Research in the field of emotions and music

After two years of work with their scientific article on erection in music, Associate professors Roberto Bresin and Anders Friberg at the Music Acoustics group at TMH were rewarded; the journal Cortex published their paper "Emotion rendering in music: Range and characteristic values of seven musical variable" in the October issue 2011.

”It was an important event for us. In the Cortex paper we present a large part of what the Music Acoustics group do in the research field of emotions and music,” says Roberto Bresin.

For many music listeners and performers the induction and communication of emotion is a central aspect. How brain activity and emotions are affected by music is also of great interest in modern neuropsychological research.

“Yes, music is a very powerful means for analysing how emotions are perceived and mapped into brain activity. We have worked for many years to develop tools that can give a better understanding of how music affects emotions,” says Roberto Bresin.

The article in Cortex describes a study in which the authors have identified seven musical parameters (tempo, sound level, articulation, phrasing, register, instrument, and attack speed) that vary between different emotions. 20 experienced musicians took part in an experiment, which was set in a studio at the CSC School. Here, the musicians could listen to four scores communicating different emotions (happiness, sadness, fear, calmness) and adjust the musical variables in real-time for communicating five different emotional expressions (neutral, happy, scary, peaceful, sad). The scores were polyphonic, selected from a battery of stimuli composed at Montreal University.

”We wanted to identify the mean values and range for these musical variables in order to obtain a better control of the music stimuli thus improving ecological validity, emotional impact and optimal selection. It turned out that, especially for parameters like tempo and melody, that introduce large perceivable effects, the test subjects selected intuitively the same values to change the music to match a specific emotion”.

Setting up the technical equipment supporting the experiment was a big challenge in the project, states Roberto Bresin. The equipment consisted of a professional software sound synthesizer (Kontakt 2, using the Vienna Symphonic Library), a gesture controller that was specially designed and built for the experiment, two personal computers as well as two computer programs; Skatta, and a modified version of pDM.

“Skatta is a freely available program initially developed by four students as a project in a Software Engineering Course at CSC. It was used for the design of the test procedure, for the presentation of the stimuli, and the collection of results. pDM is a real-time computer program for expressive music performance, that we have developed in the Music Acoustics group earlier and now modified for this experiment.”

 Although this is labelled as basic research, the results may in the future well be useful in for example game development and design of new digital instruments. Another area where the research is of great use is in studies of how children act and how they relate to certain emotions.

“Just an example, we developed a new instrument called MusicBoxes that is now used by researchers in Finland to study children’s´ personality, and we collaborate with them in this work,” says Roberto Bresin.

The study presented in the paper has been performed with support by the European BrainTuning project, which was investigating the musical brain by combining the expertise of six research groups in Europe and Canada during the years 2006–2009. The authors have also had support from the Same Project (Roberto), funded by the European Commission, and the Swedish Research Council (Anders).

Top page top