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I think we all have agreed that music can entice some sort of emotional reaction and that reduced listening often associated with music does not equal listening void of meaning.  My question is, to what extent does lyrical poetry enhance or take away from a musical composition. Also, although lyrics are part of our semantic interpretation of music, are individuals that listen to music actually semantically understanding the words or are they really just listening to everything in the reduced way that music seems to be interpreted.  I did a little research into this topic and what I found is that, in reality, every individual listens to music in a different way.  Some individuals have favorite songs that they really don’t even know all the words to, others can recite song after song without a problem.  In my opinion, the lyrical work is just as important as the musical piece.  Just like the composition of the song, the lyrical poetry is an art form.  And with the two working side by side, the purpose of the piece is enhanced.  Artists without well written lyrics, just don’t have the same weight to there songs that well written poetry brings.  I also found that often an individual can know all the words to a song but still not be thinking about what the words actually mean.  For example a song can have an upbeat tempo but a really dark message that people don’t catch the emotion to because they aren’t actively listening to the lyrics.  I think it is interesting that one can listen to words of a song and know what every word is but still fail to see the meaning behind the words because they are focused on the dynamics of the song and understanding the emotional content that way.  An example of this is Outkast’s song “Hey Ya”.

The song is an upbeat and catchy which masks the underlying message of the lyrics overlooked.  In reality, although Andre 3000 may ask you to “shake it like a polaroid picture” the message behind the song is about a broken relationship with a woman.  So it is really an artistic choice that individuals often use to mask heavy emotions with “happy sounding” music.  And this choice works because people often don’t really think about the lyrics but the lyrical content is often the hardest part of a song to make work for a lot of reasons.  Another example of this is the song “White Winter Hymnal” by The Fleet Foxes.  The artist states that he wanted to create a song that people would hum along to but the lyrics offer a sort of vague darkness that was also a purposeful artistic choice.

So in my opinion, it is important to recognize the lyrics of songs as an important piece of the artwork.

The McGurk Effect

I saw an interesting thing while surfing the internet the other day.  There was a clip of two side by side images of the same man mouthing different words.  On the left you saw the man mouth the word “bar” and on the right the man mouthed the word “far”.  The exact same sound was looped over this video and depending on which image you looked at (either the right or the left) that is the word that you here. It is called the McGurk effect and it made me think about thick description that we discussed in class. Even that the exact same sound can be perceived in two different ways.  Often times we understand things based on our visual cues but this made me realize that not only do our visual senses offer clues about what we hear, but they can directly influence the actual sounds that we perceive. I tried over and over again to look at the image on the right and hear the word as “bat”, but it was impossible.  Our brains are somehow wired to understand language not just through sound but through movement.  We understand what certain words look long on someones mouth and that plays a critical role in our distinguishing of a specific word for the purpose of understanding language semantically.  I attempted to find the same sort of video but in a different language that uses separate phonetic sounds but I couldn’t find one.  I was wondering about the idea that if you don’t understand the sound or the visual movement related to it, would you still hear the same word or would it appear as different sound either way.  Even further for instance, would a monkey be able to look at this and hear both words being spoken or would he simply hear the same word and see two separate images not recognizing the muscular movement associated with each.  Basically,  whats being demonstrated hear is that no two senses are alone for us. Almost all of our senses rely on sight in some way.  Without an understanding of our environment, many sounds would lose meaning and that is why our environment is more than just seeing or hearing it is the combination of the two that create the world around us.

here is the link


and here is another video describing the same thing


I was thinking about hearing this weekend as a mental and physical way of interpreting the world.  What triggered these thoughts was hanging with my friends dog. While that may seem weird, please let me explain.  A thing that I have always wondered is, how dogs can understand some auditory cues like sit, stay, rollover etc. but not much else? It would seem that dogs do have the ability to listen semantically to human language, but just not very well.  I did some research, and it turns out that the average dog can understand almost 165 human words.  While they can’t understand words that represent abstract concepts they can understand words that represent tangible objects.  But why? is it a matter of necessity and dogs along with other animals don’t need language to communicate or is it the fact that their brains aren’t advanced enough to communicate.  I figured that obviously dogs brains just aren’t high functioning enough to process that much information, but some studies say this is not always the case.  Dogs along with many other animals, communicate in ways that humans can’t understand.

