I’m in the midst of revisiting and transcribing mp3 recordings I made at last Saturday’s fantastic event – Tune-In: Music with the Brain in Mind at the Wellcome Collection . I switched on my computer to pursue this task and noticed an email newsletter from Radio 3’s Music Matters. Once again the music and the brain is the topic. The programme goes out at 12:15 tomorrow (Saturday 15 Nov) and will be available in podcast and listen again formats for 7 days. Here’s the description of the content from the email:
It’s not every week that someone rubs an egg-like solution to your scalp, plugs you into a handful of electrodes, and reads your brainwaves. But in the name of research, that’s exactly what’s been happening to me this week. The whole programme this week looks at the science, psychology, and creativity of the relationship between music and our brains. That’s why I found myself at Goldsmith’s College in London with Mick Grierson. Mick has designed a piece of software that allows you to make music just from the power of your thought waves. It’s the most amazing feeling when it works: how I imagine telekinesis would feel. Mick performs in public with his musical mind-trick; even if my brain isn’t quite up to that yet, it was an astonishing experience.
But it’s not just experimental electronics: I’ll be finding out that the simplest and most instinctive of our reactions to music are also the ones that are the hardest for neuroscience to fathom. Just how is it that we experience emotion through music? Why is it that so music seems to involve so much of our minds and our bodies; our feet tapping, hearts beating, and millions of neurons firing in our brains? In the company of Ian Cross, Director of the Centre for Music and Science at the University of Cambridge, I’ll be exploring the gamut of neurological and musico-scientific enquiry.
From Edinburgh, Professor Colwyn Trevarthen tells me how we are all born with an innate ‘communicative musicality’; that even in the interactions between weeks-old babies and their mothers, there is musical activity as sophisticated as improvised jazz, which is crucial for the development of our brains and our bodies. Composer Nigel Osborne explains how music can heal trauma, in his work with traumatised children around the world, and there’s the latest from research into music and emotion from Stefan Koelsch. Violinist and music and medicine specialist Paul Robertson tells me how his brain is hard-wired for music – and neurologist and author Oliver Sacks reveals that musicians’ brains literally look different to those of non-musicians: musical practice develops the brain, physically, in ways that no other discipline does.
Yet it seems that however far we go down the path of scientific enquiry, there will always be limits. We know that we feel emotion when we listen to music, and we know that music activates so many of our neural networks, but the mechanics of how and why that happens are still a mystery.