fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
First, a quick obituary note. Mac McGarry, long-time host of It’s Academic has died.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I went to One Day University on Saturday. This was the first time this had been held in Washington and it was done in conjunction with The Atlantic. The event was at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill, which is a reasonably central but slightly bleak location.

There were four sessions, each of which offered tw o75 minute classes to choose from. For the first session, I chose "How the Brain Works: Why We Do What We Do," presented by Marvin Chun of Yale. I am reasonably knowledgeable about neuroscience, but it was interesting to hear about some of the more recent research using functional MRI to investigate brain activity. In particular, Chun showed results from experiments in which scientists could actually get images that indicate what people were thinking about. He also touched on the question of persistent vegetative states and showed research that indicates at least a small percentage of people in such states show relatively normal brain activity. While I can’t say he really answered the "why we do what we do" part of the title, this was a worthwhile lecture. I also found myself wondering if he had any clue that, during the Q&A, he only looked for hands raised in one half of the room.

For the second session, I chose "Beethoven’s Ninth: The Story Behind the Masterpiece," presented by Thomas Kelly of Harvard. Kelly’s emphasis was on what the audience at the piece’s premiere would have known and how they would have reacted to it, versus how we hear it today. I found this truly fascinating. We are so used to thinking of the Ninth as something of a radical work of music, overthrowing the rules of the symphony, but he pointed out ways in which it is less radical than that, e.g. by comparing the opening of the final movement (which becomes the choral movement, after quoting from the earlier parts of the symphony) to a bass rage recitative. Kelly was an enthusiastic and entertaining lecturer. I left feeling enriched.

They sold boxed lunches, but I was more in need of some fresh air and movement, so I went out for a brief walk. After lunch, I went to a session on "Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness" by Catherine Sanderson of Amherst. She talked about a lot of research on what does and doesn’t make us happy and ran through several things people can do to improve their happiness. While she was a very entertaining speaker, I was a little uncomfortable with some of how she talked about her family. I also wish she had addressed cross-cultural issues.

The final lecture I went to was "Four Books Every Book Lover Should Read" by Joseph Luzzi of Bard College. He actually talked about five books, primarily by reading excerpts from them. My bigger disappointment was that the description had said that he would address how participants could develop their own list of essential reading and he didn’t touch on this at all. Overall, this was the one of the four talks I would not recommend.
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I'm way behind for various reasons, which I will attempt to summarize briefly here.

I went to see one movie at the Washington Jewish Film Festival - Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story. That was back on December 5th. The subject is, of course, one that is near and dear to my heart. I can't say there were actual surprises, but it was very enjoyable. It was a particular delight that they were able to interview Sandy Koufax, who is normally pretty reclusive.

Then I spent the better part of a week cleaning my house so Robert wouldn't see how I really live. He came in for the weekend of the 10th - and brought the best of British viruses along with him. We still had a fairly full weekend, including going out to Michel's (new restaurant by Michel Richard at the Ritz Carlton in Tyson's) on Friday night, where I ate tuna and creme brulee to the complete surprise of nobody who knows my tastes in food. On Saturday, I took him to see the crochet coral reef at the Smithsonian. We looked at other bits of the Museum of Natural History. Since he insisted on going through the human origins exhibit, I made him do the "see what you would look like as a Neanderthal" thing they had. I am pleased to say that Robert would have made a very handsome Neanderthal. We followed up the museum going with a late lunch / early dinner at Ray's Hellburger, so Robert could say he's been to a restaurant that President Obama has eaten at. (Twice, in fact.) And we went to a story swap. After that, we got home and I proceeded to spend the next 90 or so hour hours coughing. (I am still not completely over this annoying crud yet either, by the way. If he really wants to bring me something from London next time he is here, I recommend a box of tea.)

