Why is it that Jimi Hendrix's famous guitar cover of 'The Star Spangled Banner' moved so many people at Woodstock? A new UCLA study suggests one possible reason: researchers say the effect of listening to music with distortion is similar to hearing the cries of animals in distress. And researcher Greg Bryant says this similarity "brings out the animal in us".
"Music that shares aural characteristics with the vocalizations of distressed animals captures human attention and is uniquely arousing", says Daniel Blumstein, another of the study's authors and chair of the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers - Blumstein, along with Peter Kaye, a composer of film and television scores, and Bryant, an assistant professor of communication studies at UCLA - composed a series of short pieces of music, and then played them for undergraduate students. The pieces that were distorted were rated more exciting than the music without distortion, and listeners were also more likely to rate the distorted music as charged with negative emotion.
Interestingly, the exciting effects of the distorted music were eliminated when the sounds were paired with unevocative imagery. Footage of people doing average things like walking or drinking coffee caused test subjects to say that they did not find the music arousing. They did, however, find the pieces even more negative when they were paired with the videos.
The team says they now want to test how different types of music affect a listener's nervous system to see if it bears out their theory. Past research has shown that calls of distress raise heart rates and skin conductance (a measure of arousal and excitement) among animals, and they want to find out whether the same is true of dissonant songs.
Whether or not it functions like the call of a distressed animal, distorted music can definitely provoke an emotional reaction. Don't believe it? Check out a few tunes below:
Jimi Hendrix's 'Star Spangled Banner' Live At Woodstock
Nirvana 'Territorial Pissings'
The Stooges 'I Wanna Be Your Dog'
The Beatles 'Revolution'
Future Of The Left 'Arming Eritrea'
The Kinks 'You Really Got Me'
Led Zeppelin 'How Many More Times'
Metallica 'For Whom The Bell Tolls'
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