The Sound of Joy: the interface allows users to translate their emotions into songs

New research by experts from the Department of Music at Durham University has revealed that people are able to convey particular emotions through music by altering certain elements of musical melody.

The researchers created an interactive computer interface called EmoteControl which allows users to control six cues (tempo, pitch, articulation, dynamics, brightness and mode) of a piece of music in real time.

Participants were asked to show how they thought seven different emotions (sadness, calm, joy, anger, fear, power, and surprise) should sound like music. They did it by changing the musical cues in EmoteControlessentially allowing them to create their own variations of a range of music tracks that portray different emotions.

In general, musical cues were used in the same way to represent a specific emotion. For example, participants expressed sadness in music using slow tempo, minor mode, soft dynamics, legato articulation, low volume, and dark timbre.

Tempo and mode were the two cues that strongly affected the emotion conveyed, while dynamics and brightness cues had the least effect on the formation of different emotions in music.

The researchers also found that sadness and joy were among the most accurately recognized emotions, consistent with previous studies.

Professor Tuomas Eerola from Durham University said: “This interactive approach allowed us to tap into participants’ perceptions of how different emotions music should sound like and helped participants create their own emotional variations of music that encompassed different emotional content.”

This research and the EmoteControl have implications for other areas where emotional content is conveyed through music, such as sound branding (marketing), music in film and television, adaptive music in games, as well as the potential to be used as a means of emotional communication for clinical purposes.

Reference: Micallef Grimaud A, Eerola T. An interactive approach to emotional expression through musical cues. Music and science. 2022;5:20592043211061744. doi:10.1177/20592043211061745

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