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Music Is The Shorthand Of Emotion
October 29, 2013 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Mother sings, baby reacts. [SLYT]
posted by gman (51 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
We can't see the expressions of the mother, but notice that when there is a break in the singing - the kid brightens up a bit. Also notice that when the mother goes back to motherese style talk (the sing song way you talk to baby) the child is very happy about that. I'm pretty sure that the singing was confusing - also babies prefer happy sounds. But yeah, mother's singing makes babies emotionally more "connected" too.
posted by Brent Parker at 5:44 PM on October 29, 2013


This video has been all over my Facebook feed with everyone gushing about how touching and meaningful and lovely it is and it's making me feel like a monster because all I see is a terribly confused baby who doesn't know how to interpret those weird noises her mom is making
posted by ook at 5:47 PM on October 29, 2013 [33 favorites]


This is why I banned my mother from singing anything in minor keys when I was about three— the songs made me cry.
posted by Maias at 5:50 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I'm pretty sure that the singing was confusing - also babies prefer happy sounds.

Yeah, that's what I saw, too. Baby is upset while she's singing, and brightens when she stops.

I think she and other people are misinterpreting what's going on. Firstly, the "music is the shorthand of emotion" thing is true to some degree, except that it's culturally determined, not innate. That baby does not yet understand what those blues scales connotes.

But, secondly, babies are extremely sensitive to the inferred emotional states of their primary caregiver and those mirror neurons are getting a workout and being spurred on by this exchange. I think that baby is responding to a combination of mother's sorrowful emotive expressions in her singing, to whatever small degree she's doing it, but mostly responding to inferred distress by loud, wailing vocalization. But at the end of verses and when mother stops singing, no doubt her expression returns to something more normal and comprehensible to baby, with is soothing and reassuring, and I also think it's likely that mother smiles when she looks at baby between verses and when she stops singing.

I wouldn't say that if the singing is upsetting to baby, and not in the culturally-sanctioned "response to art" sense, that there's anything bad about this. It's pretty much exactly the sort of social interaction that babies are learning to comprehend, it's cognitively stimulating.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:55 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The day you notice your mom has horrible taste in music is one sad crazy day.
posted by any major dude at 5:55 PM on October 29, 2013 [41 favorites]


"To use this video in a commercial player, please contact licensing@storyful.com."

Pretty sure that's why the baby was crying.
posted by JoeBlubaugh at 5:57 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's weird about this to me is that I don't think I've ever seen a child that young have silent tears in its eyes, except for maybe in that half-second of shock after an injury. Otherwise either blubbering or wailing is involved. This makes me somewhat inclined to discount the baby-is-distressed because mom is distressed theory. I've seen kids get set off crying when they see other people cry, but not silent sorrow like this...
posted by Diablevert at 6:04 PM on October 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


Trust me, that is not how babies cry when they are upset about something.
posted by KathrynT at 6:04 PM on October 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


Which is to say, I don't know what this baby was feeling -- but I don't think they were upset by mom's singing.
posted by KathrynT at 6:05 PM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I swear to god, at 0:45 it looks like she's trying to hold up a lighter.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:16 PM on October 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


"Trust me, that is not how babies cry when they are upset about something."

I don't think this is normal distress. I think that the child has interacted with his mother this way numerous times in the past and the baby is familiar enough with it that the mirroring or mom's emotional state while singing and the distressing wailing of her singing is evocative of distress but not a full-blown thing because it's also strongly coupled with the release and reassurance when she stops. Even fully distressed crying produces some endorphins.

In this sense the baby is being taught how to have the emotional response that the mother and others believe the baby already is having. Right now it's all about how the baby is interpreting the emotive interaction between baby and mother. What baby is learning, though, is how to transpose those emotions onto a more voluntary and controlled social context, the experience of art.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:18 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's just a song.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:01 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Keep at it, MetaFilter, you're this close to overanalyzing today's cute thing to death.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:35 PM on October 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


I see a baby crying silent tears, thinking first you're flat, then you're sharp, and oh my God I have at least a couple years of this in store...
posted by xedrik at 8:07 PM on October 29, 2013 [14 favorites]


