Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘music’

07 AUGUST, 2009

Notes & Neurons: Music, Emotion and the Brain


From axons to a cappella, or why music gives us chills and thrills.

Music is easily the widest-reaching, most universal emotional facilitator. Anecdotally, it shapes so many of life’s everyday experiences: An epic movie would fall flat without a cinematic soundtrack, a party without dance music is unthinkable, and a run without an upbeat playlist feels somehow much more tiresome. Scientifically, music has been shown to impact anything from our alertness and relaxation to our memory to our physical and emotional well-being.

Today, we take a look at just how music affects our brain and emotion, with Notes & Neurons: In Search of a Common Chorus — a fascinating event from the 2009 World Science Festival.

But before we launch into the geekier portion, here’s a quick improvised treat from phenomenal jazz and a cappella performer Bobby McFerrin, who embodies the intimate relationship between music and the human element.

The panel — hosted by John Schaefer and featuring Jamshed Barucha, scientist Daniel Levitin, Professor Lawrence Parsons and Bobby McFerrin — takes us through a series of live performances and demonstrations that illustrate music’s interaction with the brain and our emotions, exploring some of the most interesting questions about this incredible phenomenon.

Is our response to music hard-wired or culturally determined? Is the reaction to rhythm and melody universal or influenced by environment?

We encourage you to see the full Notes & Neurons: In Search of a Common Chorus program, or snack on some more digestible bites over at World Science Festival’s Vimeo channel.

And while we’re at it, we highly recommend neuroscientist Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain — an utterly fascinating read about the extreme effect music can have on our cognitive and emotional lives.

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30 JULY, 2009

World Beats:


Auditory voyeurism, globe-trotting musicology, and why New York and Brooklyn are different cities altogether.

The city is a living organism with distinct character, taste, smell, sound. Its thriving music scene offers a special kind of storytelling about the city’s personality quirks and cultural passions — an auditory window into the soul of the city. opens a dozen such fascinating windows by delivering the latest music from some of the world’s most interesting cities, from Sydney to Stockholm to San Francisco.

Developed by Swedish digital geek duo Henrik Berggren and David Kjelkerud for London’s Music Hack Day, the project uses professional audio platform SoundCloud‘s API to fetch the music and streams it to build an immersive global soundscape. comes on the trails of The Present Sounds of London, an audio tour of the iconic city’s distinct urban onomatopoeias — perhaps a trend towards a newfound fascination with the auditory “brands” of urban epicenters?

27 JULY, 2009

BBC vs. MTV: Poetry Season


Old rock, new roll, and why MTV has nothing on Lord Byron.

Millennials may be experts at a lot of things, but poetry isn’t one of them. To pique the MTV generation’s interest in the classic art of verse, the BBC commissioned London-based filmmaker Corin Hardy to translate Lord Byron’s 1817 poem So We’ll Go No More A-Roving into a familiar visual narrative, delivered by punk-rockers The King Blues.

The resulting 75-second short film is an inspired exercise in the creative blending of polar opposites — chaos and slow motion, high culture and street style, the “rock” of yesteryear and the punk of today — encrusted with interpretive emotional ambiguity. (Is that angry sweat running down his left cheek, or a tortured tear?)

It’s also timely reminder that the art of remix is a powerful cross-pollinator that bridges essential corners of culture.

Explore the BBC’s Poetry Season for a vital injection of classic verse into the narrative of your own modern storytelling.

via Very Short List