could be considered as having a 'reactive' effect on the brain?
Here, it will also depend on the 'category', meaning with which 'sensory organ' the impulses of the music are received. Plants do not have 'ears' to which would be added on their representative systems as this is the case with animals or humans; consequently, these (plants) are, at best, in a position to react to sound waves – that are transmitted through the air and that are comprised of rhythms and melodies – , by means of their own network of sensory perception (that cannot be localised in plants as it is represented by a 'mode of interaction' of its 'specialised cell connections').
On plants, perhaps only rhythms and their degree of intensity might have an effect, as far as a 'reactive connection' could be established here to the impulse-giving function of plant nerves.
Through rhythmic sound impulses that are received through the outer cell membranes, chemical and electrical synaptic connections can be stimulated positively or negatively – and that in such a manner, that the rhythm that is contained in the sound impulse, as a 'constantly remaining fire', can either support the cell's own impulse and thus stimulate it as an additional rhythmic incentive or, in the opposite, have a disturbing effect on it. Plants can thus, probably similar to other analogously- conditioned processes (see, for example the reaction to the influx of sun rays), make use of an 'offer from outside': a suitable rhythm possibly facilitates the activity of their own impulses, which can save the plant energy and/or influence its growth favorably. A 'surrounding activity' that is repetitive in a certain way appears to be conducive to some 'core activity' if the 'surrounding activity' can be made use of. Contrary do this, a strong rhythmic signal with a deep frequence and a high decibel level can, obviously, adversely affect the 'biorythm' of a plant in such a way that it will perish from it. When considering the effect of music on animals, one will, first of all, have to differentiate as to whether one is dealing with genetically 'programmed' species (thus, animal species without 'open programs', that can only learn in a quite 'dark' process, merely by getting used to impulses), or if one is dealing with animal species with 'emotional capabilities'. With the first type of animal species one would have to assume that, with respect to the effect of music on them, these would conduct themselves quite similar to plants, thus, that only rhythm would have 'any bearing'; with 'higher species', one would have to go out from the premise that their 'vegetative dependency' fades into the background in comparison to their capability to 'receive' impulses through their 'sensory perception' that is transmitted by means of 'emotions', so that their 'vegetative system' is strongly 'outplayed' by their capability of 'interpreting emotions', so that the first phenomenon (that of the 'rhythmic influence') in their reaction to musical sound waves has to be weighed less strongly. Here, one will have to differentiate between the actual 'listening experience' (in which humans mainly react to their relationship to melody and harmony) and the (albeit, also still prevailing in humans) rather unconsciously transmitted rhythm. Rhythms will retain their vegetative effect als impulse enhancement or distraction up to humans, and it will also still affect emotion and 'ratio' as rhythm, as far as the latter can be rationalised in the reflection of emotion by understanding; thus, the effect here travels from 'bottom to top'. Melody and harmony are not capable of directly affecting the 'vegetative system' (except in 'retrospective', thus from 'top to bottom'), but rather only on emotion and on understanding. The effect of music should thus be separated into that effect which responds to rhythm and into that which arises out of the effect of melody and harmony on the emotions. This 'tracing of the path' of the effect of music on plants and animals was only to serve the purpose of not losing sight of the different ways in which music is affecting living beings, and to not quasi 'a priori' only start with humans, so that the various kinds of effect of music could be traced as to their 'components' (rhythm, melody and harmony). In the relationships of humans to music, an (ongoing) 'change of taste' becomes, at first, apparent: as, for example, from the Gregorian chants to the polyphony of the Baroque era to the harmony of classical music to the disharmony of modern music. In these changes, steps in the development of the human mind are certainly expressed. Here, the music of the ancient classics should also be considered: the ritual and more monotonous nature of the Egyptian and of the oriental music, in contrast to which, obviously, ancient Greek music has 'emancipated' itself and was thus able to evoke a tremendous emotionalism. In other words:
Music Histsory is the History of Evolution of the Human Mind.
Insofar, the forms of musical expression of, for example, primitive peoples as well as of the 'older' cultural nations of Asia (China, India, Japan) and Egypt can, indeed, provide 'information' as to the individually achieved cultural status – which, in turn, should run parallel to other phenomena of cultural development, as for example, in the degree of abstraction in their writing styles.
