6 6
May May
2021 2021
More info

Brain and Mind: Music and the Brain

17:00 to 19:00
Music and the Brain

Three expert speakers will each give a talk on the subject of Brain and Mind: Music and the Brain at the next in the popular Brain and Mind series of research seminars.

We look forward to welcoming and hearing from Professor Eric Clarke, Heather Professor of Music, University of Oxford, Dr Victoria Bajo, Associate Professor of Neuroscience, University of Oxford, and Professor Nick Zangwill, Honorary Research Fellow, University College London. There will then be a chaired discussion, with questions from the audience.

This event will be virtual. Attendance is free and everyone is welcome but please register in advance for Music and the Brain here.  

Beyond the brain: music across brain, body and world by Professor Eric Clarke

Abstract: There has been striking and exciting progress in the neuroscience of music over the last 25 years or more, as brain scanning methods themselves have become more sophisticated and more readily available to researchers. But there is a danger in thinking of the experience of music as being confined to the brain. A proper consideration of the rest of the body, and the body’s own entanglement with the extraordinary variety of musical environments that we inhabit, are just as integral to the powerful experiences that music affords. In this talk I offer an outline of what a more distributed and less brain-bound approach might offer, and a view of music as a ‘technology of the self’, and a tool for flourishing from the cradle to the grave.

Speaker Biography: Eric Clarke is Heather Professor of Music at the University of Oxford, and a Professorial Fellow of Wadham College. He has published on a variety of topics in the psychology of music, ecological approaches to music perception, musical meaning, music and consciousness, musical creativity, and the analysis of pop music. Recent projects include work on music, empathy and cultural understanding; and empirical and historical approaches to the performance of C19th orchestral and chamber music. His books include Empirical Musicology (OUP 2004, with Nicholas Cook), Ways of Listening (OUP 2005), Music and Mind in Everyday Life (OUP 2010, with Nicola Dibben and Stephanie Pitts), Music and Consciousness (OUP 2011, with David Clarke), Distributed Creativity: Collaboration and Improvisation in Contemporary Music (OUP 2017, with Mark Doffman), and Music and Consciousness 2: Worlds, Practices, Modalities (OUP 2019, with Ruth Herbert and David Clarke). He was is a member of Academia Europaea, and a Fellow of the British Academy.

Suggested Reading: Clarke, E. F. (2005) Ways of Listening. An Ecological Approach to the Perception of Musical Meaning. New York: Oxford University Press; Clarke, E. F., Dibben, N. and Pitts, S. (2010) Music and Mind in Everyday Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Harmonies in the ear and in the brain by Professor Victoria M Bajo Lorenzana

Abstract: The ear is an exquisite organ that decomposes sounds, including music, and transform them in temporal patterns of neural activity to be process by the brain. We will initiate an extraordinary journey that starts in the pinna funnelling sounds in the air. We will explore the action of the 3 miniscule bones in transmitting and amplifying sound vibrations. We will see the beautiful and precise structure of the cochlea where the basilar membrane moves up and down depending on the sound frequency and changes the electric potential in the hair cells that activate the auditory nerve. We will examine the concepts of tonotopy (each frequency analysed in specific segments of the cochlea) and phase-locking (the ability of the auditory nerve in following the sound waves) that are key to understand the codes used by the auditory brain to process complex sounds. We will explore the complexity of the neural connectivity, including the connections with the limbic system, where emotions and memory add special dimension to music perception. Finally, we will focus on auditory plasticity and its role in learning, but also in hearing loss and tinnitus.

Speaker Biography: Victoria Bajo is Associate Professor at the University of Oxford, in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, and Lecturer in Neuroscience at Balliol College. Her research focuses on auditory neural plasticity. Her work on how the descending pathways mediate learning-induced auditory plasticity provided the first behavioural evidence for the function of a specific corticofugal pathway in auditory plasticity. One of her interests is to identify and be able to manipulate the neural circuits that contribute to tinnitus, a phantom auditory perception occurring without any external stimulus that affects the normal living activities of 1-3% of the general population, producing anxiety, irritability, disturbed sleep patterns and depression, and with no single cure.

Suggested Reading: Homma NY et al. A Role for Auditory Corticothalamic Feedback in the Perception of Complex Sounds. J Neurosci. 2017 Jun 21;37(25):6149-6161. Bajo VM et al. Silencing cortical activity during sound-localization training impairs auditory perceptual learning. Nat Commun. 2019 Jul 12;10(1):3075. Bajo VM et al. The descending corticocollicular pathway mediates learning-induced auditory plasticity. Nat Neurosci. 2010 Feb;13(2):253-60.

Music, Science and Beauty by Professor Nick Zangwill

Abstract: I outline and defend a view of music that makes beauty central. Eduard Hanslick’s 1854 book On the Musically-Beautiful, is most associated with this view. Many connect music with emotion, either in its makers or in its listeners. I dispose of a number of considerations that encourage this connection, before showing why it should be rejected. However, I also reflect on the status of the issue, and the extent to which it is a scientific issue. I criticize the psychology of music when it turns on questionnaires, as bad science. (“Which of these 7 emotions did you feel?”) I then follow Rory Allen’s work on autistic spectrum musical listening in order to disconnect music and emotion understanding. The advantage of something like Hanslick’s view, which prioritizes pleasure in beauty, is that it makes musical experience and creation intelligible, rational, reasonable. Without that we have not really understood it at its core, even though the physiological aspect is of course necessary. I consider objections with the appeal to beauty and pleasure (sublimity, K-pop…). Lastly, I consider Hanslick’s attitude to the physiological aspect of musical listening, which he acknowledged but thought not part of proper musical listening. 

Speaker Biography: Nick Zangwill is an honorary research fellow in University College London and Visiting Professor in the University of Lincoln. 

He is the author of Music and Aesthetic Reality, Routledge 2015, Aesthetic Creation, Oxford 2007 and The Metaphysics of Beauty 2001, as well as over 100 papers in moral philosophy, metaphysics, philosophy of mind and aesthetics. He has recently been working on the nature of logic, and animal ethics, defending eating meat. 

Suggested Reading: Eduard Hanslick, On the Musically Beautiful 1854. Recent translations 1986 and 2018.