Archives for posts with tag: science of music

The Nerve
A few years ago, Chris Brookes, Jowi Taylor and I produced a six-part series for CBC Radio called The Nerve: Music and the Human Experience. It was a follow-up to our Peabody-Award-winning series The Wire: The Impact of Electricity on Music, and it takes a look at how music is a facet of every part of our lives, from human evolution, to war and peace, to religion and personal identity.

This month, Radio New Zealand National is rebroadcasting The Nerve in its entirety, on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm New Zealand time. (That’s 5pm Pacific time and 8pm Eastern time in North America on Fridays and Saturdays.) You can listen at those times HERE.

Music is found in every culture worldwide. It’s our constant companion, from birth through childhood, love, marriage and death. It has a starring role on every stage of the great human drama – whether we are at war or at prayer, by ourselves or with others, happy or sad – music is there. But does it really have a purpose? Where does it come from? And why does it have such power over our hearts and minds?

The Nerve asks those questions, featuring the voices and thoughts of top musicians and thinkers, from Zakir Hussain to Howard Shore to Richard Dawkins and more.

Episodes 1 and 2 aired last weekend – but you can listen to Episode 1, “Wired for Sound: Music and the Brain” right here:

In 2009, Episode 1 of The Nerve was Shortlisted for the Prix Italia in the Work on Music category. The Nerve as a series was awarded two Silver Medals at the 2009 New York Festivals of Radio Programming in the Culture & the Arts and Best Editing categories.

Last month I was lucky enough to give a presentation at the fantabulous Third Coast International Audio Festival. I called it AuRa: The Chemistry of Sound.

You can listen to my presentation by going here.

In this post, I’ve embedded links to the complete programs from which I drew the examples I gave in my talk. But first, a few words about the idea behind AuRa:

Audio is like gold (Au): it can easily be shaped, molded, crafted; it is sometimes raw, but we most often encounter it shiny, burnished to perfection. You can turn it over and over again to admire it from many different angles.

Radio is like radium (Ra): active, ephemeral; frequently unpredictable, it comes and it’s gone. You can only experience it in the moment – thence its vital energy.

Each is a part of the other, and by careful application of sound principles, the sound chemist can harness the power of both.

Read the rest of this entry »

The good folks over at The Banff Centre have been publishing a gorgeous multimedia journal for the past couple of years called BoulderPavement.  The latest issue is based around the idea of Body & Dance and features fabulous original artwork and compelling literary non-fiction, among other things.

I’ve been lucky enough to contribute regularly to BoulderPavement and I’m thrilled to be a part of this issue as well.  For this original audio composition I decided I wanted to get at the question of the origins of rhythm, and the close relationship between music and our bodies that we sometimes take for granted.

Thinking about this, I remembered a great story told by Ustad Zakir Hussain when my colleagues and I interviewed him for a project called The Nerve. That became the basis for this mini-doc, a kind of “scored story” with original music and sound design.

Read more – and visit Boulder Pavement

It’s been six years since the tsunami devastated South & Southeast Asia, and just over a year since the massive earthquake in Haiti. There was a lot of coverage in January about how Haiti is faring, one year later, and hearing all about it has gotten me thinking again about being in Sri Lanka in December 2004 and January 2005.

I was in Colombo during the time just after the tsunami, and I remember being overwhelmed by a feeling of uselessness. I wanted to help in some way, but at first, charities weren’t interested in someone with my skill set. During that time, I began to question whether I had made the right choice in life by studying music. Is music ultimately useless?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering ever since, and this article appeared in the first edition of BoulderPavement about a year ago:

Read “Our Constant Companion”

P.S. For some powerful audio about compassion and perseverance in Haiti, tune in to CBC’s Tapestry this coming Sunday, Feb. 6th. They’ve got a great show lined up.

2010 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great Romantic-era composer Robert Schumann. Schumann was perhaps the archetypal moody artist, alternating between blazing bouts of creativity and periods of antisocial depression. It’s a common cliché that has, all too often, been sustained by sad life stories punctuated by tragic endings. Schumann died a broken man in an insane asylum.

More recently, we’ve seen gifted musicians like Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith take their own lives after struggling with depression.

There are many, many others who fit the cliché (Tchaikovsky, Billie Holiday, Joy Division’s Ian Curtis…the list goes on and on). Why are there so many artists and musicians that struggle with depression and other forms of mental illness?

Anthony Storr was a British psychiatrist who wrote about music and mental illness in his book Music and the Mind. He suggested that there might be a link between mental illness and creativity – he wrote: “The ability to think creatively, to make new links between concepts, is more often found in families which include a member who is diagnosable as mentally ill.”

I can’t be absolutely certain, but I’d be surprised if Schumann, Cobain and Smith weren’t at their happiest when they were writing and playing music. We’ve all experienced a moment in our lives when music has helped us get through a rough patch; when listening to or singing a particular song has just seemed to simultaneously hurt so good and help mitigate the pain.

Is it also possible that, for Schumann, Cobain and Smith, music was almost like self-medication, a treatment for their mental ailments?

I put together a short musical essay about music and mental illness that first aired on CBC Radio 2’s In Concert on Sunday October 24th, 2010. For info on all the music I used in the piece, please look here and scroll down to the list of musical works.

These days my tinnitus is pretty bad.  It’s a ringing in my ear that I notice most frequently at night, when all else is quiet.  It used to be just in my left ear, but lately my right ear has been acting up.

Recently I wrote about how tinnitus has altered the way I think about noise, and about silence.  You can read my thoughts in Issue # 2 of BoulderPavement, the Banff Centre’s new online literary journal.