Watching Music, Rather than Listening

Thanks to Hacker News, I came to read fantastic article about a research experiment into the importance of visual indicators during a musical performance.

In the research, musicians (novices and pros) were asked to determine the winner of some musical competitions by using either the whole performance (audio and video), just the audio, or both. Each competition comprised of 3 finalists, so statistically, random guesswork would mean you’d select the correct winner 33% of the time.

It turns out that those using both the full clips (audio and video) chose correctly 35% of the time, audio only 29% and video-only a significant 46% of the time.

This raises all sorts of interesting questions such as how the official judging was done in order to determine the actual winner. Also, if you read the post you’ll notice that the sample group construction seemed a little odd.

Regardless, it’s still a fascinating piece of research which emphasises my opinion (because this is now my own subjectivity coming though) that music needs a visual element in order to be interesting.

I sat through an hour long Mahler Sypmphony when I was getting free tickets to NZSO concerts. I almost felt duty bound to go in order to be more ‘cultured’, musically at least. But it was so booooring.

Unless an orchestra is playing movie themes, or something showy or catchy, then it’s a chore to sit in the audience and ‘watch’. Musically it’s probably quite amazing, but visually there is nothing to stimulate the senses.

In stark contrast are live rock/pop concerts, which on many occasions have lousy as sound technicians making a total hash of the sound. As a visual spectacle though, they’re great.

And as if to emphasis this point further, listing to NZ Idol/Got Talent/X Factor, is a lot more excruciating when listening from the other room. It’s more tolerable when actually watching it.

Then there are the Pop Sensations of the moment, One Direction, who’ve just premiered their movie. Now, you can call me cynical, but these guys aren’t just being judged on their musical ability. There’s a reason why 99% of their fans are girls.

It’s great to see some attempt made to quantify, or at least make apparent, the perception of quality when more of the senses are involved. In fact, a variation of this same discussion came up today when critiquing the quality of the coffee at Urban Café. Was my macchiato actually better there than the other 3 cafes around my work, or was it better because of the young lady serving it to me?

(Truth be told, Urban Café were the first café to give me a little jug of hot water with my macchiato, which I now routinely ask for at our usual café haunt). Nice.


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