Feel the Music: NightLife

The intersection of sound and emotion at the California Academy of Sciences.

Event Details


California Academy of Sciences
5 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, California 94118 United States


May 10, 2013 from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm America/Los Angeles (UTC-07:00)

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Feel the Music: Sound and Emotion, May 16 – 17


Open your ears and your soul—we’re exploring the intersection of sound and emotion with the California Academy of Sciences and the Swiss Research Center for Affective Sciences at a special “Feel the Music” edition of NightLife.

At interactive stations set up by scientist Eduardo Coutinho, listen to a plant make music, and explore how emotions are expressed differently in music and the human voice. See NeuroDisco, a seven-foot-tall mind-controlled music and light installation by Dr. Erica Warp, Richard Warp, and Chung-Hay Luk. Explore how your ears (along with your nose and mouth) affect the experience of wine tasting at 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm (note: capacity at tastings is limited).

Didier Grandjean, expert in the neuropsychology of emotion, will give a talk on the “Bliss of the Beat” at 8:30 pm. Listen to bird songs curated by the Academy’s own Ore Carmi at the Project Lab, and in the planetarium, catch a special screening of the math-meets-music show Chaos and Order at 6:30 pm, followed by Earthquake at 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm.

Musicologist and pianist Steffen Schmidt will perform “Piano and Soundscape,” and “Noise and the Digital Stethoscope” in the coral reef. Slayers Club DJs will play sets built around a different emotion each hour.

Program Highlights

6:00 pm – 10:00 pm   series of workshops led by Eduardo Coutinho, Swiss Center for Affective Sciences (University of Geneva)

“Are the emotions expressed in music and the human voice perceived in the same way?”

The emotions people perceive (and may feel) while listening to music depend to a great extent on acoustic characteristics and the way humans perceive them. For instance, fast, loud, and high-pitched music tends to be associated with positive emotions. Slow, soft, and low-pitched music is associated with negative ones. Strikingly, similar relationships are found between the acoustic properties of the human voice—not what we say, but how we say it—and the expression of emotions. This suggests that whether we are listening to music or listening to a friend speak, basic acoustic information seems to communicate emotional meaning. In this demo, see a mathematical model that can predict the emotions people perceive in music and voice, and compare what the model predicts to the emotions you actually perceive.

“Have you ever heard of a plant making music?”

The Center for Art and New Organisms (NANO) in Brazil, is making various experiments with plants and art. They sent us the measurements of the physiological activity one of their plants over 24 hours, and we translated that information into acoustic and musical concepts.

“Emotional experiences with music”

Listen to excerpts of opera and judge the emotions expressed by the singer. Then describe the emotions you experience while listening to different types of music.

6:30 pm and 7:30 pm   “Emotion and Taste,” wine tasting organized by swissnex San Francisco analyzing the interplay between the senses

8:00 pm “Listen to the heart”, performance by Steffen Schmidt, Artists-in-Labs, ZHdK, Zurich, Switzerland

We discuss how tempo and metrics in music can impact feelings. And a live performance of soundscapes of the heart incorporates recordings from phonocardiographic, Echocardiograph (Doppler), and musical interpretations of the heart beat.

8:30 pm “The Bliss of The Beat,” Didier Grandjean, Professor of Psychology, Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva


Eduardo Coutinho

Eduardo Coutinho earned a doctorate from the University of Plymouth (UK). His thesis, “Computational and Psycho-Physiological Investigations of Musical Emotions,” explores the link between emotional responses to music, low-level psychoacoustic features, and self-perception of physiological activation. Currently, Coutinho is interested in various topics related to music and emotion research, namely, the types of emotions elicited by music, the modulatory effects of individual, contextual, and cultural factors, and the similarities and differences between vocal and musical expression of emotion. Coutinho is a postdoctoral fellow at the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences and an honorary research fellow in the School of Music at the University of Liverpool (UK).
He takes part in Feel the Music: Sound and Emotion Session 3, Emerging Technologies in Music Research at swissnex San Francisco.


Didier Grandjean

Didier Grandjean is an assistant professor in the department of psychology and educational sciences and at the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences at the University of Geneva. He completed his thesis in 2005 under the direction of Klaus Scherer on the dynamic of appraisal processes using electroencephalographic methods. His research focuses on psychology and neuroscience, specifically the emotional processes related to emotional prosody perception and production, appraisal processes, the emergence of feelings, music and emotion, olfaction and emotion, and emotional facial expression perception and production.

He participates in Feel the Music: Sound and Emotion Session 2, Convergence of Arts and Science.


Steffen Alexander Schmidt

Steffen Alexander Schmidt was born in Berlin and teaches Dramaturgy of Opera and History of Theatre and Film Music in the Music and Theater Department of the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK). He also runs a master class of Cultural Media Studies and leads a program for scientific and artistic research in the Department of Cultural Analysis. His own research fields are theory of musical rhythm (in new music) and the relationship between music and choreography. As a musicologist, he studied the dance background in the instrumental works of Bernd Alois Zimmermann. As a pianist and composer and musical performer, has worked with several artists in contemporary dance and theatre in Berlin, Germany.

More Info

NCCR Affective Science is the first national center dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of emotions and their effects on human behavior and society.



Photo: Myleen Hollero

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