On a day where news broadcasts debate the disengagement of some young people from science (scroll down to 0720), I was heartened to receive an email alerting me to the publication of an article entitled The Rhythmic Brain by Katie Overy & Robert Turner. Both contributed to a fascinating conference I attended at Edinburgh University in December*. Put simply, the article touches upon connections between music – specifically rhythm – and language, evolution, neuroscience, psychology, learning, memory & genetics.
What disappoints me in some attempts to convince young people of the relevance of science is the all too easy citation of computer games. I tend to agree more with Quentin Cooper who opines that “science is a perspective.” There is a scientific aspect to everything. That’s why I applaud the efforts of organisations like The Wellcome Collection and Edge to heal the rift between sciences and the humanities and pursue The Third Culture. I am strengthened in this belief that some of the best writing on music is the work of scientists – a great many of whom are musicians.
Consider this extract from the aforementioned article:
Rhythm is a basic organising principle of music, providing a strict temporal framework for an infinite variety of playful and expressive musical behaviours, from clapping and dancing in a group to a virtuosic violin solo. This temporal organisation exists on a number of hierarchical levels (the pulse, the bar, the phrase), allowing for the simplest forms of synchronisation and prediction as well as highly complex, large-scale musical structures.
Music is a difficult topic on which to write – precisely because it conveys in seconds what words would take minutes to describe. I would argue that the distillation of content in the short paragraph above is nothing short of poetic.
* My intention had been to write up the conference but, as it was built around a book entitled Communicative Musicality, I think it would be better to write on the book once I’ve read it.