Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CBC Broadcast: The Nerve: Music and the Brain

Review: Janet Spring
The Nerve:
Wired for Sound: Music and the Brain

After producing the award winning series: The How and Why of Music, the CBC Radio team followed with a new six part series called: The Nerve: Music & the Human Experience. In the first episode of The Nerve, the interviewer Jowi Taylor discusses the topic: Wired for Sound: Music and the Brain with several leading musicians, an audiologist, psychologist, musicologist and researchers. Through a series of interviews and discussions accompanied by popular and classical music, the participants discuss how we perceive and synthesize the sounds around us. Featured interviews include Daniel Levitin, Sandra Trehub, Marshall Chasin, Jimena Llopis, Suzanne Cusick, as well as performers: Bruce Cockburn, David Harrington, Larry Kirkegaard, etc. who enlighten the listener with their current research and opinions. Selections of music of composers such as Beethoven, Ravel, Rolling Stones, Beatles, The Guess Who, are used to demonstrate the certain aspects of music that are discussed such as timbre, vibration, melody, harmony, etc and how our brain receives, analyzes and processes these.

The first episode begins with an analysis of how we hear sounds and how these sounds are synthesized through the outer, middle and inner ear, and then transmitted through to the auditory nerve to the brain. Very interesting and informative examples are provided that demonstrate how our ears delineate sounds and how the brain, our amazing computer system, synthesizes all aspects of music and sound in different parts of the brain to produce the music we hear. Fascinating as well are the references made to how insects, amphibians and fish recognize the sounds and vibrations around them by detecting air currents and sound waves that encircle them. Concrete examples of these sound waves demonstrate to the listener how complex the world of music is to the brain and how amazing the brain actually is to make sense of vibration, pitch, timbre, phases, melody, rhythm; all aspects of ‘sound’. Interesting as well to me is the reference about our two ears and how they allow us to differentiate sound, where it is coming from and how they delineate phase relationships.

Daniel Levitin discusses how the different parts of the brain are analyzing and synthesizing the data that travels through the auditory nerve and how the brain can predict the certain progression of melody, pitch, rhythm and how it can be stimulated when an unpredicted event in sound occurs. He also demonstrates how the brain can analyze a particular timbre of voice, only a ½ millisecond in length by using the example of the beginning of the Beatle’s song: Eleanor Rigby. Here the brain is so exquisitely sensitive to timbre that it can recognize a certain voice after hearing the selection for a very short interval.

As Suzanne Cusick remarks, music makes the cells of our bodies vibrate: it surrounds us completely, giving us joy. Nevertheless, how we are wired for sound and how that sound is computed still remains a mystery in many instances. Music therefore plays a very significant role in determining how the sound signaling system functions, a study that continues to fascinate all.


I was very interested in this broadcast, for the music and sound examples provided concrete evidence as well as greater understanding of the auditory process and how the brain receives and processes musical signals. Different points of view presented by an audiologist, performer, music analyst, composer, researcher and musicologist also provided me with further understanding of this very intricate and fascinating subject.

1 comment:

Robin said...

I am very interested in getting a copy of this series. How can I get a copy?