She's confused, and looking to mirror her moms emotions which are of plaintive melodramatic sorrow so she cries. I mean, I'm in my 30s but when my dad had a sudden accident last Christmas I looked immediately at her face, for reaction, to know how bad the situation was. I could see she felt terrified and unsure, and I immediately did, too. It turned out fine but I'll never forget th look we had shared.
posted by sweetkid at 8:31 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Upset baby made me upset, and then angry at the mom for confusing/upsetting the baby. I couldn't watch it all the way through. I wanted to comfort the baby and tell the mother to go sing on a damn street corner if she's so desperate for an audience, the baby and I are going to stay here and play happy baby games.
posted by emjaybee at 8:37 PM on October 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


Sure, but none of you were around to call my baby a jerk when she spent hours screaming at me every evening for a month. (She doesn't do that anymore, which is good because she's seven now.)
posted by mbrubeck at 8:58 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah whatever happened to the Itsy Bitsy Spider, Row Row Row Your Boat or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? You know, songs that are happy and catchy and will make a baby smile? All the baby can go on here is the color and inflection in its mother's voice. She doesn't understand lyrics, ornamentation or exaggerated phrasing and embellishment. The mother has a brooding, unattractive voice, scooping up to pitches, over-embellishing the tune, and raising the dynamic of her voice in an unpleasant way for 10-month old ears. I know from experience introducing very young children to musical instruments for the first time that their sensitivity to "loudness" goes hand in hand with the perceived "intensity" of the sound. Even when I played a large gong as softly as I could, the powerful depth of the sound intimidated them. Likewise if a trumpet player blares. I really think the child is a bit intimidated when the mother's strident held tones blare out, even though she is obviously not belting to the rafters. Pretend you're an alien with no knowledge of language or of pop vocal phrasing/embellishment. This is strident, ugly sound and I'm glad the kid reacted this way because she may turn out to be a fine musician someday. Incidentally, if the mother sang the song in a simpler way, with an unadorned melody and intimately as if whispering, directly to the child and delivered with a gentle smile, the child would connect. And the mother's intonation would also improve considerably. To be perfectly clear, this is not a bad mother by any means, and EVERYONE should sing to their children, but she sure is an awful singer, and that kid wants her to stop!
posted by ReeMonster at 9:05 PM on October 29, 2013


Baby John Boehner?
posted by zardoz at 9:09 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, she's totally just crying because mom is singing Rod Stewart.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:31 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wanted to comfort the baby and tell the mother to go sing on a damn street corner if she's so desperate for an audience, the baby and I are going to stay here and play happy baby games.

I'm pretty sure that baby is still way ahead on the "making you listen to the loud, distressing noises I'm making" scoreboard.
posted by straight at 9:38 PM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Amazing. I've seen three or four forums today, all gushing about this amazing baby overcome with the beauty of its mother's song. On Metafilter, virtually everyone is refusing to project their emotions onto this infant's reaction. Such a breath of fresh air...
posted by huron at 9:58 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is called empathy.
posted by salishsea at 10:16 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I made my then baby go pouty to tears with a sad song, never did it for any other ones and damn I wish I remember what it was. These days the challenge is to find the right effects patches to entice the dog to howl along. What are musicians if not manipulators? I was hoping for more of an emotional medley from the clip. Also, listenablility.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:29 PM on October 29, 2013


Other things that can bring about what look like deeply sorrowful expressions: gas, pooping, people with moustaches ...
posted by zippy at 10:38 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


oh for godsakes people, can't we just enjoy a baby crying?
posted by The_Auditor at 10:48 PM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Is the baby too young to respond to appoggiatura?
posted by etaoin at 11:29 PM on October 29, 2013


Keep at it, MetaFilter, you're this close to overanalyzing today's cute thing to death.

What is cute about trying to prove your singing is so powerfully emotional you can make your baby cry, on YouTube? Nthing, this baby has been trained to have this reaction, and that is not cute at all. I don't like to think about how the training happened.
posted by iotic at 12:23 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's a dog whimpering in the background too.

I felt the baby was more like a polite x-factor judge who can't mask it's disappointment and doesn't know how to get her to not sing again. Poor little mite, crying at her won't make her stop, what other communication method does he have? And when as an adult he hears that song, will he tear up in frustration at being unheard?
posted by eyeofthetiger at 1:43 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is fascinating, as Ivan Fyodorovich says, not because it shows some innate response to music, but because it shows a baby in the course of learning something quite sophisticated. And that's OK! The baby is ten months old and starting to pick up that emotions don't just fall into neat boxes of WANT/DO NOT WANT. There is nothing superior about only teaching babies to smile, or only giving them straightforward experiences. Confusion is good for the brain because it is a mark that the brain is starting to assimilate something more complicated. Everything is learned. You don't need to consciously 'train' a baby to have interesting reactions because babies are uncanny echo machines that will mirror almost everything they see an adult do.
posted by Acheman at 3:26 AM on October 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


