Music: The Brain and Ecstasy

Music: The Brain and Ecstasy

4.5 2
by Robert Jourdain

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Synthesizing recent research from the burgeoning science of musical psychoacoustics, Jourdain, a California musician, provides a richly informative, exuberant, wonderfully accessible introduction to how we perceive and experience music. Choosing examples eclectically, from Henry Mancini's "The Pink Panther" to Mozart, Stravinsky and Duke Ellington, he explores how, when we compose, perform or listen to music, the brain assembles musical devices, patterns and harmonies into vast, meaningful hierarchies of sound. He also offers tantalizing if inevitably unsatisfying answers to such age-old enigmas as what makes a great melody or how music elicits emotions and gives pleasure. Requiring no prior musical or scientific knowledge, this survey is sprinkled with interesting historical anecdotes (Beethoven was an early victim of metronome mania; Aaron Copland hit upon the title Appalachian Spring only after he had finished composing his tone poem) as well as seldom-appreciated facts. We learn, for instance, that musical dissonance and consonance have a neurological basis, in the inner ear's structure. Jourdain writes with verve, infectious enthusiasm and rare insight into music's emotive power. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Jourdain, a pianist, composer, and researcher on artificial intelligence, investigates music from its most fundamental biological basis to the psychology of composing and performing, ending with speculation on music's future possibilities. While trained musicians will be especially fascinated with the chapters on musical education, the virtuoso, and the amateur, Jourdain succeeds in making this work understandable for those without specialized knowledge. Though written music surfaces in the form of Henry Mancini's sprightly theme from The Pink Panther as an illustration of various concepts, readers who don't read music will probably still follow the examples without difficulty. The author's presentation combines the thoughts of many previous writers in a wide variety of fields with the results of recent research, enriched with his own insights on popular, classical, and non-Western music. A thought-provoking work for music teachers, serious music students, and others with an interest in what music is and where it might be going.-James E. Ross, WLN, Seattle
Kirkus Reviews
A layman's primer on the psychology and history of the human response to music.

Jourdain, a California composer and pianist, goes at his subject with the zeal of an impresario, approaching music from as many different angles as he can think of: the anthropological, the biological, the aesthetic, the moral, and the physical. The book that results from his discoveries swarms with information. We learn that "all in all, it took some 500 million years—well over a hundred million generations of animals—to evolve from the first hint of sound to an ear that can fathom Don Giovanni." Readers also benefit from detailed explanations of the mechanics of hearing for crickets (whose " `ears' consist of thinnings on [their] front knees that vibrate only at certain frequencies made by rasping cricket legs"), various birds, dinosaurs, whales, as well as Jourdain's main focus, homo sapiens. He divides the book into chapters on the basics of sound and aspects of music (e.g., harmony and rhythm) and the ways we perceive them, then goes on to consider the neurological and emotional adaptations of composers and musicians to the demands of music, noting that there is no proof that any "particular brand of emotionality is tied to musical greatness." Although the title implies that ecstasy is central to Jourdain's musical interest, this isn't addressed until the last chapter, which looks at music as a means of psychic healing and regeneration ("it lifts us from our frozen mental habits and makes our minds move in ways they ordinarily cannot"). Jourdain is an able guide in matters scientific. His comments on music as an art are less sophisticated. When discussing musical understanding, he remarks, " `Meaning' is one of those fuzzy concepts that keep philosophers in business. It has no simple explanation."

A know-it-all he isn't. But Jourdain knows enough to keep us listening.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.92(w) x 8.56(h) x 1.31(d)

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