Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Complete Mendelssohn organ works in Pasadena

Friday, May 26th, 2006

This picture shows the Aeolian-Skinner organ at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church, the site of a program featuring nine organists performing the complete organ works of Mendelssohn on Sunday, June 25, 2006.

Mendelssohn lived to only 39, dying in 1847 after a series of strokes. The world would be much poorer without the brilliant set of sonatas he had completed just two years earlier—arguably the most powerful, lush, compelling works in the entire organ oeuvre.

An interesting feature of the PPC organ is the so-called “Echo organ” of 14 ranks in the rear of the church. Such multiple-organ setups often work less than ideally, but is an absolutely perfect fit here, especially for Mendelssohn’s favored loud/soft counterpoints, in the first and other sonatas.

Bach marathon tickles cortical columns

Friday, January 28th, 2005

22 straight hours of Bach’s organ music. All of it. That was the program for BachWerke (7MB PDF program), an ambitious program put on by the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and St. Cyril of Jerusalem Church last weekend.

The organ (pictured above; larger picture), with 3 manuals and 45 ranks, was built by Rosales Organ Builders, a local company also responsible for the astonishing instrument at the new Disney Concert Hall (picture).

The marathon was good for some serious cortical column manipulation. Saturday evening we were blessed to hear the playing of Bob Mitchell (article), a 93-year-old who got his start accompanying silent movies on the organ.

Although not too steady on his feet and a bit stooped, Bob was transformed as he took his seat on the bench. Playing the Fugue in G Minor (“Little”), the notes hard-wired into his gnarled fingers, he flooded the church with Bach’s ethereal harmonies, transporting listeners beyond time and space.

Religious music in your brain

Monday, January 17th, 2005

Carl Zimmer’s article on musical hallucinations in the July 12 New York Times, with the catchy title Neuron Network goes Awry, and Brain Becomes an iPod, was widely blogged.

Less widely noted was the fact that in this study of 30 cases the music heard was religious in a surprising two-thirds of the cases; that figure includes both hymns and Christmas songs. An astonishing 20% of the subjects (six people) reporting hearing the hymn Abide With Me.

Remember, these were old people; the average age was 78. In a lecture, Dr. Nick Warner, one of the authors of the original study, conjectured that death was on the mind of these oldsters and “Abide With Me” gave them comfort and hope.

I love that tune myself. I recall fondly singing it as a child on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the church my family attended, at the end of the service. No doubt that’s the song I too will be hallucinating when I get to that point.

The lyrics of this song have a nearly Buddhist sensibility, talking about emptiness and oneness, light and darkness, presenting a compelling analogy of the passing of one day to the passing of one life:

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;

Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Mozart effect II

Tuesday, January 4th, 2005

The “Mozart effect” is now firmly ensconced as a mass culture meme. But what is the precise mechanism at work?

Rauscher and Shaw[1] believe that listening to music helps ‘organize’ the inherent cortical firing patterns, serves as an ‘exercise’ for exciting and priming the patterns and their sequential flow, and enhances the ‘symmetry operations’ among them.

The “inherent patterns” here refer to the built-in spatial-temporal firing patterns of the “trions”, Shaw’s idealized cortical mini-columns which, according to his theory, form the common neural language of the cortex.

Interestingly, the researchers then propose extending the scope of the experiments to chess. They muse that listening to Mozart should produce short-term enhancement of analytic chess exercises, while “somewhat different” music would be necessary to enhance performance of creative exercises. In our own research, of course, we would substitute Go for chess.

Previous post on neuromusicology .

[1] Rauscher, Frances H., Shaw, Gordon L., Ky, Katherine N. Listening to Mozart enhances spatial-temporal reasoning: towards a neurophysicological basis, Neuroscience Letters 185 (1995) pp. 44-47.

Enhance your brain every time your phone rings

Monday, January 3rd, 2005

Coming soon to a mobile phone near you: ringtones that enhance brain functioning.

TOS (website), an ultra-cool Japanese company rolling out mobile lifestyle technology, has added Kiseki-no Chaku-uta (Wondrous Ringtones) to its well-known “Maho no Melo-land” (Magic Melody Land) library of ring-tones.

These ring-tones are specially designed by Dr. Hideto Tomabechi (picture), a Japanese with a Yale Ph.D who later studied machine translation and has now morphed into an all-round very digital guy (see his Japanese-language blog).

Unfortunately, we’re left with few details about the new brain-altering ringtones, other than the vague

Specified programs were used to create these sound tracks with several psychological experimental results of Dr. Tomabechi. It is programmed to get the expected effect by listening to those sounds over and over everyday.

If we complete our theory of neurotheology, then we will definitely publish ringtones which make you feel closer to God every time you hear them.

Magnatune — on-line music the way it should be

Monday, April 26th, 2004

Just found Magnatune, a fabulous on-line music store; or perhaps on-line publisher is a better description:

  1. Nothing is DRM-encumbered.
  2. Everything can be listened to.
  3. Any format can be downloaded, up to and including WAV if that’s your multi-hundred-megabyte cup of tea.
  4. You can choose how much to pay for an album.
  5. The artist gets 50% of the purchase price.

I downloaded an album by Jeff Wahl, who plays some great acoustic new age guitar, for $8. The FLAC download was 342MB.