Wednesday, February 26, 2003


Neurologists at McGill University are studying the notion that musical response is hardwired into the human brain, and that the pleasure we get from music is developmentally essential.

"Music involves perception, memory, emotion, motor control, all the learning aspects. It brings together a lot of different functions in a very coherent way," says Dr Robert J. Zatorre of Montreal, who is also an acomplished organist. "The brain wants patterns to assemble but it also craves diversity, so a very important part of music is surprise. And you can only be surprised if you anticipate - and don't assume a random series of notes." [Blogcritics/classical]

There are resonances between this research and Bernstein's famous Norton Lectures (compelling on video if you can get hold of them), 'The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard', which posited an inherent grammar of tonality. Such ideas share many of the strengths and weaknesses of Chomsky's linguistic theories. However the MacGill notion is more about the necessary tensions between regularity and surprise. "The brain's chief task it to keep astonishing itself", says Zatorre. Tell that one to GW, somebody...

No comments: