Department of Dark Notes and Forbidden Beats

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The Faces for the Ear

“Hermann von Helmholtz, speaking of musical perception, says that though compound notes can be analysed, and broken down into their components, they are normally heard as qualities, unique qualities of tone, indivisible wholes. He speaks here of a ‘synthetic perception’ which transcends analysis, and is the unanalysable essence of all muscial sense. He compares such tones to faces, and speculates that we may recognise them in somewhat the same, personal way. In brief, he half suggests that musical tones, and certainly tunes, are, in fact, ‘faces’ for the ear, and are recognised, felt, immediately as ‘persons’ (or ‘personeities’), a recognition involving warmth, emotion, personal relation.”

Oliver Sacks , The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, 1985; page 198

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