Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination

Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination

by R Jourdain, Robert Jourdain

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Overview

What makes a distant oboe's wail beautiful? Why do some kinds of music lift us to ecstasy, but not others? How can music make sense to an ear and brain evolved for detecting the approaching lion or tracking the unsuspecting gazelle? Lyrically interweaving discoveries from science, psychology, music theory, paleontology, and philosophy, Robert Jourdian brilliantly examines why music speaks to us in ways that words cannot, and why we form such powerful connections to it. In clear, understandable language, Jourdian expertly guides the reader through a continuum of musical experience: sound, tone, melody, harmony, rhythm, composition, performance, listening, understanding--and finally to ecstasy. Along the way, a fascinating cast of characters brings Jourdian's narrative to vivid life: "idiots savants" who absorb whole pieces on a single hearing, composers who hallucinate entire compositions, a psychic who claims to take dictation from long-dead composers, and victims of brain damage who can move only when they hear music. Here is a book that will entertain, inform, and stimulate everyone who loves music--and make them think about their favorite song in startling new ways.What makes a distant oboes wail beautiful? Why do some kinds of music lift us to ecstasy, but not others? How can music make sense to an ear and brain evolved for detecting the approaching lion or tracking the unsuspecting gazelle? Lyrically interweaving discoveries from science, psychology, music theory, paleontology, and philosophy, Robert Jourdian brilliantly examines why music speaks to us in ways that words cannot, and why we form such powerful connections to it.

In clear, understandable language, Jourdian expertly guides the reader through a continuum of musical experience: sound, tone, melody, harmony, rhythm, composition, performance, listening, understanding--and finally to ecstasy. Along the way, a fascinating cast of characters brings Jourdians narrative to vivid life: idiots savants who absorb whole pieces on a single hearing, composers who hallucinate entire compositions, a psychic who claims to take dictation from long-dead composers, and victims of brain damage who can move only when they hear music. Here is a book that will entertain, inform, and stimulate everyone who loves music--and make them think about their favorite song in startling new ways.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780380782093
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/01/2008
Series: Quill
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 460,634
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

When not writing about science and technology, Robert Jourdian plays the piano and composes. MUSIC, THE BRAIN, AND ECSTASY is his sixth book. He livesin Mendocino, California.

When not writing about science and technology, Robert Jourdian plays the piano and composes. MUSIC, THE BRAIN, AND ECSTASY is his sixth book. He livesin Mendocino, California.

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Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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 non-professionals, 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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Though probably written for those more scientifically-minded than me, 'Music, The Brain and Ecstasy' is a mind-opening read. While reading it, one constantly puts it down to go listen to music, just to partake in the miraculous experience of hearing! The question of WHY music gives humans a high, making them dance, is rarely confronted, but this book does a swell job of answering it also, it may open your eyes to the music of other cultures, change the way you listen to music, and even the music you listen to. So how did it change my life? I learned that the number one way humans choose their musical genre is what the group they identify with listens to - that is why our tastes are so often the same from teenage years on. Inspired by this book, I set out on my own journey to find the music I adored, beyond the popular music I wanted to identify with. Consequently, I fell in love with Middle Eastern music. Thank you Jourdain!
viking2917 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Miro on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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 (usually classical) triggers a cooler aesthetic appreciation and emotion only to the extent that it mimics.This book is highly recommended.