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Musical Language

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Learning to play piano Learning to play piano (Victor Bezrukov/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

In this hour of Radiolab, we examine the line between language and music.

What is music? Why does it move us? How does the brain process sound, and why are some people better at it than others?

We re-imagine the disastrous debut of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 1913 through the lens of modern neurology, and we meet a composer who uses computers to capture the musical DNA of dead composers in order to create new work.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated the dates of two performances of “Rite of Spring” and the time that passed between them. The performance that inspired rioting occurred on May 29th, 1913. The second performance that we discussed occurred in April of 1914. The audio has been adjusted to reflect this fact.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that the “Rite of Spring” was used in the movie “Fantasia” during the part that featured mushrooms. It was in fact used during the part that featured dinosaurs. The audio has been adjusted to reflect this fact.

Guests:

David Cope, Diana Deutsch, Anne Fernald and Jonah Lehrer

Behaves So Strangely

We'll kick off the chase with Diana Deutsch, a professor specializing in the Psychology of Music, who could extract song out even the most monotonous of drones. (Think Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller. Bueller.)

For those of us who have trouble staying in tune when we sing, Deutsch ...

Comments [39]

Sound As Touch

Anne Fernald explains our need to goochie-goochie-goo at every baby we meet, and absolves us of our guilt. This kind of talk, dubbed motherese, is an instict that crosses cultural and linguistic boundaries. Caecilius was goochie-goochie-gooing in Rome; Grunt was goochie-gooing in the caves. We at Radiolab did our own ...

Comments [33]

Musical DNA

Which came first: Language or Music? We're still not sure, but now we'll ponder what comes next. Producer Jonathan Mitchell brings us a piece about David Cope, the composer and professor at UC Santa Cruz, who cured his artist’s block by writing a computer program to do the dirtywork for ...

Comments [16]

Comments [67]

ladane from New York

Great episode, I made a transcript of it, can I post it?

Feb. 16 2014 09:11 PM
Beezy

Quite apart from the fact that there was no riot at the premiere of the rite, it was also not really particularly dissonant for the time. This was five years after Elektra, six years after Schoenberg's second string quartet.

Nov. 14 2013 03:22 PM

well, I guess " help me Obi Wan Ken Obi, You're my only hope" is ultimate loop of our lifetime.

Nov. 05 2013 11:40 PM
Nicholas from District of Columbia

He says that before the Rite of Spring the audience had never heard anything so ferocious, so dissonant or so unpredictable as this. What about Ludwig Van? Symphony 6? I am wondering if the riot would never have broken out if it were the orchestra alone. Great show!

Oct. 27 2013 09:29 PM
Margaret Stitzel from Lugano, Switzerland

I hope audiences (and commenters) keep an open mind about this episode. While it doesn't conform to the widely-accepted view of Stravinsky's concert, it opens up so much for discussion. Isn't that why part of why Radiolab is so wonderful? That it leaves space for us to think?

Sep. 28 2013 11:37 AM

I agree with the comment that this episode is disappointing. How can you be sound specialist and NEVER have thought about language as music - or know about tonal languages? This episode makes me doubt anything else you publish.

Sep. 23 2013 12:43 PM

DUH.

Sep. 23 2013 12:42 PM
Bernd Willimek from Bretten, Germany

In addition to my last post, I am announcing that the English translation of our work "Musik und Emotionen - Studien zur Strebetendenz-Theorie" is now published:
Music and Emotions - Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration
You can get it free at the link:
http://www.willimekmusic.de/music-and-emotions.pdf
Bernd Willimek

Aug. 18 2013 10:16 AM
Carole C. from New York

You mistakenly said Dr. Diana Deutsch was a professor at University of San Diego. She's not. She is actually a professor at University of California at San Diego, which is a different school.