"E" and "S" Music
This differentiation between 'entertainment' and 'serious' or 'classical' music, that is oftentimes considered as wrong and as redundant, appears quite useful: the former can be traced to the medieval dance music at the courts in French-speaking Europe (gigue, sarabande, etc.), in order to continue this line, in an 'overall European' context, perhaps with minuet - waltz - tango - charleston - swing - rock - to the beat, whereby "E" music, as opposed to "S" music, is characterized by a more accentuated timing, and an increasingly harder rhythm, which may be traced back to its origins as dance music. Dance music itself has its roots in the religious and later court rituals and kept this character until our days, at least with primitive peoples as well as with many Asian cultures. In contrast to this, the development of reason in European culture, as, for example, in the decrease of the importance of rituals had its effect on dance, as well: the 'physical' may, after the 'turn of our times', no longer remain in the ritual service of the 'Holy' – thus, rhythmic movement sinks, on the one hand, to the level of sexual stimulation, on the other hand to a purely esthetic 'artistic expression', in which rhythm governs and outlines movement.
The increase of 'beat' (including the fact that a modern dance form is explicitly called 'beat') since the beginning of this century reflects the increasingly growing influence of music that 'moves closer' to nature (as, for example, music from South America, Africa or India): (this should then be considered) a retrogression of an "E" music 'culture' that has grown tired and that is in need of new stimulants. That this is a decisive retrogression is evident in the fact that here, rather the vegetative and more instinctive than the emotional centres of human beings are addressed – that is why here, humans can be caused to move 'beside themselves' (music as a drug). Ratio and conscious emotion are hardly involved in this, but rather, these are only used as 'entry media'; one has to only take a look at the banality of the texts and at the fact that only two or three types of emotions are constantly being addressed. Nowadays, "E" music does not hold great stock in these latter areas, anyway; rather is it intended that the effect of "E" music is achieved by having humans retreat from those centres that make them human in the first place as these are only a hindrance; through rhythm, humans are supposed to 'flee into their own depths' and to let themselves fall 'into the unconscious', to give up their selves in a negative sense in favor of achieving a 'common mood' on a vegetative-instinctive basis of the masses as consumers. For 'ease of recognition' (and revenue-generation) of the melodiousness of "E" music, all that is needed is a certain 'catchiness' and 'originality'; harmonies have to be adhered to; in any case, disharmonies may not gain the 'upper hand' so that the emotions do not get unnecessarily upset and so that the piece does not 'forget its job' of lulling the audience to sleep. The major job of overwhelming the audience is, however, done by the beat which has to be arranged in such a way that one can abandon oneself to it, so that it enwraps one's consciousness and one's emotions and removes one's 'centre' into the vegetative-instinctive realm. In Western cultures, there exists next to rhythm-based dance music also a further music form, which Germans call 'Schlager' (and which, in English is called 'song' and 'chanson' in French): harking back to the (folk-)song, this music intends to, above all, give expression to and evoke a certain emotional mood.
After this brief excursion into music history let us hear what I. Eibl-Eibelsfeldt, a well-known German scientist, has to tell us about music and human beings (Die Biologie des menschlichen Verhaltens – Grundriß der Humanethologie, 3. Aufl. 1997, S. 938ff.):
"Musik appelliert unmittelbar an unsere Empfindungen, Rhythmen ziehen bereits bei niederen Wirbeltieren gewisse Prozesse in Phase. So kann man mit einem Metronom die Kiemendeckelbewegungen von Fischen in Phase ziehen und verlangsamen oder beschleunigen. Spielt man Personen, deren Herzschlag man zuvor durch eine Übung beschleunigte, Wiegenlieder vor, dann nimmt die Pulsfrequenz schneller ab als in Kontrollgruppen, die nichts oder Jazz zu hören bekommen. Wiegenlieder ... ist gemeinsam, daß sie in Melodie und Rhythmus den langsamen Atemrhythmus des Einschlafenden nachvollziehen.
