Category Archives: Science

Conference 1

I recently experienced four days which I would have to sum up as amongst the most stimulating but toughest days I can recall. They were spent at a conference (organised by the Mariani Foundation and hosted by Edinburgh University – specifically Katie Overy of the IMHSD) entitled: The Neurosciences and Music: Learning & Memory

 Stimulating for the following reasons: 

  • dedicated, uninterrupted time to devote to an area of fascination which often only pops up intermittently – namely the intersection of music, language, memory, learning, science (of various sorts)
  • the world’s leading thinkers – many of whose names I had already come across – were presenting recent research
  • the questions/comments often added another dimension to the talks – I noted that resonant, thought-provoking questions were equally likely from delegates in identical or contrasting fields to the speaker

 Tough for the following reasons: 

  • although I am now very interested in science, I do not have a scientific background – my last formal contact was failing Higher Chemistry and Physics in 1977
  • speed – all speakers were keen to run to time and presentations were necessarily quick – this meant that slides containing acronyms, data, graphs, brain scans etc. seemed to be racing by*
  • concentration – not my own (although this was no doubt challenged) but more the concentration of 18 hours of listening and a further 6 hours of poster viewing/chat to authors over four days was quite dense 

I would equate the content of those four days with at least a year’s reading, TV/radio documentaries, on-line exploration. For that reason, I was glad to have my Zoom H2 mp3 recorder with me and intend to re-visit many of the talks in order to write things up over time. Until then, though, here is an outline of content to give some broad overview of the content. 

*One of the delegates seated next to me, using an iPad, switched seamlessly between – typing, photographing, videoing. That’s the way to go! Other devices are available 🙂

Neurosciences and Music IV: Learning & Memory

 DAY 1  – Thu 9 June

 

  Registration

 “Working with Infants and Children”

 Workshop 1Experimental Methods  – 4 x 30 minute presentations

 Workshop 2 – Social / Real World Methods – 4 x 20 minute presentations

 Day 2 – Fri 10 June

 

 Keynote lecture Human memory – 45 minutes

Symposium IMechanisms of Rhythm and Meter Learning over the Life Span – 3 x 20 minute presentations

Symposium 2Impact of Musical Experience on Cerebral Language Processing – 4 x 30 minute presentations

Symposium 3Cultural Neuroscience of Music – 6 x 20 minute presentations

Poster session I – 2 hours to view posters/chat to authors/take away A4 version handouts

 

Day 3 – Saturday 11 June


Symposium 4 Memory and Learning in Music Performance 5 x 20 minute presentations

Symposium 5Mind and Brain in Musical Imagery – 5 x 20 minute presentations

Symposium 6 Plasticity and Malplasticity in Health and Disease – 5 x 20 minute presentations

Poster session II – 2 hours to view posters/chat to authors/take away A4 version handouts

 

Day 4 – Sunday 12 June

Symposium 7The Role of Music in Stroke Rehabilitation: neural mechanisms and therapeutic techniques – 6 x 20 minute presentations

Symposium 8Music: A Window into the World of Autism – 4 x 25 minute presentations

Symposium 9Learning and Memory in Musical disorders – 4 x 25 minute presentations

Edinburgh International Film Festival previews – neuroscience is a theme this year – 15 min presentation

Conclusions and thanks.

Poster session III – 2 hours to view posters/chat to authors/take away A4 version handouts

 18 hours of talks – 6 hours of poster sessions

45 Speakers

300+ delegates

It never rains but it pours…

… I hate that expression – but anyway.

Tomorrow sees the Neuromusic IV conference kick off. I’ve been looking forward to this for ages. I intend to write up (m)any interesting things when it’s over (it runs till Sunday). Fittingly the conference closes with a concert and jazz session, at which I have offered to play what has become one of my favourite tunes (see video below).

On Saturday evening, I’ll be taking time out for a much loved musical experience – a Calton Consort concert (what a poet!) Had that not been on, I’d have gone along to this Edinburgh Contemporary Music Ensemble event. I’ve just been listening to some audio from previous events.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/S2vDLzyD0Go?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

TeachMeet 2011

This evening I’m heading up to TeachMeet 2011 chez Scottish Book Trust as one of the 7-minute presenters.

My theme is Literacy, Numeracy and Games in Instrumental Lessons. Seven minutes will allow a an average of 6 seconds per slide. So it will be a broad brush, hurried affair with the intention that people can download the ppt from here.

So here it is: Literacy-Numeracy-Games-in-Instrumental-Lessons

Your Brain on Improv

Many musicians are in awe of the ability to improvise in others and nervous at the prospect of being called upon to do it themselves. Many non-musicians find it bewildering that anyone can create on the hoof in solo or ensemble situations. Dr. Charles Limb, takes a look at the workings of the brain, comparing particularly memorised and improvised content in this TED video At the beginning of the talk, he stresses how he will be asking more questions than providing answers – the science is in its infancy, after all. But these are good questions:

  • What is creative genius?
  • Why does the brain seek creativity?
  • How do we acquire creativity?
  • What factors disrupt creativity?
  • Can creative behaviour be learned?

