In the May 10th New Scientist 2759 we can read an excellent 'review article' dealing with the mathematical basis of music and hence its possible evolutionary significance.
was it an accidental byproduct of an intellectual (or auditory) process or is it an adaptation that serves us well? Of course for those like us who love it profoundly, it's inconceivable it could be accidental-- the feeling you get when you hear something beautiful is much too transcendent and deep, and too connected with emotion. Even though we listen in solitude to our stereos or ipods, it must have first been a purely social activity, much like language was a social adaptation but turned out to be highly useful for organizing thinking into coherent and rational constructs within one's own mind. The more profound mystery is why music is strongly connected with the emotions. But I think this reflects the use it was put to in societies, and for infant-parent bonding, in other words it fits the social adaptation theory. Every culture for example has a 'genre' of music specifically used to soothe infants.
A fascinating study using just-born infants from deaf parents (thus never exposed to music in the womb) to see if they prefer consonant intervals (5th for ex) over dissonant seemed to suggest they did, that the brain is hard-wired to appreciate the consonance. "Balkwill and Thompson found that complex melodies with large, irregular or unusual changes in pitch tend to be associated with negative emotions" (not only just in babies) -- and we would add, except for the progressive music fan, who loves those complex, large, irregular, unusual changes.
Why do we like these dissonant intervals so much? Is it really a kind of progress in intellectual understanding of the theory of harmony or is it just an obsession with newness, as my wife always tells me.
Everyone knows there are mathematical ratios to the consonant intervals, octave is 1-2, fifth is 2-3. So the major seventh is 10-19 (abhorred in classical music up to the romantics), the minor second is 25-28, and the dreaded tritone is 5-7. Being a relatively simple ratio of small whole numbers, and primes to boot, it's surprising it's considered a dissonance. But this may be a european cultural convention since it's used a lot in other cultures.
Of course the major seventh is used extensively in jazz, where chromatic notes create strong tensions that lead to resolutions, the minor second is loved in the dominant with seventh for its tension demanding resolution to the tonic. Jazz is like the late romantics, chromatic notes are used elaborately to add interest to otherwise straightforward chord progressions, circles of fifths, blues 1-4-5's. But progressive is altogether different, using discord front and centre to make enjoyable music. There must be recognizable elements or it would be atonal. It's analogous to the way you won't laugh at a joke you know very well already, we need to enjoy something we have never heard before in a new combination of chords, melodies, chromatic notes. What is the explanation for the progressive fan's brain? Who is going to volunteer for functional MRI and PET scans?
I've thought a lot about this issue, whether our love for progressive music is an aberration of desire for novelty (analogous to the old joke that is no longer funny) or some higher intellectual processing of the basic auditory circuits of enjoyment. Everyone gets bored with a melody they know well, but we seem to be bored with a whole form of music, the standard song. No question the average person hears prog as weird, strange stuff. And that's exactly what this album is: weird, strange stuff. The first long track starts with a blues riff and gets into a long drawn-out jam session. The second side entitled Dr Seuss Ballet is more adventurous, reminiscent of that long improvised part in king crimson's 1969 court album. It's hard to tell if the music is composed or improvised, and it's pretty challenging even for the average prog fan. Album ends with an Egg-like bach keyboard fugue with electric piano-- a bit more atonal than the compositions of Dave Stewart
"This obscure project's lone album is a truly unique piece of experimental jazz-rock. Things start off in a fairly "groovy" manner, but weirdness soon sets in, with psych guitar, ring-modulated electric piano and freaky "electronic sax" all over the place, sounding almost like Xhol Caravan's Tim Belbe jamming with Yuji Imamura & Air on a bad acid trip. It only gets crazier from there, going completely off the deep end by the conclusion of the first side-long track. Side two is a little more sedate, shifting between eerie atmospherics and jazzier sections.This group was the brainchild of Arnie Lawrence, who was once a member of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show orchestra (!?), but also had a long-running interest in experimental, psychedelic forms of jazz. As you listen, try to keep in mind that this madness was the creation of a man who once played alongside Doc Severinsen. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!"
Arnie Lawrence - Saxes
Ron McClure - Bass
Ted Irwin - Guitar
Luther Rix - Perc
Dick Hyman - Keys
Mike Knotts - Keys
All music composed by the whole band
On the back of the album is a blurb-like quote from downbeat,
"The first time I listened to this music, I was awed. It's so unlike all the other synthesis music, the jazz-rock whatever. It's cosmic without being pretentious and down to earth without being trivial, at once freaky and funky, and altogether of the spirit, created in a free get-together of the spirit. All that happens happens because they're creating it as they will, out of and into all that they happen to be. And the more I listened, the more I was out of and into myuself, which is what this music is about."
No question the album and band name are from a book by Stewart Edward White (1940) which dealt with spirituality, and life after death. This is what the blurb is trying to suggest in typical seventies-speak I think. The unobstructed universe is thus open to spiritual movements throughout its range. What Dr Seuss is doing there, I have no idea.