Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oliver Sacks: Keeping Time: Rhythm and Movement

Sharon Dutton

Sacks, Oliver, 2007 “Chpt 19, Keeping Time: Rhythm and Movement” Musicophilia:tales of music and the brain, pub. by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Dr. Oliver Sacks is Professor of Clinical Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University. His latest book, Musicophilia, discusses the power of music that he has witnessed in his personal and professional experiences. In chapter 19, he explores the relationship between music, (rhythm in particular), and movement. He begins with a recounting of a climbing accident in which he injured his leg. In order to save himself, he was forced to “row” himself down the mountain, accompanying his heaves with a marching or rowing song: “Without this synchronization of music and movement, the auditory with the motor, I could never have made my way down the mountain” (233). Although the nerve and tendon damage rendered his leg useless, he recounts how one day, with the music of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto playing vividly and spontaneously in his mind, “the natural rhythm and melody of walking came back to me”, and, during these first few experiences, when the music stopped, walking stopped also. He met another person who experienced a similar relationship between her useless leg and an Irish jig, and hypothesized that “music could act as an activator, a de-inhibitor in the nervous system” (p 235). He speculates that in these two instances, deactivation occurred in the “body image”, or representation of the body in the brain, and that the music heard in the brain acted as the agent which triggered the brain’s representation function to “remember” the injured leg.

Dr. Sacks recounts other cases in which, while a patient has experienced brain damage, such as from Alzheimer’s disease, he or she is able to perform sequenced tasks (personal dressing), only when accompanied by a song. He also includes references to people who have memorized large amounts of information by setting the information to a melody, and comments that this could be one reason why music has persisted, even flourished in our evolutionary development.

Dr. Sacks, through quotes and references of Dr. Aniruddh Patel, claims that the “linking of auditory and motor systems seems universal in humans” (p 239). He refers to Chen, Zatorre, and Pehume (2006), who found “that listening to music or imagining it, even without any overt movement or keeping time, activates motor cortex and subcortical motor system, too. Thus the imagination of music, or rhythm, may be as potent, neurally, as actually listening to it” (p 240, 241).

Sacks acknowledges a special function of music – music as communal experience. “People sing together and dance together in every culture … in such a situation, music is a communal experience, and there seems to be… an actual binding or “marriage” of nervous systems, a “neurogamy”” (p 244). Sacks suggests that it is rhythm that accomplishes this binding. “Rhythm turns listeners into participants, makes listening active and motoric, and synchronizes the brains and minds (and hearts) of all who participate” (p 245). He claims that rhythm is the most powerful and primal musical element – with the power to “move” people both physically and emotionally. “Rhythm and its entrainment of movement (and often emotion – [e-motion]), its power to “move” people, in both senses of the word, may well have had a crucial cultural and economic function in human evolution, bringing people together, producing a sense of collectivity and community” (p 246).

Sacks and Barnhill (Barnhill 2008) are in complete agreement insofar as their claim that rhythm is the one element that binds together the various sensations experienced in the brain of a particular stimulus: “Just as rapid neuronal oscillations bind together different functional parts within the brain and nervous system, so rhythm binds together the individual nervous systems of a human community” (Sacks, p 247). His discussion on the communal experience of music speaks, in particular, to music’s power to access and engage not only the body and mind, but also the spirit.

There are enough references to human spirituality to suggest that music and movement have the ability to access and engage humans in spiritual experiences. If we supposed that music had this ability – to access, engage, and bond people (both internally and interpersonally) in a communal and spiritual experience, then it would seem probably that movement would be the experiential element that could connect a musical experience to a spiritual experience. Without movement, there is no life. I suggest that it is through rhythmic movement, that we are bound to our spiritual selves, to our communities, and to our greater environment.