May. 19 2013 02:20 PM
bret harold hart from Eden, NC

As a long time improvisor, maker of "Frankenstein-ed homemade instruments", and at Day 29 of a year-long commitment to recording a new piece of music daily for a year (365 Howls), this program is having a large effect on me and, well... sort of makes me want to apologize in advance to some friends/followers of this project and of folks who've come to one of my gigs these 40 years, for some of the severe air movement that I've imposed on 'em. Hoping your cilia have recovered.
bhh

http://edge-surfing.podomatic.com/

May. 12 2013 03:07 PM
Richard from Salt Lake City

Radiolab is always really good, but this episode was particularly exceptional. I would love to see more research concerning the musical patterns in our spoken language. It's certainly not just in babytalk. It has always seemed funny to me how politicians can so successfully evoke applause throughout their speeches by obvious markers of vocal inflection, regardless of content. I also believe there'd be no difficulty in identifying various parts of the media (an NPR newscaster, a televangelist, or a monster-truck ad)without words and simply by the melody of the delivery. In addition I feel prompted to mention the way we all can understand the strictly tonal language used by all adults in Charlie Brown's world.

I do have one specific complaint about this Radiolab episode however. Fantasia was NOT created for children, nor did children make up the audiences when it originally played in theaters. I personally make Fantasia a part of my Christmas tradition each year and continue to enjoy it thoroughly as an adult.

May. 12 2013 12:57 PM
P. Rahn from Bloomington,Indiana

I always enjoy Radiolab. A few comments on the music program, mainly about the Stravinsky Rite of Spring segment. The idea that Starvinsky was sad when people were finally able to hear his music is an odd thought. As an artist, you do not want your work to be forever misundertstood, or heard wrongly, you want your work to be understood and appreciated for what it is you had in mind when you wrote it (music or literature, etc). It is rare for a person experiencing a piece of art to see it exactly as the artist had in mind when creating it, but no artist wants their work to be forever un-received.I suggest Stravinsky was thrilled to have people finally "hear" his work, letting him know his cretivity, like a gift, would be received and valued. It would allow him to know he could continue to move forward in his work, stretch into new areas, etc.

Also, as a person raised in the United States with English as my language, and someone who studied Mandarin for a graduate degree starting in my forties, I found the segment on tone extra fun. Not sure I agree with the conclusions but it was interesting research. You mention that our western great composers (why was Bach not mentioned? Did he not have perfect pitch?)had perfect pitch and suggest that's why they composed the music they did. YOu also suggest that if someone has perfect pitch they are more "in tune" with their music.Then you mention that Mandarin speakers tend to have perfect pitch to a larger degree than westerners. The question then arises, why did Chinese music develop in such a different direction from western music?

May. 12 2013 11:55 AM
anne

and yet perfect pitch does not make you a wonderful musician any more than knowing 'brown' makes you an artist.
in fact - folks with perfect pitch seem unable to tune an ensemble as well as someone who works hard at relative pitch

May. 12 2013 08:30 AM
Joan from Upper Westside

This program was a great disappointment to me. I have appreciated Radiolab for thinking outside the box, and I felt I was learning a lot from listening to it. But when you presented this program on a subject I know a lot about, I saw big flaws in your thinking, even before I knew about the historical inaccuracy of the report on the two Stravinski programs, and about the questions that have come up about the credibility of the reporter, Jonah Lehrer. The nature of the audience, which was not being considered, makes an enormous difference in how music is received, whether it is reported in words or in scientific measurement. To some people, anything new is distasteful, and to others, new things bring excitement, pleasure. Applies not only to music but also to art, literature, food, maybe everything. Some people were outraged when Bach's music was first played.

May. 12 2013 02:17 AM
Nanette from ridgewood, nj

The past Radio Lab show on how we biologically process music was just astounding.. probably one of the most interesting insights in the sounds of music i have ever heard. thank you RAdioLab guys for finally explaining to me why cacophony is so unpleasant to listen to. and why something like Tchwaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D brought me to tears the first time i listened to it. now i think more of the great classical composers for doing something miraculous to the experience of music that now a simple computer program can reproduce.. It actually makes me honor the talent of the great composers of the past even more than I did.. THANK YOU for this show.. i loved it

May. 11 2013 02:15 PM
JC

Very interesting show. A couple of thoughts I had while listening:

Stravinsky's use of dissonant chords reminded me of a somewhat more modern use by the early heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath who famously used the tritone or "devils chord" in their music to help establish a whole new genre of music. This music was also often met with protests and criticism, spanning back to the supposed ban of these chords by the catholic church in the middle ages. I also kept waiting for the comparison of Stravinsky's piece to John Williams use (some say sampling) of them in his theme music for the movie "Jaws". I'm sure many of us remember the emotional reaction this piece of music evoked in people for many years as it became as famous (or more) as the movie.

