An article, by Philip Ball, in Nature News says that appreciation of musical performance involves both an auditory and visual experience. This finding might come as a surprise, if not shock to music lovers, most notably the purists.
But who cares about the histrionics — it’s the music that matters, right? Not according to the latest study, which shows that people’s judgements about the quality of a musical performance are influenced more by what they see than by what they hear.
The findings, reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by social psychologist Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London1, may be embarrassing and even shocking to music lovers. The vast majority of participants in Tsay’s experiments — around 83% of both untrained participants and professional musicians — insisted at the outset that sound was their key criterion for assessing video and audio recordings of performances.
Yet it wasn’t. The participants were presented with recordings of the three finalists in each of ten prestigious international competitions, and were asked to guess the winner. With just sound, or sound and video, novices and experts both guessed right at about the same level as chance (33% of the time), or a little less. But with silent video alone, the success rate for both was about 46–53%. The experts did no better than the novices.This agrees with the idea that it is often the case that more than one sense matters when considering anything from a musical performance to tasting a new food. And in a hierarchy of senses, if one could say such a thing, the visual might stand on top of the ranking. For example, the article adds that the visual sense might even be more important than the audio one in judging a musical concert: “Music neuropsychologist Daniel Levitin of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, agrees that Tsay’s results might have been anticipated. ‘In a sense, the visual channel is more primordial than the auditory, ’ he says.”
The results might force some to rethink what musical performance is really about. “As a classical musician, I was initially somewhat disturbed” by the findings, says Tsay, who is herself an acclaimed pianist. “It was surprising to find that there is such a wide gap between what we believe matters in the evaluation of music performance and what is actually being used to judge performances.”
But philosopher of music Vincent Bergeron of the University of Ottawa in Canada isn’t worried. “One could plausibly argue that music made for performance, such as classical music, is a visual as well as a sonic art, and that it should also be evaluated on the basis of how it looks,” he says, adding: “This is a brilliant paper.”
You can read the rest of the article at [Nature].