UC MERCI Project Wins $300K Award for Music and Science Research

UC MERCI

Scott Makeig, research scientist and director of the Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience at the Institute for Neural Computation of UC San Diego, has brought together a research group from four UC campuses who have won a $300,000 President’s Research Catalyst Award, one of five such awards across the UC system announced by President Janet Napolitano.

The group’s research, which uses music to understand the human brain, “brings together UC experts on music listening, performance, neuroscience, brain imaging, and data science to understand the transformative potential of music for health and cognition,” says Napolitano’s announcement.

Makeig and his colleagues are among the first to receive the new awards, which will channel $10 million over three years to fund research in areas of strategic importance, such as sustainability and climate, food and nutrition, equity and social justice, education innovation, and health care.

“It’s gratifying to know our work on the frontiers of music, systems neuroscience, and human experience has been recognized for its potential value,” said Makeig. “I’m especially pleased for my collaborators. This is a true team effort by scientists from different disciplines with common interests in musical experience and communication.”

His winning project proposes “an American center for the scientific study of musical experience, communication, and behavior.” The UC Music Experience Research Community Initiative (UC MERCI) will allow UC researchers to share cutting-edge resources and collaboratively develop methods to understand – and enhance – music’s ability to affect and even transform the human mind.

Working with Makeig on the project are John Iversen, Sarah Creel, and Gert Lanckriet of UC San Diego; Ramesh Balasubramaniam, UC Merced; Petr Janata, UC Davis; and Mark Tramo, UCLA. Under the initiative, a group of graduate students will work together across the four campuses. California music-industry groups may also be involved.

“The study of musical experience and communication is truly interdisciplinary,” said Makeig. “For centuries, humanists and scientists have studied music and language from different angles and for varied purposes at conservatories and universities around the globe. We now have an opportunity to gain new understanding by using new scientific tools including brain imaging and computation.”

“A thorough and systematic study of music cognition requires a truly multidisciplinary effort, bringing together neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, linguistics, medicine and, of course, music. While the UC system has much invested in individuals, technologies, and methodologies for studying each of these separately, a systematic interdisciplinary effort to tackle music-cognition problems could enable UC to attain worldwide prominence in these research areas.”

 

Above information taken directly from full press release by Paul K. Mueller, which may be found here.

More information on MERCI may be found here.

The causal inference of cortical neural networks during music improvisations

12.09.2014
The causal inference of cortical neural networks during music improvisations

Wan X1, Crüts B2, Jensen HJ1 
1 Department of Mathematics and Centre for Complexity Science, Imperial College London, London, UK; 2 Brainmarker BV, Molenweg 15a, Gulpen, The Netherlands

“We present an EEG study of two music improvisation experiments. Professional musicians with high level of improvisation skills were asked to perform music either according to notes (composed music) or in improvisation. Each piece of music was performed in two different modes: strict mode and “let-go” mode. Synchronized EEG data was measured from both musicians and listeners. We used one of the most reliable causality measures: conditional Mutual Information from Mixed Embedding (MIME), to analyze directed correlations between different EEG channels, which was combined with network theory to construct both intra-brain and cross-brain networks. Differences were identified in intra-brain neural networks between composed music and improvisation and between strict mode and “let-go” mode. Particular brain regions such as frontal, parietal and temporal regions were found to play a key role in differentiating the brain activities between different playing conditions. By comparing the level of degree centralities in intra-brain neural networks, we found a difference between the response of musicians and the listeners when comparing the different playing conditions.”

For our Italian friends:

Gli Autori presentano uno studio EEG da due esperimenti di improvvisazione musicale. Ai musicisti professionisti, con un grande livello di capacità di improvvisazione, veniva chiesto di eseguire musica composta o di improvvisare. Ogni pezzo musicale veniva eseguito in due modalità differenti: “preciso” e “rilassato”. I dati di sincronizzazione EEG sono stati registrati sia sui musicisti sia sugli ascoltatori. Gli Autori utilizzano una delle più attendibili misure di causalità, l’Informazione reciproca da embedding misto (MIME) condizionale, per analizzare le correlazioni dirette tra differenti canali EEG, che sono stati combinati con la teoria dei network per costruire circuiti sia intra-cerebrali che cross-cerebrali. Sono state identificate differenze nei network intra-neurali tra la musica composta e l’improvvisazione e tra il modo “preciso” e il modo “rilassato”. Particolari regioni cerebrali come quella frontale, parietale e temporale sono state identificate come regioni chiave nella distinzione delle attività cerebrali tra le differenti condizioni di esecuzione. Comparando i diversi gradi di centralità nei network intra-cerebrali, si è riscontrata una differenza tra la risposta dei musicisti e quella degli ascoltatori quando si comparavano le differenti condizioni di esecuzione.