I reacted precisely the same way the first time I ate mushrooms.
posted by kinnakeet at 3:38 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I bet that kid grows up to be really tough, like a drill sergeant or 21st century alien-battling Ripley
posted by angrycat at 4:35 AM on October 30, 2013


What is cute about trying to prove your singing is so powerfully emotional you can make your baby cry, on YouTube? Nthing, this baby has been trained to have this reaction, and that is not cute at all. I don't like to think about how the training happened.

oh my god metafilter and babies, it's like a bottle of no-fun sauce on my eggs.
posted by Think_Long at 6:19 AM on October 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


If I ever had a child I would spend its first few years singing twelve tone rows to it, softly, smoothly, with a look of unabashed glee on my face, and only ever showing it movies from the fifties and sixties with dodecaphonic scores, all so that I could relish the call I would get on the first day of kindergarten about just what the fuck exactly happened today when the class tried to sing "Row Your Boat."
posted by invitapriore at 7:38 AM on October 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


That baby looks really uncomfortable.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:28 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


You are my kind of crazy, invitapriore. And, I'm sad to say, my father's as well.
posted by blurker at 8:30 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm fascinated by how many people felt they needed to crack this case, like it was a mystery or something. It wasn't. It also wasn't tragic. This is a baby's job at this age: learning how/when to feel things. The baby is not broken or emotionally scarred at the end of this, I absolutely promise you. It is okay to find this cute. Really.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:23 AM on October 30, 2013


Someday, someone is going to come up with an autotune that can correct parental singing live, in real time. That will be a magical day.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:25 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I still had my ovaries, they would ache at seeing little baby with tears in his (her?) eyes. Because even without them I want to pick up and cuddle that sweet little baby and whisper soothing nothings to make baby chuckle and squeal. The maternal instinct is strong in me.

Realistically I know, though, that in just a few short years that baby will be turning the dynamic around and making Mama cry. She'll be in the car, maybe, listening to the radio. An old favorite song will come on, an emotionally-charged tune that takes her back to herself as a young girl and the first time she ever truly fell in love. She'll join in, belting out the words, throwing her heart and soul into the lyrics.

And from the back seat she'll hear an aggrieved,, "Mom, PLEASE don't sing!"
posted by misha at 11:02 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hipster baby thinks Mom's singing is so over.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:15 AM on October 30, 2013


I'm fascinated by how many people felt they needed to crack this case, like it was a mystery or something.

Because explaining the cognitive/social/linguistic development of a child is a THING. It's a thing that some people get paid to do. Hell, sometimes people go to school to study it. Perhaps some folks that are participating in this thread might be interested in said thing.

Mystery solved.
posted by Brent Parker at 12:24 PM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Poor kid ~ this is an "energy" thing pure and simple. Kids are sensitive radar machines at this age for feel. It's a negative, poopy-energy song. Do it again Mom and sing "the Bare Necessities" all happy-bear-like and watch your kid giggle.

p.s. for many reasons, find it sad that this has gone viral ... we are getting weirder as a species by the minute
posted by cdalight at 1:08 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Brent Parker, there's definitely merit to discussing cognitive/social/linguistic development of a child. I wouldn't disagree at all.

I do not think for a nanosecond, though, that "confused baby is mirroring his mom" was anything that a person needed to have studied in school to have spotted. Eyes and ears and a passing familiarity with tiny humans was plenty sufficient.

It can be worth discussing without being mysterious.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:41 PM on October 30, 2013


I don't think that baby is sad or upset. It looks exactly like the reaction I have to hearing perfect vocal harmonies for the first time; it brings tears to my eyes. It doesn't make me sad, though it's emotional in a sort of...overwhelmed-by-beauty sort of way, but it's more like a reflex reaction. It's not like being triggered into feeling upset or disturbed, at any rate, and I don't think that's what's going on here.

For me it only happens when I'm listening to perfect vocal harmonies, particularly when going from the tension of dissonance into the relief of a major chord, both ascending and descending. It's way more likely to happen live than recorded, but the first few listens of a recorded song that has those qualities will do it too. I think that's what is referred to in the link above. The last time it happened I was walking through a parking lot listening to my ipod with tears running down my face. It's an intense experience, but not a sad one. More of an awe experience. It feels like the notes are brushing against a part of your brain, it's a very physical sensation. I suppose some of us are more sensitive to it than others.

