Imagine the world without sound, or with too much sound. Imagine the world without music. 

MUSIC is much more than mere sound. We ‘feel’ music. We interact with music. We ‘conduct’ dance while listening to music.  Music improves our mood.  Music brings back so many fond memories.

We love music, but our affinity for music is different. For a singer music is altogether a different experience than for a listener. Our ancestors had far more music in their lives than we do. The difference between us and our ancestors is that then everyone joined in the music making. Now we love to sit quietly in passive listening mode. We believe in consuming (as listeners) as much music as possible. Music is good for social bonding, coalition building, and generally for reducing interpersonal tensions.

Mudic has played a crucial role in the evolution of the human mind. Music is both culturally biased and genetically determined. Even babies in the womb respond to music.

We like to listen to our own kind of music in our own way. It is said that listening to music makes one smarter (“Mozart effect”). Oliver Sacks writes, “Mozart is sublime, and whenever I listen to his music, I feel something which only music, and only Mozart, can provide.” Music making, says Sacks, engages much of our brains than simply listening.

Music is much more than entertainment. Music is one of the most powerful means of communication, especially emotions. Studies have indicated that long years of musical training makes the brains of musicians better attuned to the emotional content, like anger, of vocal sounds; musicians’ brain showed enhanced responses to the infant’s cries. Music has therapeutic value. Research indicates that music reduces blood pressure, lowers stress hormone levels, and reduces the need for sedatives. Investigators have found that music increases the efficiency of oxygen consumption by the heart. Another interesting observation made by the researchers is that music encourages relaxation and modulates immunity.

You can ‘see’ sound in Shabdo, a Bengali film made by Kaushik Ganguli. The film is about a foley artist Tarak Dutta. Tarak creates ambient sounds in the studio that are required in the film. His methods of creating sound are unique. For example, crushing a paper, Tarak creates the subtle noise of flickering flames. He is so obsessed with the sound that is used in movies, that he slowly loses grip of words and dialogues. For him, the whole interest lies in focussing on the ambience sound used in movies. He becomes the victim of his own obsession. This impacts his personal life too. Sound impacts personal life in s vetal ways.

Hearing seems an effortless process. It is, in fact, a very complex process.  Sound is a pressure wave that propagates through the air. From a limited number of sounds, isn’t it fascinating to hear infinite varieties of music? We can distinguish various kinds of sounds because we have an auditory brain. The vibrations created by sound are sent to the brain via the auditory nerve. There are nearly 25,000 receptors in our ear that carry messages to our brain. Our brain then makes sense of the messages, and tells us what sound we are hearing. Is sound only a pressure wave? Can we all hear with the same subtlety the silence of the air, music of the sea, noise of the earth, vastness of the sky? Why can only those who have sensitivity hear them?

Whenever we think of sound, the first thing that comes to our mind is music. Music is so powerful. It has the power to tap into brain circuits, controlling our emotions and movements. Rhythmic sound synchronizes brain waves. That is the reason, drums unite tribes and we dance. Rhythmic sound coordinates the behaviour of people in a group.  The rhythmic sound coordinates people’s thinking—the mental processes of individuals in the group become synchronized. Our perception of the external world entering our mind through our eyes is affected by the rhythm of what we hear.  “Rhythm facilitates our interpersonal interactions in terms of not only how we move, but how we talk and think, ” researchers observe.

The right hemisphere of the human brain has been traditionally identified as the seat of music appreciation. Studies reveal that music perception emerges from the interplay of activity in both sides of the brain, and both left and right sides are necessary for complete perception of rhythm. Though there is a connection, it is not clear which part of the brain predominantly ‘feels’ music and which part ‘hears’ it. Not one particular ‘music centre’ but the whole auditory system (consisting of tens of millions of neurons) is needed to make sense of the music. Musicians think of music “as auditory motor athletes whose long-term training has an effect on brain function and structure.” Some researchers say that professional musicians are not born with the natural advantage of an auditory-motor system that enables them to play a musical instrument. It is the brain plasticity, particularly at a young age, and continued musical practice that lead to brain changes. People with Alzheimer’s or other dementias have often responded to music even when they were unable to respond to other things. In some individuals music can stop incessant seizure. Music, especially familiar music from one’s early years, can help to orient and organise such people. Oliver Sacks says music works because it engages so many parts of the brain. Rhythm, actual or imagined, activates areas of the motor cortex, crucial in synchronising and energising movement—whether for athletes or people with movement disorders. Music can often work where no medications can.