For full article, please visit Cornell University Library.

Hope through Community in Music: Introducing Superbands

Introducing Superbands, a non-profit movement dedicated to helping those who struggle with depression, self-harm, eating disorders, thoughts of suicide, and other mental illnesses. Through the shared love of music, Superbands aims to encourage hope and positivity, and to remind people that they are not alone.

I’d love to share with you the words of my friend and founder of Superbands Jessica Villa, whose similar vision has been a significant encouragement in my own journey in music and suicide prevention advocacy.

Even at twenty two years olda recent college graduateI still feel like life is so quickly whirling around that I can barely keep up. While things are constantly changing around me (which can be quite overwhelming) one thing that has never changed is my passion for music. From a young age, I learned that music can heal the broken and give people a means of escaping their troubles, realizing that they are not alone. As I learned to battle my own inner demons growing up, I developed a vision to create a community of people all over the world who believe in the power of music. A community of hope. Thats where Superbands was born: a nonprofit movement dedicated to helping those struggling with depression, self-harm, other mental illnesses, or simply feeling lost. Through the shared love for music, we aim to encourage hope and positivity, and to remind people that they are not alone.

If you looked time back to 2006, you would likely find fourteen-year old me screaming at the top of my lungs at a dimly-lit Jonas Brothers concert, wearing a tour t-shirt plastered with the faces of the three brothers. In the midst of being an awkward pre-teen with an obsession with music, I was struggling with being bullied at school; the taunts of my peers echoing through the halls on a daily basis. This verbal abuse led to depression, self-loathing, and downright disgust every morning when I saw myself in the mirror. Struggling with self-hate for years, there were multiple days where life got so difficult that I considered attempting suicide.

It was around this time that I spent all my free time listening to my favorite songs on a hand-me-down CD player, miserably held together with medical tape from my mom’s cabinet. I awaited the final bell to echo through the school hallways so I could drown out everything around me just by putting on my headphones. The stress of schoolwork, the taunts of bullies, the loneliness I felt after moving to a new town, the perils of growing upit all disappeared. Nothing else mattered except the music. I refused to take my own life and give up. I wanted to go to more concerts, listen to my favorite songs, and meet my musical idols. Because of this, I firmly believe that these songs and these bandsthough they did not know my name or my facesaved my life.

While most kids my age played sports or got involved in after-school clubs, the fear of being further tormented by my peers kept me at home everyday. Buried underneath the covers with my CD player, I felt alone, like no one understood me or my passion for music. Concerts were the only place where I truly felt happiness. Why did I feel so at home in these dark venues, surrounded by these complete strangers?

It was because we were united, connected by the music.

It was something that is nearly impossible to explain in words. Hundreds, thousands, of people singing along to songs that I sang along with in my bedroom alone. People’s eyes twinkled with hope as they sang, faces glimmering with amazement. We were in the same vicinity as our favorite musical artists, who jumped around on stage and played these songs just for us. Here we all were, people with the same passion for music, swaying to melodies that once only radiated from our headphones. It was like an island of misfit toys, with everyone finally finding a place where they belonged. We formed bonds, friendships that thrived on new albums and tour dates. We were a family of music loverssomething I had yearned to find for so long.

Today, there are so many ways to reach out to others thanks to social media. From Instagram to Twitter to Facebook to Tumblr, these different social media platforms allow us to interact with people worlds away, regardless of culture, religion, language, or sexual orientation. Barriers are breaking because of music. This is something that we could not do until now – sharing our favorite band photos on Twitter and Instagram, posting our most memorable concert experiences on Tumblr, talking to people about our favorite bands’ upcoming tour dates on Facebook. It’s surreal how much technology has grown in such a short amount of time.