In between house cleaning, I had gone to hear Oliver Sacks speak at Sixth & I. Most of his talk was about prosopagnosia (face blindness) and his struggles with his inability to recognize faces. It was an interesting talk, though I have to say he is not, technically, a good speaker. He uses a lot of "ers" and "ums" and awkward pauses at odd places. Still, somebody talking passionately about a subject they feel passion for can overcome a lot of those problems and I found his speech witty and absorbing.

Other things I've done include going to the theatre, of course. I saw Candide at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Leonard Bernstein's music remains triumphant, but the book has its weaknesses. In particular, the first act is too long. The production was an effective one despite that. I want to note the performances of Geoff Packard as a convincingly naive Candide and Jesse J. Perez who brought surprising life to the role of Cacambo.

I also saw Sunset Blvd at Signature Theatre. As a sign of having been out of things, I actually screwed up and went the wrong day, but they were kind enough to print me a new ticket and not point out my error. I've never seen the movie, so I found the story absorbing. But what a horribly bland score! I don't care for Andrew Lloyd Webber to begin with and this reminded me of why. In short, all of the characters sound the same. There is no attempt to use the music to elucidate character.

Amidst all of this, there were also a few assorted holiday parties. That's all over with and I can relax for a week or so before going on vacation.
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It's not like I haven't intended to write blog entries. I've just been a tad busy.

So, let's see. I don't remember what I did on the 1st, other than zumba and trying to get some housework done. On the 2nd, I watched the Phillies whup the Source of All Evil in the Universe. That proved to be for naught, alas, as the Evil Pinstriped Ones won the World Series on the 4th. I didn't watch much of that game as I was in a very good mood after Bollywood dance class and was having a hard time sitting still. And I wanted to go to bed at a decent hour.

Anyway, the 3rd featured a Music and the Brain lecture at the Library of Congress. Dr. Robin Sylvan spoke on "Trance Formation: Music, Trance, Religious Experience, and the Brain." The gist of his talk was that, not only do people from a wide variety of religious backgrounds experience trance effects from music, but people with no particular religious feelings do also. In particular, he studied the rave scene and jam bands and found that both induce what he called religious experiences. However, he was a bit vague about how to define a religious experience. He's had a collaboration with a neuroscientist who has done brain imaging of these trance states, but the data are still being analyzed. So the talk was interesting, but not entirely satisfying.

On the 5th, I went to a concert at the Kennedy Center. This was part of the Pro Musica Hebraica series and featured the Apollo Ensemble of Amsterdam performing Baroque Jewish music. I've raised the question before of what makes a piece of music Jewish and it's a good one to ask in this case, since none of the pieces sounded significantly different in style than other Baroque music. I'd write more about the individual pieces, but I've misplaced the program and don't trust my memory. I will note that the Dutch ambassador attended the concert and neither wore a bowler hat nor was rude. (The former may have something to do with the ambassador being a woman. I also realize that only about two people reading this will get the reference.)

Friday, the 6th, featured another Music and the Brain lecture. This time Norman Middleton and Jessica Krash continued their series of talks on "Dangerous Music." The topics ranged from arson attributed to heavy metal to the use of music as torture. (Apparently, country music is the most effective. I do not consider that surprising.) The fundamental issue is what meaning music has. People tend to assume that lyrics are the meaning of music, but that isn't necessarily the case. People don't react as strongly to violent lyrics in quiet acoustic music as they do to violent lyrics in, say, rap. This is a subject I find intriguing since I listen to a lot of music with lyrics in languages I don't know. I often believe that I know what a song is about anyway, but I could be way off base.

As for the weekend, I went to a story swap on Saturday night, which included my traditional failure to find my way around Bethesda, aka the land of invisible street signs and no landmarks. The highlight of the evening was Marc's version of a medieval German-Jewish story. And coming back to Sunday, once again the only real event of the day was zumba. I also napped a lot, which means I needed the sleep.

