You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Music’ category.

From, April 23, 2008

I’M RELAXING in a chair upstairs inside Suite 11 of the historic Kiely House in Santa Clara, a Queen Anne Victorian dating back to the 19th century. Dr. Sue Klear, a licensed psychologist specializing in neurofeedback, has just attached seven sensors to my head and face with an odorless skin-prepping gel to prepare me for the initial stages of Brain Music Therapy, an experimental treatment for insomnia, anxiety, depression and stress.

The treatment records an individual’s brain waves using an Electroencephalogram (EEG), analyzes them and then converts them into two piano tracks—one “relaxing file” and one “activating file.” These are eventually burned onto a CD for the patient to play while going to sleep and after waking up, the idea being that the musical sounds form a correlation to your specific brain waves in order to help eliminate imbalanced brain activity. So, theoretically, you end up sleeping much better and function more productively during the day.

Originally developed at the Moscow Medical Academy as a nonpharmacological method for treating insomnia in the early ’90s, Brain Music Therapy has received a boost from some scientific evidence of its effectiveness, including randomized double-blind studies in small-scale groups. It is now used on an experimental basis throughout the world to treat a variety of neurological scenarios including post traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and withdrawal symptoms from drug or alcohol dependence. The Russian-born Dr. Galina Mindlin received the exclusive rights to provide this treatment in the United States in 2004 and has now treated hundreds of patients through her private practice in New York. Twenty other doctors throughout the United States now use the therapy as part of their practice, and Dr. Klear is the only one in the Bay Area who uses it. She runs her practice out of Suite 11 in the Kiely House.

Here’s the procedure: Dr. Klear first takes me through a basic medical evaluation, which includes me filling out two questionnaires, the Beck Depression Inventory and the Subjective Sleep Scale. Then I sit in the chair while the sensors are placed at key points to pick up my brain waves. This part of the procedure takes about five minutes and Dr. Klear throws some tranquil ocean sounds into the stereo to help me relax, the idea being that the patient needs to be in as relaxed a state as possible during the EEG, so the proper brain waves are recorded. She even closes the window to block out the traffic sounds from outside.

My brain waves are then recorded into the software and Dr. Klear sends the files off to the main center for Brain Music Therapy in Moscow. Since the Russians apparently have a patent on the algorithm that converts the brain waves into musical sounds, that part of the process must be done in Moscow and nowhere else, which adds to the conspiratorial Cold War–esque-KBG-mind-control-outer-space quality of this entire scenario. Before succumbing to the EEG, everyone has to sign a “Brain Music Informed Consent,” which includes this statement: “I agree to allow my personalized EEG recording to be emailed to Moscow so that my personalized recording can be created.”

Hmm. While sitting there looking the Cyrillic Russian printed on the panel of the amplifier to which the sensors are connected, I envision intelligence officials in the Kremlin crouched around a database of Americans’ brainwaves with the intent of finding ways to put us all to sleep. I have to laugh, since by sheer coincidence—and I’m not making this up—I have just finished reading Smiley’s People by John Le Carré, a legendary spy novel containing numerous references to the “Moscow Rules,” which are universal unwritten canons of spook tradecraft. In the initial stages of the tale, Smiley keeps bringing up the Moscow Rules over and over again. They remain in my head throughout this treatment.

Entire article here.


Anyone who understands Mozart or Beethoven hears consonance in their music. This is expressed primarily in tonality and rhythmical order. In tonal compositions there is an ordered progression of related tonalities (typically tertian sonorities) that finds its purpose and resolution in the home key. When the home key is reached, there is a sense of rest, of purpose attained. Consonance is the analogue of a rationally meaningful world.

My experience of living abroad in Taiwan, of living in an environment radically different from New Zealand is not like this. It is more like an atonal composition. In atonal compositions there is no home key, and therefore little sense of purpose or resolution. This is an exageration no doubt, but it illustrates a point. If you are so miserable, why bother staying? – What is ‘home’, anyway?

Whatever else it means, and I am able to offer no more than a furtive sidelong glance at it, I think it can be compared fruitfully with aesthetic appreciation. Wittgenstein discusses this in a remark published in Culture & Value, p. 58e. There he talks about art and how it is thought to convey a ‘feeling’. Wittgenstein partially agrees with this traditional characterization:

You really could call it, not exactly the expression of a feeling, but a least an expression of feeling, or a felt expression. And you could say too that insofar as people understand it, they ‘resonate’ in harmony with it, responds to it. You might say: the work of art does not aim to convey something else, just itself.