Superbands was an idea that had been swirling around in my head for as long as I could remember. It wasn’t until I came back from college and saw my younger sister Jenna’s passion for music that I got flashbacks from my own awkward teenage years. My own passion for music never faded, but instead grew stronger. I wanted to create the network that I once longed for, somewhere that music lovers could find a place they belonged. Music inspires so many people to keep fighting to overcome obstacles, no matter how difficult their lives become. This passion for music is something that people shouldn’t be ashamed of; it should be something in which we we find comfort. It should be what breaks down those barriers to unite us.

And that’s what I wanted to do with Superbands. I want to connect us, so we can continue breaking down barriers.

For more information on Superbands, please visit http://www.superbands.org

Photo of band After Our Juliet 

The Paradox of Music-Evoked Sadness: A Survey of Personality and Reward

The paradox of music-evoked sadness: an online survey

Taruffi L, Koelsch S – Published October 20, 2014

Department of Educational Sciences & Psychology and Cluster of Excellence, “Languages of Emotion”, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany

This study explores listeners’ experience of music-evoked sadness. Sadness is typically assumed to be undesirable and is therefore usually avoided in everyday life. Yet the question remains: Why do people seek and appreciate sadness in music? We present findings from an online survey with both Western and Eastern participants (N?=?772). The survey investigates the rewarding aspects of music-evoked sadness, as well as the relative contribution of listener characteristics and situational factors to the appreciation of sad music. The survey also examines the different principles through which sadness is evoked by music, and their interaction with personality traits.

Results show 4 different rewards of music-evoked sadness: reward of imagination, emotion regulation, empathy, and no “real-life” implications. Moreover, appreciation of sad music follows a mood-congruent fashion and is greater among individuals with high empathy and low emotional stability. Surprisingly, nostalgia rather than sadness is the most frequent emotion evoked by sad music. Correspondingly, memory was rated as the most important principle through which sadness is evoked. Finally, the trait empathy contributes to the evocation of sadness via contagion, appraisal, and by engaging social functions.

The present findings indicate that emotional responses to sad music are multifaceted, are modulated by empathy, and are linked with a multidimensional experience of pleasure. These results were corroborated by a follow-up survey on happy music, which indicated differences between the emotional experiences resulting from listening to sad versus happy music. This is the first comprehensive survey of music-evoked sadness, revealing that listening to sad music can lead to beneficial emotional effects such as regulation of negative emotion and mood as well as consolation. Such beneficial emotional effects constitute the prime motivations for engaging with sad music in everyday life.

TABLE 2: Summary of the situations in which participants engage with sad music, and functions of listening to sad music in those circumstances.

TABLE 2: Summary of the situations in which participants engage with sad music, and functions of listening to sad music in those circumstances.

TABLE 6: Summary of the situations in which participants engage with happy music and functions of listening to happy music in those circumstances.

TABLE 6: Summary of the situations in which participants engage with happy music and functions of listening to happy music in those circumstances.

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And for our Italian friends:

Questo studio esplora l’esperienza della tristezza indotta dall’ascolto della musica. La tristezza è comunemente considerata un’emozione negativa e pertanto evitata nella vita quotidiana. Rimane una questione aperta: perché quindi le persone apprezzano la musica triste? Gli Autori presentano i risultati di uno studio condotto online che ha coinvolto 722 partecipanti occidentali e orientali. Lo studio indaga gli effetti gratificanti delle emozioni tristi evocate dalla musica, nonché l’apporto relativo alle caratteristiche dell’ascoltatore e alle situazioni che contribuiscono all’apprezzamento della musica triste. Lo studio esamina inoltre i differenti principi attraverso i quali la tristezza viene evocata dalla musica e la sua interazione con i tratti della personalità.

I risultati mostrano quattro diversi aspetti gratificanti della musica triste: l’effetto dell’immaginazione, la regolazione delle emozioni, l’empatia e l’assenza di implicazioni nella vita reale. Inoltre, l’apprezzamento della musica triste segue una modalità congruente con l’umore ed è più grande tra gli individui con maggiore empatia e minore stabilità emotiva. Sorprendentemente la nostalgia piuttosto che la tristezza è l’emozione più frequente evocata dalla musica triste. Di conseguenza, la memoria è stata valutata come il principio più importante attraverso il quale l’emozione viene evocata dalla musica triste. Infine, il tratto di empatia contribuisce all’evocazione della tristezza attraverso il contagio, l’apprezzamento e il coinvolgimento delle funzioni sociali. I presenti risultati indicano che la risposta emotiva alla musica triste è sfaccettata, modulata dall’empatia e collegata a una esperienza multidimensionale del piacere.

