Musicophilia - music & relationship to the brain

I am listening to Science Friday today. There is very interesting interview with Oliver Sacks.
Intro on the site for the interview:
Join Ira in this segment for a conversation with neurologist and author Oliver Sacks about 'Musicophilia,' his latest book. In this book, Sacks, the author of over a dozen books including 'Awakenings' and 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,' looks at the way music and the brain interact. Why can music sometimes remain in the brain long after other memories fade? Why can a person with limited language abilities still be able to sing unimpaired?

This show will be available to listen to online at this link (once it's archived).

Here's the book and links to some videos that are interesting.

I gotta get back to work but wanted to post before I forget... more later...

i am fascinated with the field of music therapy. I often say that it is my Prozac. More recently music therapy has been used in the speech rehabilitation of stroke patients with good success. I know in my case, after a long hard working day with lots of stress, coming home and listening to music gets me back to my (ab)normal self. Thanks for the post.
Another great, related book I'm now reading: "This is your Brain on Music" by Daniel Levitin, who's been a musician & record producer. Fascinating stuff.
I have often felt that we audiophiles clearly must have something uncommon going on in our chemical or neuronal makeup to care so much for getting as close as possible to the original event.

For most people I think the experience of hearing a fantastic system doesn't resonate with them. We all know lots of people who are avid music fans with large collections for whom once the sound quality reaches a certain threshold, there seems to be no additional pleasure derived from even great fidelity.

I'm also convinced that changes I hear in my system due to tweeks, new components, etc, that I consider to be significant, would hardly even register to the average person. So we must either be dedicating considerably more brain activity, or perhaps have more grey mattter in our auditory center, or perhaps are just wired in such a way that the auditory center drives he pleasure center to a greater degree than other people.

When I recently put in hi fi tuning fuses in my amps, I couldn't believe how much more inner voicing and detail I was hearing, but at the same time really wondered to myself if anyone else could I know could really detect any difference at all.

In a similar veign, an audio friend told me of a guy he knew who use to work testing used plumicon video tubes for broadcast video cameras. He could detect color shifts as small a 1 degree I believe (I could be wrong on the number) I sometimes color correct tv shows all day long on pro video monitors and yet could not detect this small a color shift.

So while we can all learn to be better listeners, I think there are definitive biological reasons for why we are the way we are. Personally I have been into audio since I was a kid, literally. And though my father and brother always played music and had some sort of stereo, I was the one who ended up obsessed. My brother is still using the stereo he had from high school, 30 years ago, even though he found some Denon seperates in an apartment he bought. I don't think he ever set them up.
Your observations are exactly why I posted this here. I do believe that "audiophiles" have trained their brains to use even more areas to derive pleasure from music than the average person.

This study talks about how many different areas of the brain are engaged in listening and enjoying music, not just a certain part.

We often talk of joy experienced when listening. The changes we make to ours systems where music sounds differently must have a different affect on certain parts of our brains. It's got to stimulate them.

We hear that we should keep our brains stimulated to stave off Alzheimer's and other later life dementia. So the question is: Do you think that simply listening to music is considered that type of stimulation?

If you answer is yes, could be, then we all have yet ANOTHER GOOD REASON to keep doing what we're doing :-)

FWIW, I suspect that audiophile activities are in inverse porportion to the ability of the listener to appreaciate (understand) musical content. When the musical content is complex and requires concentration who has time to think about audiophile concerns such as detail, imaging, etc. When the music is very simple/direct for many bordom sets in early. Then the focus of the listener becomes the quality of the audio.

For example, with a pop song, after you've heard it a few times, what is left but to think about things like the quality of the recording or audio system. Doesn't take long, and darned little mental exercise. Now juxtaposed to a complex classical piece, you could listen to it for years before you even were able to distinguish the difference between varius performances let alone understand how the composer put the notes all together. Interestingly, in this case I think a lot of 'audiophiles' opt out on understanding (in pieces they do like) what different musicians bring to the different performances and simply look for the best 'sounding' version.

I noticed the other day someone in the AA Hig Res forum lamenting that a young violinist who has a lot of talent and promise would no longer be recording for Pentatone (SACD recordings or Hybred's only) so that in all likelyhood he would not hear her perform again. Somehow I suspect he will also, if asked, proclaim that he just loves music and the quality of the audio only inhances his love of the music.

As I said, FWIW. Oh, re Alzheimers, I think as much (or more) would be gained by playing bridge, chess, or just reading some good old fashion classical literature.
the complexity of a composition is irrelevant as far as minimizing timbral errors. if i am listening to a symphony orchestra or a solo harpsichord i am aware of how erroneous a stereo system reproduces the sound of an instrument.

if i am in an anlytic mode, i aam mentallly assessing how natural an instrument sounds in relation to the real thing.

i had an interesting experience when i recorded a cymbal and compared the playback to the sound of the cymbal.

our stereo systems are inaccurate compared to the real thing.
I agree with Newbee, and hope Mrtennis is exaggerating his listening experiences. From the posts on Audiogon, I might conclude that most audiophiles don't listen to music, rather they listen to systems. They talk about reproducing audio as a hobby, not a means to an end.

