Tag Archives: TED

Music, language and hearing (or not)

There’s really much, much more to this video by Charles Limb than the couple of points I’m about to select but here goes….

There is a very clear depiction, at 06:15, of the difference of range of frequencies (Hz) and level (dB) in music and language.

There is also an interesting demonstration, at 07:07, of how those of us with normal hearing take pitch perception for granted – compared to cochlear implant patients, whose perception can be out by as much as two octaves[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/bTE0MRRXNzs?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

There is also a very interesting talk on neuroscience and musical improvisation by the same author here – look out for great demo of piano improvisation by Keith Jarret at 01:15 – including some nice ‘outside playing‘ at 02:08 [kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/BomNG5N_E_0?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]




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.


How many inspirational people have you come across in your life? How many have succeeded in realising what, to most, must have seemed the impossible? Were the vision, passion and necessary humility obvious when they spoke? These thoughts ran through my head when I watched José Antonio Abreu , founder of Venezuela’s music education programme, El Sistema, and one of the winners of the TED Prize 2009.

Here he movingly explains the philosophy behind, and the history of, El Sistema as a prelude to announcing his TED wish.

There is also gripping performance by the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra (national high-school-age orchestra) conducted by one of El Sistema’s meteoric stars, Gustavo Dudamel.

Further links:

interview on EncontrArte website (in Spanish)

acceptance speech upon winning the Right Livelihood Award (in English)


The Element

Thanks to Ewan for flagging this up – Sir Ken Robinson talking at the RSA on his new book The Element. Amongst other things he distinguishes between being good at something and loving it. Ken Robinson’s talks (renowned TED Talk here) illustrate a resonant and paradoxical point made by another of my heroes, Clive James – that the only time it’s worth being funny is when discussing something serious.

Ewan writes eloquently and engages in comment about the ideas expressed in The Element here.



 Why is it sometimes so difficult for musicians to keep in time* when effortless synchrony pervades the natural and mineral world?

Steven Strogatz describes some examples in nature and the rules – including an explanation of the ill-fated Millenium Bridge and some fantastic footage of starlings swarming.

One of the most interesting things in this talk was his request that the audience try to clap in sync. I would have struggled to decide quickly whether or not this was likely to succeed. I was surprised to hear that, rather than grow into synchrony, the audience seemed to begin in sync – undirected! Moreover, had I been asked to predict the speed at which unplanned, instant synchrony was likely to be achievable, I’d have guessed 120 beats per minute (bpm) the tempo at which the world’s armies tend to march and also of much dance music. However, this TED audience began at 132 bpm – surely a curious phenomenon from a group of seated academics.

* the most common cause of ensembles slipping out of sync is losing the battle against the tendency to accelerate – a kind of negative entropy. This contrasts with the more entropic tendency of a capella singers to lose pitch. I’ve always been surprised at this dissonance in the physics and biology of our subject.



Do you ever wonder about the directions in which technology might allow music to move? Take a look at this inspirational TED talk by Tod Machover – the musical brains behind Guitar Hero. He works at MIT where, with the collaboration of Dan Ellsey, he has been involved in the development of Hyperscore. He speaks eloquently and movingly about the transforming effect brought about by participating in music – especially when first appearances might make participation seem unlikely.