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Music, The Brain, And Ecstasy: How Music…

Music, The Brain, And Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination (1997)

by Robert Jourdain

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I read the first 3 chapters, but got lost in the depths of information about music. I then read the last chapter. The book explains in great detail how very complex our ability to appreciate music really is. I think this book might better be understood by someone who has a good knowledge of music and would like to know how humans are affected by it and why. Musical appreciation is really an awesome ability. That much I did get from what I read.
  ajlewis2 | Jul 11, 2018 |
This was a fascinating overview for the layperson of how our brains and bodies process music, in listening to, performing, and composing it. Jourdain presents the physics and neurology involved in music processing (as well as the evolution behind some of it) in easily understood terms. Much of the brain is not well understood, and he made sure to make that clear as well, often presenting multiple theories and the arguments for and against each one. Along the way he provides an overview of the history of (mostly Western) music, highlighting various famous and less well-known music personalities. Reading this book put me once again in awe of the complexities of our brain. Despite some minor criticisms (a bias towards Western, classical music, and a focus on virtuoso musicians), I highly recommend this book. For a more complete review, see http://booksandmiscellany.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/music-the-brain-and-ecstasy-t.... ( )
  sbsolter | Feb 6, 2014 |
Interesting read on the pyscho-acoustics of how the brain hears and reacts to music. Interesting theories, but many of them are ultimately unconvincing to me. Interestingly mentions a study that suggests that listening to music produces endorphins, perhaps leading to "music addiction". Very classical/western music centric. ( )
  viking2917 | Apr 22, 2012 |
The title of this book is a bit unfortunate, because the subject matter is more scientific and less poetical than it suggests. The topics considered include music theory and harmony, brain activation, psychophysics of acoustics, as well as ruminations on the art of composing and performing music. The writing is graceful, but occasionally the images are overwrought, and the conclusions few amid a wealth of interesting material. Jourdain describes how the intervals of Western music may be optimal for the pitch discrimination apparatus of the inner ear. He speculates that only man has evolved the appreciation for music of large and complex structure because of the evolution of speech. Speech recognition depends on hearing high frequency sounds that form the contours of consonants. Professional musicians tend to use more left brain analytical mechanisms when listening than nonprofessionals, whose right brain areas specialized for prosody are more active. His theory on appreciation of music depends on setting up anticipations by experience with typical scales and progressions of the musical tradition, then frustrating or completing the anticipation in large musical phrases. The concept of motor patterning, anticipation of movements to come in performing and listening, may also play a part in appreciation. Altogether, very thought provoking and informative. ( )
  neurodrew | Dec 23, 2007 |
Robert Jourdain takes a more technical approach to the question "What is music?", aiming to cover a lot of ground.
He looks at music as a mood enhancer used by different people in different ways. There seem to be some universal features such as the correct music for film scores to emphasize love, suspense, anger etc., but it is also personal, in that one mans exciting beat is anothers boredom and irritation.

The book, I think mistakenly, sticks mostly to classical music. A true comprehensive study of the emotional impact of music should look at the music that most people listen and react to, rather than the (admittedly more interesting) minority classical area.

He follows the trail of sound from the most simple to the most complex, from chapter 1, "From sound.... " to chapter 10 ".....to ecstasy."

Hearing is identified as the most recent sense, following behind the evolution of vision, touch, taste and smell. Animals react to sound, and so do we, although we can take things to a higher level of analysis in what we hear. Our unique sound is structured speech (essential to us) and seemingly not so essential music.

Speech ranges from the very simple and satisfying, designed to communicate basic desires, to the complicated and difficult, designed to communicate complex ideas - potentially also satisfying, but in an intellectually more structured way.

Similarly, music ranges from the simple melody that gives an easy pleasure, to more complicated orchestral music that can deliver pleasure through more careful listening and appreciation of its structure.

He shows that music is unnatural in that it mostly deals in vibrations that emanate from 1 (which can be any frequency) and its simplest divisions; 2,3 giving1/2 2/3 etc. In contrast, natural sounds can be any fraction, depending for example on how strongly the wind is rustling some leaves. It's the structure that makes the music, and as Jourdain says, "it is not the waltz's notes, but rather relations between those notes that makes a body want to dance."
On page 85 he interestingly gives rules for handling these relations (ie. in composing a melody) that seem to amount to a (chaotic?) edge. If the composition is more predictable it will be boring and if it is less predictable it will be confusing and irritating.

He relates the more personal kinds of music mood enhancement to the effects of different drugs. As he says, "Psychologists have long known that different personality types are attracted to different types of drugs, legal and illegal. There's a parallel here. We "take" a certain type of music to steer our central nervous systems towards a particular condition: hard rock as the frenzied rush of cocaine; easy-listening genres as a martini; cheery supermarket Muzak as a pick-me-up cup of coffee; cool jazz as a laid-back marijuana high; the far flung landscapes of classical music as the fantasy realm of psychedelics.

Throughout the text he uses Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther" theme to illustrate his points, making an interesting contrast on page 294: The theme has a stealthy feel to it as you imagine a panther creeping along. The word "stealth" conjures up some ideas but as he says, "The music mimics stealth; it doesn't name it." - Hence the directness and emotional impact as it doesn't have to pass through the verbal stage. There is a sort of instinctive reaction and as he points out, "A nervous system must always be on the lookout for the most important activities to which to devote itself. This is the ultimate purpose of emotion."

So the conclusion, although he doesn't spell it out, is that; music that mimics (usually pop music) triggers emotions, and that music that creates a complex harmonic structure triggers a cooler aesthetic appreciation (and emotion only to the extent that it mimics).

This book is highly recommended. ( )
  Miro | Oct 15, 2005 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 038078209X, Paperback)

What is music? How and why does it affect us? What is the nature of musical genius? Author/composer Robert Jourdain explores these and other questions, from the essential nature of sound through composition, performance, and, finally, the nature of ecstasy. His prose is eminently readable, offering a very accessible account of a difficult subject to the general reader as well as to the musical sophisticate. This is a fascinating and intriguing book, written by someone who clearly knows his subject.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:07 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy is a far-reaching study of how music captivates us so completely and why we form such powerful connections to it. Leading us to an understanding of the pleasures of sound, Robert Jourdain draws on a variety of fields including science, psychology, and philosophy. He uses music from around the world to show how melodies work, how rhythm differs from beat, and why some sounds are beautiful and others ugly. Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy looks at the evolution of music and introduces surprising new concepts of memory and perception, knowledge and attention, motion and emotion, all at work as music takes hold of us.Along the way, a fascinating cast of characters brings Jourdain's narrative to vivid life: "idiots savants" who absorb whole pieces on a single hearing, composers who hallucinate entire compositions, a psychic who claimed to take dictation from long-dead composers, and victims of brain damage who can move only when they hear music. In each of these, Jourdain assures us, we will see parts of ourselves. Using such examples, he helps explain the parallels between music and language, and asks how the brain reacts to each.… (more)

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