Thursday, June 05, 2008

What musicians want from science

Like many other musicians, I keep an ear out for recent research in the sciences on music and topics related to music. Stories about music and science appear quite regularly in the media and while many of the results are interesting, very little is immediately useful to a musician, aside from those results which get implemented immediately -- and, as far as I'm concerned, invisibly -- in commercial audio technologies. It occurs to me that the situation might be somewhat different if musicians helped to frame the questions explored in the research more specifically towards immediate musical problems. I can recognize that otoacoustic emissions or the relationship between tonal languages and the fascinating anatomy of human hearing, in which music is, at least in part, piggybacked onto organs used for language and balance, have great potential to reveal more very interesting things about music, but I, for one, would like to know much more about musical timing. What is the relationship between the "present" in music as it is played and the "present" as registered in the brain? How can ensembles of individuals coordinate rhythmically? How long are the chunks or stretches of music that our brain processes, and how does the brain sequence them back together? And, of course, as a composer, I really want to know how much I can play with these phenomena in order to make interesting new music.

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