I will spare you a rant about Virgin Mobile and FedEx. But I will mention two celebrity deaths. The anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, made it to 100, which is old enough for at least half his ideas to have fallen out of favor. He seemed to have taken that better than Margaret Mead did. Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill, better known as Brother Blue, only fell into greater favor by his death at age 88. He expanded the storytelling world, with warmth and encouragement. Blue decorated himself with images of butterflies and I can only think of him in the context of the butterfly flapping its wings and creating storms around the world. He was a true force of nature and I feel honored to have met him, albeit briefly.

Don't expect much writing the rest of this month either, by the way, as I have much hecticity ahead.
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The Music and the Brain lecture series has started up again at the Library of Congress. Last night's lecture was by Richard Cytowic on synesthesia. I read Cytowic's book, The Man Who Tasted Shapes many years ago, so I was somewhat familiar with the subject. But we have apparently learned a lot in the 20 odd years since he wrote that book. In fact, he has a new book out, Wednesday is Mood Indigo, which he was signing after the talk. Anyway, he proved to be an engaging and interesting speaker, mostly focused on examples of the diversity of sensory experience. Seeing colors for numbers or letters is, apparently, the most common form of synesthesia, but he also talked about people who experience tastes with different sounds, some of which are linked to specific similar words (e.g. the word "application" might taste like apricots). Another specific set of examples he talked about had to do with items in an overlearned sequence, e.g. days of the week. But the real point of his lecture had to do with what synesthesia says about creativity and the possibility it could be at the heart of how people make metaphors.

By the way, the lecture last night included a special privilege. Normally, the talks are in the Whittall Pavilion, but the set-up for the evening concert last night (held in the Campbell Auditorium, which is next to and connected to the Whittall), so they moved the lecture to the Members Room. This is the room reserved for Members of Congress and the general public doesn't normally even get to see it. It's quite ornately decorated and I was glad I was there early enough to look around before the lecture and not be distracted during it.

After the lecture, I took advantage of being in the city to run over to Kramer's and pick up a copy of an entirely unrelated book. Save the Deli by David Sax is exactly the sort of thing Robert would like to read, since the decline of Jewish delis is one of his favorite subjects. I will, of course, read the book before giving it to him since that's just what we do. (Well, he's given me books without reading them, but he also reads a lot less than I do.) Anyway, that gave me a slight bit of noshtalgia (i.e. a bittersweet longing for the foods of yesteryear) and I did a google search on "nesselrode pie." That led me to this article by Arthur Schwartz which reveals the horrible truth about that apparently extinct food item. Namely, that the primary ingredient in Raffetto's Nesselro is, of all things, cauliflower. Who knew that Custom Bakers was serving us vegetables in sweet pie form through my youth?

As for today, I ran errands in the morning. The afternoon held the story swap that Voices in the Glen was putting on with the Beltsville public library. We got about 40 people at various times (including about 10 tellers), which is definitely a success for the first time putting on a swap there. The event was advertised as being for ages 6 and up, but nobody pays attention to that and there were some younger kids. Fortunately, most of them had left by the time I told. I had contemplated several different stories, but settled on "Ida Black" as being suitable, as well as something I didn't have to worry about anybody else telling. (It's more or less original, though based on a legend I stumbled across some years ago and later found other versions of in a booklet of "true" ghost stories. It involves a woman who is hanged for witchcraft and returns to dance on the grave of her accuser.) All in all, there was a nice mix of stories and I think most of the attendees had a good time.

No trick or treaters this year, alas. Last year, the only one I had was the little girl next door, but that family has moved away. There are definitely children in the complex, but most of them are from non-trick or treating cultures (primarily Korean and Indian immigrants).

And now for the horror of the World Series. Actually, it would be appropriate for the Source of All Evil in the Universe to win on Halloween, but I still don't want that to happen.
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Before I get into writing about Friday night, I want to note the death of Archie Green. He was (among other things) the founder of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. That is one of the Library's resources I've used at times and I am thankful for his instigation.