With respect to the piece on the computer which composes music, isn't the computer doing the same thing that most composers do. That is, compose music by rearranging notes and patterns (either consciously or subconsciously) that they have heard before from their musical influences. I guess maybe that's the point: another example of computers doing something that previously only humans could do.

May. 10 2013 03:41 PM
Wil Davis from Nausea, New Hampster

Yet another piece of garbiage! Why does NPR waste so much money on this badly produced rubbish! The concept is good, but the production is so terrible. The narrator is so "Oh wow! I'm so amazed!" I just have to switch the wretched stuff off! "CLICK!" RadioLab? RadioCrap!!!
- Wil Davis

May. 10 2013 12:18 PM
Brian from New York

I'm confused...I went to a performance of The Right of Spring last year at the New York Philharmonic, and it was terrific music, but the playbill I got at the concert seemed to lay out pretty clearly that the supposed "riot" was really people who came ready to trash the show because they didn't like what Stravinsky was doing in general. It said that it wasn't the music that moved them to do this, but rather their dislike of the composer (I believe they brought whistles and noise makers and disrupted the music about a minute and half into the piece).

I think the general arc of this piece's narrative still makes sense and is intriguing: It's strange how some sounds can make us angry or scared, but then can later make us happy to hear them again (anyone with an older brother who liked Metallica can probably attest to this).

But again, I'm confused at why the producers either 1) felt ok with mis-reporting something they knew was not-that-true, or 2) didn't check to see that their version of the story was an exaggeration.

Still a fan, keep up the great work in general.

May. 04 2013 12:04 PM
Stephen Malinowski from Northern California

The last few months, I've been working on an animated graphical score of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Last week I completed the first part:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02tkp6eeh40

Enjoy!

Stephen Malinowski
Music Animation Machine
stephenmalinowski.com

Apr. 05 2013 09:08 PM
Bernd Willimek from Bretten, Germany

To answer the question, why music can make emotions, you should know, that music is not able to transmit emotions directly. Music can convey operations of will, but the music listener perceives the operations of will dyed by emotions. Similar, when you watch a dramatic film in cinema, the film cannot transmit emotions directly, but operations of will. The spectator perceives the operation of will dyed by emotions - identifying with the protagonist.
If you want more information about the emotional effect of music, you should know the Strebetendenz-Theory. It says listening music we identify with a will against the changing of dissonant overtone-intervals. On this way you can derive the emotional colors of musical chords and find the first method to explain, why music touches us emotionallyIt is described in the essay "Vibrating Molecules and the Secret of their Feelings". You can get it on the link:
http://www.willimekmusic.homepage.t-online.de/homepage/Striving/Striving.doc
If you understand German you can download the better translation "Musik und Emotionen - Studien zur Strebetendenz-Theorie" on the link:
http://ebooks.ub.uni-muenchen.de/26791/
Enjoy reading
Bernd Willimek

Mar. 16 2013 04:55 AM
Bernd Willimek from Bretten, Germany

To answer the question, why music can make emotions, you should know, that music is not able to transmit emotions directly. Music can convey operations of will, but the music listener perceives the operations of will dyed by emotions. Similar, when you watch a dramatic film in cinema, the film cannot transmit emotions directly, but operations of will. The spectator perceives the operation of will dyed by emotions - identifying with the protagonist.
If you want more information about the emotional effect of music, you should know the Strebetendenz-Theory. It says listening music we identify with a will against the changing of dissonant overtone-intervals. On this way you can derive the emotional colors of musical chords and find the first method to explain, why music touches us emotionallyIt is described in the essay "Vibrating Molecules and the Secret of their Feelings". You can get it on the link:
http://www.willimekmusic.homepage.t-online.de/homepage/Striving/Striving.doc
If you understand German you can download the better translation "Musik und Emotionen - Studien zur Strebetendenz-Theorie" on the link:
http://ebooks.ub.uni-muenchen.de/26791/
Enjoy reading
Bernd Willimek