Barnhill, Eric, Music and Imagination: The Rhythmic Brain, (posted) February 07, 2008

Music for the Brain Could be a Stress-Buster

Music for the brain could be a stress-buster
Written by Monica Matys, CTV News
Sep. 16 2002
Posted by Justine

Lead researcher Dr. Leonid Kayumov and his colleagues devised a theory: What if you could separate the calm brain waves from the stressed ones, and then try to treat the stressed ones? They then devised a way to do this by using complex algorithms. Using these algorithms they convert the natural brain activity of individuals into unique patterns of music, because music is organized sounds with constant change in volume, frequency, amplitude, tempo, which is essentially the same as brain patterns. Kayumov and his colleagues teamed up with a mathematician and a computer programmer. Together they developed a method of turning brain waves into "easy listening." How the process is done is by placing a mesh head device on the patient, to which electrodes are attached. Over about 40 minutes, these electrodes painlessly record brain activity onto a computer. Then, relaxed brain waves are separated from the anxious ones, using a series of algorithms. Using their unique program, Kayumov says these waves are translated into music. Patients are then given a CD containing several minutes of their "brain music," which they can listen to anywhere and anytime. While there is the potential to use 120 different instruments in the music, researchers are currently using just the keyboard to capture these calming tones. Right now it's only being used to treat existing stress, insomnia and anxiety. But Kayumov says brain music could potentially help prevent stress. “For example, people anticipating an important meeting, or event -- they can listen to the music before that event,” says Kayumov.

Wow!! That is really interesting. I think this is an amazing discovery for society and who knows what could come of this in the future. Perhaps eventually we could make brain music to help heal or reduce our chances of getting cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, arthritis… Wouldn’t it be great not to have to take medication that causes so many side effects? This could be the medicine of the future. I have never heard of this process before and really wonder how effective it is. So intrigued I googled brain music therapy to see where in Toronto someone could get it done if they wanted to. I then came across some videos of brain music therapy and really wanted to hear what this brain music might sound like. One video described it as classical like music and another seemed like it was more trance like. I found a video called “Brain Wave Music in the Key of EEG,” which aired on Daily Planet. James Fung a computer engineer from U of T put together a group brain music concert. It seemed like some people enjoyed the atmosphere of the event but weren’t actually affected by it in any way that they noticed. I think it is one of those things that you can’t just do once and expect to feel something from it. However, it seems like people are very interested in what the long term affects of it are. Personally, I would love to try it out to see what affect it has on my stress.

Music and Language are Processd by the Same Brain Systems

Music and Language are processed by the Same Brain Systems
From Science Daily
September 28, 2007
Posted by Justine

Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center have found evidence that the processing of music and language do indeed depend on some of the same brain systems. Their findings suggest that two different aspects of both music and language depend on the same two memory systems in the brain. One brain system, based in the temporal lobes, helps humans memorize information in both language and music— for example, words and meanings in language and familiar melodies in music. The other system, based in the frontal lobes, helps us unconsciously learn and use the rules that underlie both language and music, such as the rules of syntax in sentences, and the rules of harmony in music. The researchers enrolled 64 adults and used a technique called Event-Related Potentials, in which they measured the brain’s electrical activity using electrodes placed on the scalp. The subjects listened to 180 snippets of melodies. Half of the melodies were segments from tunes that most participants would know and the other half included original tunes composed by Miranda. Three versions of each well known and made up melody were created: melodies containing an in-key deviant note (which could only be detected if the melody was familiar, and therefore memorized); melodies that contained an out-of-key deviant note (which violated rules of harmony); and the original (control) melodies. The researchers examined the brain waves of the participants who listened to melodies in the different conditions, and found that violations of rules and memory in music corresponded to the two patterns of brain waves seen in previous studies of rule and memory violations in language. That is, in-key violations of familiar but not made up melodies led to a brain-wave pattern similar to one called “N400,” that has previously been found with violations of words such as, “I’ll have my coffee with milk and concrete”. Out-of-key violations of both familiar and novel melodies led to a brain-wave pattern over frontal lobe electrodes similar to patterns previously found for violations of rules in both language and music. Finally, out-of-key violations of familiar melodies also led to an “N400”-like pattern of brain activity, as expected because these are violations of memory as well as rules.

This is a very interesting article to read. When you think about it, it really makes a lot of sense that two aspects of music, rules and memorized melodies, depend on two different brain systems, which are the same brain systems that also underlie rules and memorized information in language. It makes so much sense due to the fact that the rules of music are so similar to the rules of language. Similarly in language and music they both comprise of gestures, rhythm, tone, dynamics, accents, question and answer and all the rules that make a phrase of music so enjoyable to our ears as well as what makes a sentence understandable. This is why language and music are so closely related that some even think of music as a language itself. I am wondering if the chosen melodies that were tested on the patients in this study, which normally are set with words, could have added to the connection of the same centres in the brain for music and language. So if they played familiar melodies that were never set to words would the same areas be triggered in the brain? Does this make sense? What I am trying to say is that maybe the “N400” brain-wave pattern that they found occurred in this study because the tunes had words associated to them, which means it wasn’t just the violations to the melody that caused this brain-wave pattern to happen.

