I was very stressed and tired yesterday, and driving home late, I turned on the radio to hear Vaughan Williams 'Lark Ascending'. I'm aware I have to be in the right mood for this, but I was certainly in the right mood yesterday. It was very beautiful.
Given my thoughts about an 'emotion machine' and the caressing of the senses, what might be going here? Here's my attempt at an explanation:
My stressful and anxious state was a desperate attempt to keep juggling all the things that I'm having to think about at the moment. The regulatory system that's most involved in this is System 2 in Beer's Viable System Model. Other regulatory systems are at work too - not least System 5 in trying to maintain my identity in the face of too much to do, but the augmented regulation is pretty much with System 2 (anti-oscillation).
The music has certain qualities, not least of which is the regularity of its patterns - the pentatonic scales, simple modal harmony, etc whilst all being fairly straight-forward, also contain enough on interest for it not to be boring. The regularity aspects of the music will 'caress' my perception in its function at Beer's System 3. I've equated this emotionally with 'energy' and feeling 'focussed'. So, there may be some off-setting of the stress at System 2 with this System 3 regularity.
However, the music does something else, which is to do with its harmonic movement which frequently enters unexpected territory. This opening-up of possibilities is something which relates to a different regulating mechanism: System 4. Thus, the regularity and transformation are held in balance, all of which directly affect my perception and help to rebalance my mood.
But then there is the profound feeling of one-ness which is what I experienced yesterday after a stressful day driving home. That I think is to do with my entering a state where everything becomes 'relevant' to me: nothing is excluded. This, I think, is to do with System 5: my identity. Somehow, System 5, which normally tries to balance the operations of the other viable components, relaxes so as to allow for all sorts of perceptions to become relevant. I think this particular state of System 5 is the product of everything that had happened - not just the music, but the stress before it. I think the relaxation of System 5 is where the real power of this music in this moment lies...