How did music evolve? Does the human brain have a dedicated space for music? Is music a biological adaptation, or a cultural invention? Some experts believe that music was a cultural invention, like cave painting or writing, which humans invented to make their lives easier and more pleasant. There are also some who believe that music has biological connection. Studies indicate that long years of musical training makes brains better attuned to emotions. Steven Pinker, however,   believes that music never contributed to the propagation of the species. He believes, if music vanishes from our species the rest of our lifestyle would be virtually unchanged. He says that music is something humans have invented and then cultivated, because it gives pleasure to our senses.

Every culture has music. Choirs, symphonies, ensembles and bands suggest that it is a group activity. Music can reveal deeper biological connections between people than characteristics, such as language, that change rapidly when one culture meets another.  The link between songs and genotypes, say researchers, are quite strong; “cultures next door aren’t as likely to sing the same tunes as cultures with similar genotypes”. Every culture has lullabies, and one doesn’t need to understand the language to know that it is a lullaby. People sing to their infants the same way: at a high pitch, in a slow tempo and in a distinctive tone. It is argued that music is something that humans have crafted over the millennia, rather than something directly wired into our genomes. One observer compared talented musicians with Steve Jobs: grand cultural engineers who design entertainment technology that appeals to brains that evolved for millions of years before the technology was developed. Another observer thinks that music has got some key features of an evolved adaptation, like it is universal across cultures, and children learn it early and spontaneously. The bone flute is at least 35,000 years old. Some say, vocal music might be a lot older.  They  refer to Darwin’s argument to make their case. Darwin said that more musically talented proto-humans attracted more sexual partners, or higher-quality sexual partners, than their less-musical rivals. It is not few music genes, but thousands of contributing genes that are needed for appreciating and performing music.  According to a group of  , music draws on a system of brain wiring that more generally promotes attachment behaviours. Their results suggest that willingness to listen to music is related to neurobiological pathways affecting social affiliation and communication.

It could be due to the mathematical nature of music that engineers love music. Some musical engineers want to understand, through computers, what musicians do to create sound. They want to capture the essence of the physics of how the instrument works. They study how subtle inputs connect things together  They try to understand what’s critical, and what’s not, in a music file. They want their music students to spend time not only with their ears, but also with their eyes. They want them to better coordinate their ears with their eyes. They say, “Then, at a certain point, they come together. In that way you have accomplished your goal by combining your sight and your hearing.”

Why music evokes emotion? A study tells us that music can affect our visual images. After listening to happy or sad musical excerpts, the participants of the study were shown a photograph of a face. They were then asked to rate the emotional content of the face (1 meaning extremely sad and 7 extremely happy). The study  found that music influenced the emotional ratings of the faces. Happy music made happy faces seem even happier, while sad music exaggerated the melancholy of a frown.

Now, the researchers are trying to find a mathematical sense of music. They say, music represents a long process of exploring different symmetries and different geometries. They say, their method might allow you to visualise some of the differences between John Lennon and Paul McCartney. “McCartney’s tunes tend to look more traditional, Lennon’s  tend to be a little more rock.”

Gloomy classical compositions have moved people for centuries. Why do we like what we try to avoid in our daily lives? Why some of us enjoy sad music more than others is the subject of study of a research group. For some, sad music deepens and amplifies the feelings of sorrow and loss. For others, sad music brings about feelings of melancholia, the kind of sentiment you might have on a rainy day after your favourite team lost. The studies suggest that the key to enjoyment is not only the ability to empathise with the sad emotions expressed by the music, but also the ability to self-regulate and distance oneself from this process. People sensitive and willing to empathise with the misfortune of another person are somehow rewarded by the process.

Is there a difference in the music I liked when I was a teen, and the music I like now? Every generation has its masterpieces and his favourites. Then, it was SD Burman, Salil Choudhury, Shankar-Jaikishan, OP Nayyar, Hemant Kumar. Now it is RD Burman, AR Rahman, Shantanu Maitra, Preetam. I don’t sing, but I love listening to music. I don’t play an instrument or compose music, can I be as sophisticated and devout in my music listening as someone who is a professional musician.

🎵 is both nature and nurture. In the making of Rahul Dev Burman, can we ignore the contributions of enchanting musical environs of Kolkata, the musical support of Jaidev, Basu Chakravarti,  Manohari Singh, and the assistance of his talented group of musicians? Can we ignore in RD Burman the music genes of Sachin Dev Burman?

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