How we're played by music
Music holds tremendous power over our emotions. Through a particularly touching phrase, a forceful chord or even a single note, musical sounds trigger powerful subjective reactions. For scientists, these strong reactions are vexing facts, because such emotional reactions are typically understood as survival reflexes: our increased heart rates, suddenly-sweaty hands or deeper breath are responses preparing our organism to e.g. fight or run away if we stumble into a bear in the woods. Stumbling into music, be it a violin or a flute, a C or a C#, hardly seems a similar matter of life or death. This talk will review recent scientific experiments, from the fields of musicology, psychology and neuroscience, which are trying to dissect musical sounds to see what exactly makes our brains think them worthy of such strong reactions – perhaps because they mimic the dissonant roar of a predator, reproduce the accents and prosody of emotional speech, or the spectral patterns of certain environmental sounds.