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Physical and Psychological Effects of Music

If the existence of an entity covered the complete continuum of time and space, it would be imperceptible to us. ``Existence'' itself is an entity (concept) which abides by this law. Any time we assume an existence subjectively, we also assume the negation of that existence objectively. If we assume that we have a consciousness and a mental faculty, we should also assume that we are nothing but a collection of matter in a single point of space. Physically speaking, we hear sound through our ears, and thus, the immediate aspect of music becomes a ``thing'' in the vibrations which reach our ear. Stockhausen refers to this experience as ``receiving vibrations''[47, page 31]:

When I speak about receiving vibrations, I am referring to the simple banality that everybody experiences a constant bombardment of rays from the cosmos.

Even though music connects itself to many of our activities, and in that case becomes something else, in its purest form it is a piece of sound -- a collection of vibrations. On this point of view, in Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky explains the effect of colors in the field of vision as follows[3, page 152]:

If you let your eye astray over a palette of colors, you experience two things. In the first place you receive a purely physical effect, namely the eye itself is enchanted by the beauty and other qualities of color.
And further he states:
But to a more sensitive soul the effect of colors is deeper and intensely moving. And so we come to the second result of looking at colors: their psychological effect. They produce a correspondent spiritual vibration, and it is only as a step toward this spiritual vibration that the physical impression is of importance.

Whether the psychological effect of color is direct, as these last few lines imply, or whether it is the outcome of association, is open to question.
The psychological effect is probably due to association as well as a direct result of the physical, and also due to the innate self-referentiality of the interaction between these two effects. The relationship between these effects is not as linear and simple as it may seem at first glance. The psychological effects are understood and realized by our mental faculties; however, our mental faculties are nothing but the collection of our psychological perceptions of the world built around our physical senses. Kandinsky explains the construction of such knowledge as follows[3, page 153]:
This is the experience of the child discovering the world; every object is new to him. He sees light, wishes to hold it, burns his finger and feels henceforth a proper respect for flame. But later he learns that light has a friendly side as well, that it drives away the darkness, makes the day longer, is essential to warmth and cooking, and affords a cheerful spectacle. From the accumulation of these experiences comes a knowledge of light, indelibly fixed in his mind.

While thinking about the association between different psychological effects, we notice that they can manifest themselves on many different levels. For example, the effects of a single tone from one instrument may associate itself with the tone of another instrument, or the feeling of a piece of music may associate itself with a view of a landscape or with the imageries created in the mind by a piece of poetry. Some psychological effects are created according to the collection of other psychological effects. In this case, the lower psychological effects are acting as physical effects. Note that this is an important point of departure. An effect in our mind is a psychological effect because we humans define it that way and communicate it to each other in such symbols as the word ``psychological'' in our language; while looking at ourselves as a collection of matter, these psychological effects are nothing but the state of arrangement of the physical matter. As we go higher in the hierarchy of perception and the association between these effects, we are actually descending deeper into the primitive qualities of our physical being. The more we move our consciousness to higher levels of our psychological mind, the more we understand about the state of our physical being. A work of art has very few boundaries, if any. When an artist feels and thinks about his art, his whole existence is in relationship with the work. Different forms of expression use different physical material and effect different physical senses, and therefore may seem to have different psychological effects. However, all the different forms of art in their ``highest'' psychological levels are perhaps affecting a single fundamental relation in our very ``lowest'' physical beings. Kandinsky writes[3, page 346]:

All the arts derive from the same and unique root. Consequently, all the arts are identical.
And further, he discusses the similarities of music and painting:
It is very simple at first glance. Music expresses itself by sounds, painting by colors, etc. facts that are generally recognized. But the difference does not end here. Music, for example, organizes its means (sounds) within time, and painting its means (colors) upon a plane. Time and plane must be exactly ``measured'' and sound and color must be exactly ``limited.'' These ``limits'' are the preconditions of ``balance'' and hence of composition.
He also discusses how one can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste a painting and further says:
Do not deceive yourself; do not think that you ``receive'' painting by the eye alone. No, unknown to you, you receive it by your five senses.

In this context, we could think of hearing a piece of sound as a purely physical experience, and listening to music as the psychological effect which this experience creates. The physical experience is probably very similar among living beings of the same species. However, as we try to understand the deeper psychological effects, we arrive at issues which are inherently subjective and cannot be objectified in principle. That is to say that by objectifying these issues we neither create nor gain anything. On the other hand, should we stay honest and true (a purely subjective matter) to the material of our study (which is music, and that means being musical), we could objectify any matter that serves the process of music. This is true because with every objectifying step we open many subjective doors useful for creation. Following this thread of thought we can objectify ourselves, ignoring all spiritual concepts and even life itself, and look at ourselves as simple matter.2.5 Thus, music becomes nothing but a piece of sound.

next up previous contents
Next: Differentiating between Music and Up: Music: Logical or Physical? Previous: Music: Logical or Physical?   Contents
Shahrokh Yadegari 2001-03-01