I suspect the effect lessens as you get older. When I was twelve I wept through most of Serenade for Strings, but I don't get this experience from instrumental music anymore. I wonder if this baby will grow out of it or not.

Someone I know noted that the baby gets more teary at certain parts of the song, which suggests to me that there's a musical phrase or note that pushes a button for her. Those are probably the parts that feel like a physical sensation, that's my guess.
posted by Hildegarde at 1:44 PM on October 30, 2013


On a similar note, there's a horrible woman here in the supermarket in front of me who is repeatedly convincing her baby she's gone, disappeared behind her own hands. Then she leaps back out and shouts at the poor kid.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:47 PM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


It is really a good thing that I don't have a child, as I would do what DirtyOldTown describes all the time.
posted by angrycat at 3:46 PM on October 30, 2013


It is okay to find this cute. Really.

I hope we also have your permission to not gush over this baby-waby, cuz I can watch this mom blow her nose all day. This baby here? Meh.
posted by Brocktoon at 5:32 PM on October 30, 2013


"For me it only happens when I'm listening to perfect vocal harmonies, particularly when going from the tension of dissonance into the relief of a major chord, both ascending and descending."

One more time: the emotional connotation of various intervals in music is culturally dependent, it is not inherent. The assumption that it is inherent is built around a superficial understanding of tuning which is undermined by awareness of different tunings possible in the western tradition, much more so by those beyond it.

A baby does not intuitively know the emotional connotations of a major or minor chord because those connotations are not inherent, they're learned. And that's what's happening in this video — the baby is effectively being taught those connotations, by associating the mother's affect while she sings with the intervals she's using.

Those who interpret this as the baby being moved by music are simply wrong. They believe this because they believe that the emotional connotations of music are inherent, when this is not the case.

You only have to experience music in other modalities, non-western and indigenous, in combination with awareness of how its intended audience experiences it, to become aware of this. When those of us in this tradition do this, we try to interpret the intervals used as we would within our tradition, frequently misidentifying things as sorrowful dissonance which are not.

None of this is to say that within our tradition a seventh doesn't create tension or whatever. It does. And it's also not that case, in my opinion, that this is entirely culturally relative, as the mathematical relationships of frequencies and resonances are universal. But such a system, one built around ratios of frequencies, is just temperament, not the equal temperament we now use. That we use the equal temperament demonstrates that ratios of frequencies is not solely determinative of our perception of consonance. It is substantially modified by culture.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:32 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


That we use the equal temperament demonstrates that ratios of frequencies is not solely determinative of our perception of consonance. It is substantially modified by culture.

It might just demonstrate that most people can't hear a significant difference between equal and just temperament. Our brains have an innate attraction to things that look like faces but aren't. We might also have innate responses to frequency ratios that are almost but not quite mathematically exact.
posted by straight at 10:51 AM on October 31, 2013


It is okay to find this cute. Really.

I don't think it's cute. I think it's annoying because it's like this mom is being all "My voice is so beauteous it makes my tiny baby emotional look everyone." Whereas really it seems like the baby is confused and mirror her mom's emtions. She doesn't have context to be brought to tears by a Rod Stewart song, or to really appreciate great musicality if that's supposed to be what's going on. That's fine, I don't think anything horrible is happening here, it's just annoying to me and not cute.
posted by sweetkid at 10:57 AM on October 31, 2013


Ian Fyodorovich. Dude. I did not say what you think I said. I didn't say I was moved by music that causes me to tear up. I said it was more like a physical sensation or a reflex. I think it's linked to ascending and descending harmonies, but not only, not always, and I haven't exactly studied it in depth. I just know that it happens. I did not say I was emotionally moved to tears by the evocative power of music, nor did I say this baby was emotionally moved to tears. I think it's clear that she isn't.

So my understanding of tuning is superficial, I guess. I'm just saying: I have this experience, and it's not one of being overwhelmed by the sadness of music. Some bits of vocal harmonies just bring tears to my eyes, for some reason. Like onions do. I don't find onions sad, but they do make me cry.

While singing in harmony with others, when it reaches certain points (clearly my understanding of music isn't enough for me to adequately describe when precisely it happens, so I won't even try) it makes me laugh. Not because it's funny. It just happens. And ruins the whole thing, obviously. I can't explain that either.
posted by Hildegarde at 11:11 AM on October 31, 2013


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