We all love music right? So this listicle, “Top 10 Amazing Facts about Music”, is dedicated for all those who are in love with music and want to know more.
10. Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal
This is a song inscribed on a clay tablet some 3400 years ago. It was excavated from the ruins of an ancient Syrian city in the 1950s and it’s one of the oldest surviving musical notations in the world. The song, known as Hurrian Hymn #6 or the Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal, is believed to be a hymn dedicated to the Ugaritic goddess Nikkal with lyrics to be sung and notes to be played with an ancient string instrument known as a lyre.
Musicologists have since attempted to transcribe these notations but rival transcriptions vary greatly. There’s no way to determine the accuracy of these interpretations so what the Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal actually sounded like back in 1400 BC, we may never know.
09. Music – Happy or Sad?
Why is it that some music sounds happy while some sounds sad? Well, research has found that music often seems to convey emotion by mimicking our vocal and physical expressions of emotion. Loud and fast music commonly evoke a sense of fear or excitement as loudness and a rapid heart rate correlate with those emotions while soft and slow music commonly evoke as sense of serenity or melancholy for the opposite reasons. And some of these emotional cues appear to transcend cultural boundaries. For example, one study found that Canadian listeners were able to identify the intended emotion in music from Kyrgyzstan, India, and a native American tribe despite having no previous exposure to that kind of music. Conversely, when members of a native African tribe were exposed to Western music, they too were able to correctly identify the intended motion.
On the other hand, some emotional cues appear to be culture-specific. The reason most of us perceive music as happy or sad is due in part to the respective songs being played in major and minor key. However, this perception of major being happier than minor is not intrinsic to music but rather a culture-specific association. It’s something we’ve learned. In fact, some cultures have the complete opposite association with minor being perceived as happier than major. Not to mention that numerous cultures use completely different musical systems where major and minor is not even a thing. One study found that members of a remote Amazonian tribe with little to no exposure to Western music perceived consonant chords as equally pleasant to dissonant chords. So the reason we perceive them as harmonious or discordant is because we’ve learned to do so. It is not some innate preference.
There’s no definitive answer as to why certain sounds makes us feel certain emotions but one interpretation is indeed that sad music sounds sad as it resembles the sounds and behaviors we’ve come to associate with sadness. Some of those associations are culture-specific while others are culture-transcendent and the amalgamation of both is what enables a simple sound to convey a complex emotion.
08. Why Goosebumps?
Why is it that a really good tune can induce shivers down your spine and even goosebumps? It’s a sensation familiar to most, although not to everyone, but much like the emotionality of music there’s no clear consensus on exactly why it happens. Goosebumps are produced by a vestigial fight-or-flight response from back when humans were covered in hair. When our ape-like ancestors had to battle the cold or sensed imminent danger, their hair would rise to improve insulation or to make them appear larger and more intimidating. As we’ve since shed our beastly fur to become bipedal mole-rats, goosebumps are merely a vestige from a time before receding hairlines.
But how is this connected to music? Well, studies have found that music stimulates reward pathways in the brain which triggers the release of dopamine similar to what happens when you eat tasty food or take psychotropic drugs. So musical shivers is the auditory equivalent of some really good pot. These dopamine triggers appear to be activated in anticipation of a climax or when the song takes an unexpected turn such as a satisfying drop in EDM or a crescendo in classical music. This surge of dopamine then triggers the release of adrenaline which in turn can induce shivers and transform you into a menacing cactus.
So we do know how it happens but we’re not entirely sure why our brains are wired to respond this way in the first place.
07. Never-ending Piece
Inside a church in the town of Halberstadt in Germany there’s an organ that appears to be stuck on the same chord. “As Slow As Possible”, a musical piece which was written by an American composer named John Cage in 1985, is the slowest musical performance ever undertaken. A conventional performance of this piece would take less than an hour but the slow-motion concert inside this church will not conclude for another 622 years.
The project began in 2001 but the piece is played at such an excruciating pace that the first actual sound was not heard until some 17 months into the performance. Since then it’s only gone through 12 chord changes, the latest of which was heard back in 2013. The next transition is not expected until September of 2020. Each chord change attracts a sizable audience and presuming the organ can be maintained for centuries to come this concert is scheduled to conclude in 2640.
06. Music or Noise?
Asking someone “Do you like music?” is a bit like asking someone if they like being happy. Of course I like music. Everyone likes music. Not the same genre perhaps but certainly music in general. I think we can all agree that music is universally liked. Well, if you do agree with that then you’d be horribly wrong because some people are in fact incapable of deriving pleasure from music. It’s known as “Musical Anhedonia” and affects approximately 3-5% of the population. It is typical for music to affect autonomic functions such as pupil dilation, breathing, and heart rate but, much like a Swede listening to Danish, musical anhedonics perceive music as nothing more than apathetic noise.
And it is a specific indifference towards music as those with the condition display perfectly normal emotional responses to other forms of stimuli. However, while incapable of feeling the music they are perfectly capable of comprehending the emotions being conveyed. So a sad or happy song will still sound sad or happy but it won’t make them feel sad or happy.
05. Mozart’s sense of humor?
A piece composed by Mozart around 1782 and while it may sound rather beautiful, the lyrics are not quite what you’d expect from one of the most renowned composers in history. When translated from German the title of this composition is, no joke, “Lick Me in the A*s”. It is believed to be inspired by a famous quote from a contemporary German drama in which the protagonist uses the phrase as a comedic insult.
