New to my blogroll this evening — long overdue — is my coworker and friend Jess Z’s what? the curtains? blog, which runs the gamut of topics but often muses deeply on the culture of life. As an introduction, check out her recent post, “music is touch at a distance.” It begins:
Music is pattern. In the clash or glissando of note upon note, there emerges some repetition that our mind slowly forms into melody. The easiest songs to love, it seems, are the ones that echo those we already prefer. The hardest are those that diverge from our learned predilection for certain tunes.
So I discovered from this program (thanks, Nato) about music. There’s a region of our brains called the auditory cortex that houses neurons. These neurons look for patterns in the sounds that are wafts of vibrating air that pass through our ears. When they decipher design (sweet music), they release small amounts of dopamine. Just a little makes us happy. When they can find no blueprint (bad songs), they release a lot of the chemical. A lot of dopamine, like a lot of anything, makes us feel crazy.
Crazy like The Rites of Spring. Igor Stravinsky gave this work its debut in May 1913 to an upper-crust crowd in Paris. The piece starts out with this happy, Russian villager-type air. Then, all of a sudden, a low, brutal, elongated note bursts in and repeats and repeats. Spring becomes something strange, off-kilter, the black soil after hard rain instead of the flowers that will eventually bloom. The crowd went nuts. Old ladies were hitting each other with canes. People ran out of the theater. Blood was spilled. Their ears couldn’t bear the dissonance.
Further down the list, there’s also an updated link to Amit’s website. If you don’t know him as Amit, you know him in this blog’s comments as empiricist. From his humble collegiate beginnings in the unbunkable bunk above mine, he’s now starting life as a Columbia economics professor and climbing too many damn stairs.