Riffing on Books and Life – Arts & Sciences Literary Blog by interactive new media author & artist Terry Bailey

19Dec/10

Before Leaving Your Brain on Music – Emotions and Music

Emotional Brain Animation

Emotional Brain Animation by Terry Bailey

I am currently reading another great book about neuroscience and creativity, and will start riffing on it in the near future (as promised in my last post); it is also a book that lends itself magnificently to new media riffing, so I am working on some pieces that will take a while to create.  But I find there are a few themes I still want to address stemming from Your Brain on Music: success and creativity, gender and creativity and, here, emotions and musical performance. So, I will stick with this book a bit longer.

Author Levitin contends: "In the end, the essence of music performance is being able to convey emotion" (204).

I'm not sure I agree with that completely (and I may take that premise on in another riff), but it is an intriguing premise. For me it is interesting, because it alludes to the fact that scientific, logical thinkers are often perplexed by someone's ability to convey emotion. While Levitin admits (using Aimee Mann as an example) that the emotional expression perceived by a listener may or may not have been an intentional skill of the artist, neuroscientists still want to dissect and quantify emotions, as they do talent and creativity. And I am not sure these things can all be quantified.

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5Dec/10

Mozart Riff, Part 2 – The Missing Link

Terry and Sister at Sacramento Bird Sanctuary

Sacramento Bird Sanctuary, Photos by Terry Bailey (except the one my sister took of me and Stella)

Sorry to be gone for a while. Holiday you know. Above are some shots I took at a beautiful bird sanctuary that my sister and I visited over Thanksgiving break. It is north of Sacramento, where they seem to be doing a wonderful job of bringing back and preserving wetlands. I wish I had brought a recorder with me on our walk. The sound of tens of thousands of birds chirping, quacking and calling was quite surreal.

Back to book riffing.

My idea of a good book is one that brings to mind many ideas for future pondering and, well, riffing. Levitin's This Is Your Brain on Music certainly falls into that category. One does not have to agree or disagree with the book's premises to admit that there is much food for thought between its covers.

All of my life I have straddled the technical and creative sides of the Arts. Music, film, theater, dance, art, and now new media. Something that has always amused me, I must admit, is the tendency of the techno minded people to try to quantify creativity. I am not adverse to this mystery tour: what makes a creative genius, like Mozart? I wonder these things and I study these things, too. Why else would I read a book entitled This Is Your Brain on Music? But what these scientific explorations miss is huge. There is a reality of artistic genius that these studies don't touch. I won't say "ignore," because that would imply a choice; it would imply that the searchers intentionally ignore a huge aspect of artistic genius, and I don't think they are ignoring it, I just don't think they are able to see it, grasp it, understand it, in a quantifiable way in the first place. They are simply not aware of its existence.

And that is what I refer to hear as the missing link.

I helped to build and managed a sound post production studio for film producer Saul Zaentz - years ago, right after undergraduate school. One day the mixers (people who worked the mixing board) and engineers (people who set up and maintained the board - and other equipment, of course) called me to settle an argument. Tempers were flaring. The client had walked out. The mixers, in charge of the creative consolidation of hundreds of tracks of dialogue, sound effects and music explained to me that there was a noise in one of the tracks. They could hear it coming out of a speaker both when they isolated the track and when they listened to the whole. The engineers assured me that there was no noise. As evidence, they produced their scopes, indicating a still needle and silent LEDs when the track was played in the mix theater. More arguments ensued. "You think we're making this up?!" "Read the scope, man, read the scope." Along those lines.

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