Written by Stefan M. Oertl | Categories: Optimal Music Experience
This is the second part of the article on "The Instant Effect of Electronic Dance Music (Introduction)". It deals with trance-inducing effects of electronic dance music.
Whereas the first part of this article highlighted a definition of trance and a resulting state of "feeling good", here we dive into the relationship between trance effects and analytical thinking to explain effective structure in composition.
In a trance, you assume a different kind of logical reasoning: otherwise incoherent patterns start making perfect sense. Trance logic opens a hypnotized person to suggestion. In the realm of music, a newly inserted tone, a melody line, or a rhythmic break can seem like the most natural thing. Like the result of an equation, or it can even be taken in as a revelation. You are then experiencing "trance logic" which is accompanied by some kind of weird but very pleasant feeling.
At this point, I should interpose that in music psychology, music is also characterized as being affective. Affect refers to the experience of feelings and emotions. It is the key part in our body's interaction with stimuli. In medical psychology, affect is understood as a complex inherent (i.e. permanent part of a person’s nature and essence) reaction pattern to stimuli. The affect-evoking stimulus can be either a functional external perception or a cognition process.
But, as outlined before, trance opens an entirely different door beyond the common affective experience. Even though closely related, these two qualities of experience must not be mixed.
In the course of my psychological research, I have found no better way to describe the most intense and immediate effect of music than the concept of the trance. Trances and trance-inducing mechanisms can be captured by quasi-mathematical models. I will discuss these further at later stages in defining an optimal music experience.
Thinking vs. Being
Electronic dance music is designed to capture the minds and bodies of an audience instantly. This music can get through to you quickly and completely because the need for previous training in music theory and composition has been circumvented. After all, dance tunes are mass market creations.
That's not at a bad thing; quite the contrary. The tune has to kick in within a split second without first asking permission from the consciousness. And this works with everybody.
Analytical thinking is required to process complex structures of composition and arrangement. You need training to decode traditional harmony and musical form. But more primal and automatic neural processes take over when music is designed for immediate effect, bypassing the intellect to create a pure and optimal experience. I refer to this as "animal mode" or "autopilot mode." Life gets very interesting when conscious thinking ends and autopilot takes over.
The compositorial structure of effective electronic dance music must induce and sustain a trance state. The best way to do this is through "looping" to circumvent what cognitive psychologist Howard Gardner calls your musical intelligence - that is, your ability to process musical information analytically, such as being able to distinguish the various voices in a Bach fugue.
Gardner’s model of multiple intelligences (as opposed to one single measure of general intelligence) has had a profound impact on education. Gardner refers to the intelligences as ways of knowing and understanding yourself and the world around you. He believes that everyone possesses some capacity in all of the seven different intelligences, such as logical-mathematical, spatial, linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential. These intelligences function together in ways unique to each person.
Gardner suggests that with training and practice, most people can develop each intelligence to a basic level of competence. Lesser competence in one intelligence doesn't imply low levels of competence in the others. Just because you can’t carry a tune doesn’t mean you can’t be a good painter or will have trouble solving mathematical problems.
Curiously, analytical thinking can get you very far in terms of euphoria evoked by music, as will. But that is a different path which I will investigate at a later stage. Let's keep to the trance model first.
A Good Blend
Every musical effect is constituted by a blend of trance-inducing triggers and a degree of analytical processing. But the balance can be shifted in favor of trance induction. The compositional elements of any kind of immediately effective pieces are arranged to "oscillate" (loop) clearly within a range of anticipated probabilities of sequential tonal elements such as notes, chords, or percussion.
Under ideal circumstances (i.e. a club setting combined with your willingness to focus and concentrate), the loop structure of dance music will cause you to move your body to the rhythm. These movements, from tapping your toes or fingers to wild and uninhibited dancing, amplify the trance-inducing processes needed to intensify the impact and "cool factor" of the song in a feedback loop between body and mind. Try this experiment: Walk or run in sync to your favorite music, even if it may seem too slow or too fast at first, and encounter the effect: it will eventually start to lift your spirits and motivate you significantly.
To Be Continued …
In the next article, I will examine the structure of highly effective electronic dance music. I will focus on high-level looping (which is a loop structure obvious to the ear accounting for the immediate effect of successful dance tunes). You'll learn how multiple synchronous tonal oscillators induce trance states and how this knowledge can be utilized to design a strong and immediate musical effect.
I’ll offer examples along the way, including a thorough analysis of Kylie Minogue's "Timebomb" . Consider also "Till the World Ends" by Britney Spears , "2012 (It Ain't the End)" by Jay Sean , (both songs are mentioned in the linked WIkipedia article), and "Tenderoni"  from Kele Okereke's solo album "The Boxer".
Apart from the obvious rhythmic oscillations (e.g. the steady kick drum), can you already make out some of the trance-inducing commonalities between these tunes based on the information provided in this article?