Is home a feeling? I am not referring to a single dwelling by ‘home’, which merely occupies the foreground of a much larger picture. I am attempting to capture something about the picture itself, of the whole. Wittgenstein’s term ‘felt expression’ suggests that the relation of art to the world is appreciative, art is appreciated for being important. This suggests a method of knowing through feeling, which is global rather than mundane in nature. Is there a unique kind of knowing proper to feelings?

Let’s look at Wittgenstein’s simile of ‘harmony’, or, as he says, art that resonates. The word ‘resonate’ is a verb meaning ‘to sound again’.  One who understands art ‘resonates’ in harmony with it. How? Wittgenstein says: one ‘responds to it’. This suggests that art is understood by a spontaneous act of perception, and not by diagnosis. One who responds to art may therefore convey his understanding by an answering expression or gesture as by some appropriate gesture in words (consider understanding facial expressions). I think that home is like this.

I do not ‘resonate’ in harmony with Taiwan. Is that clear enough to me? The person who lives here and ‘understands’ life in this country, is like someone whose total experience of Taiwan reverberates within him simultaneously as his own or as the music of Mozart does for millions, or as a piston fits into a cylinder, and so on. All the tonalities that sound off in a person and in the environment that exist in harmony form chordal structures, and stacked together they blend into one and sound off simultaneously, without effort or transition to something else.  

Experiences resonate within a person in sequence. Taken individually, they form melodies and play out in the course of a person’s life. The world is played out in a person just as a musical chord is played out in sequence or individual notes are played out in sequence to form melodies. A person ‘at home’ in a place anywhere in the world is like an harmonic progression, it seems to me, and one who is not, is nothing more than a dissonant interval. It is therefore up to this person to resolve the tension that wars within him.

It would be difficult to be at home in a world whose sum total musical experience consisted of Richard Clayderman, or Karlheinz Stockhausen.  Imagine what such a life would be like. Clearly, a question of balance between consonant and dissonant forces is necessary if home is to take root.

From the Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2008

Whether it’s jazz, blues or a Finnish folk song, music may do more than soothe nerves and inspire a little air guitar. It may help stroke victims recover specific verbal and cognitive functions.

In a six-month study of 60 recent stroke victims ages 35 to 75, researchers in Finland found that exposure to music for at least one hour a day improved verbal memory by 60 percent, compared with an 18 percent improvement among participants listening to audio books. In addition, as reported in the journal Brain, exposure to music led to a 17 percent boost in performance on concentration tasks, such as mental subtraction.

“The study suggests that music-listening could be used as a leisure activity that might provide comfort and help cognitive recovery,” says lead author Teppo Sarkamo, a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki Department of Psychology and the Helsinki Brain Research Center.

It’s important to keep in mind that music alone can’t work miracles, Sarkamo adds. “Music-listening should not be considered as an alternative to other active rehabilitation methods,” he says. “But…in the early recovery stage, when other rehabilitation is not yet possible, music could provide a valuable addition to the patient’s care.”

Chinese pianist Lang Lang 

From Canadian Aesthetics Journal, Volume 10, Fall 2004 

In an engaging little book on Schopenhauer Michael Tanner makes striking observations about the absence of desire for music in the history of philosophy. “In the case of music philosophers have, on the whole, shown a notable lack of interest. That is partly because most of them seem to have little appetite for music, a fact to be noted rather than pondered. Schopenhauer is one of the great exceptions, and Nietzsche and Wittgenstein are two of the others; Nietzsche’s philosophy always has music in at least the background, and Wittgenstein certainly thought of music as a deep phenomenon though he wrote little that is valuable.” 

I think these observations are on the mark as far as generalizations go. However, what Tanner’s says about one of the exceptions- namely, the case of Ludwig Wittgenstein- I find puzzling. The questions that immediately arise are: If Wittgenstein wrote much about music, which Tanner conversationally implies, where is such a body of work to be found? Why is most of it without value? What is the “little that is valuable” and why? In any case, why did Wittgenstein think of music as a deep phenomenon?  These questions cry out for answers, or at least for discussion that may be of interest to students of musical aesthetics, to those interested in a dialogue between music and philosophy, to Wittgenstein scholars, and to lovers of music at large.