Wir dürfen annehmen, daß es verschiedene basale Rhythmen gibt, die menschliches Verhalten spezifisch beeinflussen, und zwar kulturübergreifend auf ähnliche Weise. Bestimmte Rhythmen beruhigen, andere erregen. Ob darüber hinaus spezifische Rhythmik-Muster als Auslöser spezifischer Emotionen wie Aggression oder liebevolle Zuneigung aktivieren, also spezifisch stimmen, wissen wir nicht. Fest steht die auf- oder abregende Wirkung von Rhythmen, ferner ihre koordinierende Wirkung auf Menschen in Gruppen, die nach dem Muster der Koaktion oder Alternation zu gleichzeitigem oder partnerschaftlich aufeinander abgestimmtem, abwechselndem Tun veranlaßt und in Phase gezogen werden.
Bei den Melodien gibt es sicher auch primäre Leitmotive, Personen können Helden-, Jagd-, Kriegs-, Trauer-, Wiegen und Liebeslieder, die aus sehr verschiedenen Kulturen stammen, mit großer Sicherheit der richtigen Kategorie zuordnen...
Musik packt unmittelbarer als die visuelle Kunst. Sie richtet sich in erster Linie an unsere Emotionen, wobei die primären Leitmotive als Auslöser in mehr oder weniger verschlüsselter Form geboten werden... Auch kann der Künstler durch das richtige Betätigen der Reizschlüssel verschiedene Emotionen in Aufeinanderfolge auslösen und so das "Seelenleben" des Zuhörers in einer Weise aufwühlen, die normalerweise nie erlebt werden kann. Hier werden sicher Spannungen aufgebaut und im Sinne einer Katharsis gelöst.
Durch ständige Wiederholung eines Rhythmus oder einer Melodie können Zustände der Trance, des Außer-sich-Geratens bewirkt werden. Vermutlich geraten bei dem dauernd wiederholten gleichen Reizanstoß Neuronenkreise ins Schwingen, wobei in Resonanz immer größere Neuronenpopulationen erfaßt werden, ähnlich wie bei einem epileptischen Anfall. Auf diese Weise entstehen veränderte Bewußtseinszustände...
Die ästhetische Wirkung der Musik wird durch die für bestimmte Zeitepochen und Kulturen spezifische Verschlüsselung entscheidend mitbestimmt. Und wie bei den visuellen Künsten kommt es auf Originalität und Einmaligkeit der Leistung an. Leitmotive werden neu geschaffen und variiert, und der Hörer genießt das Erlebnis des Wiederentdeckens, das ihm auch Orientiertheit und Vertrautheit vermittelt. Musik wird meist um ihrer selbst willen produziert – das heißt nicht, daß sie nur hedonistischer Selbstzweck ist. Gerade wegen ihrer uns so stark ansprechenden Art eignet sie sich auch für jene Zwecke, die wir bereits bei der Besprechung der visuellen Kunst nannten [Gemeinschaftsbindung, positive Selbstdarstellung vor anderen, Mitteilung von Werten/Normen der Gruppe]. Dazu verbindet sie sich allerdings häufig, wie im Lied, mit dem Wort... Musik steht häufig im Dienste der Gruppenbindung. Bei der Marschmusik ist dies ebenso offensichtlich wie beim Chorsingen...
Der Sinn für musikalische Harmonie beruht auf der biologisch vorgegebenen Fähigkeit, aus einem Akkord einen einzelnen Ton zu extrahieren, der mit dem in der Theorie bekannten "Grundton" übereinstimmt (scheinbare Tonhöhe der Psychoakustik). Diese Wahrnehmungsleistung beruht auf einer konstanten Verrechnung harmonischer Intervalle zwischen den einzelnen Partialtönen und stellt eine bemerkenswerte Abstraktion dar, da die virtuelle Tonhöhe im angeschlagenen Akkord physikalisch nicht gegeben sein muß. Parallelen zu analogen zentralen Verarbeitungsstrategien beim Erkennen und Einschätzen von menschlichen Sprachlauten legen die Annahme phylogenetisch erworbener Lernprogramme nahe."
Now let us go back to where we started. In doing so, one more word on the vegetative effect of rhythm: through it, not only plants can be influenced favorably or disturbingly, but also we humans; thus we 'move along' to rhythms that 'address us and our ears', a fitting rhythm seems to move us automatically and to get us to 'swing'. In the evaluation of a rhythm, a connection between the conditioning in the embryo by means of the mother's heartbeat might be conceivable in evaluating as to whether a rhythm will be found 'pleasant' or 'unpleasant'. Still more important than this phenomenon is the empirically traceable applicability of rhythm to the facilitation respectively to the enchancement of productivity, be it, at first, in the individual himself, as far as the rhythm can, with certain types of work, take over a 'structural control' and thus control a repetivite movement, the outer control of which unburdens the individual's 'inner attention span' – here can be seen the closest relationship to the effect of rhythm on plants. As primitive peoples already found out, rhythm is also conducive to coordinating the consecutive work output of several individuals, so that a rhythmically controlled effort can work more as one force.