Dominantly transmitted focal dystonia in families of patients with musician's cramp

Schmid, A., Jabusch, H.C., Altenmueller, E., Hagenah, J., Brueggemann, N., Hedrich, K., Saunders-Pullman, R., Bressman, S., Kramer, P.L., & Klein, C. (2006).
Dominantly transmitted focal dystonia in families of patients with musician's cramp.
Neurology 67(4), 691-693.

Conducted at Institute of Music Physiology and Musicians' Medicine in Hanover University of Music and Drama, Germany, this study looks up the family dystonic history of three patients with musician's dystonia.
Several members from each family report symptoms of various dystonic disorders: writer's cramp, handicraft dystonia, or musician's dystonia.
Through survey, interview, and neurological examinations, the researchers are trying to trace genetic predisposition towards dystonic disorders in family with dystonic members.

Review & Reflections
This is the last of my article reviews about focal dystonia. My motivation for looking into this topic is not purely academic, but mainly personal. A very close friend contracted focal dystonia in the past couple of years and we were able to pin it down only recently, thanks to feedback from other musician friends and resources offered by this course, Music and the Brain, at faculty of music, University of Toronto.
The majority of related research literature about focal dystonia originated in Germany over the past 15 years. Thanks to continuous development of brain imaging techology, the neurological manifestations of this practice-induced have become available for researchers to study and subsequently design behavioural-training treatments.
What interests me about this particular article is its age-old implication: chicken before the egg, or egg before the chicken. Are members of a dystonic family predisposed to contracting dystonic disorders because of their hereditary brain structures, or because of the similarity in their professional activities and personal behavioural patterns? If we want to look at the genetic, not behavioural side of this disorder, I wonder if it would be worth while to look into the brain imaging of children with dystonic parent(s). Are they born in the same way, or different before environment and habits shape their growth?
On a personal note, I have found it helpful to know what not to do, as well as what to do, after the onset of focal dystonic symptoms. We are creatures of habits and in the case when habits are causing trouble, it is good to know from where to start addressing the issue.
For more information about physiotherapy for focal dystonia, I shall cite the article below:
Candia, V., Schafer, T., Taub, E., Rau, H., Altenmuller, E., Rockstroh B., Elbert T. (2002).
Sensory motor retuning: a behavioral treatment for focal hand dystonia of pianists and guitarists.
Arch. Phys. Med. Rehabil., 83, 1342-1348.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Hypothesis of the evolution of Art from Play

Dissanayake, Ellen. "A Hypothesis of the Evolution of Art from Play." Leonardo 7.3 (Summer 1974): 211-217.


By Megumi Okamoto



            The similarities between art and play are elaborated in this article, which leads to a hypothesis that art originated from play and eventually evolved into an independent being that contains its own form. Evolutionary biology holds that there is no prevalent characteristic in species that does not contain survival value: this signifies that art is not useless as it often seems.  Art is, in fact, a fundamental necessity of life, just like play.

            The author first introduces numerous theories regarding play, including those by Schiller, Herbert Spencer, Karl Groo, Freud, Johan Huizinga, and Monika Meyer-Holzapfel. Then she proceeds to define multi-faceted concepts of play, which are mutually dependent and inseparable: First of all, play is "not serious," as it is not directly concerned with day-to-day survival. Play contains behavior that is spontaneous and undirected. It is sought out for the sake of the activity itself, and is self-rewarding. It often involves more than one participant: even when alone, there is often an imaginary partner involved. For this reason, play is social in character and functions to enhance contact. There are repeated exchanges of elements such as surprise, adventure, and whims. There are strongly metaphorical aspects. There are also elements of curiosity. Also, it is pleasure-oriented, as one can experience pleasure when overcoming self-imposed difficulties.

            These attributes of play mentioned above closely resemble that of arts. For instance, art is also normally considered unnecessary for survival. In fact, the uselessness of art has been elaborated throughout centuries by numerous aestheticians. Also, there is an element of combining apparently different ideas and images into a congruent whole that is shared in art and play. Also, art is self-rewarding and pleasure-oriented. It contains a relationship with an "other," taking the artist outside of him/herself. Furthermore, art is concerned with perceivers who would eventually experience it, creating another relationship in the social realm. Also, art contains tensions and releases, as it blends the unknown with the familiar and creates surprises and adventures. Lastly, art is highly metaphorical.