The title of the talk, Your Brain on Improv is, I feel certain, a nod to Daniel Levitin‘s great book, This is Your Brain on Music (look inside it here).

If you’ve ever wondered what jazzers are referring to by the expression playing outside, then pay particular attention to what Keith Jarret does at 2:12 in the video within the video. As you lead up to this moment, try to focus on the key – the centre of gravity of the piece – and see if the outside playing threatens it. Then imagine how he feels!

Community

I received a nice pingback on a recent post today on the Mind Over Music blog by Justin Yanowicz and Judy Crook. Having been in touch with Nina Krauss, the director of the work mentioned on my original post, and discovering that we will both be attending The Neurosciences and Music conference in June, today’s unexpected tie-in was further proof of the ease with which the internet can bring together those with a shared interest, connecting and amplifying learning.

What I liked in particular was their advice to delay cognitive ageing: “Speak several languages daily and keep playing your instrument.” Easier said than done or, as I like to say when pupils suggest insurmountability, “difficult, but not impossible.”

Music and Memory

Does a life of active involvement in music bestow enhanced memory – more able to withstand the ravages of age? Nina Kraus of the Audio Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Illinois certainly believes so. Why not listen to a short conversation she had with Eddie Mair on Radio 4’s PM? Scroll forward to 27:50 of this?

The website of the Audio Neuroscience Laboratory is a treasure trove of interesting material.

There is an interesting paragraph about the effects of music on the brain here

Also – have a look at this slide show about the brain’s encoding of music and speech – or the slide show about speech in noise.

There are also three interesting videos on the site:

Prosody

Having recently attended Music: An Explanation by a Guitar Hero, which concluded with some deliberations on prosody (the music of speech which amplifies meaning), I chanced upon an inspirational TED talk by film critic, Robert Ebert, who lost his lower jaw, and his speech, through cancer.

Exploring text-to-speech technology, he found that, unless he entered very time-consuming XML coding, the prosody was never quite right. Work is currently in progress with Edinburgh-based company, CereProc to refine his voice, using recorded material from Ebert’s television archive. Exploring their site, I was quite astonished at how far along the speech synthesis road things have travelled. You can hear some of their voices here or type in your own text and choose a voice here. While CereProc finish their refinements, Ebert is using Apple’s Alex voice.

It is very touching to see how Ebert responds during the talk. The words are his own but his wife and two other close friends help out with reading. Despite the fact that the oral delivery is at one remove, he gestures as though delivering the words personally.

Let me, once again, flag up some interesting lectures on prosody by Peter Roach.

Music: An Explanation by a Guitar Hero

Better late than never? Having been on holiday I’m a little late with this short write-up of an Edinburgh International Science Festival event but, as it was so good, here goes.

Dr. Mark Lewney is a physicist and a guitarist. Last year I went to his excellent Rock Guitar in 11 Dimensions and reviewed it here. This year he presented Music: An Explanation by a Guitar Hero – a look at the physics underlying sound/music. Without wishing to spoil the show for those who may have the chance to see it later, let me say that he took us on an engaging journey from the sine wave – through the world of harmonics (overtones), the importance of the fundamental, 4th and 5th notes, the short step from there to the pentatonic scale, which is used in folk musics across the world – notably in the blues.

He finished the talk with some thoughts on music’s purpose in our evolution – the topic of much debate – such as from 2:24 – 7:03 in this video). One thing is clear, though: prosody (the music of speech) matters – it’s not just what you say it’s how you say it.

This was an excellent, funny and informative presentation. This cross-curricular take on life is, I feel, at the heart of CfE.

You can see Mark Lewney in action in YouTube videos here.

My further explorations on prosody took me here to a fascinating series of lectures by Peter Roach

p.s. 

I forgot to mention one of the most elucidating facts of the evening – and one of the simplest. 

When non-musicians ask musicians why orchestras need conductors, there are many common answers: 

  • apart from waving the baton, the conductor is the person who has led rehearsals and is in charge of the interpretation
  • orchestral players can end up sitting many metres away from their colleagues and it’s hard to hear – conductors can ensure the overall balance and timing of the group
  • the conductor is the fore-runner of drummer and mixing desk

 However, Mark Lewney’s audience participation illustration was much better and more direct and more memorable. He asked the audience to clap to a beat which, having started, he left in our hands – with out eyes shut. The timing soon began to drift. He asked us to open our eyes and sync with him. The timing improved. Closing our eyes again, the timing deteriorated. Opening them, and following his lead, we were back in sync. The reason? Light travels approximately 874,000 times faster than sound*. Relying on the sound, we had to wait for it to bounce off the back wall of the hall. Syncing to the beat, we were exactly in time.

 * Speed of sound

  •  343.2 metres per second
  • 1,236 kilometres per hour
  • 768 miles per hour

 Speed of light 

  • 299,792,458 metres per second
  • 1,079,000,000 kilometres per hour
  • 671,000,000 miles per hour