Questi risultati sono stati corroborati da una ricerca successiva sulla musica allegra, che mostra differenze tra le esperienze emotive nell’ascolto di musica felice o triste. Questo è il primo studio comprensivo sulla tristezza evocata dalla musica, e rivela che l’ascolto della musica triste può portare benefici emotivi come la regolazione delle emozioni negative e dell’umore, oltre che della consolazione. Questi benefici emozionali costituiscono una ragione per ascoltare la musica triste durante la vita quotidiana.

Information provided by abstract – full study may be found here.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110490.t002

(My favorite ‘sad’ video of all time below).

Call for Papers – Harvard Graduate Music Forum Conference 2015

poster-draft

 

Call for Proposals

 This interdisciplinary conference takes as its premise that  music is inseparable from the economic conditions of its production and consumption. Through presentations, lecture-recitals and composers’ colloquia,  we seek to explore the intersections of music and economics from a diverse array of perspectives including labor, practice, material culture, and capital.

Questions include but are not limited to:

  • How do musicians and their employers understand musical labor, and how does this  impinge on issues of amateurism, professionalism, and institutionalization?
  • How have shifting economic systems — for instance, from patronage to mass consumption, or from liberalism to neoliberalism — altered the place of music in society?
  • How have issues such as postcolonialism, the North-South economic divide, and globalization, intersected with various musical practices to forge divergent models of economies of music?
  • Where does music succeed and where does it fail in transforming economic relations?
  • What are the economic consequences of the material means of musics’ dissemination, such as manuscripts, published scores, phonograph recordings, streaming and live performance?
  • How do questions of cultural and economic capital combine in appraisals and contestations of musical value?
  • How has music symbolically represented economics and status? What is music’s role in this endeavour today?

Submissions

We welcome submissions from current graduate students on these and related topics. We seek proposals on all repertoires, musical practices and historical periods, and representing a broad set of methodologies. Formats for presentation include:

  • 20-minute papers, audiovisual presentations, or exploratory text works, with 10 minutes for discussion
    Please submit abstracts of a maximum of 350 words and, where appropriate, up to 4 additional pages for figures. Please add a short statement regarding AV requirements.
  • 30-minute composer colloquia, performances, or lecture-recitals, with 15 minutes for discussion
    Please submit details of the work to be presented in a maximum of 350 words and, where appropriate, links to relevant sound recordings and/or scores or supplementary documentation.

Deadline for proposals: 5 December 2014

Please e-mail submissions to: harvardgmf2015@gmail.com

There Is Always Hope: How Music Saved My Life

A couple of months ago, I was asked by To Write Love On Her Arms to do a post on my experience with depression, music, and being a suicide survivor.

This is my story.

photo

For as long as I can remember, my greatest aspiration has been to study psychological resilience and music. Having begun touring as a singer from age three, my furthermost joy and identity were formed in creating and performing music. As I attempt to place these thoughts in tangible form, I’d like to explain where the past year of my life has taken me, and how this hope has finally come to be realized. I’d like to tell you how music saved my life.

       On July 9, 2013, I grabbed sushi with a dear friend from college. It had been at least a year since we’d seen one another due to his relocation to another state. We had a wonderful dinner, his charisma weaving grandiose patterns of laughter and jokes to make up for lost time. To this day, he remains the only friend who could ever get away with his hysterical manner of picking me up and spinning me around. It was simply his way of saying “Hello.”

       The following afternoon, as I was on my way to Stanford University to cover a behavioral science and creativity conference, I received an urgent phone call from the Los Angeles Police Department. After an inundation of bewildering questions and the request that I be sitting down, I was alerted that my friend had sustained a perplexing and potentially fatal injury. The following two months would consist of a blur of countless ER, ICU and eventually hospice visits, and even more fatigued phone calls from detectives, friends, and families in attempt to speculate every detail as to my friend’s condition. After failing to regain consciousness, my friend died on August 21, 2013 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was twenty-seven.

