Hugh Watkins (hughw1936uk) Sat 18 Oct 08 12:35
Gödel, Escher, Bach: - Douglas Hofstadter attempted to look at some of these perceptions but for me it failed because he was not a professional musician music is also an athletic and competitive profession for the performer
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Sat 18 Oct 08 13:13
 It is athletic. That's what Mark Knopfler was trying to convey with the video for "The Walk of Life." The professional musicians I know get a real physical work-out from practicing and performing.  Erv Hafter, who is a leading auditory scientist at UC Berkeley, calls this "visual chauvinism." The processing capacity is no greater nor more complex for vision than it is for audition, but more people study it. Part of the reason is that there is more funding for visual sciences, and because there are more people doing it, so that becomes a self-perpetuating, vicious circle. Also, the technology to rigorously study sound in the laboratory is much more recent than equivalent technology for studying vision. The ability to manipulate soundfiles both efficiently and parametrically depends on the kind of digital sound processing that hasn't been around for very long. I hope that there will be more attention paid to the auditory sciences.
What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Sat 18 Oct 08 15:58
Yes. I'm a philosopher, and I can attest to the fact that the history of epistemology draws on visual examples and evidence very, very heavily, and not much at all on auditory, kinesthetic, or olfactory ones. (Tactile, a little bit -- hard to classify that area in a way.) I remember seeing some research ~15 years ago on olfaction that teased me with the idea that there could be a major paradigm shift in our understanding of perception if we switched from visual paradigms/models to olfactory ones. Dunno quite what became of that line of inquiry. To which is audition closer, the visual system or the olfactory one? Or does the question even make sense? (And there's no question that playing music is a workout. It's both physically and kinesthetically demanding, while also calling on other stuff that's just "in your head" for understanding and planning and so on. Shame that isn't on all the standardized tests the kids have to take, lest some child be left behind.)
Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Sat 18 Oct 08 18:26
Just sticking my head in -- I've begun the book, and am wishing (strongly) that it had a CD with it of all the music you mention. I am not a musician, can't even read music, and regret it. When I was about nine years old, I was dusting, upstairs, with the radio on. In those days, we had only one station, so it played everything. This most amazing sound came on. The whole experience is still clear to me fifty years later, the slant of light, dust motes flying... I was stunned and still for some time -- desperate to know what I was hearing, not wanting to risk missing a moment of it. Finally, I ran downstairs (where that radio was, of course, tuned to the same station) to ask my grandmother -- what is that? Is that a human voice? It was Piaf.
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Sat 18 Oct 08 18:49
 No CD, but EVERY song mentioned in the book is on the book's web page, in short snippets, at www.sixsongs.net
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Sat 18 Oct 08 18:52
 "To which is audition closer, the visual system or the olfactory one?" Both vision and olfaction are chemical senses. Audition is a mechanical one. In vision and olfaction (and gustation), when a sensory stimulus impinges on the appropriate sensory receptor, a chemical process is begun that delivers information up stream to the brain. Audition is different because the ear drum wiggling in and out starts a mechanical process that leads to electrical output from the cochlea. In that sense, it's more like touch, where pressure on tactile receptors leads to electrical firing.
Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Sat 18 Oct 08 20:03
Just started Chapter 3, and I think that the first song would have been a lullaby. Perhaps you will speak to this later in the book. & thanks for the link!
Bryan Higgins (bryan) Sat 18 Oct 08 22:18
I'm currently reading a wonderful book about music, "Practicing," by Glenn Kurtz. In it, he points out that one of the pleasures of music is that in it one perceives a profound sense of order, and shows how various writers of the past have equated that order to whatever their interest is: Ptolemy with is "music of the spheres," Newton saying that music is the mind playing with mathematics, a philosopher I can't recall equating music with philosophy. Perhaps this sense of order is not a feature of pop music, but is with much Western classical music, New Age "space" music, Indian classical music, etc. How do you see this sense of order fitting in with your evolutionary theory of music? Does it maybe suggest that music mirrors other brain activity? How would you explain the difference for Ptolemy, Newton, etc.?
