The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Scientists unravel how performers use distortion to make music expressive and emotionally moving

May 1, 2011
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

I remember the veteran pianist Leon Fleisher (below) saying, during a master class at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, that all expression is distortion.

It turns out he was right.

The question is: Is it good distortion or bad distortion – that is, too little or too much distortion, or just right amount of distortion.

Put another way, it is a questions of taste.

Which is why we prefer Rubinstein (below) over Horowitz, Pavarotti over Domingo, Bernstein over von Karajan, Perlman over Heifetz – or the other way around.

But as fuzzy or purely intuitive as that sounds, scientists, especially neuroscientists and psychologists, are unwrapping the secrets of why we respond emotionally more to some musical performances than others — and that f goes for pop or rock,  jazz  or classical.

And yes, it has to do with degrees of distortion and the human brain processes and perceives distortion.

It’s all about that old concept of “rubato” — or “stolen time,” that flexible sense of timing that deals in very small fractions of a second.

One of the big pioneers in this reserach is Daniel Levitin (below), the author of “This Is Your Brain on Music,” which was a big seller a several years ago.

Anyway, here is a story from The New York Times that summarizes the findings so far.

I find fascinating and hope you do too.

Posted in Classical music

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