Mar. 16 2013 04:54 AM
Bernd Willimek from Bretten, Germany

To answer the question, why music can make emotions, you should know, that music is not able to transmit emotions directly. Music can convey operations of will, but the music listener perceives the operations of will dyed by emotions. Similar, when you watch a dramatic film in cinema, the film cannot transmit emotions directly, but operations of will. The spectator perceives the operation of will dyed by emotions - identifying with the protagonist.
If you want more information about the emotional effect of music, you should know the Strebetendenz-Theory. It says listening music we identify with a will against the changing of dissonant overtone-intervals. On this way you can derive the emotional colors of musical chords and find the first method to explain, why music touches us emotionallyIt is described in the essay "Vibrating Molecules and the Secret of their Feelings". You can get it on the link:
http://www.willimekmusic.homepage.t-online.de/homepage/Striving/Striving.doc
If you understand German you can download the better translation "Musik und Emotionen - Studien zur Strebetendenz-Theorie" on the link:
http://ebooks.ub.uni-muenchen.de/26791/
Enjoy reading
Bernd Willimek

Mar. 16 2013 04:54 AM
Bernd Willimek from Bretten, Germany

To answer the question, why music can make emotions, you should know, that music is not able to transmit emotions directly. Music can convey operations of will, but the music listener perceives the operations of will dyed by emotions. Similar, when you watch a dramatic film in cinema, the film cannot transmit emotions directly, but operations of will. The spectator perceives the operation of will dyed by emotions - identifying with the protagonist.
If you want more information about the emotional effect of music, you should know the Strebetendenz-Theory. It says listening music we identify with a will against the changing of dissonant overtone-intervals. On this way you can derive the emotional colors of musical chords and find the first method to explain, why music touches us emotionallyIt is described in the essay "Vibrating Molecules and the Secret of their Feelings". You can get it on the link:
http://www.willimekmusic.homepage.t-online.de/homepage/Striving/Striving.doc
If you understand German you can download the better translation "Musik und Emotionen - Studien zur Strebetendenz-Theorie" on the link:
http://ebooks.ub.uni-muenchen.de/26791/
Enjoy reading
Bernd Willimek

Mar. 16 2013 04:54 AM
Abe from Seattle

I just listened to this for the first time. Since then I have been doing a lot of thinking about music, specifically the music that I write. I have a problem that I am never really satisfied with what I write even if someone else loves it. I have also found that the things that I write and love are the things that come out accidentally. This podcast helped me understand a little more about what's going on in my head and how my mind likes to be surprised. It seems to be hard for your mind to surprise itself. It also explains why I feel the need to constantly find new music, and how sometimes I don't like an album the first time I hear it and eventually it becomes my favorite. So much to think about!

Jan. 03 2013 01:57 PM
Brittani from salt lake city, utah

The first part of this podcast drives me crazy. If the Chinese are so much more musically talented then why has american music taken over the world? pitch is what technique is to visual art. It's good to have, but really only ads frosting to passion, creativity, and experimentation!

Dec. 23 2012 04:08 AM
Rhiannon from Hollywood, CA

Why I am supposed to trust a "science" program which can't even get easily available information like performance dates correct? And which hasn't retracted any of its programs featuring Jonah Lehrer?

Nov. 17 2012 07:42 PM
Sara

I hear the original recording of the "sometimes behaves so strangly" with flatter tones. Maybe it's me...

Sep. 21 2012 05:50 PM
Anthony

All tonal languages in the world rely on relative, not absolute, pitch. Which makes sense, because almost all humans are born with a relatively good sense of relative pitch, but only those with "perfect pitch" have a good sense of absolute pitch. So, how would a language that relies heavily on relative pitch aid someone in developing a sense of absolute pitch?

Aug. 25 2012 04:49 AM
Abagail Fox

Music is not only in the sounds of instruments or voice, but as well as nature, animals and speaking. The radio lab was very interesting when they discussed the idea of human means connecting to infants through spoken words. This can also relate to other animals that do not have a developed speech. I watch my neighbor’s dogs occasionally and the way I speak to the dog is the same way another person might speak to their one-year-old daughter. It is a comforting tone in the human voice that is relatable to many different living creatures. Music can be found everywhere.
Music theory is key to aspects of music. It is crucial to be taught music theory because it is the core of how music works. A musician needs to understand the rhythms and structures of music to be able to create a work of music. To write a piece of music it requires the knowledge of music theory to have it be written clearly. The most important point of music theory is to be open to teaching others so musicians can develop a deeper understand of music.

