Whoa, dude, that must be some crazy s--t we're listening to
After looking at the state of brain science three years ago, I wrote an article in the Star where I suggested that we effectively use music as a form of emotional self-medication. Here are the opening paragraphs:
Look down any bus, subway car or sidewalk and you'll see many a pair of slim wires dangling from earlobes, the telltale signs of our obsession with music
We pipe it directly to our eardrums. We surround ourselves with it at home, in the car and while shopping.
We instinctively know our favourite song or the perfect piece to fit or change a mood. We pump up volume and tempo to get our adrenaline flowing. We look for slow melodies and easy harmonies to unwind after a stressful day.
Could it be that this is the ultimate in psychological self-medication?
Although most of us don't know why we choose to listen to a particular kind of music at any given time, we know it affects how we feel. And we know how and when to administer the right dose.
Filmmakers have worked the art of emotional manipulation through music from the days when the soundtrack came from a live piano or organ player in the theatre.
Consumer marketers know how to push these buttons as well. Next time you walk through Ikea, stop to listen how the music is different in each department.
But this is nothing new.
Three hundred years ago, William Congreve wrote the now-immortal words in his play The Mourning Bride: "Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast/To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak."
Two thousand years before that, Socrates sat down with his pupils Glaucon and Adeimantus to discuss how to create a good and noble human being. As recorded in Plato's Republic, Socrates stated that, "rhythm and harmony find their way to the inmost soul and take strongest hold upon it, bringing with them and imparting grace..."
A recent study by a group of researchers at McGill University, as reported in the Montreal Gazette on Monday, points to exactly that conclusion.
Hooking up the brains of 10 study participants while they listened to instrumental-only music (just in case the lyrics might be involved in triggering an emotional response), the reseachers listened, watched and analysed. As the article reports:
As the volunteers listened to music that "really turned them on," the sensors and scanners picked up clear signs of pleasure. Chills ran up their spines and their heart rates climbed as dopamine was released deep inside the brain. The volunteers also underwent scans listening to music they are indifferent to, which produced no pleasure effect.
So, it's another day -- and another opportunity to get high on music.
My contribution to the pill of the day may be a bit bitter, initially, but promises plenty of chills. I find the fugue's constant, slow alternation between darkness and light before building up to a huge climax absolutely irresistible.
Here is Canadian David Jalbert at the Chapelle Historique du Bon Pasteur in Montreal last February, playing the D-minor Prelude and Fugue that conclude Dmitri Shostakovich's fabulously rich Op. 87 set of 24: