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  1. #1 Contemporary Classical Music Sucks: Here's The Science. 
    Audiences hate modern classical music because their brains cannot cope

    Modern classical music is so widely disliked by audiences because the human brain struggles to find patterns it needs to understand the compositions as music.

    By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent
    Published: 9:00PM GMT 20 Feb 2010

    For decades critics of modern classical music have been derided as philistines for failing to grasp the subtleties of the chaotic sounding compositions, but there may now be an explanation for why many audiences find them so difficult to listen to.

    A new book on how the human brain interprets music has revealed that listeners rely upon finding patterns within the sounds they receive in order to make sense of it and interpret it as a musical composition.

    Whiile traditional classical music follows strict patterns and formula that allow the brain to make sense of the sound, modern symphonies by composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern simply confuse listeners' brains.

    Philip Ball, author of The Music Instinct, has drawn on the latest scientific findings from neuroscientists to show structure and patterns in music are a fundamental part of musical enjoyment.

    He said: "Many people still seem to find modern classical music challenging. If that is the case, then they can relax as it is challenging for a good reason and it is not because they are in some way too musically stupid to appreciate it.

    "The brain is a pattern seeking organ, so it looks for patterns in music to make sense of what we hear. The music of Bach, for example, embodies a lot of the pattern forming process.

    "Some of the things that were done by those composers such as Schoenberg undermined this cognitive aid for making music easier to understand and follow. Schoenberg's music became fragmented which makes it harder for the brain to find structure.

    "That isn't to say, of course, that it is impossible to listen to, it is just harder work. It would be wrong to dismiss such music as a racket."

    Mr Ball believes that many traditional composers such as Mozart, Bach and Beethoven subconsciously followed strict musical formula to produce music that was easy on the ear by ensuring it contained patterns that could be picked out by the brain.

    In the early twentieth century, however, composers led by Schoenberg began to rally against the traditional conventions of music to produce compositions which lack tonal centres, known as atonal music.

    Under their vision, which has been adopted by many subsequent classical musicians, music no longer needed to be confined to a home note or chord.

    But such atonal music has been badly received by audiences and critics who have found it difficult to follow.

    Professor David Huron, an expert on music cognition at Ohio State University, has studied some of the underlying reasons why listeners struggled with such modern classical pieces.

    He said: "Much of what the brain does is to anticipate the future. Predicting what happens next has obvious survival value, and brains are remarkably adept at anticipating events.

    "We measured the predictability of tone sequences in music by Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern and found the successive pitches were less predictable than random tone sequences.

    "For listeners, this means that, every time you try to predict what happens next, you fail. The result is an overwhelming feeling of confusion, and the constant failures to anticipate what will happen next means that there is no pleasure from accurate prediction."

    Dr Aniruddh Patel, a researcher at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California, said that tonal music such as traditional classical music uses some of the same mechanisms needed for processing language.

    "This may be one reason such music is congenial to the human mind," he said. "It may be a reason why atonal music is more difficult when first encountered."

    Dr Timothy Jones, deputy principal at the Royal Academy of Music, said: "Mozart and Bach have similar levels of complexity as Schoenberg, but those complexities are in different musical domains. Their music is very information dense.

    "I would question how much of the familiarity with the music of Mozart and Bach has to do with culturalisation rather than an innate cognitive inability to understand the music of composers like Schoenberg. Certain people can learn to appreciate it."
    Contemporary classical music isn't "challenging", it's fundamentally so far away from the structure of music that it is essentially professionally executed noise. I've been reading a lot about neuroscience and neuroplasticity lately. Everything I have read confirms my belief that certain contemporary art forms in music, poetry, the visual arts, and literature are essentially con games. They bear no relationship to the human ability to appreciate the arts. They are, in fact, de-humanizing in their structure.

    If you dislike atonal music, free verse, or chaotic visuals, rest assured that you are not ignorant or provincial. You are a fully functioning human being with a normal sensory apparatus and an engaged brain.

    Telegraph
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    Senior Member The Night Owl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gingersnap View Post
    Contemporary classical music isn't "challenging", it's fundamentally so far away from the structure of music that it is essentially professionally executed noise. I've been reading a lot about neuroscience and neuroplasticity lately. Everything I have read confirms my belief that certain contemporary art forms in music, poetry, the visual arts, and literature are essentially con games. They bear no relationship to the human ability to appreciate the arts. They are, in fact, de-humanizing in their structure.

    If you dislike atonal music, free verse, or chaotic visuals, rest assured that you are not ignorant or provincial. You are a fully functioning human being with a normal sensory apparatus and an engaged brain.

    Telegraph
    Ultimately, art and music are intellectual pursuits and as such they don't have to conform to standards which are pleasing or which satisify our pattern seeking nature to be valuable. We should keep in mind that though our pattern seeking nature aids us in many ways it sometimes leads us astray too.

