The eyes are blindfolded with the ears

Perception: The eyes are the better ears

We are eye-catchers, even when it comes to music. It is judged more profoundly if you only see musicians (and not hear them). of

The fact that music is often perceived as annoying because it is associated with noise is as true as it is in principle exaggerated, after all, music is about nothing other than noise - structured - and the organ that specializes in it, the hearing. However, like the other senses, this takes precedence over the one perception that has dominated us since our ancestors rose up to walk upright: We are eye animals, judge a book from the cover, make choices based on candidate faces - they have to be angular , that signals quality - we fall in love at first glance, but never or rarely at first tone.

But the eye has no say in music, enjoyment with headphones in the darkened salon is much clearer than in the concert hall, and at competitions the youngsters often play behind the curtains so that the music can find its way into the ears of the judges undisturbed! Oh well, that's only half the story: It's not just pop musicians who transform their performances into shows in which 70-year-olds like Mick Jagger visually show what musical power they are. Robert Schumann had also attracted a bit of attention when a colleague gave a lecture in 1854: "If Liszt were to play behind a curtain, a large part of the poetry would be lost."

That was forgotten, the eyes only opened late to the power of the eyes, even in the field of sounds. Research began to emerge in the 1980s. In 2012, Friedrich Platz and Reinhard copyz (Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media) summarized 15 studies in a meta-analysis. It was always about listening to music vs. listening to and seeing music. And the latter always offered greater enjoyment: If both senses are involved, a performance is rated as better, so much so that the difference corresponds to the value of a school grade (Music Perception, 1, p. 71): "This tendency can be observed across genres and gives a clear indication that the musician's life includes many senses and should not be seen as an exclusive listening process," he concluded.

Now Chia-Jung Tsay (London) is going one step further. She doesn't come from music psychology like Platz / Copyz, she holds a chair in Management Science. You are concerned with broader questions - according to which criteria or with which senses are personnel judged, for example in job interviews? She follows them up using the example of music. To do this, she asked test persons into the laboratory - a few hundred, half laypeople, half professional musicians - and played them sequences from ten international competitions in classical music. The three winners appeared in it, and the test subjects were asked to correctly assign who was first, second and third.

Trust in hearing is self-deception

But first they were asked whether they wanted to hear / see only the audio track or only the video track or both: 58.8 percent opted for sound only, 14.2% for image only, 27.4% for both. Then came six experiments in which the channels were separated, in the first it was the layperson's turn, Tsay calls them “novices”. 83 percent said that music is primarily about their ears, but most of them were wrong: the pure chance that the contestants were assigned correctly was 33 percent for each of the three. But if the test subjects were only supposed to believe their eyes - they got pictures without sound - then they got it right in 52.7 percent of the cases. When limiting to the ear, they only came to 25.2 percent, and with the eye and ear, the random probability just came out, 33 percent.

Then it was the turn of the experts, with them the balancing act was even broader: 96.3 percent only wanted to believe their ears, but if they were allowed to do that - and only heard the soundtrack, just 20.5 percent hit. Pure viewing gave 47.0%, combined seeing and hearing was in the middle. The findings lasted regardless of how long the rehearsals were played, Tsay varied between one second and one minute (Pnas, August 19.). “Both experts and novices were very surprised by their own data,” concludes Tsay.

But how does it all work? Tsay felt this in the last experiment, which was supposed to clarify what the eyes see: It's about the expression, of the body, and above all that of the face. Passion has to rage there - Liszt shook his mane like a wild man and played the Bösendorfer to pieces, Jagger has enough skills too - followed by motivation and creativity. What doesn't count at all, however, is the charisma of self-confidence.

Origin of music

The beginnings of music are in the dark, evolutionary biologists argue about the connection with the origin of language and about whether music has an evolutionary "meaning" or is a decorative accessory. Music has been made for 40,000 years, that's how old the oldest known instruments, flutes made from animal bones, are. One can assume that music was long embedded in cults in which many senses were addressed; the concert hall is a late invention.

("Die Presse", print edition, 08/20/2013)