Return to Music
From the standpoint of psycho-epistemology, I can offer a hypothesis on the nature of man’s response to music, but I urge the reader to remember that it is only a hypothesis . . .
One may listen to noise for an hour, a day or a year, and it remains just noise. But musical tones heard in a certain kind of succession produce a different result—the human ear and brain integrate them into a new cognitive experience, into what may be called an auditory entity: a melody. The integration is a physiological process; it is performed unconsciously and automatically. Man is aware of the process only by means of its results.
Helmholtz has demonstrated that the essence of musical perception is mathematical: the consonance or dissonance of harmonies depends on the ratios of the frequencies of their tones. The brain can integrate a ratio of one to two, for instance, but not of eight to nine. . . .
The psycho-epistemological meaning of a given composition lies in the kind of work it demands of a listener’s ear and brain.
A composition may demand the active alertness needed to resolve complex mathematical relationships—or it may deaden the brain by means of monotonous simplicity. It may demand a process of building an integrated sum—or it may break up the process of integration into an arbitrary series of random bits—or it may obliterate the process by a jumble of sounds mathematically-physiologically impossible to integrate, and thus turn into noise.
The listener becomes aware of this process in the form of a sense of efficacy, or of strain, or of boredom, or of frustration. His reaction is determined by his psycho-epistemological sense of life—i.e., by the level of cognitive functioning on which he feels at home.