        In the months following my friend’s suicide, the protracted plagues of devastation, anxiety and sheer panic made it painfully clear that I was suffering from severe depression. I had battled fear before, but the danger of self-harm from my perceived terror of abandonment now hit an all-time high. Something about being the last person to see my friend before he took his life had finally made my very existence seemingly unbearable. I simply couldn’t imagine a reality where I would ever feel whole again. Somewhere along the way, however, something began to penetrate the walls I had built. Maybe it was that night of such unbearable emptiness, resulting in my frantic request of a trusted friend, “Why can’t you just tell me it’s going to be okay?” I’ll never forget his response: “Because it’s going to be okay whether I say so or not.”

       For possibly the first time, I realized that no matter how much people love and cherish you, sometimes, they can’t be there. It was not until this year – twenty eight years into my life – that I was truly faced with the chief insecurity of uncovering and confronting my own sense of self. It hit me then: I had built my entire value solely upon the affirmation of others. How would I ever afford unconditional love and hope if I did not possess it for myself?  It took more correspondence with prudent souls, more star-filled nights, more floods of tears and more compassionate, tough love from friends than I ever thought possible, but eventually, I began to understand that a lifetime’s lacking of my own self worth had been, in fact, the greatest torment of all. Slowly, with the help of my music and a lot of blind faith, I decidedly began the harrowing task of turning inward to face a past that had hidden profoundly in the dark for far too long.

       As I discovered that in music could be found the tools for defense, it quickly became all but Pavlovian. With each resurfacing memory of the loss of my father, of my friend, or even the type of violations that I as a young woman should never have had to endure, it began to feel like there was no margin in what could be taken from me, save my headphones screaming louder than any external threat or captor. I recalled that when at age eighteen I witnessed a childhood crush lose his longstanding battle with cancer, a piano, and occasionally present kindred spirit, taught me that three keys struck within a proper distance could form a chord. Those chords at once revealed the earliest potential of more than an escape – they provided the will to keep going.  It was within the process of witnessing my own hopelessness slain by the dogged determination playing before me like a vivid, striking film sequence that I cemented an acute desire to help others through their pain.

Steinway

        It was not quite until really digging in to the psychology of music that I found the possibility of a way not to dull the pain, but utilize it for courage. When my collapsed sense of self risked self-harm, gentle souls appeared to remind me of what I’d already overcome. When the radiant pangs of feeling alone threatened to overtake me, I discovered mercy and anticipation in composing. When I found myself paralyzed by the searing agony of depression, exterior melodies stepped in to share my burden. This award of music had not only provided oxygen for my lungs; it had yielded a powerful breed of strength and beauty within me – the will to struggle, and the will to survive.

       While covering a music industry event in Hollywood this Spring, I had the pleasure of speaking to Benjamin Weinman of The Dillinger Escape Plan. As a friend had alerted me of Ben’s advocacy for youth suicide prevention (The You Rock Foundation in particular), I took the opportunity to ask him what it was about the process of creating music that had helped him in overcoming adversity.

“When I was growing up, I had a lot of difficulties in school. I had certain learning disabilities that made it difficult for me to process information in the way it was presented by a typical school curriculum. My experiences left me feeling extremely isolated and insecure. When I started playing music, I realized that intelligence had nothing to do with one’s ability to excel in the classroom environment. It gave me passion. It gave me confidence. I was able to make friends and also figure out new ways of learning. Creating give me purpose every day and will for the rest of my life… Music saved my life.”

The Dillinger Escape Plan live at Porter’s Pub, San Diego, 2014. Photo by Diana Hereld.

       Like Ben, I never cease to be amazed at music’s capacity to bring about a mental resilience. I know music to be a healing tool, because we are living attestations. It is utterly apparent that the pleasure of simply working in music sustained me through my more anguished, desperate moments. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis stated “No one ever told me grief felt so like fear.” In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton said “The only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point and does not break.” I have felt this terror, and desperation – but I have also perceived the call of this courage.

