Right to Quiet Society Noiseletter
Winter 2015, page 4

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The Paradox of Music­-Evoked Sadness: An Online Survey

Liila Taruffi, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Stefan Koelsch, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany


This study explores listeners’ experience of music-­evoked sadness. Sadness is typically assumed to be undesirable and is therefore usually avoided in everyday life. Yet the question remains: why do people seek and appreciate sadness in music? We present findings from an online survey with both Western and Eastern participants (N = 772). The survey investigates the rewarding aspects of music-­evoked sadness, as well as the relative contribution of listener characteristics and situational factors to the ap­preciation of sad music. The survey also examines the dif­ferent principles through which sadness is evoked by mu­sic, and their interaction with personality traits. Results show four different rewards of music­-evoked sadness: reward of imagination, emotion regulation, empathy, and no "real­ life" implications. Moreover, appreciation of sad music follows a mood-congruent fashion and is greater among individuals with high empathy and low emotional stability.

Surprisingly, nostalgia rather than sadness is the most frequent emotion evoked by sad music. Correspond­ingly, memory was rated as the most important principle through which sadness is evoked. Finally, the trait empa­thy contributes to the evocation of sadness via contagion, appraisal, and by engaging social functions. The present findings indicate that emotional responses to sad music are multifaceted, are modulated by empathy, and are link­ed with a multidimensional experience of pleasure. These results were corroborated by a follow­up survey on happy music, which indicated differences between the emotional experiences resulting from listening to sad versus happy music.

This is the first comprehensive survey of music­-evoked sadness, revealing that listening to sad music can lead to beneficial emotional effects such as regulation of negative emotion and mood as well as consolation. Such beneficial emotional effects constitute the prime motiva­tions for engaging with sad music in everyday life.

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Folk fest director, city councillor want updated noise bylaw

The Ottawa Folk Festival's artistic director and a city councillor are calling for an updated noise bylaw after the festi­val was fined following complaints from residents. Coun. David Chernushenko said he received about 30 complaints from residents on Wednesday, the first night of the festival, and on Sunday, the final day of the festival. "It was just pounding noise," Chernushenko said, "It wasn't just that you could hear it with your windows closed; the hous­es were shaking." The festival was fined $305 for creating an "unusual disturbance" after 11 people lodged complaints through the city's 311 line on Wednesday night. Residents said heavy bass was vibrating homes four kilometres away from the festival site at Hog's Back Park.

'Unusual disturbance' too subjective

Mark Monahan, artistic director of the Folk fest and Blues fest, said the bylaws need to change.

"I think the laws and the bylaws we enacted are antiquated. They were put in place many, many years ago, before I even started 20 years ago. So we really need to sit down and review those ... and I think it's long overdue," Monahan said, "There was a clause that allows for organisers to be fined be­cause of unusual noise and disturbing inhabitants, which is not a decibel­ level violation. It's more of a subjective opinion, I guess.
And it's really hard to put city officials in that position of making these judgment calls."
Chernushenko agrees. "It's a bit too vague, it's too nebulous... I think we have to get far more scientific about what that means," he said, "That's hard to monitor, it's hard to put a number to, and that's something we have to fix... Do festivals belong in urban environments? Yes, definitely, but we have to figure out how we can co­exist."

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Single chords convey distinct emotional qualities to both naïve and expert listeners

Imre Lahdelma, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Tuomas Eerola, Durham University, UK


Previous research on music and emotions has been able to pinpoint many structural features conveying emotions. Empirical research on vertical harmony’s emotional qualities, however, has been rare. The main studies in harmony and emotions usually concern the horizontal aspects of harmony, ignoring emotional qualities of chords as such. An empirical experiment was conducted where participants (N = 269) evaluated pre-­chosen chords on a 9 ­item scale of given emotional dimensions. 14 different chords (major, minor, diminished, augmented triads and dominant, major and minor seventh chords with inversions) were played with two distinct timbres (piano and strings).

The results suggest significant differences in emotion perception across chords. These were consistent with notions about musical conventions, while providing novel data on how seventh chords affect emotion perception. The inversions and timbre also contributed to the evaluations. More­over, certain chords played on the strings scored moder­ately high on the dimension of ‘nostalgia/longing,’ which is usually held as a musical emotion rising only from extra ­musical connotations and conditioning, not intrinsically from the structural features of the music. The role of background variables to the results was largely negligible, sug­gesting the capacity of vertical harmony to convey distinct emotional qualities to both naïve and expert listeners.

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