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Beyond Expectations - Paul's Occasional Rambling
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Beyond Expectations
I spent this morning watching an online video of a science panel (and Bobby McFerrin) discussing the neuroscience of music, essentially talking about what goes on in our brains when we listen to, and participate in, music. One of the key points was that our brains build up expectations of the patterns (tonal and rhythmic) that we're exposed to, and there are interesting things that happen both when those expectations are met and when we are surprised by an unexpected change that still fits within the framework of our concept of tonality and rhythm (say, a bridge that goes up a perfect fifth).

This made me have two simultaneous "Ah-ha!" moments:

First, I've really been digging the album "Beyond" by Informatic for about six months now. I think it's a really great, enjoyable, listenable album, and I think the reason why I like it so much is because almost all the songs have surprising bridges or middle sections that deviate from an established pattern in a tonally or rhythmically pleasing manner. For example, the single "Temporary" jumps up a fifth (I think) at 2:25 into a section with almost operatic backing vocals and a different, but cohesive, bassline, and then drops back into the familiar chorus for the remainder of the song. Every time the song hits this part, I feel a little smile come across my face, because of the way it both defies (shouldn't there be another verse here?) and meets (this key change fits) my expectations for the song.

Second, I had noticed before that these bridges made me happy, but if I just skipped to the bridge, somehow it didn't seem as good if I wasn't listening to the rest of the song beforehand. The video I watched made me realize that it's the setup of the expectation, not just the payoff, that brings the real joy to the experience. In isolation, the bridge loses it's context, but as part of the larger whole, there's a whole brain experience of joy from the progression of the pattern of the song, and the cohesive break in this pattern to something different and new.

I think this realization will change how I write songs in the future.

Current Mood: impressed impressed

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