A couple of years ago, music psychologist Elizabeth Margulis decided to make some alterations to the music of Luciano Berio. Berio was one of the most famous classical composers of the 20th century, a man internationally recognized for the dramatic power of his compositions. But Margulis didn't worry much about disrupting Berio's finely crafted music. After loading his most famous piece into a computer editing program, she just randomly started cutting.
"I just went in and whenever there was a little pause on either side of something, I grabbed that out and then I'd stick it back in — truly without regard to aesthetic intent," she says. "I wasn't trying to craft anything compelling."
The idea behind this vandalism was simple: Margulis wanted to see if she could make people like Berio's music more by making it more repetitive.
They reported enjoying the excerpts that had repetition more," Margulis says. "They reported finding them more interesting, and — most surprising to me — they reported them as more likely to have been crafted by a human artist, rather than randomly generated by a computer."
What's So Seductive About Repeats?
We are drawn to repetition. It surrounds us, not just in modern American pop music, Margulis says, but everywhere.
So mere exposure is one of the reasons we respond so well to repetition — both of music and in music — but Margulis clearly doesn't think it's the whole story. She says repetition also allows us to shift our attention around, from the surface aspects of the music to other aspects.
And in that way, she says, it allows us to shift our experience of the reality around us