Music moves us, creating a kaleidoscope of emotions that shifts with the sound. The tenth and final Oddityviz record shows a set of emotional responses to the song from listeners.
We asked our friends to draw a line corresponding to the level of emotion they felt while listening to Bowie’s Space Oddity, then plotted the results on the record.
'Emotion’ is admittedly a strange metric. What is emotion? You can deconstruct it endlessly. It could relate to many musical elements – dynamics, harmony, lyrics and so on. And the experience of it is unique to each person. We deliberately simplified the issue by treating emotion as a single variable running from low to high. Would the results still make sense?
We gathered data from 36 people by asking them to draw a line on a form corresponding to their overall level of emotion while listening to Space Oddity. We took the forms – some digital, some scanned versions of pencil drawings – and traced them in Illustrator to remove pencil scuffs and make them easier for our tool to read. Then we used Web Plot Digitizer to produce digital versions of the data, ending up with a data file containing around 300 points per individual response. Next, we used linear interpolation in R to increase the number of points in each data file to 10,000, and found the mean emotion level per second for each song. This allowed us to then calculate the mean emotion level across all responses, second by second, and the percentage point change from one second to the next.
Everyone responded differently and, combined together, the lines form a kind of fuzzy halo around the record. But the average response reveals a common emotional trajectory experienced by many people: rising through the intro, surging as the rocket lifts off and peaking during the exuberant first two verses, then again during the tragic second chorus ('Tell my wife I love her very much') and the vocal break ('Can you hear me Major Tom?'). The emotional peak of the whole song? Around two minutes five seconds in, at the line ‘And the stars look very different today’.
We did not define ‘emotion’ in the form, but we asked people to indicate the type of emotion they felt. Some felt sadness or nostalgia, some joy, and others feelings that were difficult to define.