Sound Science Extra Credit by Khoa Truong-N

I recently attended the Sound Science Symposium at CNSI, and the particular one that I visited discussed the relationship between music and the brain. The guest speaker for this particular lecture was Petr Janata.  For the most part, I found Janata’s lecture quite intriguing.  Some of the things that he discussed were above my head, but the things that I did understand were interesting.  He showed me a new perspective on how the brain is divided—one side is perception and one side is action. This reminded me of the spinning dancer program we saw in DESMA 9.  If you saw the dancer spinning to the left, then your imagination dominated your way of thinking.  If you saw the dancer spinning to the right, then your logic was what ruled your thought process.  In a way, Janata was showing us that the brain could be divided into two more separate categories: action and perception.  I had never thought that we as humans either perceived actions or performed actions, but it was true nonetheless.  Then Janata continued by saying how our perceptions directly affect our actions.  This is especially true when we are children, since the world is a whole new experience to us.  We see our parents talk in a certain way, or we see children like ourselves play on a television screen and we try to imitate that.  Janata also stated that this idea of perception and action could be applied to music as well.  For example, once we have heard a substantial music, we begin to expect to hear certain melody or notes in songs that sound familiar to us.  Having played the piano since I was a small child, I find this shockingly true.  Before this lecture I had never noticed, but it was in fact very true.  Whenever I listened to classical music or modern music, I would sometimes subconsciously expect the melody of the song to finish a certain way based on similar music I had heard before.
My favorite segment from the lecture was the part where Janata discussed his experiment where he played songs to ordinary people to measure their emotional response.  Basically, Janata just played some of the most popular songs on the air, and he measured the test subjects’ responses to the music.  He wanted to see if certain songs could evoke certain feelings or memories.  He wanted to prove that the brain could associate memories with certain melodies.  I find this especially true for myself since I am constantly listening to music on either my ipod or my computer.  When I read or do homework, I am usually listening to music.  The music I listen to today is different from the music I listened to my freshmen year in high school.  When I do decide to listen to some of my old music though, certain memories and feelings are awakened inside of me, and I feel as if I have been brought back to the time when I heard the song.  For example, I listened to one of the songs I used to listen to, and once I played that song, it instantly reminded me of a book that I read when I was in high school.  It was incredible that one piece of audio could, in a way, bring me back through time.  I not only remembered the book I read, but I also remembered where I read it and how I felt at the time I was reading it.  One fascinating website I found was Pandora.com, an Internet radio site that takes one song that you like and plays songs with similar musical properties.  It breaks down each song into several categories such as tonality, acoustics, distortion, etc, and groups the similar ones together.  This is like how our brains sort the music from the music we dislike as well.  There are certain characteristics that all of our favorite songs share, and when looking for music, we are attracted to these attributes.
This lecture truly opened my eyes to an entirely different perspective on music.  After attending this lecture, I have a better understanding of how my brain works.  Even in everyday life, I will try to catch myself whenever I have a pre-conceived notion about something based on previous perceptions.  Now every time I hear a song that makes me nostalgic, I will think of the Sound and Science Symposium.

-Khoa Truong-N

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