He expresses a kind of bemused fascination with people who appear to like everything – especially radio announcers, whose job it is to like everything they play – while ever-so-gently calling into question the sincerity of their expressed views.
“Another hugely knowledgeable friend who works in the classical music industry cannot understand my passion for second division composers of the 19th century nor my fervour for the first-rate talents of Liszt and Rachmaninov … I, on the other hand, cannot quite believe that he gets as much enjoyment as he says he does from Stockhausen, Carter and Babbitt …”
I too cannot believe the enthusiasm of people who claim to enjoy Stockhausen, Carter and Babbitt. It’s as though someone is speaking to me in a language that is not merely foreign, but somehow untranslatable into my own. These days, whenever I encounter such folk, I simply shake my head and walk away in disbelief.
But now there may be a better way to determine just where these people are coming from.
I recently wrote an article for Listen magazine about the current state of research on music and the brain. (You can read it here.) Things are moving forward by leaps and bounds in this area of scientific inquiry. And with new technologies come new ways of understanding how humans process music.
At Montreal’s McGill University, Robert Zattore recently conducted an interesting experiment in his laboratory. He asked people to bring in recordings of music they especially enjoy, and hooked them up to instruments for measuring brain activity.
“People brought classical, jazz, folk music – it was all over the place,” he told me. “But what they all had in common was that they showed activity in the dopamine system. We observed that the chemical dopamine is released when people hear music that they really like – and not at all when they’re listening to music they feel neutral about, or don’t really like.”
Musical enjoyment is now a scientifically measurable phenomenon.
So I’m saving up to buy my own magnetic resonance imaging scanner: they can be had for as little as $1 million. And when I own one, I’ll invite some of the people I know who claim to be devout lovers of high-modernism to step into my MRI, so I can see just what is going on in their brains when they listen to Le Marteau Sans Maître.
© Colin Eatock 2011