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Sun 19 Oct 08 07:49
 Yes, music does have a sense of order, a definite syntax, just as do natural languages. I have described it as "temporal coherence" and a "highly structured stimulus evolving over time." Indeed, I believe that it is the recognition of this order, and the ways in which composers manage to violate your expectations while maintaining order, that gives rise to the deep emotional reactions we have to music. To Newton, the first thing I would say is "Dude, you took credit for things that were first discovered by Hook and by Leibnitz." Then I would say that musical structure rests on a number of mathematical relations, from the creation of scales to low-integer rhythmic ratios, to the integer-defined overtone series. To Ptolemy, I'd first show him how his tuning system (based on perfect ratios, so-called Pythagorean tuning) leads to an inability to play in all the different keys, and an inability for musicians playing different instruments to easily play with one another. I'd show him the equal-tempered piano, and hope that he would agree with the last 500 years of musical instrument development that this compromise we struck with equal temperament has advantages that outweigh the mathematical perfection of his own system. The harmony of the spheres he spoke of we now know to be related to the periodicity inherent in stellar and planetary orbits, a periodicity observed in the propogation of sound through sinusoidal decomposition of complex soundwaves. How the order fits in with my evolutionary theory of music is this: it is precisely *because* music is so structured and ordered that it was favored by natural selection for the encoding and preservation of meaning. That structure makes it memorable, and as such, a reliable means of preservation of information.
Hugh Watkins (hughw1936uk) Sun 19 Oct 08 07:53
music is a language and has little to do with math Polyglots are often highly musically gifted
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Sun 19 Oct 08 09:31
 I might agree that music has little to do with math, but certainly the opposite is not true: math has a lot to do with music. Specifically, most of the ways we understand music require mathematical description. The overtone series is one example, and even the construction of chords, why some sounds are consonant or dissonant. . .hidden Markov models are a good way of describing the generation of musical sequences, and Schenkerian analysis is mathematical as well.
What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Sun 19 Oct 08 09:45
"hidden Markov models are a good way of describing the generation of musical sequences" OK, I'm intrigued. Is the idea that, for each partial sequence played up to this moment, there's a probability distribution function defining meaningful next notes or next sequences? Hmmm.
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Sun 19 Oct 08 10:17
 Yes! That's exactly it.
Hugh Watkins (hughw1936uk) Sun 19 Oct 08 10:52
the overtone series defines how your ears perceive music and languages not unlike the golden section
Bryan Higgins (bryan) Sun 19 Oct 08 11:39
The evidence points to Newton derving his description of calculus first, but Leibniz publishing first. In fact both men based their work on ideas that had been around for millenia. At any rate, Newton is certainly one of the greatest scientists of all time. But I'm not sure why you bring this up. A common way of remembering large amounts of information used to be via a series of associations--perhaps someone would imagine themselves in a room with a manageable collection of objects which have some association with the things to be rememberd, then one of the objects would lead to a new scene with more objects, etc. Similarly, epic poems, with their regular meter and rhyme scheme, were easier to remember via a chain of associations. One needed to typically start at the beginning to make it through--much harder to jump in the middle somewhere. Anyone who has memorized music knows the same thing is true there. Which suggests to me that what's going via memorization in music is perhaps using the same brain pathways as the visual or language-based methods. Since people are capable of memorizing long poems without the aid of music--and in fact it's easier for most people to memorize poetry than instrumental music-- I'm unconvinced that music provided an evolutionary advantage in this regard, and while setting the ABC song or "Thirty days hath September" to music certainly makes learning them easier and more pleasant, I'm not sure it's something unique to music. But why are we mesmerized by a Bach fugue, or an Indian raga? Why do Tibetan monks chant?
"The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Sun 19 Oct 08 11:45
"I'd show him the equal-tempered piano, and hope that he would agree with the last 500 years of musical instrument development that this compromise we struck with equal temperament has advantages that outweigh the mathematical perfection of his own system." I'm wondering if that may change by way of the ease of applying alternate temperaments to electronic keyboards may lead to the opening of peoples' ears to other possibilities. Instead of spending hours with a hex wrench and tuning forks, one can press a button and have pythagorean or a dozen other temperaments in any key, along with the ability to transpose on the fly. One of my clients, the great bansuri player, GS Sachdev, has told me that he plays differently when the context is an orchestral soundtrack than he does when he plays ragas against the drone. He has the ability to hear and respond to the subtle differences. And I'm reminded of an old friend for the hippie era who returned to the US after 7 years studying music India, and said that Beethoven sounded a bit crude to him.