I confess to enjoying well reproduced music, but not to the extent that I listen to music I don't care about just because it's well reproduced. I find classical, baroque, and jazz music the perfect background for reading and internet surfing, but I'm pretty sure that's not what this "hobby" is about. Listen to any good power cords lately?

"Listen to any good power cords lately?"

now THAT was funny!

Great thread-
I think music therapy has a bright future.
there have been many articles written about the salutary effects of music therapy. it seems that sound quality is not a factor in the efficacy of the music to produce a beneficial result.

as for listening experiences, if a stereo system cannot provide a modicum of realism as far as timbre is concerned why bother listening to it ?

dbphd, i surmise that a good table radio would satisfy you when listening to music in the background.
the complexity of a composition is irrelevant as far as minimizing timbral errors. if i am listening to a symphony orchestra or a solo harpsichord i am aware of how erroneous(ly) a stereo system reproduces the sound of an instrument
Actually, that's not Newbee's point. Newbee simply proposed that the more complex the music, the more one is likely to be drawn into it -- and thereby forget/ disregard audiophile considerations.
it seems that sound quality is not a factor in the efficacy of the music to produce a beneficial result
I find that very logical -- music doesn't need hi-fi. Hi-fi needs music...
hi gregm:

in my own experience, i am no more drawn into listening to a symphony orchestra than a single instruments.

i frequently assess the timbral inaccuracy of instruments. it is easier to do this when only one instrument is present.

when i am not in an analytic mode, i am enjoying the music. it's complexity has norhing to do with the quality of the experience. i am equally drawn into listening to a harpsichord as listening to a symphony orchestra.

in this sense, i disagree with newbee. and as i said before, i can just as easily enjoy a musical composition of any genre on a 300 dollar stereo system as on a $300,000 stereo system. the purpose for me of listening to a serious stereo system is to appreciate the beauty of instrumental timbre. others have a different objective.
Mr T, I'm not sure we are in disagreement about anything. I can certainly agree with most you've said, much of which is nothing more than your expressing your personal preferences and order of priorities.

As with good literature, which I think is the best example, and much easier to appreciate, music can be experienced and appreciated on many levels, all of which can meet the needs of the listener at different times of life or when in differing moods.

No more than I would consider a thin book a 'simple' one would I consider a great and thick novel a 'complex' one. Examples abound! Note I did not say good or bad, just simple or complex. No judgment attached.

Its very easy for me to get immersed in solo piano - sometimes I can enjoy Beethoven more than Brahms, both of which can be assending experiences, and there are days when I find Schumann (especially his Fantasy in C) to be transcendental. Not many notes on the page, but not simple. Then there are days when I just enjoy simple music such as 'The Seasons' by Tchaikovsky, which is very attractive but not particularily challenging to the ear or the mind.

Now to my point, at last! When I'm listening to complex music I just don't want my audio system to distract me by its 'stereo' artifacts, usually the result of manufacturers efforts to enhance inmaging by emphasizing 'detail' over all else, or so it seems to me.

Actually, Mrtennis, I find that I can multitask. So while on the computer I can listen to Pinnock's rendition of the Goldberg Variations and relish the fact that my system is able to capture the timbre of the harpsichord so well, right down to the metallic pluck. Of course, there are times when I just listen, and there are times when audiophile buddies come over and we listen less to music than to system. Usually, though, I multitask.

newbee, you are correct. we do agree. i too don't want to be assaulted by unpleasant "sound" when i am listening to any kind of music.

i still make a distinction between listening for timbre and listening to enjoy the music.

i can enjoy the music on my $300 personal stereo as much as on my "reference" system. the reference system should give me more realistic timbre than my $300 brookstone with the tdx thin waver tweeters.
I like Newbee's analogy to books- they both can appreciated on many levels. As much as I appreciate the realism of LPs, the surface noise on any record that is not pristine, is distracting and reminds me that I am listening to a record. With all its faults, at least the CD is incredibly quiet. If I can't sit down and listen to the music, then the problem is not with the system, its with my brain. Just like performing music, for me it's the piano, it takes a relaxed and focused mind. Then the quality of the system only enhances the illusion. However, it will never be the same as live music. It would be an interesting experiment to reproduce classical music in a fine concert hall. The acoustics of the venues are so important to the auditory experience! My ramblings will now cease- I am going to go listen and play music to sooth my tortured mind!
I've always considered this hobby as "my therapy".
Great therapy!