I suggest that at present we are not in a position to make the sort of evaluation that Michael Tanner proposes about Wittgenstein and music. Here are a few reasons why. Even though Wittgenstein wrote quite a lot about music, his remarks about music are scattered over his entire corpus, and so far no one has brought them together or taken stock of it. While the masterworks that bear his imprimatur, namely, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the Philosophical Investigations, contain many neglected allusions to music, Culture and Value and the Wittgenstein Nachlass unexpectedly present us with a wealth of material on, or related to, music. These materials have not been collected together, nor have they received due scholarly attention, and unless we gather and carefully reflect on them, any judgment as to value seems premature, even impulsive, if only because unsupported. So the project of assessment requires a gathering of the fugitives, a serious consideration of remarks that philosophers in general tend to be dismissive of or take lightly, giving them the sort of sustained attention routinely given to Wittgenstein’s other remarks on issues of meaning, reference, intention, and so on.

What I aim to do here is a sort of prelude to such a task of appreciation and assessment. I begin with the music Wittgenstein listened to and gather the biographical fragments that indicate the role that music played in his life. Then I turn to the cultural background of fin de siècle Vienna to situate Wittgenstein’s musical tastes. Then I retrieve some of Wittgenstein’s remarks on music which bear on the question of how they might relate to his lectures on aesthetics and to his philosophical activity. In closing, I turn to real family resemblance and difference between Ludwig and his brother, the concert pianist Paul Wittgenstein.

Entire article here.


Henry Thoreau said: ‘Music is perpetual, only the hearing is intermittent’.

Music is seldom a silent interval once it is incorporated into the daily fabric of our life. Singing, whistling, humming, thinking, recollecting – the music interacts with these activities and becomes habitual in us, perpetual. Is it not perpetual?

And when we whistle a tune, do we always do so for ourselves? Sometimes we may whistle for our own entertainment or to call forth something memorable connected with the music. Seldom do we whistle for others. Whistling or humming are primarily expressive activities, and are not necessarily descriptive of some mental state which the whistling ‘describes’ in sound, as opposed to in words. For, it can be asked, a description for who? For what purpose? And, for what interest? There need not be anything in my mind which answers why people whistle. Just ask a whistler, and let him reply. Often, no answer is forthcoming (ask yourself the same question). Is whistling or recollecting music therefore without purpose? Of course not. Is an answer to this question even possible? What would it look like? What interest does it have? Or, is it just sufficient that people whistle, and that we are graced with expert whistlers, like Wittgenstein was in his day?

Do I hear what I whistle? Yes, of course. But, do I whistle a tune to hear it? Is that my purpose? Not typically. I whistle simply to give expression to the music itself. I have no opinion about it. Why does a person go walking in the same spot every day? ‘Because I enjoy the scenery’ would be a sufficient explanation, and typically no more is in the offing. Why should we expect anymore of what is habitual and wholly familiar? If music is perpetual, then the explanation of it is something very humble indeed and mundane. But, this doesn’t rob music of any power. It merely reorientates our tendency to make of it something transcendent and abstract by squaring it instead firmly in the comings and goings of ordinary people, like you and me. This seems more in keeping with the meaning of music. It is as customary and tangible as asking your child to fetch a chair.

Music is interwoven with life’s activities as an essential and habitual movement, which finds expression every day in human thought and deed. Religious music is a paradigm, no doubt.

Music. Human beings. Water in water.

79.  Why does a person believe that a thought occurs to him in his head? He doesn’t believe it; he lives it.

He holds his head when this happens, shuts his eyes to converge upon his thought, and makes a gesture to ward off outside interruptions. These actions are important.

Similarly, to ask of a piece of music the intention of the composer when he wrote it seems inappropriate. Music, like religion, doesn’t ask to be believed in; it is simply there. One only has to decide whether to live it, or not. In this context, ‘living it’ means a kind of resonation with what is perceived, an uninterrupted continuity.

Music isn’t an interruption in life, but continuous with life’s unceasing flow. We, who are its listeners, are not also interruptions, but merge with music like water in water. But, we are inclined to ask questions like, ‘Why do you believe in God?’ or, ‘Does music express a thought?’, and so on. The seal encasing our understanding of human perception is broken, and lies idle.

The tool that digs into the earth. He who holds the tool. Subject and object. The agricultural revolution changed forever our relation to the world. Before the invention of the tool, primitive humans existed as continuous with all the items in the natural world. Is music any different? Is it a tool that ploughs forth thoughts, ideas and intentions? And, are we who listen to music now interruptions – is music a mere tool? What of God?

68. Is there a reason or rule for every word or sentence we utter? No more than there is a reason or rule standing behind every tune we whistle or sing to others. And what do we lose by this?

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) 

From the National Post, January 14, 2008

This year marks the centenary of monosodium glutamate, drip coffee makers, the FBI and — most importantly — atonality as we know it.