Aug. 23 2012 08:03 AM
fred smith from NYC

Does Radiolab ever retract an episode? Given the revelation of Jonah Lehrer as a journalistic fraud, I hope they might consider at least appending an editorial note to this episode. More important than Lehrer's now non-existent credentials is the fact that the argument he forwards in this episode is completely bogus, based on incorrect facts, repeating a thoroughly debunked myth about the premiere of 'The Rite of Spring'.

It's genuinely absurd to hear someone repeat the idea out loud that the 'riot' was a result of a reaction to Stravinsky's music. That is so far outside the realm of accepted fact in this day and age that it really shouldn't have made it onto the radio.

Aug. 10 2012 11:08 AM

When I was young I loved Fantasia and Stravinsky's segment was my favorite. It was most likely because of the dinosaurs, but I loved the The Rite of Spring and I think it is probably the reason I listen to a lot of chaotic/noise music as an adult. Thanks Radiolab for helping me make that connection. Also I know it was stated earlier and this is old, but yeah its the dinosaur one not the mushrooms or hippos.

Aug. 08 2012 02:46 PM
Kay O. Sweaver from San Francisco

Just stumbled across this new research project that reminded me of this episode and thought I'd share;

http://darwintunes.org/

Jun. 18 2012 10:25 PM
mary

This was the best show ever! Wonderful, fascinating, moving, funny, touching...really great work.

Apr. 29 2012 06:52 PM

oh so reminiscent:
http://www.whitevinyldesign.com/solarbeat/

enjoy! (the notes are based on actual orbital frequencies)

Mar. 12 2012 08:52 PM
andrew from FL

just listened to this on WLRN, superb.

Feb. 18 2012 01:02 PM
Stephanie

The Mozart Piece is the Allegro from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik a.k.a. Seranade no. 13 for Strings in G Major K. 525

The Beethoven Piece is the Adagio Sostenuto from Piano Sonata No,. 14 in C sharp minor opus 27, a.k.a. The Moonlight Sonata

Just for good measure the Bach was the Prelude from the Suite for Solo Cello #1 in G Major BWV 1007

Jan. 09 2012 03:45 PM
noobdles from Australia

omg best episode ever, :))) so good

Jan. 08 2012 12:19 AM
Vom

does anyone know what that song was- that was played by mozart at around 11 minutes?

Jan. 01 2012 09:01 PM
Ana from Portugal

(23:22) Yes, it's lame, but it's muito fixe hearing your native language on Radiolab. Yay!

Dec. 21 2011 12:18 PM
Lindsi

Atfer being in TOK and listening to this I cannot get this out of head. It is so interesting what our brains can do to us

Oct. 28 2011 07:12 PM
SSCoagan from Portland, Or

What is the Beethoven piano piece that begins playing after Bach in the first section of the show?

Oct. 02 2011 02:00 AM
Jabberwocky

The Rite of Spring passage in Fantasia is not the hippos and mushrooms but the saga of the dinosaurs and their extinction, just so you guys know. ;)

Jun. 21 2011 05:11 PM
Matt from Ridgewood, NY

Followup on Curt from Minnesota's comment: there was no riot at the Rite of Spring premiere. http://scopesmonkeychoir.com/2011/06/the-rite-of-spring-premiere-was-not-a-riot/

Jun. 02 2011 11:21 AM
Curt from Minnesota

Your interpretation of the Sacre riot has been discounted long ago as being primarily because of Nijinsky's choreography. The ballet was performed 5 more times without much reaction, and performances in London soon after produced no such reaction. The point Jonah is trying to make may be valid, but his example is flawed. Once again, the leap to a desired conclusion isn't justified by the data - I now cringe whenever I hear him cited as a source.

May. 29 2011 03:01 PM
Megan from Sarasota, FL

Pia Toscano in the LaGuardia High School Chorus?! From American Idol?! She was discovered on RADIOLAB! (59:10)

May. 27 2011 02:08 PM
Megan

Pia Toscano in the LaGuardia High School Chorus?! From American Idol?! She was discovered on RADIOLAB! (59:10)

May. 27 2011 02:08 PM
Nancy D.

