I’ve been thinking about the connection between sounds and emotion lately; whether there is a more direct connection between them compared to a visual stimulus, or not, as Jonathan Sterne argues.
The blog posts of my dissertation co-advisor and friend Phil Ford have helped me think about this conundrum. Now, Phil Ford is absolutely cop show, so I invite you to read his entire series of posts on magic starting here. One of Phil’s larger points taken from Ramsey Dukes is that in the realm of magic, a magician does not ask “does it exist?” but “does it work?” The question of whether there truly are goblins or ghosts or valid tarot card readings is sidestepping the point of magic. What really matters is what happens when you start believing in these things—what kind of experiences do they lead to? Do they lead to experiences that can’t be rationalized in any other way? In other words, does the magic work?
A naysayer would resist this by explaining that virtually any phenomenon we experience can be rationally explained without resorting to things that bump in the night. But this is not necessarily so. We all can point to those weird coincidences and strange happenings that occur every once in a while that defy easy explanation. Most of the time we just say “that’s odd” and forget about it, rather than trying to suss out an explanation that is not forthcoming. It’s too uncomfortable for many of us to hang on to experiences that don’t fit our worldview, so we just dismiss them. Just a couple of weeks ago, the exact moment I turned on the radio in my kitchen while making dinner, my voice came over the radio saying “I want the bells to keep on ringing.” It was the NPR radio show I was interviewed for. The precise moment. Now that’s weird.
Ok, so let’s not get too far off track here. What does magic have to do with sound and emotion? One of Phil’s other points in his magic series is that we all do some magical thinking. And that may be one way to think about the connection between sound and emotion—not whether sounds, in particular music, actually own a direct line to our heart, but if we believe this to be so, do sounds yield the desired emotional response? The belief is the thing. But it comes first, before the experience. And in the case of bell sounds, I think it holds. I’ve shown here and here evidence for an emotional response to bell sounds.
Now this doesn’t mean the experience of these writers will be necessarily the same as anyone else’s. But it may encourage another to adopt the same belief and thus engender a similar reaction. And as a self-proclaimed bell advocate, if I can get you to feel the same mix of wonder, awe, beauty, and emotional intimacy when you hear a bell as I do, then I’ve worked my magic on you.