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« Free Reads -- Chess and intelligence | Main | Free Reads -- Worsley on Mies »

January 08, 2003

Free Reads -- Tunes and the brain

Friedrich --

Researchers at Dartmouth using MRI studies have begun mapping out which parts of the brain are involved in recognizing musical tunes.

What intrigues me more than the brain imaging news is the piece of music used in the study. Composed by a recent Dartmouth grad, Jeffrey Birk, it's 8 minutes long and moves through all 24 major and minor keys:

The music was specifically crafted to shift in particular ways between and around the different keys.These relationships between the keys, representative of Western music, create a geometric pattern that is donut shaped, which is called a torus. The piece of music moves around on the surface of the torus.

It moves around on the surface of a torus? Huh? What a virtuosic stunt of musical construction that must be! But what does it sound like?

The press release can be read here.

Found via the Human Nature Daily Review, here.



posted by Michael at January 8, 2003


I wonder, if that particular piece sucks - isn't aesthetically pleasing - even though it runs the scales, will it interfere with their mapping of the music centers. If you don't perceive something as a valid piece of music, will your brain's music centers care, or will it throw it over the to the "deal with noise" auditory section? Seems to me they should use a Beatles song, "Green Sleeves," a piece by Bach, and then "Stairway to Heaven" just to be safe.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on January 8, 2003 12:27 PM

No kidding! Hard to imagine the piece of music was comphrehensible at all as music, let alone as "tunes," which is what the press release talks about. But maybe the composer did an amazing job of it.

Excellent listening-and-research program you're suggesting. First the "Goldbergs," then Jimmy Plant. I wonder how much overlap in brain responses and activity there would be with those two pieces. Maybe researchers will soon discover a gene for "heavy metal."

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 8, 2003 12:50 PM

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