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       A little over a year ago, I got the call about my friend. Over three hundred and sixty five days have passed since the night I thankfully had the cheek to gleefully yelp “Love you, buddy!” after my friend as he walked away; one hand in the air like an old fashioned movie star. Over the past twelve months, I have been granted more exposure to trauma, mental illness and mercy than I’d ever imagined possible. I have been made aware of more triggers in my subconscious than I felt I could handle, and I have been forced to confront them head on.  I’ve loved and lost more deeply, and written more music than ever before. I’ve applied to, and received a full fellowship to attend my top choice grad school for music and psychological resilience beginning this month. My friends have become my family; my songs that rare blend of confidant and hope. Though I have feared the dangers of losing emotional jurisdiction over my own life the most, I have realized that sometimes, it’s okay to let go, and press on – even when the route is unclear. As Bukowski famously quoted “As the spirit wanes, the form appears.”

       Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my friend. He touched the lives of so many, and I can only pray that I will one day repay him by giving back the selfless love he radiated to everyone around him, and by furthering the cause to ease the hearts of those struggling to find hope.

sunset

       I want to tell you, dear reader, that regardless of the tactless tragedies or inconsolable madness you may be undergoing, there are others. It’s not just that you are not alone – of course you’re not. You are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, a humanity of enduring creatures, and an enclave of people who not only want to understand, but do understand. As unimaginable as it might sound at times, there is so much love to be found. If you’re standing on the beach at sunset, savor it while it lasts. If you’re going through hell, keep going. The impermanence and temporal nature of existence only contribute to its need to be treasured. For me, it has been my faith in God, and the self-awareness, hope and love I have found and tried to share though music. In the end, it is very possible that only we can save ourselves, but it is often the intrinsic beauty of life and dear ones surrounding that offer the priceless reminder that we can, and should. In the profound words of author Jennifer Hect, “We are indebted to one another and that debt is a kind of faith — a beautiful, difficult, strange faith. We believe each other into being.” Please stay, and please keep going. You can make it though, and it will be more radiant and precious than anything you can possibly imagine.

Diana Hereld, UCSD, Fall 2014

To those who have sustained me through the darkest and brightest of times:

As I continue to research the neurology of self-destructive behaviors and the psychological interventions that might be employed via music, I can only convey my infinite gratitude for whatever role, small or gargantuan; you have played in my life. I love you all. And thank you for the music.

˜

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

For more information on what The You Rock Foundation is doing to help youth overcome depression, follow them on FB and stay tuned for their official launch at http://www.yourockfoundation.org . Follow them on social media here –

twitter.com/YouRockFND
instagram.com/yourockfnd
youtube.com/yourockfnd

For more information on Benjamin Weinman and The Dillinger Escape Plan, visit here and here.

Phenomenological Experience in Music: Between a Referential and Absolute Approach

photo (6)

Last weekend, experts across the board in the field of music and science convened to present Convergence: A Multidisciplinary Dialogue on Music. Presented by the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center and the Department of Music at University of California San Diego, the symposium brought together the fields of music, psychology, computational and affective neuroscience, ethnomusicology, composition and education.

Organized by a series of four talks entitled Systems, Communication, Transmission and Translation, and Convergence, the symposium played host to a multitude of research and education in a musically unifying setting. The panels of the day covered topics including the temporal dynamics of neural processing (Mark Tramo, UCLA), phenomenological experience in music (David Borgo, UCSD), music and language in early development (Gwendolyn McGraw, artist/educator), and the speech-to-song illusion (Diana Deutsch, UCSD).

One dialogue I found to be of particular interest was the closing discourse of the first panel. Originating in conversation with the differing approaches to creating music, the dialogue surrounded American musicologist Leonard B. Meyer’s two theories of music and emotion. Referential composition tends to use association and experience as main creative tools, whereas absolute composition relies on solely intramusical structures and relationships. As these two theories (which might also be translated into nature vs. nurture) are not mutually exclusive, they were broadly debated. While songwriter Mark Tramo provided a case for the referential composition process, expressing an opinion that popular music is mainly associative/emotion-driven and serious music absolute, composer Lei Liang offered a more integrative, alternative estimation.