Another resource I take advantage of is the programs that the Music Division puts on. The final Music and the Brain lecture for the season was Friday night. The speakers were cognitive psychologist Michael Kubovy and composer Judith Shatin, both of the University of Virginia and the lecture title was "The Mind of the Artist." They focused on the extramusical meaning of music. Kubovy started by talking about a priming experiment. People are given a list of words to read aloud and will read a word faster if the preceding word is related. For example, the word "sofa" is read faster if it is preceded by "couch" than if it is preceded by "wrench." There are experiments that show the priming effect works if music related to the word is played, instead of another word being used. He also played several examples of music and asked questions like, "is this a bird or a staircase?" All of this goes back to the overlap in the parts of the brain which process language and which process music.

Shatin attempted to illustrate this via examples of her music. I think she might have been more effective if she had actually talked about her conscious decisions instead of just playing the music. The real question I have is how much of the meaning we read into pieces of music is actually intended by the composer. It's one thing to look at program music (e.g. Vivaldi's Four Seasons) and another to take, say, some random string quarter and decide what it's about. During the Q&A, somebody asked about applying the idea to more technical music, e.g. minimalist compositions. Shatin and Kubovsky claimed you can. I think a better example to question the concept would be Satie's "musical wallpaper," since specifically intended it to be background and not really listened to.

I don't usually stay around for the concerts since that makes for two late a night for me, but I was intrigued by one of the pieces that the New Zealand String Quartet was going to play. I didn't get a ticket in advance (which requires paying Ticketmaster fees) but had no trouble getting a seat with a standby number. The first piece was Mendelssohn's String Quartet in E minor, op. 44, no. 2. This was pleasant enough, albeit not outstanding in one way or another. (Which can be said, alas, of a lot of chamber music.) The piece that I (and, I suspect, much of the audience) wanted to hear was Gillian Karawe Whitehead's "Hineputehue" for string quartet and taongo puoro (Maori instruments), for which the quartet was joined by Richard Nunns. Nunns started with an incantation in the Maori language, which had something to do with summoning the spirits. The Maori instruments created some interesting sounds and the strings were used in unusual ways to blend with them. The result was certainly evocative, but did not really suggest peacefulness to me. (Hineputehue is a Maori goddess of peace.) I'm not a fan of excessively dissonant modern compositions and this fell into that category. I'm glad I heard it, but I wouldn't go out of my way to hear more of Whitehead's compositions.

There was also a Schubert quartet on the program but I was exhausted so left at the intermission. I suspect it was considerably more conventional and easier to listen to.
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Last night's Music and the Brain lecture at the Library of Congress had this wonderful, albeit somewhat misleading, title. Norman Middleton introduced the subject of classical music as crime stopper, but the main speaker was criminologist Jacqueline Helfgott of Seattle University. She provided some general background on crime prevention through environmental design and gave a number of examples of the application of music to this. Those were not strictly limited to classical music - a suburban Australian parking lot played Barry Manilow songs to stop teenagers from hanging out there and people on one block in Seattle used country music to drive teenagers to the next block. (She did point out that merely driving potential crime from one block to the next is not really crime prevention in any meaningful sense.)

The basic idea is that this works because music closely defines subcultures, so can make the environment more or less hostile to certain groups. But these are short term measures and there isn't clear evidence of how well they work in the long term. She also brought up the ethical issues associated with using music as an "ultrasonic pest repellant." The latter point is a good one, since I'd be just as annoyed as those teenagers if I had to listen to Barry Manilow for 3 hours a day. And I'd be hard pressed to find music that would be acceptable to all of my neighbors (who are fairly diverse in age and ethnicity) and would still deter gang members from hanging out in the area. My overall conclusion is that there are some interesting ideas, but I'm not sure how practical the application of them is, at least with respect to music. Some of the other ideas about crime prevention through design (e.g. architecture that encourages community involvement) seem like a better approach.
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Thursday night's "Music and the Brain" lecture at the Library of Congress was by Steven Brown from McMaster University. The title was "From Mode to Emotion in Musical Communication." He started out by talking about models for emotion. The most memorable part of that was his distinction between two types of disgust, nothing that the things that people find most disgusting are feces and politicians. The point is that disgust for an object is not actually the same as the moral judgement one might feel towards a politician.

