PETWORTH FESTIVAL, United Reformed Church: The Music Instinct, Philip Ball

What with sound frequencies and harmonics, and not forgetting dissonance, templates for sounds and cognitive patterns, some of us found ourselves gulping for air in the deep end of this lecture on acoustics, with its tantalising subtitle How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It.

The consultant editor of Nature magazine, with a piano-style keyboard and computer at his fingertips, counterpointed the scientific stuff with some fascinating foot-tapping data, theories and examples. Yet the fact remains: he led us smoothly along the How trail, but the Why answer was far more elusive.

Aided by music soundbites as varied as Bach and Led Zeppelin, and highlighting the contrasting “little steps, big steps” of the openings of The Ode to Joy and Somewhere Over the Rainbow, our guide pinpointed differences in perceptions of music between Western and other societies, while still sharing some universal responses like our hard-wiring to the familiar.

As for the mysterious emotional element of music, well that, he decreed, is a matter of tension twixt “violation and gratification”, and regarding ideas about the influence of Mozart heard as early as the foetus, the jury is still out.

All in all, a very effective taster for Philip’s paperback of the same name, which presumably carries the instruction “Read and add music to taste.”

Terry Timblick