Science Says Music Is Not A Universal Language

A new study uncovers just how culturally relative music appreciation really is.

Music lovers worldwide have realized a rather fundamental point some time ago. Namely that culture has a rather important role in shaping aesthetic responses to music. Nevertheless, this topic has been a controversy in the scientific community. Basically, the debate centers on whether perceptions of pleasant note combinations, or “consonance”, and unpleasant combinations, or “dissonance” have a biological rather than outright cultural basis. So, is consonance a Western musical construct or an underlying musical universality?

Scientists publishing in science journal Natureconducted research among native societies in the Amazon sufficiently isolated from Western music. They found that, “Despite exhibiting Western-like discrimination abilities and Western-like aesthetic responses to familiar sounds and acoustic roughness, the Tsimane’ rated consonant and dissonant chords and vocal harmonies as equally pleasant.”

They go on to suggest that many cultures distanced from Western musical influence are rather agnostic about the whole consonant/dissonant distinction.

“The results indicate that consonance preferences can be absent in cultures sufficiently isolated from Western music, and are thus unlikely to reflect innate biases or exposure to harmonic natural sounds. The observed variation in preferences is presumably determined by exposure to musical harmony, suggesting that culture has a dominant role in shaping aesthetic responses to music.”

Despite all this “musical relativity” nonsense, science also apparently says that this is the most relaxing song ever. I wonder what the Tsimane’ think about that.