Analysing sound phenomena in the framework of cultural studies has become a popular field of research and experimentation in the 21st century. Indeed, we are talking about a primordial nature-nurture-relationship of humankind. As early as in the bible, God cannot be seen, only heard, and for the romantic art-religion music is the preferred medium for a new transcendental experience. But the primacy of seeing is also questioned today from different perspectives. In the global society audio engineering is gaining importance to the extent that some factions in academia are beginning to speak of the "acoustic turn".
Innate and learned
Despite the insight into the genetically anchored musicality of humans, there is little verified knowledge on the function and importance of sound for prenatal and child development to date. At least we know that six-month-old babies are already able to identify musical segments of periodically structured music. Similar questions dominate adult-oriented music psychology and therapy: What effects do sounds and noises have on concentration, memory and thinking? Can certain kinds of music increase the cognitive potential of humans?
In this context, the so-called "musical universals" take on more significance – predispositions and features that are not learned, but innate. As emotion research has verified experimentally, humans can identify four basic emotions with musical means: joy, sadness, anger, fear. Moreover, it was discovered a few years ago that mammals have octave mapping. The scales of all musical cultures are octave-based for that reason, but fifths and fourths are also encountered. Apparently, the brain tends towards these overtone-privileged intervals, because combinations of notes whose frequency relations are determined by small whole numbers elicit additional periodic patterns in nerve signals, as opposed to ones with complicated relations.
Harmonious Structure and Listening Experience
Moreover, humans do not seem to be anthropologically programmed for equidistant scales. Intervals between neighbouring scale steps vary in size – this is true for scales in almost all known cultures. However, in this manner, harmonies can be produced, because the notes have a "hierarchical" relationship with the keynote, and the listener can imagine which point the music has reached with regard to its centre at all times. This structure enables a cognitive-emotional reenactment of tension and resolution, which permanently enhances the musical potential for expression and experience – right through to ecstasy. This very fact is probably a reason for the global triumph of major-minor tonality.
The RG Sound(worlds) not only sought to bring these findings up to date, deepen and extend them, it also sought to ask what consequences they may have for (education) policy, (cultural) history, art production/reception and the theory of aesthetics.
Wolf Gerhard Schmidt / Jean-François Candoni / Stéphane Pesnel (Hrsg.): Klang - Ton - Musik. Theorien und Modelle (national)kultureller Identitätsstiftung, Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 2014
Schmidt, Wolf Gerhard (Hrsg.): Körperbilder in Kunst und Wissenschaft, Würzburg: Verlag Königshausen & Neumann, 2014
Schmidt, Wolf Gerhard (Hrsg.): Die Natur-Kultur-Grenze in Kunst und Wissenschaft, Würzburg: Verlag Königshausen & Neumann, 2014