In describing his experience upon coming to UCSD, Liang spoke in regard to a newer, particular generation of composers:

“It’s a very interesting tension. The music can make you not only have fun, but also… you can cry with it, because you can tell that they’re not just creating an absolute piece that engages their brain, but in fact I was amazed by how much trauma, how much pain and joy they’re open to bringing into the public arena. As a way of responding, I feel like the composers and what they are willing to engage with in their material has been changing a great deal, and there is this kind of merge from the performer’s point of view as well. There is a lot of interaction taking place.”

While the referential style relies more heavily on calling upon experience from the past (frequently resulting in the release of oxytocin or dopamine in the composer’s brain), the absolutist method has strictly to do with music and expectancies generated by tonal relationships, and thus focuses more prominently on theory, structure and analysis.

Building on his prior explanation of the role music plays in phenomenological experience, Professor David Borgo offered concise thoughts in regard to the referential/absolute dichotomy:

“For me, it does often come back to the relationship between what I do as a performer, creator, and improviser, and the kinds of questions I’m interested in. When one is thrust into that moment of musicking, in some ways, there is no dividing line between the things that you bring to bear on the moment, be it a lifetime of experience, or dealing with/expecting certain things. Ultimately to open oneself to the moment means to be aware of all of the referents, all of the context that’s happening at that moment, the rich complexity of the room, and the people you’re playing with and for. For me, it can all come down to the fact that these sets of resources that might seem distinct are also thrust together in the musicking moment.”

The symposium also included noteworthy talks by ethnomusicologist Alex Khalil on The Gamelan Project, Dane Harwood on music as a communication system, Gwendolyn McGraw on music and language in early development, composer Katarina Rosenberger on the complex relationship we have with our voice, and principle of the Museum School Carl Hermanns on the importance of music in education. Building on this year’s momentum, the conference is set to reoccur next year to again provide a platform to confront and address divergent attitudes and philosophies in the understanding of music and science.

Music Therapy in the Care of Cognitive Decline: Between affective and effective treatment

 “Here, at a point when the will is the highest danger, art approaches, as a saving, healing magician. Art alone can turn those thoughts of disgust at the horror or absurdity of existence into imaginary constructs which permit living to continue.”

– Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

Though I’ve held an interest in music’s healing capacities for many years, it’s only recently come to my attention just how quickly the field is growing. Music therapy is a practice in which an MT (Music Therapist) uses music-based interventions to address non-music goals with a client. As music is multi-modal, engages the brain and body across multiple domains, and is adaptable for people of all abilities, it continues to show promise in the medical field. With the growing prevalence of conditions such as autism and Alzheimer’s as well as the steady improvement in diagnostic means, the demand for music therapy professionals in higher than ever.

With the many recent developments in the field of dementia research, I have often found myself in dialogue with friend and colleague James Gutierrez (Ph.D. in progress, UCSD), especially in regard to current criticism of music therapy. As we both appreciate the consequence of the more basic, affective measures of music in creative practice as it applies to the therapeutic setting while retaining a firm belief in the necessity of empirical, effect-based evidence, I’ve had the pleasure of benefitting from many edifying conversations of this nature.

In music therapy, a common issue arises from the type manner research is conducted within the field, which is often achieved in the form of anecdotes, observations, and more qualitative data. As this is the case, many professionals and scholars in the field of medicine tend to “write off” such evidence as circumstantial and struggle to find the distinction between music therapy and “music as therapy.”

In the recent paper, Music Therapy in the Care of Cognitive Decline: Between affective and effective treatment (2014) Gutierrez does an excellent job of addressing many of these current issues, choosing to focus most intently on the application of music therapy in patients suffering from dementia. Coming from a place of unique understanding, he combines solid, objective exploration in conjunction with more personal, poignant observations into concepts of identity, agency, and consciousness seldom found in an often dispassionate world of research. The following edit consists of excerpts I have found to be of particular interest to the layman and scientist alike. The paper may be read in its entirety here.

