Culture determines musical mood
Scientists traveled to remote Papua New Guinea to learn how much of our Western music experience is determined by what we're familiar with. Plus, some more interesting links.
Ever wondered why major chord progressions sound “happy” and minor ones “sad”? A new study found that it probably has nothing to do with the properties of the music itself. Instead, it’s something that we picked up as a culture – and by culture I mean everyone who listens to music based on Western music theory and scales. Since that includes a lot of different music, from traditional folk and classical to heavy metal and K-pop, most of the world has been exposed to it, but researchers managed to find a few tribes in Papua New Guinea who have successfully avoided everything from Beethoven to Bieber.
That gave them an opportunity to ask an interesting question: would major and minor chords also sound happy or sad to people not familiar with Western music? Apparently not, because the PNG tribes who had the least exposure to Western music were also the least likely to link chord progressions to moods. If you want to know more, read my Forbes.com piece about the paper.
💡 Interesting links
How notes from the mothers of astronomy were reclaimed in art. By Liz Kruesi for National Geographic
Mathematicians are trying to ‘hear’ shapes. By Rachel Crowell for Scientific American
Remember the black/blue dress? It’s become part of interesting neuroscience research. Book excerpt by David McRaney in Wired.
Earth's musical heritage finds an icy home next to global seed vault. By Chelsea Whyte in New Scientist
On the 200th anniversary of William Herschel’s death, Hugh Morris looks at the astronomer’s music legacy in a piece for the New York Times.
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