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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000026.txt from 2000/09

From: (William Wright)
Subj: [kl] Language vs. music (was Phrasing With the Harmony)
Date: Sat, 2 Sep 2000 13:52:04 -0400

<><> Stewart=A0Kiritz wrote:
What is even more mysterious to me is how music expresses feelings at
all. What really is the nature of musical language and why does it have
such power over us?

I ask myself the opposite question, Stewart. Given all the
territory that language and music share in common, why have they
diverged so much?
Examples: some languages are intoned, such that pitch variation
can change the meaning of a string of phonemes (Thai language, among
others). Mating calls, hunting calls, alarm calls and other 'social'
calls of animals are certainly a language. Both forms of 'language' are
vibrations in the air, processed through the same sensory organs,
produced with the same muscles.
So why have their uses diverged?

One of the answers (IMO) is that when we restrict a 'language' to
small integers and sinusoidal waves, the vocabulary is limited. Rhythm
and pitch are both restricted in this way. We have 1/2 and l/4 notes,
but not 7/573 notes.
I suppose that someone more knowledgable about the mathematics of
information theory and human hearing could cite other ways in which
'non-musical' the waveforms of speech can carry more information than
'music" can. But the fact that a good orator often has 'music' in his
or her voice -- and uses tone of voice to say things that words cannot
communicate as powerfully -- this fact emphasizes once again that music
and language share more in common than in opposition.

Another answer is the pleasure principle. Just as sugar is more
pleasurable to humans than rotten carrion, frequencies and rhythms with
simple relationships are more pleasurable to us. There is obvious
survival value in some pre-programmed 'pleasure' responses, and once
we're wired for them, then.... well, we're wired for them and we make
use of them because it's the equipment that we have.


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