The Conversation Weekly podcast is taking a short break this week. In the meantime, we bring you an extended version of one of our favorite recent interviews.
In this episode, we talk to a musicologist who has been finding out how much a person’s cultural background influences their emotional reaction to music and certain harmonies.
When George Athanasopoulos and his colleagues decided to investigate whether a person’s emotional response to music and harmony is innate or culturally determined, they needed to go to a place with a poor internet connection.
“We wanted to see if Western concepts of music, which are specifically related to a major chord having a happy connotation and a minor chord having a sad connotation, have any sort of truth outside of the Western cultural setting,” says Athanasopoulos, a member of COFUND. /Marie Curie Junior Research Fellow at Durham University in the UK.
To do this, Athanasopoulos needed to find people who had not been overwhelmingly exposed to Western music. But he says this is difficult in a world where anyone with an internet connection can “download the latest hits from Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande” via streaming music platforms.
So the researchers decided to go to a remote area of northwest Pakistan to spend time with the Kalash and Kho people who live there. “There is an unstable power grid, which means there is no stable internet connection unless you are prepared to travel two hours to the nearest city,” explains Athanasopoulos.
The research that Athanasopoulos and his colleagues have published as a result of their time with the Kalash and Kho people is revealing how music considered “happy” by Western listeners is not necessarily perceived that way by others. In fact, it can be quite the opposite.
Listen to the full episode to learn more about Athanasopoulos’ findings. You can also read an article he wrote about the research with his colleague Imre Lahdelma.
Read more: How your culture influences the emotions you feel when you listen to music
The vocal recordings in this story come from the databases of Latif S et al and Burkhardt F et al. Harmonized melodies in a tonal and choral style by JS Bach, by George Athanasopoulos. Overture to Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Davis High School Symphony Orchestra.
This episode of The Conversation Weekly features an extended version of an interview first published on February 3. It was produced by Mend Mariwany and Gemma Ware, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. Our theme song is from Neeta Sarl. You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or via email. You can also sign up for The Conversation’s free daily email here.