The major point Brown made was that music is good at representing emotion, but does not really induce emotion. Some of the aspects of how music represents emotion also apply to language, but mode is unique to music. His (obvious) example was the Western association of major keys with happiness and minor keys with sadness. He did mention that this was very culturally specific, which cuts out a lot of potential objections. (I've noted in the past that Jew are capable of being perfectly happy in minor keys.) I was, however, disappointed that all of the examples he played (two Beethoven pieces and a clip from the movie, "Vertigo") were Western, as I'd have liked to know more about, say, how emotion gets represented in Indian ragas.

This was still interesting, but I don't think I really learned anything new. I'm still enjoying the series and I'm looking forward to the other two lectures this month.
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The "Music and the Brain" series at the Library of Congress picked up on Tuesday night with a symposium on depression and creativity, in honor of the 200th birthday of Felix Mendelssohn. The subject was one I didn't really have a lot of interest in, but I've gone to all of the series so far. I suspect other people were equally lukewarm towards the topic, since few of the regulars were there.

There were three speakers, all of whom focused on bipolar disorder. Kay Redfield Jamison had some charts correlating the creative output of various artists (writers, painters, composers) with their reported episodes of depression or mania. She used that to conclude that people produce less when they're depressed. While she was an entertaining speaker, I didn't find that exactly profound. She did, at least, point out that, while there is a disproportionate rate of bipolar disorder among artists, the majority of creative people do not have such disorders.

The second speaker, Terence Ketter, did have a more scientific focus. He described an experiment in which people (controls, people with bipolar disorder, people with unipolar depression, and "creative controls," i.e. artists who don't have mood disorders) were given various personality tests. The controversial one was a test (the name of which I don't remember) that alleges to measure creativity by what pictures somebody does and doesn't like, with creativity correlating with liking the more complex pictures. Since it's easier to score as creative on that test if you dislike the simple pictures. The people with unipolar depression scored highest and Ketter suggested that "depressed people find it easy not to like things." He also talked about other tests (e.g. Meyers-Briggs) and the correlation of creativity with intuition. Being an INTJ, I approve.

Finally, Peter Whybrow talked about "the creative cycle," essentially dividing creativity into three phases: novelty generation, memory, and cognitive control. He did, at least, actually talk a little bit about Mendelssohn (and about Robert Schumann), but he used a lot of jargon and did things like showing pictures of functional MRIs without any real explanation for a general audience.

Overall, I was disappointed since there was no actual discussion of music, except in the context of other arts. It was an interesting enough couple of hours, but not really what I was looking for.
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The Library of Congress has put interviews with some of the people who have lectured in the "Music and the Brain" series over the past few months on-line. (The series resumes in February).

Check out the podcasts here. Unfortunately, it looks like the webcasts of the lectures themselves are not up on the site yet.
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Daniel Levitin lectured at the Library of Congress tonight, as part of the Music and the Brain series. His lecture was focused on his new book, The World in Six Songs. I've still got about 50 pages to go in his earlier book, This Is Your Brain on Music.

The focus was on what evolutionary advantage music plays for humans and he mentioned six types of songs as roles for music. Those are friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love. He talked the most about knowledge songs and used an example of people knowing countries via the Animaniacs song set to the tune of "The Mexican Hat Dance." (Of course, I thought of Tom Lehrer's "The Elements" right away.) But he also put self-knowledge, including emotional growth into that category.

