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September 8, 2013 6:54 PM   Subscribe

The sound of silence - Research by Dr. Chia-Jung Tsay published in PNAS suggests that top musicians are judged as much for the visual aspects of their performances, as much as for the aural ones, regardless of the experience level of the listener or judge
posted by Blazecock Pileon (22 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
This hardly seems surprising.
posted by bongo_x at 7:12 PM on September 8, 2013


I'll take things musicians know for $500, Alex.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:18 PM on September 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


.
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 7:24 PM on September 8, 2013


That's showbiz!
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:38 PM on September 8, 2013


threat level: elevated risk of guitar face
posted by thelonius at 7:40 PM on September 8, 2013


Duh. Maybe make the judges judge solely on sounds (sans visuals) if you don't want visuals to affect the outcome?
posted by 3FLryan at 7:55 PM on September 8, 2013


They do blind auditions for orchestras, generally, with the musician playing behind a screen.

Another thing to consider is that Classical music tends to begin from an assumption that every element of a competent performance should be essentially perfectly executed. So the distinction between the winner and loser may be very subtle.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:01 PM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


RTFA, guys, it's only 6 pages and there's some interesting stuff in there.
posted by kagredon at 8:02 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Even more intriguingly the experts, who one might think would be trained to screen out histrionic flummery on the part of performers and concentrate entirely on the sound of the music itself, did worse than the novices when they could hear the performance, whether or not they could see it as well: they guessed right slightly under a third of the time. When they could see but not hear it, they did precisely as well as the novices, agreeing with the judges just under half the time.
I would attribute this to professional egotism. The musician group did worse guessing because they were evaluating their peers, who rival them. The bias only showed when the music was heard, which is what you'd expect given the core beliefs about music.
posted by troll at 8:03 PM on September 8, 2013


"did worse" is kind of an overstatement on the Economist's part; for novices, sound-only identification was between about 25-29% depending on the exact experiment, and for experts it was 20-25%, with a much smaller sample size of experts for one of those experiments (the one that came up at 20%). The paper itself doesn't ascribe significance to the spread.
posted by kagredon at 8:19 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


> The paper itself doesn't ascribe significance to the spread.

Which means that The Economist just fell prey to the same statistical error that neuroscience researchers get wrong at least half the time.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:55 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Of course, the visual aspect is half the point.
posted by maryr at 10:03 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not when you download all your music and don't know what the album cover, let alone the people who made the music, look like. The internet wins again. (Also I close my eyes and headbang at shows.)
posted by legospaceman at 1:21 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


> One moral of this story, then, is that music competitions really are a bit of a lottery.

Any arts competition, for that matter -- I look forward to a methodology that apply this hypothesis to watercolor painting competitions.
posted by ardgedee at 3:23 AM on September 9, 2013


I look forward to a methodology that apply this hypothesis to watercolor painting competitions.
Oddly, it turns out that watercolors are judged for what they sound like.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:44 AM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


As I've posted elsewhere: this study applies to classical instrumental music of a certain kind.

I bet it does not apply equally to different genres and instruments. Try judging the quality of a chorus based on their appearance, for instance. Or a thereminst. An unfamiliar genre or instrument.

For some kinds of rock and pop, and definitely for taiko drumming, there is probably a much heavier skew toward visuals than sound. The director of the taiko group I was in always said the second most important thing was sound, and the most important thing was everything else (which is part of why I'm not a taiko drummer anymore).

I make electronic music. It doesn't look like anything. For all my listeners know, I am a cat.
posted by Foosnark at 5:25 AM on September 9, 2013


I make electronic music. It doesn't look like anything.
And it doesn't sell unless it has a lot of image pasted on so that it does look like something.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:08 AM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's why The Voice is the last hope for great music in our system!
posted by Mister_A at 7:48 AM on September 9, 2013


I'll just drop this here:

Classical album covers, circa '50s - '80s: old guys wearing tuxedos looking straight at you, possibly with prominent nasal hairs, holding a baton.

Classical album covers, circa '90s and onward: attractive young people (increasingly female, either because of greater opportunity for females in classical or because people are attracted to pictures of attractive women), holding an instrument, gazing off to one side or another like a supermodel...

As a community orchestra member, I'll just say that the former is more my actual experience of an orchestra, while the latter is more what I think people hope to be their experience of an orchestra...
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:56 AM on September 9, 2013


I bet it does not apply equally to different genres and instruments. Try judging the quality of a chorus based on their appearance, for instance. Or a thereminst. An unfamiliar genre or instrument.

Bullshit. Last fall, I travelled to Ireland to compete in a traditional singing competition in the Irish language, held in Donegal. A film maker contacted me, interested in making a short film about my story. Until he got a look at a picture of me. Suddenly, not at all interested.

Looks are important in pretty much every endeavour that involves performance. If you don't present yourself well, you are basically asking for a poor review; people will be less disposed to thinking well of your performance if the first visual impression is a bad one.
posted by LN at 9:38 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Um, duh. Nothing new under the sun.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:47 PM on September 9, 2013


It almost seems this research is based on an outdated model of performance which doesn't take into consideration most of the non-music aspects which are part of it. Through movement the performer communicates and even lives with the music. Calling it "histrionic flummery" shows up a lack of understanding of what's actually going on.
posted by yoHighness at 3:53 AM on September 11, 2013


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