Just a thought while listening to this episode for the 3rd time -- RK saying he finds it sad that the brain will always seek to familiarize the new, thereby robbing the artist of his/her newness. But here's another perspective: The whole deal with artists is how they work -- how much and hard the work is, and, if you are an artist, how repetitive it can be, the working and re-working or re-visiting of whatever it is that obsesses. I think that the reason an artist can eventually present something new is because for the artist it isn't exactly new anymore in the sense that they've been working enough with dissonance to have changed their neurons. So I guess RK was responding to one part of it, the death of the thing, where we are always living a cycle of death/birth/life/death/etc. Which is what creativity is, no?

Apr. 21 2011 06:00 PM
JC from Louisville, KY

It surprises me that Steve Reich and several of his compositions are not mentioned during the "...behaves so strangely" segment. First, he accidentally discovered a composing technique known as Phase Shifting while working with a loop. Second, he has used human speech recordings to derive pitches and rhythms for years now. Check out his piece "City Life" in which he orchestrates the instruments to mimic real-life speech recordings and street sounds from New York City.

Apr. 18 2011 12:09 AM
Jon

My apologies, I didn't listen far enough into the episode. I see it was Stravinsky.

Mar. 16 2011 12:47 PM
Jon

Does anyone know the trumpet song at 28:00 minutes?? What a GREAT episode.

Mar. 16 2011 12:41 PM
Tanya from Seattle, WA

"Sometimes behaves so strangely.."

It's stuck in my head now. Oh no. LSS "Last Song Syndrome" haha!

Mar. 03 2011 02:29 PM
Jessica from Austin, TX

Of course, this is anecdotal and not scientific. However, last night I was trying to help my son (almost 2yrs old) go to sleep by playing our local classical station. He started freaking out, completely inexplicably. After awhile (maybe 15 minutes), I realized the classical station was playing some very avant garde music. I thought of this episode and the riot at Rite of Spring, so I quickly put in a CD of some much less avant garde music, and he calmed down and fell asleep within a few minutes. Because this was my car and not a lab, I can't control for all variables, but your episode very well may have aided me in my parenting (and in my sleeping).

Thanks for being entertaining and possibly very practical :)

Jessica

Mar. 02 2011 12:13 PM
Chris from Kelowna, BC

Dear Radiolab.

This episode instantly reminded me of

http://happiness-project.ca/

For anyone who enjoyed this episode - If you
haven't heard of Charles Spearin's Happiness
Project, I suggest that it is worth a listen, considering professor Diana Deutsch's story.

Feb. 25 2011 10:53 PM
Chris from Kelowna, BC

Dear Radiolab.

This episode instantly reminded me of

http://happiness-project.ca/

For anyone who enjoyed this episode - If you
haven't heard of Charles Spearin's Happiness
Project, I suggest that it is worth a listen, considering professor Diana Deutsch's story.

Feb. 25 2011 10:53 PM

Adam-
In case you haven't found it, here are the illusions:
http://philomel.com/musical_illusions/

Dec. 16 2010 03:17 PM
Katelin from http://bytheirstrangefruit.blogspot.com/

I listened to this radio episode today while I was picking brain slices to stain. Defiantly have some thoughts about this episode.

Many of the underlying points are very interesting and may be very valid, but I have some issues with some of their assumptions.

Music is extremely cultural, as is our ideas of note names. The Western method of tuning (equal tempered) is pretty specific to western music (as is the idea of a major third sounding better than a minor second). To think that these preferences are inherent somewhere in the brain is pretty presumptive and we have to be careful when talking that way. There does seem to be something inherent about the perfect fifth and it is often found in nature, but there ends the tentative universality of music. The music of Bali (and others) actually DEPENDS on their notes being “out of tune” and they feel that music truly lacking in depth without it. We must be so careful when we deem one system as correct and another as incorrect. In many cultures, rhythm is the main unit of music and language (rather than pitches and chords as in western classical). To a classical musician, the music sounds plain and simple because there is not harmonic depth, but it is terribly complex rhythmically, and in fact a symphony to someone of that background in immensely plain and simplistic. Along these lines, I would guess English is timbre based? Not tonal like mandarin (as we can vary pitch and maintain meaning), and not rhythmic, because we can say things fast and slow yet maintain meaning). But slight changes in consonants and diphthongs can really mess things up. We notice ESL students have trouble with t/d, th/t, l/r. I dunno…out on a limb with that one.