I was particularly interested in the story he told about his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, who sang "G-d Bless America" every day and who learned how to play it on an electronic keyboard while in her 80's. I admit, however, that I'm not all that sure how this fits in with his hypothesis re: evolutionary advantage, though it does qualify as a song of joy.

I will wait a while before buying the new book, however, since evolution doesn't interest me nearly as much as other issues relating to musical cognition. The lecture did serve a hugely important purpose, however, since it got me to Levitin's website, where I discovered that the sites for each book include samples of the songs he references. Since he references such a wide range of material, nobody is likely to know all of it. (And I also don't necessarily know the title of a song, even if I know the song well. One of my pet peeves is that radio stations rarely tell you the title and singer nowadays, expecting you to go to their website for that info.)
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There was another "Music and the Brain" lecture tonight at the Library of Congress. I am really enjoying this series and tonight's talk was no exception. (I am also enjoying getting to know other regular attendees, but that is a separate subject for another time.)

The speaker was Aniruddh Patel of the Neuroscience Institute in San Diego and his topic was "The Music of Language and the Language of Music." His talk focused on two aspects of the similarity between music and language - rhythm and syntax - and discussed experiments related to each.

The rhythm work had to do with whether or not the rhythm of a given composer's music reflects the rhythm of his (or her) native language. Dr. Patel played two samples of music and asked the audience which one sounded English and which was French. Surprisingly, this was easy. Then he discussed one unsuccessful theory before getting to more recent research. The issue has to do with how to measure rhythm in language and the successful approach focused on the regularity of the length of vowel sounds. He discussed a metric called "normalized pairwise variability index" or NVPI, which measures how much short and long vowel sounds are in adjacent syllables. For music, the NVPI would have to do with the actual rhythm. That is, if a piece alternated quarter notes and whole notes, it would have a much higher NVPI than a piece consisting entirely of quarter notes. It turns out that English has a significantly higher NVPI than French. They analyzed music by several English composers and several French composers and, sure enough, the music by English composers had a higher NVPI. The difference in the music was less than in the language, but was still pretty obvious.

For syntax, the question was what the musical analog would be. Essentially, he used the "closeness" of chords (as in how near or far two chords are in the circle of 5ths) to describe how music would be jarring syntactically. The experiment involved having people do self-paced reading (clicking on a key to advance a phrase at a time) with a syntactically "difficult" phrase in the middle. They accompanied this with the playing of chords and measured the time that subjects took to advance the phrases. The idea was that, if the same part of the brain was involved in both types of syntax, the reaction to the jarring phrase (which is slower than to the other phrases) would be even further slowed when the jarring chord was played. Which did, indeed, happen. They looked at other aspects of changing the chord accompanying that phrase (e.g. switching from a piano chord to an organ chord) and found that had no effect. All of which they used to conclude that there is some sort of brain "interference" between syntax in language and musical syntax.

Dr. Patel did an excellent job of explaining this work to a highly varied audience and stimulated a lot of discussion among the crowd. I was also really impressed by how much he seems to enjoy his research.

Eventually, the LoC will put the lectures (which they record) up on their web site. So those of you not in the D.C. area can get to hear them too. But, if you are here (or will be), I highly recommend attending in person. Next up is Daniel Levitin on 18 November, who will also be signing his new book, The World in Six Songs: How the Brain Created Musical Nature.
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The subject of tonight's "Music and the Brain" lecture at the Library of Congress was "Dangerous Music." Norman Middleton and Jessica Krash discussed three related topics. The first had to do with "diabolus in musica," or "the devil in music." This refers to the tritone (a music interval spanning three whole tones), which has been used as a symbol of evil since medieval times and was, in fact, banned through the Renaissance. The dissonance of that interval has, however, found a lot of use in more modern times, sometimes as a symbol of evil. It gets used a lot in heavy metal, for example. But it also shows up in other contexts, e.g. "Maria" from West Side Story and the theme song from "The Simpsons."

