Karen’s questions #2: Multiple layers and multiple listens

And now #2 from Karen:

“I can follow one instrument quite easily through a song and this might change according to input (mood, attention, etc), and other times perceive being surrounded or enveloped by all facets of the song schema.”

– I can certainly relate to these perceptual phenomena; that is, to the many different ways that my “mind” can receive and interpret music depending on my mood or level of attention. I’ve more than once had the experience of consistently latching onto certain hooks or instruments when listening to a particular song, only to one day inexplicably hear in the very same song something completely new that I had never noticed before. The process of transcription (taking the sound source and attempting to at least partially translate it into Western musical notation), in particular, makes one acutely aware of facets of the song that might otherwise go unnoticed.

– I remember when I would listen to NARC (before writing my paper), the falling bass line that first happens around 0:40-0:54 would break my heart, and I would attribute all the heart-breaking beauty of that moment to the bass line solely. To my astonishment, when I was transcribing the song I realized that my beloved bass line actually begins in 0:36, something I had never notice before. Why? I asked myself. I finally concluded that it was most likely the entrance of the strings in 0:40 which were signaling my ears in a significant way, and which somehow drew my attention to the bass line (which, if you’ve read my paper, had also a very convenient theoretical explanation for its expressiveness—it’s always gratifying when theory can actually provide plausible explanations for the way music affects one!). Thus, I decided that it was the strings and the bass line of that moment in NARC that was being translated by my “mind” as “heart-breakingly beautiful.”

– As a side note: there is actually an entire discipline, usually called “perception/cognition,” (see musicperception.org for example) that includes music theory as a related discipline, which purports to examine and explore scientifically how listeners respond to music. Unfortunately, though, it’s still a young discipline, and the work that has been done has mostly been done on “classical” music (Handel, Beethoven, Mozart, etc), and not on music like Interpol’s in which the added layers of non-acoustic instruments, recording and production (to name a few) would provide crucial aspects of any such study.

Until soon,

Love from,



~ by megwilhoite on January 10, 2008.

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