Bryan Higgins (bryan) Sun 19 Oct 08 12:04
An orchestra is not constrained by equal temperament in terms of tuning--all the instruments can bend the pitch somewhat, and indeed they do so depending on the harmonies--but in the "common practice period" system that we all know, which chords are available from one to the next rely on A# being the same note as Bb. Pythagorean tuning may give you purer chords, but the harmonies available are more restrictive. I guess what I'm saying is that it's not a technological problem to be solved by electronic keyboards. Indian music, as far as I know, is not harmonic, but rather a single melody against a drone. Subtler tunings are possible because a note doesn't have to have a dual life in two different chords. By the way, it may sound like Indian music or Turkish music or whatever is much more sophisticated than Western music by the fact of their dividing the octave into 43 notes or somesuch, but in fact for any given piece, they pick from among the 43 a number similar to ours for their scale, rather than using all 43 in one piece.
Scott Underwood (esau) Sun 19 Oct 08 12:07
> people are capable of memorizing long poems without the aid of music Those long poems aren't exactly free verse. That is, they are in most respects *songs*, with perhaps the melodic content kept to a minimum but still present -- don't the rhythms of a poem suggest or even force a sort of constrained melody?
Bryan Higgins (bryan) Sun 19 Oct 08 12:20
No, they're not free verse--the regular rhythm and rhyming in fact provide the memorization aid. But a poem doesn't suggest a melody to me, personally.
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Sun 19 Oct 08 12:41
 I've come to see poetry and songs-with-lyrics as falling along a continuum. Poems generally have an internal rhythm and metrical rules. Although they lack explicit melody, they usually are recited with intontation and prosody. Music and poetry both provide constraints for the possible words that can fit. Music tends to be easier to remember because the additional dimension of melody provides more schematacized information for the brain to aid in memorization.
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Sun 19 Oct 08 12:46
 "An orchestra is not constrained by equal temperament in terms of tuning--all the instruments can bend the pitch somewhat" Not true. Exceptions: piano, organ, glockenspiel, xylophone, marimba, chimes, harp, harpsichord, and the low open strings of the bass, cello, viola, and violin. As a practical matter, some brass players (trumpet, cornet, and tuba in particular) can't bend the pitch of notes at the extreme low and high ends of their range or they end up jumping the overtone series.
"The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Sun 19 Oct 08 12:53
Melodies aren't a necessity. Rhythm will suffice. Rhythm and rhyme are so useful in memorization that I can't think of any other way something like the Odyssey or the Iliad could be transmitted in a primarily pre-literate society. Each line connects with the prior line in such a way that a copying error would be instantly noticeable.
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Sun 19 Oct 08 13:56
Melody's aren't a necessity for memorization, but they are an improvement. For tens of thousands of years, humans used melody (more than poetry) to encode knowledge - essential knowledge that had important survival value, such as which plants are poisonous, and how to dress a wound. The added constraints of melody aren't necessary, but they're more efficient.
"The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Sun 19 Oct 08 14:15
"For tens of thousands of years, humans used melody (more than poetry) to encode knowledge...." We know this for certain?
Scott Underwood (esau) Sun 19 Oct 08 14:39
It seems like rhythm and rhyme help suggest a melody. I think I was trying to suggest that most speech has something of a melody -- we rarely speak in monotone -- and it would surprise me to see that different people reading a poem aloud with no prior knowledge would all converge around a very similar speech-melody. bumbaugh's point about the dominance of visual studies, along with rik's question, reminds that we have little knowledge of the history or specifics of music (and dance) before notation, but we still get to enjoy the cave paintings of Lascaux and elsewhere. I know there have been musical instruments found in ancient places, but what do we really know about ancient music?
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