In 1908, Viennese composer Arnold Schoenberg led the classical tradition away from its audience, changing the world with music not in any key and of no commercial value. He put music before audiences, both literally and figuratively, and in doing so created some of Western culture’s best music while gutting classical’s contemporary significance.

Schoenberg started writing compositions as a child in the 1880s, studying Bach and Mozart passionately. And though none of his family was artistic, his music began demonstrating genius, soon blending the sounds of those romantic antipodes, Brahms and Wagner.

In the late 19th century, European opinion was primarily divided between these two composers. Brahms was a supposed reactionary who nonetheless wrote the first pieces that were completely thematic, wherein every bit of the score was related to the main melody. Wagner’s blatantly progressive, extended tonalities seemed too delicate to support Brahms’ tight melodic weaves.

Nonetheless, Schoenberg put them together in his 1899 Transfigured Night, when he was just 25. It wasn’t merely beautiful, sophisticated music; this half-hour string sextet was wise and heart-wrenching, on par with the best of Mahler or Richard Strauss.

Schoenberg didn’t just want to entertain; he was a culture warrior who said things like, “I have discovered a technique that will guarantee German music’s supremacy for the next thousand years.”

At the turn of the century, most serious artists in Vienna were confronting psychoanalysis by looking inward.

Painters were on the front lines of new ideas back then, and Schoenberg was active in this art as well. He and cutting-edge younger Viennese visual artists like Egon Shiele and Oskar Kokoschka were interested in the bald psychological stresses hinted at on the canvases of Klimt, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Bodies and landscapes could now be legitimately, hideously rendered if the artist was revealing truth, the same way clenched hands betray the lie behind a smile. This style was dubbed expressionism, pulling the romantic pose inside out.

Schoenberg’s view of musical history allowed for a similar inversion. It ran something like this: from Mozart to Mahler, classical music became more and more dissonant, with more chromatic (or “wrong”) notes in it, so that it was more indirect overall with each generation. The handling of chromatic notes was critical to a composer’s unique sound. Schoenberg concluded that since wrong notes were coming more and more into the foreground of compositions, that they were music’s progressive impetus.

But the public was uninterested in difficult music. Schoenberg barely supported his family as a conductor. Critics were childishly toxic, writing clever cruelties like “Transfigured Night sounds similar to Tristan and Isolde if the ink were smeared across Wagner’s score.” By today’s standards, these dissonances are no more offensive than one of Danny Elfman’s soundtracks.

Entire article is here.


We distinguish between recognition of familiar faces, which is not marked by task achievement, and therefore does not admit of recognitional failure, and cases of facial recognition which, in normal circumstances, are marked by task achievement insofar as there is a presumption that one may not know who or what one is currently perceiving. We expect recognitional failure if one has not seen an old friend for twenty years, and now she is before one, for she has probably changed greatly since the previous encounter, or we presume that one may not know the facial expression I immediately recognize now if the original encounter of it was a quick look, and so on. Unfortunately, the philosophers who conceive of recognition as consisting in a hidden process of coinciding one’s impression with a stored representation easily gloss over these subtle differences, and build into their ancient philosophy the mistaken claim that whenever one perceives a familiar face, one must recognize it.

The philosopher who asks me whether I recognize my wife’s familiar smile in the photo would receive a positive reply. Now, I might add to this some description or other, such as: ‘Her face radiates joy’, or ‘What a face – it says something!’. It is quite natural to do so. Suppose, however, that the philosopher decides to press me further about the meaning in her face by asking a question such as, ‘What does her face say?’. Is this clear? What should I say in response? In normal circumstances, the words in the description of a familiar face are not meant as a preliminary to specifying what meaning it has. When we find a human face noteworthy, be it a familiar one or not, we are interested in what it expresses, we let it impress itself upon us, and we convey in language how impressed we are by, how arresting we find, the object of our attention. Naturally, we may say in this context: ‘That face has a friendly meaning’ or, ‘Now that is sadness’, and so on. If the philosopher now asks ‘What does the face say?’, we find that no provision is normally made for such a question. In fact, we are merely ‘giving ourselves up to the features’, Wittgenstein cautions, letting them impress us. The philosopher makes the mistake of always looking at the language of human facial expression according to the same preconceived schema: as meaning the outward manifestation of a hidden process.

