Musical Language “sometimes behaves so strangely”
I chose the Radiolab episode titled “Musical Language”. I’ve been a musician since I was ten years old and find the science and human interaction with music to be a fascinating topic.
In this episode, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich speak about the ways that humans perceive sound and how sound can become a “feeling” instead of just something the listener hears. The guests included Diana Duetsch – a Professor of Music Psychology at Univerity of San Diego and Jonah Lehrer – a frequent Radiolab contributor .
During Diana Duetsch’s segment, she spoke of how humans perceive sound. In one of the studies she was conducting, she would put parts of her speech onto a loop. She left the room while an audio clip of the words “sometimes behaves so strangely” was left playing on the loop. After a while, she began to hear sounds as if music was playing. ...view middle of the document...
When hearing the word “spring,” one might think of flowers growing, bright sunshine, or a bright and sunny atmosphere. Stravinsky’s music started out light and flowy with a bassoon solo, but slowing the music became more dissonant and unsettling. Eventually, there is a fast-pulsing chord that courses through the entire rest of the piece. It is believed that this unsettling sound that was produced caused the audience to react badly and ultimately riot. In April of 1914, a new group of patrons went to listen to the same Stravinsky concert that had ended so poorly the previous year. The audience had been warned about the music ahead of time, so they had a different perception of the music from the beginning. This second concert ended with no riotous event and Stravinsky was now a revered composer. Lehrer goes on to explain that the brain processes sound through the auditory cortex. The auditory cortex is responsible for hearing a sound and telling the brain to figure out what it is or what it means. Most of the time, human brains can figure out this sound, but sometimes it fails. It is believed that the brains of the patrons listening to the Stravinsky concert could not perceive what was happening in the music and created something almost like schizophrenia.
Within this episode, I noticed audio clips that were sometimes played in the background in between people who were speaking. Most often these clips were of what a previous speaker was saying. At one point, there was a chorus of people singing “sometimes behaves so strangely” over and over, and I found this to be quite entertaining.
Finally, I am interested in learning more about the scientific structure of how the brain perceives sound and how it determines what is a “good” sound and what is a “bad” sound. There were some examples given within the episode of specific brain functions within the auditory cortex and the corticofugal network as mentioned in Mr. Lehrer’s book, Proust was a Neuroscientist.
“Musical Language”, Radio Lab. Season 2, Episode 2. 2 February 2013. <http://www.radiolab.org/2007/sep/24/>.