    Anyway, I agree with you that an aversion to modern art is not necessarily evidence of ignorance but I think it can be evidence of narrow-mindedness.
    Last edited by The Night Owl; 02-22-2010 at 02:16 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Night Owl View Post
    Ultimately, art and music are intellectual pursuits and as such they don't have to conform to standards which are pleasing or which satisify our pattern seeking nature. We should keep in mind that our though our pattern seeking nature aids us in many ways it sometimes leads us astray too.
    Let a bunch of five year olds play around with musical instruments and you will have a masterpiece of contemporary classical music. In short, it's what the people that failed music class play.
    "Our president delivered his State of the Union message to Congress. That is one of the things his contract calls for -- to tell congress the condition of the country. This message, as I say, is to Congress. The rest of the people know the condition of the country, for they live in it, but Congress has no idea what is going on in America, so the president has to tell 'em." ~ Will Rogers
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Night Owl View Post
    Ultimately, art and music are intellectual pursuits and as such they don't have to conform to standards which are pleasing or which satisify our pattern seeking nature to be valuable. We should keep in mind that though our pattern seeking nature aids us in many ways it sometimes leads us astray too.

    Anyway, I agree with you that an aversion to modern art is not necessarily evidence of ignorance but I think it can be evidence of narrow-mindedness.
    Art and music aren't simply intellectual exercises that promote or reveal philosophical, political, or religious views - they are complex codes that engage human brains at a very fundamental level. Pattern recognition is only a part of the code information that is used in art appreciation.

    Rejecting modern arts that are entirely subjective and devoid of any common human symbolism or structure isn't narrow-minded. Taking contemporary classical music as an example, a failure to appreciate Cage's 4'33 isn't a rejection of style, it's an acknowledgment that there is no music to appreciate. This piece is meant to say something about ambient sound, audience expectations, and music culture. It's an intellectual observation, not a musical composition.

    That's true of much in the art world today. The artist is making bald intellectual or political statements (or impenetrable subjective statements) rather than using any of the structures that are widely accessible to the human mind.

    You don't have to know anything about Buddhism to "get" the beauty of Buddhist sculpture. Inuit animal carvings are instantly transparent to any human viewer even if that human has never seen an Arctic animal. Chinese opera may not be to everyone's taste but no one has to be instructed or educated in order to detect both music and story in the performance.
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    My daughter April as part of the Symphony Belles obligated me and her mother to attend all performances and one of the shows featured the work of Bear McCreary the composer who did the soundtrack for Battlestar Galactica and it was amazing. Many of the folks there had not even heard of BSG and were amazed that these compositions were for a Sci Fi television series.

    This is one example of his more Classicaly based work. I think it is is just beautiful:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSYPYq9D_No

    Here is another. Just awesome work and to think that it was just for TV.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1S81JN7rLk
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    This is why I don't care for Jazz.

    I learned to play the guitar, not by being any type of virtuoso, but instead by being able to recognize patterns. I can learn any song by listening to it. There are only so many patterns it can follow.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Speedy View Post
    My daughter April as part of the Symphony Belles obligated me and her mother to attend all performances and one of the shows featured the work of Bear McCreary the composer who did the soundtrack for Battlestar Galactica and it was amazing. Many of the folks there had not even heard of BSG and were amazed that these compositions were for a Sci Fi television series.
    There are a fairly large number of musicians and musicologists who believe that motion picture soundtracks will be regarded as the "classical music" of mid/late 20th century. Atonal compositions will just be footnote folly when the dust settles. ;)
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    Senior Member The Night Owl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gingersnap View Post
    Art and music... are complex codes that engage human brains at a very fundamental level.
    At the risk of summoning Gator, I should point out that the sound of water flowing down a creek engages my brain at a very fundamental level but I'm hesitant to call those relaxation CDs sold at Bed, Bath, and Beyond great art.
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Night Owl View Post
    At the risk of summoning Gator, I should point out that the sound of water flowing down a creek engages my brain at a very fundamental level but I'm hesitant to call those relaxation CDs sold at Bed, Bath, and Beyond great art.
    Well one is naturally occuring, another is created by man.
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Night Owl View Post
    At the risk of summoning Gator, I should point out that the sound of water flowing down a creek engages my brain at a very fundamental level but I'm hesitant to call those relaxation CDs sold at Bed, Bath, and Beyond great art.
    Water sounds are relaxing to many, many people but not because they encode music. Water sounds are relaxing because they function as white noise which blocks out other sounds (both pleasurable and disagreeable). When cds combine water sounds and low-excitement instrumental music, some people believe they become even more relaxed. I dunno.

    Those cds may not contain music that can be labeled as great art but it can be identified as music and it produces the same type of activity in the brain that Chopin does - something that many collections of deliberately produced sounds labeled as "music" do not. ;)
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