22 Sep 2015

How does music create emotions?

From Morning Report, 8:52 am on 22 September 2015

A one-of-its-kind exhibition in New Plymouth is attempting to unravel the mysterious link between music and emotions.

Musik: From Sound to Emotion has come to Taranaki direct from Canada's Montreal Science Centre and draws on research examining the role the brain plays in the musical experience.

An exhibition in New Plymouth aims to unlock the secrets of music's emotional power.

An exhibition in New Plymouth aims to unlock the secrets of music's emotional power. Photo: SUPPLIED

It tries to go some way towards explaining that familiar welling behind the eyes at the sound of a particular song or the racing heart when the band of the moment breaks out its hit in a packed arena.

Michel Groulx of the Montreal Science Centre said the exhibition aimed to demonstrate the link between music and the brain.

"For reasons that are a bit obscure it seems that the brain is programmed for music and it is very interesting because there are really circuits that have been found in the brain and that are specialised for music, like composition, listening - and this also means there is a very strong connection between emotions and music."

Mr Groulx said tests had shown that many parts of the brain had a role in the perception of music.

"So you have the auditory system which really perceives the music, but you also have the limbic system which you know gives an emotion. And you have other parts of the brain like the cerebellum ... which is involved in the rhythm.

"It is interesting to see that music involves many different aspects of the brain."

Armed with a digital music player, visitors to the exhibition explore this connection by creating their own composition, beginning with the choice of an emotion.

Scotty Armstrong loves how interactive the exhibition is.

Scotty Armstrong loves how interactive the exhibition is. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Swiping the player on wi-fi hot spots throughout the show gives access to audio and video files explaining the ins and outs of songwriting with a little bit of guidance from the Canadian pop-punk group Simple Plan amongst others.

This information helps visitors to overlay the "emotion" they have chosen with the key components of a song, rhythm, melody, timbre and a choice of instrumentation. Visitors will end up with a two-minute of original music composition they can send to their email address and share friends.

"It's a very interactive experience, and very personal too, because every visitor will create different music," said Mr Groulx.

In addition to the composition section there are about 20 workstations, including a Guitar Hero-like set up, a percussion corner and a programmable sequencer.

'Pretty cool'

New Plymouth musician Andre Manella from the group Sonic Delusion said the exhibition had made him look at his own songwriting in a different way.

"It shows you ... how your brain works, how you receive the music and then how you turn this around when you're actually playing or writing music so you actually put that emotion into it and then try and play the music that way. It's a real eye-opener.

"It might change the way I compose because it is so so scientific. It's different, it's cool but it's great because that's essentially what it is."

Scotty Armstrong, who was going through the exhibition with his boys Riley and Floyd, was also a fan.

"It's great. It's really interactive and it breaks it all down nicely. It confirms a lot of things you all ready know really but explains a few more things.

"Doing the composition is pretty cool," he said. "I was choosing all the bits I wanted. It's a pretty quick process but it comes out sounding really good. I went for something mellow and cruisy, it seemed to suit wandering around in here."

This is the first time Musik: From Sound to Emotion has been exhibited in Australasia and it returns to Canada when its Puke Ariki season closes on 15 November.

Riley Armstrong, 10, and his brother Floyd, 8, check out their compositions at the Musik: From Sound to Emotion exhibition in New Plymouth

Riley Armstrong, 10, and his brother Floyd, 8, check out their compositions. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

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