Tag Archives: psychology

The Music Illusion

Five sweet auditory illusions from New Scientist.  Fun times, I got stung by them!

New Scientist magazine this month is running an excellent series on music and (obviously) the science behind it.  Fascinating stuff, really.  The cover story (‘The Music Illusion’) is penned by Daniel Levitin–a long-time music producer who’s worked with some of the greatest rock acts since the 70s (including Dylan and The Band).  His article is a distilled version of his awesome book ‘This Is Your Brain On Music,’ which I’m currently finishing.  He now approaches music, having worked in the producing and mixing field for years, as an academic, and more specifically, an evolutionary psychologist (read Wired’s related story from last year here).  And man, he get into the nitty-gritty of not just ‘music’ as a cultural production, but how individual pitch vibrations are intercepted by the ear and distributed throughout the brain, giving rise to emotions and behavior.

By better understanding what music is and where it comes from, we may be able to better understand our motives, fears, desires, memories, and even communication in the broadest sense.  Is music listening more along the lines of eating when you’re hungry, and thus, satisfying an urge?  Or is it more like seeing a beautiful sunset or getting a backrub, which triggers sensory pleasure systems in the brain?… This is the story of how brains and music co-evolved–what music can teach us about the brain, what the brain can teach us about music, and what both can teach us about ourselves.

Good eats, guys.  Check it out.

Also, after talking with a political science professor friend of mine Monday, she suggested I read some George Lipsitz.  He’s a professor of American Studies at UC Santa Cruz (as well as being part of the Black Studies faculty at UC Santa Barbara) and last year published ‘Footsteps In The Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music.’  I just scored the book yesterday, but so far, it’s an amazing collection of the genealogies and migratory patterns of the musical influences heard in many bands and genres.  I approached with caution because I’m aware Lipsitz’s framework is based on essentialisms of cultures (actually, ‘anti-essentialisms’, but it rallies the same origins of the arguments, hence giving them a passive credence), but I’m definitely impressed by his sonic mapping skills thus far.  A gem in the first section of the book about boy bands:

Of course there are plenty of reasons to dislike boy bands.  Every aspect of their identities–from the physical features of group members to the songs they sing to the answers they give in interviews–is scripted and carefully coordinated on the basis of market research.  They are never original, innovative, or unpredictable.  In their stage personas and song lyrics, the boy bands succeed because they hint at the provocation of erotic desire only to contain it by presenting themselves ultimately as adolescent, innocent, wholesome, and cute, simply longing for longing rather than for love or lust.  Their celebrity status seems to reduce the dignity of their fans, enlisting them as spectators and admirers of boys they do not know, apparently for the simple reason that other girls have focused on the band members as objects of desire.

As opposed to, say, musicians.  My sentiments exactly.  Wow, so two of the three posts on this blog so far have bitched about crappy consumerist record labels (thanks Jive)… I promise more love in the future!