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What would you do if all of a sudden you began to “see” notes, staffs, clefs and a musical score pop up in front of you during the course of your every day life? Believe it or not, more people than you think have these types of music-oriented hallucinations where they see music scores whiz by. It happens randomly and isn’t imagined, it just happens.
In a new study reported in Brain: A Journal of Neurology, Oliver Sachs describes these musical hallucinations, which apparently are brought on by a number of factors that have to do with decreased eyesight. Macular degeneration, Parkinson’s disease, partial blindness and even an intense fever can trigger the phenomena, but it’s totally random and isn’t necessarily tied to actually listening to music. It also just as likely to happen to people who can’t read a note as it is with musicians, and is more likely to happen with older people, although the phenomena is spread across demographic groups and ages.
What’s particularly interesting is the fact that some of the people in the study were musicians who actually tried to play the music they were seeing, yet were unable to. The notes came too fast and the score was too complex and “ornamented.” As a result, not only has that ground-breaking score not resulted, but not even a single new music composition has come of it yet.
Although the study didn’t attempt to find the place in the brain where the musical score is triggered, Sachs suspects that it’s in the back of the right hemisphere, a place that is normally responsible for recognizing faces.
One part that was interesting was the fact that some of the participants had corrective eye surgery during the course of the study. They found that their musical hallucinations receded as their eyesight improved. It’s just another interesting fact about music and the brain.
I don’t know why I have such a fascination with robots playing music. I’ve covered many instances on this blog over the years (like the guitarist with 78 fingers and the robot band that plays Motorhead), and each time they get better at what they do. I’d like to think that they’re never going to replace real musicians, but when it gets to the point where they can improvise, you have to wonder. Shimon the 4-armed robot takes one step closer to that goal, as it improvises pretty well with Gil Weinberg, lead researcher on the project from Georgia Institute of Technology .
Shimon the 4-armed robot uses artificial intelligence machine-learning programs trained on music theory and a wide range of musical styles, from chamber music to dubstep to be able to add a superhuman element to musical performances, playing chord structures that would be physically impossible for humans to hit.
The performance video below comes from the recent Moogfest music and technology festival that took place in Durham, North Carolina. Watch this guy play a mean marimba. I especially like the way is head bobs and weaves to the music, just like a very hip human player.
The Georgia Tech team isn’t the only group of researchers working on using artificial intelligence to create music and aid musicians, as a group from IBM’s Watson team showed off a new capability of its AI system at Moogfest as well.
You’ve probably never wondered why the drums and especially the bass hold down the rhythm section, but it turns out there’s a very specific scientific reason.
A recently published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that perceptions of time are much more acute at lower registers, and those that play lower frequency instruments have superior time. That said, just about everyone responds to the beat of a low-frequency instrument, which is probably why we love the kick drum so much.
To reach their conclusions, the researchers “played people high and low pitched notes at the same time.” Participants were hooked up to an electroencephalogram that measured brain activity in response to the sounds. The psychologists “found that the brain was better at detecting when the lower tone occurred 50 MS too soon compared to when the higher tone occurred 50 MS too soon.”
The researchers also found in their computer models of the inner ear that it’s the cochlea that’s more sensitive to changes in rhythms that are made up of lower tones. It also found that for some people with poor rhythm, the problems may occur in cochlea of the ear. At the same time, timing and rhythm are subsequently processed in many different cortical and sub-cortical areas of the brain, so their problems could be in any of these regions as well.
The researchers note that, as all musicians know, higher-pitched sounds can also contribute to rhythms. “Indeed, high-pitched instruments can carry important rhythmic aspects — for example, in jazz, higher-pitched instruments often add rhythmic interest by playing off the beat, so the rhythm is an interaction between different instruments,” said study co-author Laurel Trainor, director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind and a neuroscientist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada.
So there you have it. Science has proven what musicians have known all along. The lower frequency instruments carry the rhythm section, great drummers and bass players have great time, and higher pitched instruments also create rhythms. We needed a study for that?
There are many places to play a gig, but I bet that the last place you’d ever think of was in a pool somewhere. Meet Aquasonic, the Danish band that performs exclusively underwater.
The 4 musicians and singers use custom-made underwater instruments to play completely submerged. The sounds are captured by hydrophones and then played back to the audience through a normal sound system. The musicians wear special earphones in order to listen to each other and they alternatively emerge to breathe.
Founding members Laila Skovmand and Robert Karlsson have been working for years with researchers at the University of Toronto, as well as mechanical engineers, professors of marine acoustics, scientists and experts in cymatics (the study of the effects of sound waves on the matter), and have even met with the producers of the Cirque du Soleil.
Their instruments include an electromagnetic harp, percussion instruments such as 24 Tibetan bells, a carbon fibre violin, a rhythmic instrument similar to a water wheel and a sort of organ called hydraulophone created by Steve Mann, who invented a water-based instrument to produce sound way back in 1985.
Check it out. It’s very eerie and soothing at the same time. Make sure you use headphones because there’s a lot of low frequency info. Find out more about Aquasonic and hear more examples here.