Individual Differences and Ambivalence Towards the Power of the Experience
In Music in Everyday Life, music sociologist Tia DeNora discusses how music can influence mood and create atmospheres for activities, routines, and occasions. Under some circumstances “music can be said to be reformulating parameters of embodied experience, to alter pulse or breathing, for example, to diminish awareness of pain” (DeNora 2000:161). It is interesting to note how geophony can have some of the same powers that are typically associated with music – perhaps primarily with music therapy.
There are some comments in the material that elaborate on typical therapeutic effects, connecting listening to the lessening of or aiding with pain, or helping people cope with ADHD, dementia, and insomnia. There are also some examples of powerful, but unwanted effects described, although these are quite low in numbers. In these comments, listening experiences are connected to memories of unwanted life experiences or the negative experience of being alone, associating the winter winds with death. As an interesting parallel of unwanted effects, DeNora (2000: 14) refers to how the playback of Brian Eno’s composition Music for Airports was cancelled due to complaints at Pittsburgh Airport as, contrary to the implied intentions of ambient music, travelers felt the music made them nervous.
One interesting example of powerful effects is that users reported feeling physically cold – even if their experience took place in a normal and constant room temperature. 73 users reported such changes in perceived temperature, relating it either to a pleasant or unpleasant experience – trying to stay cool in high temperatures or trying to stay warm.
Why do I feel dead-cold while listening to this? I usually don't use a blanket when I go to bed but if I'm listening to this one, I always look for one. (comment by Tyrenious, Video 3)
Suddenly I feel physically cold goes outside to sunlight. (comment by Helena, Video 1)
Brad, do you have any soundscapes of desert winds? Does anyone? Don't get me wrong, this one's fantastic too. It's 40*C where I live today so I use it to cool off.
(comment by Anna Inspain, Video 2)
It is plausible that the perceived coldness is related to personal memories of being situated outside during winter blizzards. Personal memories can also contribute to mentally connect these kinds of sounds with cold temperature (again involving multiple senses). One of the videos also has “cold” mentioned in the title, and it is possible that such descriptions may guide or influence the listeners’ experiences.
It is, however, plausible that the reported experience of bodily coldness is a result of a more direct emotional response to experiencing geophony, similar to how music at times can produce sensations like chills or goose bumps in an audience without depending upon some sort of prior memory or without being directly connected to an earlier experience. Music researcher Dale Bartlett writes that music also “affects the body’s physiology with changes in heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, skin conductivity and temperature, muscle tension, and chemical composition” (Bartlett 1996, as referenced by Kerchner 2014: 7). Similarly, in the article “Thermoception in the Arctic Film,” film scholar Luis R. Antunes – when discussing Arctic cinema and what he calls the “aesthetics of cold” in the films of the Norwegian Knut Erik Jensen – addresses how movies can contribute to influence thermoception, and the sensation and perception of temperature. Antunes argues that “thermoception should be redefined from being merely the result of an objective measurement of external thermal energy to being a sensory modality that is integrated into a complex system called homeostasis, which is influenced by our emotions and the other regulatory functions of our bodies” (Antunes 2016: n.p.).
One aspect possibly influencing the listening response in this particular case, is that listening to geophony is one of the oldest listening experiences in human history, and therefore involves inherited instincts towards sounds associated with cold temperatures, triggering survival instincts and an urge to find a shelter. However, more certain than such speculation is that this perceived experience of a change in room temperature is an effect of the complex interplay between the senses, a multisensorial experience most often involving various shifts in both attention and in ways of listening.