Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus, a program from the 2009 World Science Festival

If you're like me, you follow World Science Festival on Twitter and constantly marvel at the new videos they add from prior festivals. One in particular sparked my interest as essential viewing for anyone interested in the intersection of neuroscience and music. It's quite a long video at just over an hour and a half long, so the link above will take you to the full length version if you have the time for a leisurely weekend viewing. If you're a bit more pressed for time, I've summarized the highlights of the program below with the above video broken up into five shorter sections.

But If you watch nothing else,watch the part from 74:00-98:23 of the longer video! It's not featured in the series of short clips below and it's the most fun part of the program. Bobby McFerrin and two other volunteers get hooked up to a galvinic skin response (GSR) machine to measure their reactions to different types of music. This is the same technology that the featured study used in my old post, Musical Emotions: Chills Edition. Go watch that part first, then if you have more time and interest come back and check out the clips below.

0:00 - 9:42 Musician Bobby McFerrin opens with vocal scatting.

Afterward we're introduced to the other panelists consisting of host John Schaefer and scientists Daniel Levitin, Jamshed Bharucha, and Lawrence Parsons.


14:19 - 20:50 A discussion of pitch, rhythm, and timbre. The panelists discuss the definitions of each and demonstrate them with the help of a cellist. Cognitive neuroscientist Jamshed Bharucha describes his research on the types of tone patterns he's found in sad and angry speech. I also have to admit that he completely earned my respect when he busts out a violin at 16:53 while discussing his research. The money quote: "It's very important that you detect negative emotions because there are consequences."


4:23 - 11:40 The most exciting part of the program! Bharucha describes his research on the brain's tendency to "fill-in" notes that aren't present in unfamiliar scales. The clips of the experiments are fascinating.


1:49 - 4:35 Bobby Mcferrin does a moving scale demo. This is also fantastic and a highlight of the program. He cites that no matter where he is, when he performs these actions "every audience gets that."


98:20 - 105:45 An EPIC ending with all the participants jamming out together.


Expect some posts from me on some of the research outlined here soon!