Composing by Listening: A Computer-Assisted System for Creating Emotional Music

Authors: Quinto, Lena and William Forde Thompson.
Publication: International Journal of Synthetic Emotions (IJSE)
Publication volume & issue: vol. 3 issue 2 (2012) pages 48-67.
DOI: 10.4018/jse.2012070103 ( doesn’t recognize this DOI).
Abstract: Most people communicate emotion through their voice, facial expressions, and gestures. However, it is assumed that only “experts” can communicate emotions in music. The authors have developed a computer-based system that enables musically untrained users to select relevant acoustic attributes to compose emotional melodies. Nonmusicians (Experiment 1) and musicians (Experiment 3) were progressively presented with pairs of melodies that each differed in an acoustic attribute (e.g., intensity – loud vs. soft). For each pair, participants chose the melody that most strongly conveyed a target emotion (anger, fear, happiness, sadness or tenderness). Once all decisions were made, a final melody containing all choices was generated. The system allowed both untrained and trained participants to compose a range of emotional melodies. New listeners successfully decoded the emotional melodies of nonmusicians (Experiment 2) and musicians (Experiment 4). Results indicate that human-computer interaction can facilitate the composition of emotional music by musically untrained and trained individuals.

The first two pages of the article are available online.  I was unable to access the full text version, but this is an article I’d like to read, especially to examine the methodology.

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Now for the Weird Al perspective…

Weird Al answers the question “Why is music so powerful?f”

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Hearing and the Mind

The Brian Lehrer Show has an interview with Seth Horowitz about his book, The Universal Sense:  How Hearing Shapes the Mind.  The podcast is online here:


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Tell all the music teachers you know

This article provides more evidence about the lasting benefits of music education, even if you don’t stick with it.  They attempt to answer the question about “whether musical training during childhood leaves an enduring imprint on the adult brain.”

Authors: Erika Skoe and Nina Kraus
The Journal of Neuroscience
Publication volume & date:  
August 22, 2012, vol. 32 no. 34, pages 11507-11510
 “Playing a musical instrument changes the anatomy and function of the brain. But do these changes persist after music training stops? We probed this question by measuring auditory brainstem responses in a cohort of healthy young human adults with varying amounts of past musical training. We show that adults who received formal music instruction as children have more robust brainstem responses to sound than peers who never participated in music lessons and that the magnitude of the response correlates with how recently training ceased. Our results suggest that neural changes accompanying musical training during childhood are retained in adulthood. . .”

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I listen to color

Neil Harbisson explains how he can eat his favorite song:

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Can listening to music help relieve pain?

In contrast to reports that listening to some kinds of music can be considered torture, Anahad O’Connor reports today in the New York Times about the research Individual differences in the effects of music engagement on responses to painful stimulation, from The Journal of Pain (DOI: 10.1016/j.jpain.2011.08.010).

Excerpts from the abstract of that article:

Engaged attention, including music listening, has shown mixed results when used as a method for reducing pain. . . . Using a music-listening task varying in task demand, we collected stimulus-evoked potentials, pupil dilation, and skin conductance responses to noxious electrocutaneous stimulations as indicators of central and peripheral arousal, respectively. . .  Music engagement reduces pain responses, but personality factors like anxiety and absorption modulate the magnitude of effect. PERSPECTIVE: Engaging in music listening can reduce responses to pain, depending on the person: people who are anxious and can become absorbed in activities easily may find music listening especially effective for relieving pain. Clinicians should consider patients’ personality characteristics when recommending behavioral interventions like music listening for pain relief.


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Finding cool stuff

As I’ve mentioned before, I use a lot of different methods to find interesting items to post on this blog, from subscribing to the RSS feeds of journals to subscribing to Google Alerts.  The problem is that the flow of information into my inbox is frequently overwhelming.  A few weeks ago, I noticed that a lot of sources were posting a Ted Talk by Charles Limb, and while I thought, hey, did he do another one? it took me several weeks to check that.  Nope, the Ted Talk everyone has been posting is the same one I posted back in January 2011, when it was just a lowly Tedx talk–it’s just that more people have noticed it now that has posted it.   So I’m not behind in my posting–just way ahead of the curve.

Unfortunately, that isn’t true of this TedxMIA talk by Scott Rickard titled the World’s Ugliest Music.  The piece in this talk reminds me a lot of a child playing the piano (at least, that’s more or less the way *I* sounded before I took a few lessons).  This talk has had over 176,000 views, so I’m a lowly latecomer to viewing it.  I hope you enjoy it.


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