Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Composers and Performers Have Different Capacities to Manipulate Arousal and Valence

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Composers and Performers Have Different Capacities to Manipulate Arousal and Valence

Article excerpt

In two studies, we investigated the capacity of compositional structure and performance expression to communicate the affective dimensions of valence and arousal. We expected that performance and composition would differ in their expressive capacities, with composition better suited to expressing changes in valence and performance better suited to expressing changes in arousal. Eight highly trained musicians attempted to communicate distinct emotions in three ways: composition alone (pitches and durations composed by musicians and recorded as MIDI files), performed versions of those melodic fragments, and performance alone (e.g., changes in intensity, tempo, timing) applied to neutral or ambiguous melodic fragments. In Experiment 1, we compared valence and arousal scores for the composition and combined conditions. In Experiment 2, we compared valence and arousal scores for the performance condition. Mean scores for both dimensions varied significantly as a function of the intended emotion. Regression analyses indicated that both composition and performance contributed to valence and arousal scores. However, compositional cues had a greater influence on valence scores and performance cues had a greater influence on arousal scores. The findings underscore the collaborative and complementary nature of emotional communication by composers and performers.

Keywords: emotional communication, music cognition and perception, performance, composition, affective dimensions

In Western music and other musical traditions that rely on notation to share musical ideas, the core activities involved in transmitting emotional information include composition and performance. Research has verified that powerful emotional signals are carried in the attributes controlled by composers and performers (Behrens & Green, 1993; Gabrielsson & Lindström, 2010; Juslin & Laukka, 2003; Terwogt & Van Grinsven, 1991; Thompson & Robitaille, 1992). However, composers and performers are distinguished from one another by the type of attributes that are under their control. Specifically, composers primarily control pitch, instrumentation, and rhythmic structure, whereas performers focus on the musical microstructure-subtle variations in timing, articulation, intensity, tempo, and often pitch intonation.

The goal of this investigation was to evaluate the capacity of composition and performance to communicate different dimensions of emotion: valence (pleasure- displeasure; positive- negative) and arousal (sleepy-awake; low activity- high activity). We predicted that the distinct tasks of composition and performance would differ in their capacity to communicate these dimensions. Three conditions were considered (see also Quinto, Thompson, & Taylor, 2013, who used the same materials). In the composition condition, eight musicians (violinists and vocalists) composed short melodic fragments to express the emotions of anger, fear, happiness, sadness, tenderness, and neutral (no emotion). The notated compositions were then played through a MIDI sequencer without performance expression. The synthesized timbres did carry some unique features, such as differences in vibrato and high-frequency energy, but all changes in timing, intensity, and articulation were removed. In the combined condition, musicians performed their own composed melodic fragments such that performance expression and compositional structure jointly conveyed the six target emotions. In the performance condition, emotionally ambiguous melodic fragments were composed by one of the authors and supplied to musicians, who performed them with the intention of expressing the six target emotions.

Quinto et al. (2013) used a forced-choice paradigm that focused on decoding accuracy for the same stimuli. They found that some emotions were well decoded through composition (e.g., fear), whereas other emotions were well decoded through performance (e.g., anger, sadness). This finding suggested that composition and performance have different capacities for emotional communication. …

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