So when they talk about certain neurons firing for ugly minor 2nd chords, I am suspicious. Perhaps it is true that these neurons fire at sounds that are culturally deemed odd/novel? This I would believe. Or perhaps they always fire for minor 2nds, regardless of whether we think that is bad or not.

Also the matter of perfect pitch making Chinese students better musicians (you know…cause that stereotype must be true….???), I was unconvinced that the difference wasn’t just due to difference in practice time or the quality of instruction received, or the encouragement of parents. Chinese student also out-perform Americans on math tests. Does that mean that their brains are innately better in math? Probably not, but it does speak to their education system and hard work.

What I think would be a more interesting experiment would be to reverse the direction of the dependent variable—to see if English speakers with perfect pitch are better at learning mandarin than those without perfect pitch.
Just some thoughts on a very interesting and well-done episode.

Dec. 16 2010 03:14 PM
Adam

Where can you find the audio experiments to listen to these days.....? I wanna know what the Chromatic illusion is all about.

Dec. 13 2010 12:40 PM
yayan from seattle, wa

i'm pretty sure the rite of spring was used in the evolution/dinosaur part of fantasia...right?

Nov. 24 2010 03:03 PM

At art school was the first time I heard Rite of Spring. It didn't seem so shocking to me at the time. The stories of the riots intrigued me beyond belief. I enjoyed the theory of why they did.

As usual a fascinating show. Thank you.

Nov. 04 2010 03:34 AM
Steve Ganot from Beit Shemesh, Israel

Fascinating show, as usual. By the way, the language at heard at 22:38 (eifo hapil?) is not Yiddish, but Hebrew.

Oct. 17 2010 12:35 PM
alex m from jena

amazing, beautiful, GORGEOUS ressource, i can spend hours here, thank you!

Sep. 20 2010 06:26 PM
Charlotte Nall from South Pasadena, California

This program has answered a question I have puzzled over since 1967. In 1967, friends introduced me to Bartok. I didn't like it. It disturbed me. It made me feel uncomfortable with myself. Months later, I heard the same piece and found it pleasant and intelligent. Later I bought several Bartok records. I loved them. Aside: Stravinsky is one of my favorite composers.

I was greatly puzzled by my reaction to Bartok. At first, I wondered if I was accepting Bartok to fit in with these highly intelligent, abstract thinking people. That was so unlike me. Thank you for the clarification.

Charlotte

Sep. 12 2010 03:26 PM
Samantha Luck from Newport News, VA

I am the youngest of 4 sisters. My parents were amateur musicians (professionally a doctor and a nurse) and they encouraged all of us to take music lessons. When I was very small, my sisters all took turns caring for me, and when it was Kim's turn she would lay me across her lap while she practiced piano for hours. By the time I was 2, the family discovered I had perfect pitch.

I have always believed the development of this skill had more to do with my exposure to music than to some genetic accident. Thank you for presenting a program that helps me make some sense of it.

I am now a music therapist and teacher and work with many students with special needs. I'm going to add this podcast to my computer lab and have students listen to, explore, and write essays on it. How fascinating!

Sep. 08 2010 12:19 AM
Erica from Michigan

Ok, the first part of this episode was like a deja-vu for me. The other day this phenomenon actually happened to me in real time. I was in an argument with my mom, and all the sudden I realized what I was saying was coming out like a song/chant. It was really really weird for me. And as soon as I realized it, I was really startled. I wonder if we do this all the time, but just aren't aware of it.

Sep. 02 2010 04:44 PM
junebug

What came first? Music or language? Easy. Music! First there was sound, OM, then there was light, then, there was matter.

Sep. 02 2010 01:14 AM
chris morgan

Social Psychology has adopted the term dissonance to explain the physiological response experienced when an individual's behavoir does not match their attitude.

Aug. 31 2008 08:12 PM
Jason

That idea definitely makes sense to me, though it may take me a little while to get used to.

Feb. 22 2008 06:02 PM

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