            The author points out that both play and art enhance sociality, which has a strong selective value in an evolutionary perspective. For instance, animals communicate with each other in ways that are not evident to human observers. Such social signals are known to be derived from a simple behavior that was not communicatory originally (such as a bird crouching before flying), but became biologically "selected" if it proved to possess some survival advantage. Over many generations, such motions and actions become ritualized, while the original movement with which the ritual started became obscured. Similarly, the author continues, artistic activity gradually became refined and ritualized, while the connection with its origin became lost in the process. Such development of stability in social code and art form is biologically beneficial. Yet, the author continues, it is natural for any canon of artistic rules to be replaced as life conditions change. Mankind contains an inherent dynamic between balanced order and experimentation and the breaking of the rules.  

            The author feels that one can gain perspective on the objective/subjective nature of the experience by giving artistic form to various events. By doing so and becoming a social being, one can control the environment. Thus, art contributes to sociality and self-assertion of mankind, as we can see in the long-term evolutionary view.  


This reading was especially helpful for me, since I came across Huizinga's play theory in so many of other articles. This is a rather old article, and it tends to focus on the social aspect of art without mentioning its other features. However, I feel that its main theme- that art is a necessity of life- is powerfully communicated.

One of the useful lessons that I have learned in the "Music and Brain" class was the profound relationship between human biology and music, which I have never been aware of before. And after learning this, it was natural for me to gravitate toward an article that provides a biological reason for people to make art, in the perspective of evolutionary science.

From relating play and arts, the author sees the importance of sociality and its function of survival that is shared in these activities. I think that this point is extremely important in the life of modern musicians (particularly performers) who spend uncountable hours in isolated practice rooms, which is a rather strange phenomenon. Being so immersed in isolation, it is easy to be pressured at the time of the performance when one suddenly becomes aware of the presence of the audience, and realizes that music does not fundamentally exist for the performer alone. In fact, there would be no musician at all, without the network of the social context around him/her. By accepting this fact and taking account the social context of music, I think that performers can see music-making in a new light.

Also, I feel that musicians could have more confidence and be proud of their position in life. Knowing that art is not useless as it often seems provides a sense of purpose, which is a crucial element in achieving the state of fulfillment. In fact, not only this article, but the Brain class itself was focused on music's ability to make an influence. I feel that this was directed toward strengthening the sense of purpose in each of us, thus helping us to become better performers and educators.      

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Alteration of digital representations in somatosensory cortex in focal hand dystonia

Elbert, T., Candia, V., Altenmueller, E., Rau, H., Rockstroh, B., Pantev, C., & Taub, E. (1998).
Alteration of digital representations in somatosensory cortex in focal hand dystonia.
NeuroReport 16, 3571-3575.

Based on an experiment conducted at Institute of Experimental Audiology, University of Munster, Germany, this article compares the results of MEG and MRI scans from 3 groups of human subjects (8 musicians with focal dystonia in right hand, 8 non-dystonic musicians, and 9 non-musician controls) after receiving somatosensory stimulation.
In contrast to the representations of the digits (ie. fingers) in non-musician control subjects, there is a reduced distance between the representational zones of the digits in primary somatosensory cortex for the affected hand of dystonic musicians. This constitutes a change that is in the direction of fusion of the digital receptive fields.
Changes in corticomotor representation, assessed by transcranial magnetic stimulation, have also been reported and consist of distortions of the shape of the motor hand area, extension of its lateral borders, and the emergence of almost discrete secondary motor areas.
At the time of the experiment, it was unclear to which extent the distortions of motor map and the alterations in sensory map were related.
Based on the hypothesis that cortical digital fusion may be a factor in the genesis of focal hand dystonia, a treatment of sensory learning process was developed in the same laboratory and proven effective in several dystonic musicians. This treatment combined extensive practice in making discrete individuated finger movements with methods employed in constraint-induced (CI) movement therapy, an effective new intervention for rehabilitation of movement after stroke.

