Music and Mood

I was toying with various ideas on what to write for this blog. I thought about classical music, anime openings, game music. And then a question suddenly struck me, and I thought this was something to explore.

Just what about music determines their purpose, and hence their mood?

How do we decide whether a particular song is suited for a game, or an anime?

Isn’t it interesting that a song can incite a certain mood in its listeners, which are compatible to particular contexts? This is especially salient in game music, which is essentially a looping sequence of instrumentals. And yet some instrumentals are so ingrained in us that we can tell which game it is from, and even feel the game all over again, its excitement and heart-pumping action. How does a bunch of chords translate into an emotion when they register in our minds? How does classical music deliver us to another realm, and even cause us to form imagery of perhaps the quiet of winter, or the sweet sweet bitterness of love, or the complexities and intricacies of life itself?

One thing I love about Pokémon is that each one of the 10-over cities has its own music, and the music just feels so right for the atmosphere. Lavender Town had suitably spooky music, and all the beginning towns would have suitably jolly, starting-off-on-an-adventure music. I don’t know how to describe what type of music is the “starting off on an adventure” type, but if you listen to Pokémon, those will be it.

But that’s it, really. Do we form an association of a song to a mood only after listening to it in context, or does the song itself carry this context? If the Pallet Town song was moved to the Viridian Forest instead, would it still fit? Would you then think it wouldn’t have fitted in Pallet Town instead? Just like with classical music. If you weren’t told the title of the song, would you have thought of it in another way?

Perhaps music is like art and the lyrics are its explanation. Without lyrics, the art is open to interpretation, but usually the title and caption would still point audiences to a particular “correct” and “intended” direction. Although one can say that some abstract artworks can mean anything, most of the time there is only a finite number of meanings one can accord to them, and the same goes for music. The tune already points at a particular mood category, but within that mood there are still numerous explanations to account for its variations.

Which is why I also get curious about music and lyric composers. Do the composers start with a context in mind before forming the tune? If the lyricist is different from the music composer, will the lyricist have his own interpretation of the song, or does he just defer to the composer? If it is the latter, will the lyrics be insincere then, since they don’t actually come from the lyricist’s true feeling of the song?


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