Does dissonant music strike the wrong chord in the brain?





I am writing this post to address the comments made in this article:

"Why dissonant music strikes the wrong chord in the brain."

The article reminds me of an investigation conducted by Plomp and Levelt on Tonal Consonance and the 'Critical Band Width Theory'. It explored the possibility that there is a natural human dislike of dissonance. Unfortunately, the experiment used 'sine' wave tones instead of real musical sounds which made the whole investigation 'void' in my eyes. Overtones experienced in 'real' music are rather different than those encountered in a science lab. The term "dissonant" presents another stumbling block as well. People from different cultures have a different concept about what is "dissonant" or what is "tonal". Confusingly, Plomp and Levelt use the same terms to indicate a completely different concept; in their case, it refers to a kind of tonal disturbance and not to the academic understanding of the term of a particular type of musical interval which has developed over centuries.

In my opinion, it is not dissonance that strikes the wrong chord in the brain it is our own preconceptions that limit our acceptance to particular sounds. Plomp and Levelt's investigations achieved nothing because they failed to recognise the difference between sound and music. The ear may not like particular sounds in certain combinations but the same sounds in musical context is a whole different matter. Music is something which is not perceived scientifically; it is a work of art. Composers are closer to artists rather than scientists. It is meant to delve much more deeply than a simple psychological response. It is the equivalent of determining the reaction to a play by working out which words your audience like or dislike from a list; completely disregarding its context. That would be preposterous.

I think psychologists have got it the wrong way around.  


It has often been suggested that humans have innate preferences for consonance over dissonance, leading some to conclude that music in which dissonance features prominently is violating a natural law and is bound to sound bad.

"Dissonant" is the term that we have invented for a musical sound we don't like, according to our culture, upbringing, and musical training. In essence, dissonance is not a simple concept. It means different things to different people. It could almost be considered a point of view. All music contains some form of dissonance and yet our brain doesn't reject it. We understand it as being part of the musical narrative. Just like the discord in a piece of drama, it is essential to the overall impact of the art-work. In different parts of the world, people have a tolerance to dissonance which is at variance with our perception of music.  
As Schoenberg said


...dissonance is merely a matter of convention, and that we can learn to love it.

The most crucial part of the statement is that you have to want to "learn to love it". Without that desire to explore an unknown sound world, the mind disregards unfamiliar sounds as being 'dissonant'.  To answer the question "does dissonant music strike the wrong chord in the mind", no it does not; as long as the listener has an open mind.

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