We Are Made of Music, We Are Made of Time: Violinist Natalie Hodges on the Poetic Science of Sound and Feeling

“Time renders most individual moments meaningless… but it is only through the passage of time that life acquires its meaning. And that meaning itself is constantly in flux.” BY MARIA POPOVA In her 1942 book Philosophy in a New Key, the trailblazing philosopher Susanne Langer defined music as “a laboratory for feeling and time.” But perhaps it is the opposite, too — music may be the most beautiful experiment conducted in the laboratory of time. In “the wordless beginning,” spacetime itself was crumpled and compacted into that spitball of everythingness we call the singularity. Even if sound could exist then — it did not, of course, … Continue reading We Are Made of Music, We Are Made of Time: Violinist Natalie Hodges on the Poetic Science of Sound and Feeling

Nina Simone’s Gum and the Shimmering Strangeness of How Art Casts Its Transcendent Spell on Us

The metaphysical made physical in a symphonic celebration of imagination, collaboration, and the human heart. BY MARIA POPOVA “Time is a dictator, as we know it,” Nina Simone (February 21, 1933–April 21, 2003) observed in her soulful 1969 meditation on time. “Where does it go? What does it do? Most of all, is it alive?” If time is the substance we are made of, as Borges so memorably wrote the year the teenage Eunice Waymon began studying to become “the world’s first great black classical pianist” before she made herself into Nina Simone, then there is something singularly haunting and mysterious about the fragments … Continue reading Nina Simone’s Gum and the Shimmering Strangeness of How Art Casts Its Transcendent Spell on Us

In ‘Architecture in Music,’ Striking Photos Reveal the Hidden Structures of Instruments

1780 Lockey Hill Cello. All images © Charles Brooks, shared with permission by GRACE EBERT A cellist since childhood, Auckland-based photographer Charles Brooks spent twenty years performing with orchestras around the world, an experience that incited curiosity about the inner workings of the instruments surrounding him. “I never really knew what was going on inside. That was a realm reserved for the luthier. Occasionally, when an instrument was being repaired, you’d get a rare glimpse inside, which was always a thrilling experience,” he shares with Colossal. This interest culminates in Brooks’s ongoing Architecture in Music series, which peers inside pianos, winds, brass, and strings … Continue reading In ‘Architecture in Music,’ Striking Photos Reveal the Hidden Structures of Instruments

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