The second topic had to do with censorship and ranged from Nazi bans on music by Jewish composers through Tipper Gore's attacks on lyrics in rock. Finally, they touched on music that may have inspired murders and suicides. One of the more interesting things they talked about in that section had to do with the threat of execution for mistakes in music which was reported for both Indian ragas and certain South Pacific music. However, this is always reported as something that used to happen but has been replaced by symbolic punishments. (Here in the West, of course, we merely have critics killing careers.)

There were also stories about musicians (and composers) who are alleged to have sold their souls to the devil. Apparently, the claim that Tartini has a dream in which the devil appeared to him and inspired the "Devil's Trill Sonata" is an urban legend. But Robert Johnson really did sell his soul to the devil at a crossroads. (Okay, they didn't actually say that.)

All in all, it was another interesting lecture in a series I am enjoying immensely.
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Last night's music lecture at the Library of Congress was "The Brain on Jazz: Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Improvisation." The speaker, Dr. Charles Limb, holds a joint appointment at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Department of Otolaryngology and the Peabody Conservatory of Music. (As a physician, he is a hearing specialist. As a musician, he is a jazz saxophonist.) Mostly, he talked about some research he'd done at the National Institute of Health.

The work involved functional MRIs of jazz musicians while they were playing both scales and a blues piece and while they were improvising around each. The idea is that the difference between the two provides insight into what the brain is doing during creativity. Some of the results were unsurprising - the medial prefrontal cortex (which has to do with one's sense of self) became more active while improvising and the lateral prefrontal cortex (which has to do with self-censorship) became less active. But all of the sensory-motor areas of the brain became more active, including regions one would think were completely unrelated, e.g. the visual regions. And the limbic areas (which have to do with emotion) became less active, suggesting improvisation is a dispassionate activity.

He also suggested that music is more complex than language, which I think may be the answer to my pondering the other night about why it takes me more concentration to listen to orchestral music than it does to things with words. I haven't thought about how listening to vocal music in languages I can't understand (something I actually do quite a lot of) fits in.

Limb did an excellent job of presenting technical material to amateurs. That is, one didn't need to really know much of anything about either neurology or music to understand his lecture. A good speaker and a subject I find inherently fascinating always makes for an interesting hour.

By the way, the LoC is recording the lectures in their "Music and the Brain" series and they are going to have webcasts out a couple of weeks after each. The series goes on for two years, so there should be a real wealth of material by the time it's done.
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I was, indeed, a total zombie all day yesterday. I was relieved then a three hour meeting was rescheduled, as I know I would not have been able to keep awake during it. However, it was probably not the best day for the first set of draft budget decision documents to come in. We get just hours to review these and it's a very detail oriented task. There were 10 of them, with the shortest being 17 pages and the longest being 84. I figure I slogged through over 600 pages of this stuff on 4 hours of sleep.

I did take a break at lunch time and walk over to this crafts market which they are running on Fridays (and weekends) in Crystal City, with vendors from Eastern Market. None of the jewelry vendors had pins or brooches, which are my main jewelry obsession, so it was easy to resist temptation. I did buy a couple of small items for gifts. There were some photographs I liked but, given how few of the pictures I already own I have hung, I figured that it was not a good idea to buy more stuff. Overall, it was a nice diversion, especially as the weather is getting into perfect fall mode (clear and cool and crisp) and they had a pleasant jazz band playing.

After work, I headed over to the Library of Congress for the first lecture in their two year series on "Music and the Brain." The lecturer was anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake and her title was "Home Musicus: How Music Began." I can't say that she really answered the question of how music began. Instead, she basically claimed that humans are hard wired to be musical. She talked a lot about how adults talk to babies using what she called "proto-aesthetic" elements and how this enforces bonding. So, essentially, her theory is that music is a bonding mechanism within a community. I was not entirely convinced of the relationship between baby talk and music, but it was worth hearing the talk. I plan to go to as many of the lectures in the series as I can.


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