Consider music as an analogy to this case. When we let ourselves be impressed by music, we may remark ‘This music says something‘. We are strongly inclined in philosophy to think that one should be able to specify what it says. ‘Music is love in search of a word’, Sidney Lanier once said; but clearly, this is not always the case. For, I do not always mean the words to preface a description of my imaginative involvement. Rather, they function merely to convey my level of interest: the music really did impress me. When words lead off, music begins. Now, we can imagine cases where the use of ‘such-and-such made a quite particular impression’ is used as an introduction to an interpretation. We may say ‘It’s extremely impressive: the music drives on relentlessly, the horns sound off to increase the moment, and the strings bring the tension to a definitive close’. When words lead off, the music is in the language. But again, the transition made here from an expression of interest in the music to an interpretation is conducted in the language we speak, and the move does not involve transition to any mental process of understanding or recognition that supposedly underlies the experience, and that accompanies it on every occasion. If I ask for your interpretation in this case, it is because your level of interest in the music is noteworthy. It merits attention, a second glance, as it were, and our exchange is carried on within our language; and does not involve a transition to a mental process. My interpretation remains within language.

The expression on a familiar face is simply there, alive in the features. It is not concentrated or localized in the result of any process or mental event; it is not seen through. The expression is dispersed in the features of the face and embeds there like diffuse light (Wittgenstein, Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, Volume II; 1980). One may say that the face is familiar. But the familiarity, once more, is not a matter of a comparison made, for example, with a memory-image. It is not as though the image of a face is less familiar than a face itself. And if an interpretation of a familiar face calls to be explained, then the explanation of it is continuous with the language in which it is given, and does not betoken the presence of a process of interpretation or recognition. We move in language.

I posted this week two articles on Brain Music Therapy (BMT): “When she listens to her brain (through music), her brain will recognize it (the pattern) and her brain will become what we call ‘entrained,'” Peter explained. “It will start to fall into that same frequency and she will be able to make more relaxing brain waves”.

Scientists record the relaxing brain waves of the subject, and convert them into an audio frequency. When the music on the activating tape works, the subject begins to relax. With repeated listenings, the music decreases stress, insomnia, etc. in the subject. Now, it is well-known that music alters human mood and feeling. But, BMT adds more to this: the music contains a neurological record which is isomorphic with the previously recorded relaxing brain-waves. In other words: the subject relaxes while listening to BMT music only if the brain ‘recognizes’ the neurological trace in the relaxation music. To determine this scientifically the subject’s brain waves are measured on an EEG. Normally, the criterion we employ is to simply ask someone how he or she feels. But, this is clearly not suitable for scientific measurement.

BMT is philosophically interesting. Can we ascribe psychological verbs to inanimate objects like body organs? What does it mean to say that the ‘the brain recognizes the music’, or, more remotely, ‘the brain recognizes itself’ (through the music)? BMT holds that the subject relaxes when the brain recognizes a neurological trace in the music. This implies that there is universal parallelism between the physical and the mental. Must this be so?

If BMT music relaxes me, BMT holds that there must be a neurophysiogical accompaniment. Is this correct? It is logically possible that whatever the reading of the EEG, I may not feel relaxed. It is also logically possible that I may feel relaxed without there being any significant EEG reading. Furthermore, it is conceivable that there are no neurophysiological accompaniments at all: ‘it is imaginable that my skull should turn out empty when it was operated on’ (OC, 4). It is perfectly imaginable that someone says that they feel relaxed while listening to BMT music, but the EEG does not confirm this, nor does it reveal any specific neurological activity at all. There is no conceptual connection between neurophysiological mechanisms and the application of the phrase ‘is relaxed’. Hence, there need not be any neurological difference between someone who is relaxed and someone who is not, nor between someone who listens to BMT music and is relaxed, and someone who listens to BMT music and is not relaxed.

This conclusion is unsettling, since it upsets our conception of causation. First, it is incompatible with an extremely successful principle of the neurosciences. Second, the general connection between neurophysiological mechanisms and mental phenomena is part of our world-view, and resists abandonment at the risk of disintegrating our belief-system. On the other hand, to deny a connection between neurophysiological mechanisms and mental phenomena does not imply that we could doubt that normal human beings have brains.

There are two further questions that I want to raise but cannot answer at present:

(1) How does the BMT music encode a neurological trace? Music has symbolic content, a neurological trace does not. On the other hand, a neurological trace is specified in terms of the EEG reading, which has symbolic or representational content.

(2) Is Wittgenstein’s distinction between ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ sense relevant here? (PI II 216) Is the word ‘recognize’ being used in the primary or secondary sense in the quote above from Peter? Is he attributing recognitional capacity to the brain in a derivative – analogical (non-literal) –  sense?


May 2018
« Apr    

Blog Stats

  • 332,686 hits