Music is something we often think of primarily as an art form, a mode of artistic expression. What we often neglect to remember is that music in its purest form is a delivery of stimuli to our brains. One of the reasons it is such a powerful cultural force is that music, at the very least instrumentally, affects our minds on a level below language: in other words, music hits us primarily on a subconscious plan.
Art And The Senses
Someone once said that the effect of music is one that all other art forms aspire to, and indeed no other form stimulates the brain at such immediately subconscious level. Think about a painting. While it’s possible to gain an instant flash of stimulus from looking at a piece of visual art, most observers have to stare at the painting and analyze in their heads the meaning of the composition. From this, they will start drawing emotional and intellectual conclusions, but that doesn’t happen instantly and it takes a concerted force to look, think, and interpret the art in question.
Sound Vs. Language
Music, on the other hand, hits your brain center directly and continuously without waiting for the listener to maintain attention. The listener consumes the stimuli on a completely passive level that precludes personal initiative or agency. The subconscious is completely exposed and the music is processed and enjoyed. At the other end of the spectrum would be, say, literature or poetry. Words with predefined meanings are placed in such an order and structure so that by connecting the dots our brains can infer emotional conclusions from what is a series of factual understandings. The act of reading thereby translates information fed to our conscious brain into emotional stimuli that resonate in our subconscious one.
It is this wordless subconscious appeal of music that gives it such a grasp on people. Almost every culture that has ever existed on earth at one time or another has had rituals of music and dance that they used to codify and bring to life subconscious urges. Music, by the very fact that it operates on such a subconscious level actually, is maybe the only totally democratic art form.
One does not need a grasp of language or contextual artistic knowledge to be affected by it. For example, not all but most people probably would not watch a film and certainly not read a book in a language they don’t speak. Around the world, however, people wear Bob Marley T-shirts (despite him singing in a language that many don’t understand) because his music and the timbre of his voice can still be enjoyed on a subconscious level. An even more powerful example of music’s preeminence in affecting the unconscious would be the works of the late Tupac Shakur. Despite being a rapper, i.e. a musical artist whose work is defined by the concrete and colloquially coded linguistic content of his songs, he has nevertheless got a massive and enduring global following because the raw emotion of his vocal style and his music has proven to be tremendously resonant.
Rising To The Pop
What could be drawn from this is that across music genres, it is material that speaks the most to our subconscious mind which floats to the heights of what we call “pop” music. Conversely, hardened music fans will often listen to music that for many will seem as lacking any obvious sonic appeal. Genres like metal, techno, and hardcore hip hop often alienate the average listener, frequently because their fans have listened to so much music that they require more complicated and diverse form of stimulation to keep tickling the parts of their brain that first felt good when exposed to music. However, fans will listen to those poppier songs that they enjoyed in the past because of previously held pleasant emotional associations. This accounts for the “nostalgia” factor of music and why many people prefer to listen to the music of their youth.
Because music’s grasp on our subconscious is so profound, most of the biggest blockbuster films have blaring music scores to keep the audience interested, whereas others tend to employ silence. It’s why people are more likely to get band names or lyrics tattooed permanently on their bodies. It’s why some songs get banned from nightclubs because they’ve been known to start fights on the dance floor. Or why so many people liaise with strangers for sexual encounters at venues where music is loudly played. It’s because music, more than anything else in the repertoire of human emotion, except perhaps for the act of sex, is the closest thing we have to the language speaking directly to the subconscious.
About the author: My name is Jerry and I’m 26 years old. All my childhood has passed in London, so I was inspired by its amazing architecture and some special magic. Since 15 years old I have decided to become a novelist. Step by step I was learning the basics of literature. Nowadays I try to make my own attempts. Dear readers, I’ll be pleasured to see your comments 😉