However, this is merely one example of Mozart’s fascination with scatology. Which is a very academic way of saying that Mozart enjoyed writing and singing about feces. Roughly 12% of the letters Mozart wrote to family and friends contains at least one scatological or sexual reference. For example, in November of 1777 he wrote a letter to his cousin which can be translated as such.
Well. I wish you good night
But first sh*t in your bed and make it burst.
Sleep soundly, my love
In to your mouth your ar*e you’ll shove.
Early scholars were so taken aback by these inelegant musical works and letters that such classics as “Lick Me In the A*s Right Well and Clean” which is an entirely different piece from the aforementioned one mind you, were shamefully suppressed with more flattering titles and lyrics. Some authors have interpreted Mozart’s prolific use of obscenities as evidence of Tourette syndrome. A rare symptom of which is the involuntary utterance of obscenities.
However, just as many oppose this interpretation as Mozart’s close circle of family and friends would frequently engage in equally obscene exchanges. The most probable explanation is that he was simply having a laugh. In fact, some historians argue that this was a very common sense of humor in 18th century Germany. Also, I love the fact that this is a subject deemed worthy of a dedicated page on Wikipedia.
04. The Flute
One of the earliest musical instruments, aside from shouting in harmony and incessant meat slapping, is the flute. The oldest surviving flute could be a bone fragment excavated from an archaeological site in Slovenia. The bone is that of the long extinct cave bear and is at least 43,000 years old. Assuming it is a fragment of a Paleolithic flute it may serve as evidence that Neanderthals played and enjoyed music as much as modern humans.
On the other hand, the holes may simply be the bite marks of an animal and examples of similar bite marks do exist. Less controversial claims of prehistoric flutes include this vulture bone flute and another pair of mammoth ivory flutes.
03. Happy Birthday to You
The Happy Birthday song is arguably the most popular song in the world given that birthdays tend to occur at least once a year. The melody dates back to the late 1800s when an American school teacher named Patty Hill and her sister Mildred Hill wrote a song titled “Good Morning to All”. The lyrics were frequently rewritten to be sung at special occasions such as Christmas, New Year, or birthdays.
As the birthday variation was published without credit or copyright a company known as Summy Company ceased the opportunity to copyright the song in 1935. Summy Company was eventually acquired by Warner/Chappell Music and ever since they have collected royalties on public uses of “Happy Birthday to You”. It is arguably the most profitable song in history with estimated lifetime earnings upwards of $50 million.
However, in 2010 an American law professor extensively researched the song and found that while the composition of the melody can be traced to the Hill sisters, the person who wrote the actual lyrics of “Happy Birthday to You” remains unclear. This research served as the basis for a successful lawsuit against Warner/Chappell Music by a documentary filmmaker and in late 2015 the company’s copyright claim on Happy Birthday to You was invalidated.
For the first time ever the song is now in the public domain in both the US and Europe and so it is no longer illegal to celebrate birthdays.
02. Legendary Drum Loop
It’s difficult to believe that a sampled drum loop known as the “Amen Break” and it could be responsible for the creation and evolution of entire genres and musical subcultures. Chances are that you’ve heard it before and it is one of the most ubiquitous samples in music history. It comes from a song released in 1969 titled “Amen, Brother” by an American funk and soul group known as The Winstons. In 1986 “Amen, Brother” reemerged as part of a compilation album titled “Ultimate Breaks and Beats” and soon thereafter this brief drum solo near the middle of the song found its way into a vast collection of hip-hop and electronic music.
The sample would come to have an immeasurable influence on countless genres such as hip-hop, breakbeat, jungle, house, techno, hardcore, drum ‘n’ bass and the list continues. It’s been used in everything from death metal to elevator music. Its use is so omnipresent and timeless that it would honestly be surprising if you’ve managed to escape it. Although pitch and tempo variations, not to mention recreations, can make it difficult to recognize.
However, the Amen break is merely one amongst an ever-expanding family of instrumental drum samples.
01. Don’t Mess with Beethoven
In 1800 a renowned German composer named Daniel Steibelt traveled to the Austrian city of Vienna. Another famous German composer named Ludwig Van Beethoven had been living and performing in the capital for quite some time and, if an account written by a student of Beethoven is to be believed, when Steibelt arrived he challenged Beethoven to an improvisational piano contest. These musical duels served as a form of contemporary entertainment, comparable to modern day rap battles and so Beethoven accepted. The contest was organized by and took place in the house of one Count Freeze.
When the day of the duel arrived Steibelt was the first to play. Known for his impressive use of tremolos, the audience cheered him on as he conjured up a storm on the piano. As he improvised on the piano portion of a quintet, he threw the unnecessary cello portion to the side. Then it was Beethoven’s turn. As he walked towards the piano he picked up the cello portion which Stiebelt had so carelessly dismissed, turned the sheet upside down, and hammered out an improvisational theme from the first few bars. He mockingly improvised on this theme for quite some time and the audience loved it. Realizing he’d been thoroughly outplayed and humiliated, Stiebelt stormed out of the house of Count Freeze before Beethoven had even finished.
He supposedly declared that he would not return for as long as Beethoven resided in Vienna. Well, Beethoven lived out his life in the Austrian capital and Stiebelt kept his promise as he never returned.
So then, those are some “Top 10 Amazing facts About Music” and hope you enjoyed it. See you soon with another “Top 10” listicle.
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