From the effect of "E" music theoretically postulated here, one has to differentiate how humans, in practice, will go about in their reception of "S" music. As much as it is true that "S" music wants to 'move' listeners, as much will there be different ways in which this 'being moved' of the concert or opera goer will become evident. If one discards, first of all, the 'outer motivations' such as socializing and vanity, the following differences can be observed:
1. One seeks 'emotional exaltation', which is, in a way, aware of its origin as being generated by the music and of its effect on oneself, but not of the 'how' – here, I see a dinstinctive parallel to the admiration of the beautiful, when man is faced in works of art with the ideal elevation of the expression of himself. Music can, in an equally 'extraordinary' manner affect individual emotions, and in this 'being moved', the individual experiences himself again as 'alive' in an 'extraordinary' form of concentration.
It appears to me as a 'lowering of standards' when, in this process, the self-enjoyment of 'beautiful emotions' stands in the foreground (particularly Wanger exploited this predispositon by their emotions of esthetics – a greater part of his early followers were comprised of members of the female gender).
2. One seeks and finds (at the receptive level of reason) rational or (at the reflective level) ideal self-confirmation: in the first case, the joy of recognition is at work, conceivably in a coupled manner, namely, on the one hand, rationally-functionally (as, for example, in the solving of a crossword puzzle), on the other hand, in the recognition of one's own 'rational values', which applies the 'good-true-beautiful' to its own utilitarian purposes. One 'basks' in the conveyed emotion, much as one used to go to church on Sunday in order to behave quite differently in everyday life. In the real ideal situation, recognition of one's own ethical ideal via emotion in music is at work in form of one's experiencing a 'sympathetic' striving and, with it, a certain 'self-confirmation'.
3. When music is able to even express the eternally human – related to the 'eternally feminine' that, according to Goethe, is supposed to 'attract' us (if it is, indeed, contained in music – which, even with "S" music, is only the case in exceptions), then this works as a demand on the individual and with it as a furthering, to continue to take a stand to the 'teleology of the human', and thus to overcome the everyday disconnectedness and unideal reality of one's invididual existence. In this, no self- confirmation takes place, but rather a challenge to one's own further activity in developing one's individuality into the direction of 'unity' or 'wholeness'. This last recognition is a 'calling out of minds to each other' across the barriers of time, as it also works in literature and in philosophy: the common inner striving, related to a 'harmony' and 'wholeness' that is not present in reality, connects the listener with the composer.
Overall, the effect that was intended by the composer and the reception by the listener is achieved at different levels at the same time; the actual 'listening experience' may, actually, take place on kind of a 'middle ground': whatever the artist has put into the work in form of individual expression and that which is intended as 'general expression', has to be recognized by the listener either consciously or unconsciously – and thus, based on the infinite variety of 'predisposition and forming' amongst listeners, this will bring to each one of them their very own 'musical experience'. If one cuts off every emotional expression in art, be it in music by means of serial and thus purely rational techniques, be it in fine arts by means of purely and completely rational abstraction, all those existential components of an emotional or ideal nature, which would make a work of art out of an artefact, would 'fall off'; an inner response will no longer be possible where 'art' is reduced to formal and rational criteria. As an 'example to the contrary', I want to introduce to you a piece of music that can prove that also in the 20th century, at the end of metaphysic, it was possible that a composer wrote symphonic music that, in spite of all disharmony, gains its emotional content on the foil of the no longer prevailing harmony and shows at the same thime how rhythm can set humans in motion. It is a 'historical recording' from the year 1961; you will hear an excerpt from the third movement of Symphony No. 8 in c-minor (premiered in 1943) by Dimitri Shostakovich, conducted by K. Kondrashin, with the Moscow Philmarmonic Orchestra. For man's longing in the 20th century may stand the finale of the symphony which I, somewhat spontaneously added, do not want to withhold from you.
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