Phillip Ball in Nature News:
What was avant-garde yesterday is often blandly mainstream today. But this normalization doesn’t seem to have happened to experiments in atonalism in Western music. A century has passed since composer Arnold Schoenberg and his supporters rejected tonal organization, yet Schoenberg’s music is still considered by many to be ‘difficult’ at best, and a cacophony at worst.
Could this be because the dissonances characteristic of Schoenberg’s atonal compositions conflict with some fundamental human preference for consonance, embedded in the very way we perceive musical sound? That’s what his detractors have sometimes implied, and it might be inferred also from a new proposal for the origins of consonance and dissonance advanced in a paper by biomathematicians Inbal Shapira Lots and Lewi Stone of Tel Aviv University in Israel, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface 1.
Shapira Lots and Stone suggest that a preference for consonance may be hard-wired into the way we hear music.