Review & Reflection
Continued from a 1996 experiment about neuroplasticity/learning origin of focal dystonia in monkeys, this 1998 experiment displays parallel findings in dystonic human subjects and proves that focal dystonia is mainly induced by excessive repetition of trained and purposeful movements.
If this cortical disorder can both be induced and treated by physical therapy, is there such a way in which musicians can practice without contracting focal dystonia? Can we incorporate strategies into our practice routines to consciously and effectively train for healthy and lifelong playing?
On the other hand, what happened to the treatment mentioned at the end of this article? If it already existed in 1998, has there been any follow-up and further development over the past 10 years to make this therapy accessible to dystonic patients from all over the world? Where can we find more information about treatment and prevention of this disorder?

Transcendence as an Aesthetic Concept: Implications for Curriculum

Lee, Katherine. "Transcendence as an Aesthetic Concept: Implications for Curriculum." Journal of Aesthetic Education: 27.1 (Spring 1993): 75-82.


By Megumi Okamoto



            This article considers the difficulty in defining the concept of transcendence, due to the fact that it is a heavily loaded term with various historical connotations. It suggests that this concept could be "revised" to render itself useful for educational purposes.

            The author, Katherine Lee, traces back the history of this term. In an Aristotelian sense, the concept indicates something that lies beyond the bounds of any category. It also is akin to the way Kant described something that is above limits of any possible experience and knowledge.

In the project of Enlightenment, it became problematic to the Logical Positivists, and they put it aside as a merely meaningless concept. Indeed, the term "transcendence" does have religious overtones to this day, which can make some people uncomfortable. We live in a highly materialistic society and are not familiar with spiritual terms. The author feels that this word implies something in which we are familiar, but cannot fully describe. It is something that is only privately felt. Linear and categorical analysis cannot fully grasp this. It is not an expected result from a sequential chain of events, as it cannot be externally controlled.

            To receive a phenomenon aesthetically, it is important how we attend to it. Such "aesthetic mode of perception" requires an active engagement that is wholesome in nature. It is a self-reflexive activity, as the meaning that it holds upon the person making the judgment is crucial in creating this phenomenon. Also, we must note that the final referent of this experience is not reason. Rather, there is a sense of wholeness in which various details seem to magically fall into order, and the flow of time shifts. The author calls this "having an aesthetic experience." It is what Abraham Maslow named as "peak experience," what Glasser named as "state of positive addiction." It is therapeutic in the way that the strength to overcome negative addiction arises from the positive addiction. Such state of transcendence is a learning experience. It is where knowledge becomes a personally significant possession, where insight creates coherence. It focuses personal significance and meanings into present, and thus makes "human beings return to themselves."

The author feels that this experience requires a comprehensive paradigm than empirical science, and that we do not have enough rational/scientific account of this phenomenon. As a conclusion, the author notes that, although it may not be a daily occurrence, having an open attitude toward such possibilities will greatly enhance our educational system. This can be incorporated in schooling not by visible curriculum, but from implicit moral attitudes of teachers by their actions.



            First of all, this article reminds us that we are influenced by the views of the historical era in which we live, and the layers of meanings that are culturally imbued in our thought patterns. Therefore, how we interpret ourselves psychologically, and how we choose to place emphasis on certain aspects of our lives, are not as objective as one would expect. For instance, living in a materialistic society has implications to how we choose to view aesthetic feelings. The purpose of this is not to make judgments, but to be aware of the historical context in which we are placed.

            What the author describes as "transcendence" refers to a type of learning experience. I think we are all aware of the joy of learning: The dopamine gets released as the learning progresses in a field that is difficult but is manageable, and this chemical reaction makes us simply "feel good." And this pleasure for the brain becomes a sensation to which we would long to return and experience, over and over. And within this experience, there are such times when the sense of wholeness results as various details fall into place, and we lose track of time, as the author describes. However, to call this "transcendence" is a challenging task. We might feel transcendent while we are still in the experience, but as soon as we are back to the everyday lives, that term starts to feel too heavy for usage.

            My topic for the paper is "flow," which is closely related to this article. I am focusing on this because it is in fact something that has personal relevance. I have had such experiences, and that is what I treasure the most in life, and is what I live for. However, I cannot help but wonder if heavily-loaded terms such as "transcendence" make people feel alienated from the concept. I think that the author makes a great point by suggesting educators to have an open attitude toward this phenomenon, but personally, I feel that the concept will have more currency if the term "transcendence" is not blocking the entrance. Perhaps, by focusing on the topics that one is learning rather than the feeling of transcendence that one hopes to achieve, the learning experience would become more accessible and fruitful.  


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