Another thought I had was the question about why dogs respond differently to different pitches in your voice.  For instance you can call a dog by name and it may come, but I learned that if I stand near my friends dog and say a different name in the same high pitched call that I normally use, he will come just the same.  Again, I attributed this to the fact that dogs just can’t semantically interpret human phonetic sounds.  However,  it is possible that the reason that dogs seem to respond differently to variations in pitch is due to the fact that their form of communication is just different than humans.  While humans rely on semantic interpretation of sounds, dogs rely mostly on visual cues and body language when communication, and pitch and volume of one’s voice often goes hand in hand with this time of communication.

Furthermore dogs and many other animals, have hearing that is far superior to human auditory perception.  Now, this has nothing to do with mental capacity. At the high frequency end of the spectrum dogs can hear up to 45 hz compared to 23 from humans. While dog’s ears are not different in make up than human’s, dog’s ears have mobility that humans do not have which allows them to maximize their hearing.  Dog’s evolutionally had a greater need for well equipped hearing than humans did, so maybe it is not a matter of dogs being too dumb to comprehend human speech, maybe it is just a matter of dogs having different needs of survival when it comes to hearing than.

here are some  dogs playing with babies

Music and Memory

There are many things about my 10th grade US history class that I wish to forget, and many of those memories I have indeed forgotten.  But there is one memory that I feel as if I will vividly remember for the rest of my life even though there really is no significance behind it.  I can’t even remember the name of my teacher, but I can visualize an entire seen of the classroom associated with a memory involving music.  I can remember showing my friend, Sonny, a song that my other friend and I had discovered the night before called “Mexico”. We sat in the back of the classroom right before the bell rang for class.  I can remember looking up the song, handing her the phone and trying to read her face to see if she approved.  I remember everything about that one moment, while everything surrounding that moment was fleeting.  And while I know that this is a pretty insignificant memory and that Sonny probably doesn’t even remember it, if I were to hear that song right now l would be reminded of that moment over three years ago.

Many more memories surrounded by music, just like this one, are vivid in my mind.  Seemingly unimportant moments of my life that I have not forgotten are ever present in my memory due to music.  Another odd one has to do with the song “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani.  As weird as it sounds, I can associate that song (Hell of a song by the way) with a specific image and moment.  I remember listening to that song when I was about 13 years old while driving past a group of apartments that were outside the righthand window of the car that I was riding in.  I remember the instant I looked out the widow and that is it.  I cannot remember who was in the car with me, what we were talking about, or where we were coming from/ going to.  These apartment complexes are near my house and every time I drive past them, I think of the song “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani.

Why does music, a form of sound that is not an inherit part of any listener’s past, offer such a connection between the two seemingly separate actions of audition and memory?  Music is such an organized form of sound, that it is easy to recognize the as a melodic repetion of a previous auditory experience.  Listening to a song can be a reminder that you’ve heard it before due to its form and recognizability but it does not offer insight into why we associate certain instances with these songs or why some memories remain vivid while others fade away.  There is something about music that seems to linger.  And while there are memories that I remember that don’t involve music, there are many more that do involve music that I know I should have forgotten, but just haven’t.

The perception of the term music

Music is interesting as a social ideal due to the fact that it resonates differently in specific individuals.  The idea of personal definitions of music as discussed in class brought up a topic that I’ve thought about many times. Why from person to person do individuals feel that it is within their personal privilege to claim an illegitimacy in the defining qualities that substantiate another individuals definition of the same term: music.  I think the issue arrises from a lack of understanding.  While individuals obviously have varying preferences, is there really not some music that is just plain better than other music. (more…)