Your Brain Is Like Beethoven

We survive noise by transforming it into patterns, like composers create music. BY JONATHAN BERGER Prior to the rise of urban culture, the sounds of clucking hens must have been among the world’s most ubiquitous annoyances. For millennia, humans have been “up with the chickens,” demarcating time by the rooster’s crow. But the infernal clucking of poultry must have constituted a constant din. It seems odd, then, that this obnoxious noise has found its way into a vast repertoire of music, from “La Poule” by French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau in 1726 to “Chick Chick” by Chinese pop singer Wang Rong … Continue reading Your Brain Is Like Beethoven

Music and sex

A song can take you on a journey of ecstatic arousal. Is music imitating sex, inviting it, or something else altogether? Michael Spitzer is professor of music at the University of Liverpool in the UK. His books include A History of Emotion in Western Music: A Thousand Years from Chant to Pop (2020) and The Musical Human: A History of Life on Earth (2021). Edited bySam Dresser And then she repeats the cycle all over again, dropping back down and rising to a climax twice more, each wave higher and more confident than the one before. The second verse is more intense because the … Continue reading Music and sex

Spotify Has Made All Music Into Background Music

Is the collapse of genre boundaries and the erosion of fervent musical loyalties a good thing? By Jack Hamilton Ispent much of my youth in sprawling record stores, drifting through aisles marked by signs that said things like rock, r&b, hip-hop, and—it was the ’90s—alternative. Anyone who grew up in or near a city in the later decades of the 20th century probably remembers the dial locations of classic rock, country, modern rock, “urban.” (Of course, there were also the catchall behemoths of Top 40 and adult contemporary; young snobs like me looked down on them as the presets of dilettantes.) But these days, to … Continue reading Spotify Has Made All Music Into Background Music

September 28, 1951: Alan Turing, the World’s First Digital Music, and the Poetry of Possibility

A hoot, a hummingbird, and an electronic hymn for the modern world. BY MARIA POPOVA “All truth is comprised in music and mathematics,” Margaret Fuller wrote in the middle of the nineteenth century as she was changing the fabric of the time. Exactly one hundred years after her untimely death, another tragic hero of another century, whose mind would shape the epochs to come, united these twin truths in a single, rapturous force-field of possibility on the pages of a programming manual containing the first instructions for how to compose music on a computer — a foundational marriage of technos and tenderness. … Continue reading September 28, 1951: Alan Turing, the World’s First Digital Music, and the Poetry of Possibility

The Brain Is a Prediction Machine, and Music Reveals How It Works

Summary: Study provides empirical evidence to show the brain’s predictive ability forms the basis for musical phrasing. Source: Aarhus University There is not much evidence for how our brains perceive and decide when ‘something’ – be it a sentence, conversation or piece of music – begins and ends, but a research project from Aarhus University now sheds new light on the role of the brain as a prediction machine. This comes from a scientific study in which Assistant Professor and AIAS fellow Niels Chr. Hansen documents that research participants experience so-called musical phrases – which correspond to a sentence or ‘unit of … Continue reading The Brain Is a Prediction Machine, and Music Reveals How It Works

Improvising Faith

How Buddhist jazz musician Dan Blake uses music to fight the climate crisis By Emily DeMaioNewton Saxophonist and composer Dan Blake’s latest album, Da Fé, opens with an eerie piano solo titled “Prologue—A New Normal.” The track is meant to warn of the world that awaits us if we don’t act against climate change. Blake’s warning is only the tip of his activism: since 2015 he has served on the board of Buddhist Global Relief, which combats hunger and malnutrition, and has produced benefit concerts for them since 2010. More recently, he has organized on behalf of organizations such as Extinction Rebellion, a … Continue reading Improvising Faith

The Gifted Listener: Composer Aaron Copland on Honing Your Talent for Listening to Music

“There are few pleasures in art greater than the secure sense that one can recognize beauty when one comes upon it… Recognizing the beautiful in an abstract art like music partakes somewhat of a minor miracle.” BY MARIA POPOVA “Even poetry, Sweet Patron Muse forgive me the words, is not what music is,” the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote to a friend, adding the requisite flamboyance of a 1920s radical: “Without music I should wish to die.” Months after Millay’s death, Harvard offered its prestigious Charles Edward Norton Professorship of Poetry for the 1951–1952 academic year to the composer Aaron Copland (November … Continue reading The Gifted Listener: Composer Aaron Copland on Honing Your Talent for Listening to Music

Maestro of more than music

Look beneath the surface of Bach’s music and you will find a fascinating hidden world of numerology and cunning craft Milton Mermikides is reader in music at the University of Surrey, professor of jazz guitar at the Royal College of Music, and deputy director of the International Guitar Research Centre. He is also a composer, producer, electronic musician, illustrator and guitarist, and has collaborated with Tim Minchin, John Williams, Brian Eno and Sam Brown, among others. Edited byNigel Warburton Some 14 billion miles from here floats a 12-inch gold-plated record. This artefact was placed onboard the Voyager 1 space probe in 1977 (and another on the Voyager 2 sister vessel) … Continue reading Maestro of more than music

The Brain’s ‘Prediction Machine’ Anticipates the Future When Listening to Music

Summary: We live our lives in real time, watching events unfold moment by moment. To make better sense of the world, however, our brains automatically predict how some events will unfold moments into the future. New research published in Psychological Science explores the brain’s “prediction machine” capabilities by examining how we experience music. Whether listening to a concerto by Bach or the latest pop tunes on Spotify, the human brain does not wait passively for the song to unfold. Instead, when a musical phrase has an unresolved or uncertain quality about it our brains automatically predict how the melody will end. Past ideas … Continue reading The Brain’s ‘Prediction Machine’ Anticipates the Future When Listening to Music

Music, Meditation, Painting—and Dreaming

A conversation with Philip Glass and Fredericka Foster Philip Glass and Fredericka Foster We are on the phone, freewheeling about our practices: music, art, and meditation. Another day, we are in Philip’s kitchen, sitting at a wooden table. Behind us are comfortable couches and a private outdoor space. Philip’s partner, the artist Saori Tsukada, is working with flowers in the urban garden surrounding the house. —Fredericka Foster Philip Glass (PG): I was talking once to Gelek Rimpoche [1938–2017] about meditation, and I asked him, “Isn’t it just paying attention?” Yes, he said, “that’s absolutely what it is.” Meditation is a nice fuzzy word that we … Continue reading Music, Meditation, Painting—and Dreaming