Sound of music

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 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.

Imagine the world without sound, or too much sound. Imagine a world without music. From a limited number of sounds, isn’t it fascinating to hear infinite varieties of music. We can distinguish between various kinds of sounds because we have an auditory brain. There are nearly 25,000 receptors in our ear that carry messages to our brain. 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?

Music has the power to control our emotions and movements. Rhythmic sound synchronizes brain waves. That is the reason drums unite us and we dance. Rhythmic sound coordinates the behaviour of people in a group. 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.

We feel music. We interact with music. We dance and change facial expressions while listening to music. Experiments have suggested that the performer’s body language makes a difference in our listening. Music improves our mood. Music brings back 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. Music is good for social bonding, coalition building, and generally for reducing interpersonal tensions. It 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.

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 the sides are necessary for complete perception of rhythm. Though there is 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.

We like to listen our own kind of music in our own way. 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. Music has therapeutic value. Neuroscientists 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.

How did music evolve? Does the human brain have a dedicated space for music? Is music a biological adaptation or a cultural invention? Experts say, music was a cultural invention, like cave painting or writing, which we humans invented to make our lives easier and more pleasant. Studies have indicated that long years of musical training makes brains better attuned to emotions. Every culture has music. Choirs, symphonies, ensembles and bands suggest it is a group activity. Music, it seems, could reveal deeper biological connections between people than characteristics, such as language, that change rapidly when one culture meets another. 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.” Neuroscientists argue that music is something that humans have crafted over the millennia, rather than something directly wired into our genomes.

Why does music evoke emotion? According to a study, 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. The researchers found that music powerfully influences the emotional ratings of the faces. Happy music makes happy faces seem even happier, while sad music exaggerates the melancholy of a frown. The history of music represents a long process of exploring different symmetries and different geometries. It might allow one to visualise some of the differences between different musicians.

Music seems to be both nature and nurture. In the making of Rahul Dev Burman, can we ignore the contributions of the enchanting musical environs of Kolkata, the musical support of Basu Chakravarti and Manohari Singh, and the assistance of his talented group of musicians? Can we ignore in the music of R D Burman the music genes of S D Burman?

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