 Medical science in the modern age has, in the spirit of modernism, delighted in expunging any and all traces of the magical and mystical from the proper, scientific treatment of the human body. Even while archeological evidence suggests music’s wide centrality to medicinal healing practices for untold eras of human history[1], the Cartesian dualism that yet pillars modern medicine provides reason to station music as a matterless matter of the mind, with medical practice operates as the material treatment of the body. For inasmuch as medical science is a category whose domain includes anatomical structures and physiological processes, only health practices subject to empirical testing, measurement, observation, and quantification are considered proper ‘medication’. However, as the research of recent years has begun to unearth the complex physiological effects (not just affects) of music listening and musical practice, the critical gaze of medical science is beginning to shift, poised to reasonably reevaluate the efficacy of this timeless healing magician not just of the mind, but also of the brain and body.

The American Music Therapy Association defines Music Therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” Outside the field of music therapy, particularly within burgeoning cognitive and neurological research, viable theories that attempt to explain the physical mechanics are gaining traction within the medical community. This research could be furthered by continuing to build upon an embodied and enactive approach to cognition, as such an ecological perspective not only shifts the aesthetic conversations away from stale romantic dualisms within artistic communities, but invites all who make the human body their subject to reconsider their most basic assumptions.

Among the most common areas of music therapy is in its implementation in the treatment (used loosely) of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Music therapy is not only gaining popularity among clinicians in end-of-life care for its astounding cost/benefit ratio, but is also spreading as the rising occurrences of these diseases increase demand. In anticipation of this rise several organizations have begun to push for renewed focus on prevention and treatment. On February 26th, 2014, actor/comedian Seth Rogen testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease and promote his research-funding charities.[2]  This comes on the heels of the historic “National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease” released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in May 2012, calling for preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.

This central focus has been brought to my attention through my own grandmother’s rapidly declining cognitive state and subsequent placement in the care of a hospice facility. To witness a loved one’s gradual decline into self-obscurity through loss of memory and awareness is not only tragic, as anyone who has done so will agree, but also perplexing, precisely because it challenges our conception of identity, not only theirs but ours as well. Once, after a particularly discouraging visit with my grandmother, when for the first time it took a matter of minutes for her to recognize her own daughter, my mother confessed “she is no longer my mother; not the mother that I know.” Any theory of consciousness desiring to describe the nature of the human state of mind when at its most ‘stable’ must also be tested to account for consciousness when at its most volatile- when autonoesis fails and all is a static cloud, when active agency slowly melts into a passive patiency, when all psychosocial capacities disintegrate involuntarily and nothing remains but inert solipsism. It is through studying this transitory final act when inner lights begin to dim and everything becomes strange and unfamiliar, that we can truly test what is meant by consciousness, and where all notions of mind and body essentially converge. Since music research from virtually all angles repeatedly reveal how immensely deep it delves into our individual identity and how expansively broad it affords a robust social identity, it is only too obvious for music to be deployed in the intervention of a fading consciousness.

Much has been written about music therapy as a tool to improve quality of life, if not also to slow the symptoms of dementia in the best scenarios, with most reports centering on qualitative research and anecdotal accounts. This softer focus on success stories may be par for the course, after all, end-of-life research is a tender field, and family members and medical staff typically have much more on their mind than entertaining the abstract probing of a curious consciousness theorist. Thus, for better or for worse, many of the most salient questions are left unasked.

Music as Therapy

At this point it is important to review the recent literature concerning the implementation of music in the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). The slow march towards a pharmaceutical cure feels optimistic, but does not seem promising. Moreover the monetary cost and side effects from the drugs currently available upset the cost/benefit ratio when considering the overall quality of life for an individual in palliative and hospice care. These factors have contributed to the growth of stimulatory therapies, including music therapy, in its appeal to virtually all involved (except, presumably, the pharmaceutical corporations). Music therapy, specifically, has grown more than any other due to its incredible cost/benefit ratio. The more we learn about neuroplasticity, and the deeply embodied/embedded/enactive nature of music cognition, the stronger the case become for music as a viable therapeutic treatment.[3]

Perhaps the most promising neurological support to the claims and efforts of music therapy hinge on the emerging studies within the mirror neuron system [MNS]. Though not much can be said for certain about these structures, particularly as they relate to humans, their ‘discovery’ has nonetheless provided an exciting new platform for discussing virtually any field of human interaction and learning, encouraging interdisciplinary discussions, and fostering theoretical models that render a classical cognitive model increasingly problematic through emphasizing inter/intra connectivity, and shared cognition.[4]

Building on MNS theories, one recent model offers a strong base toward a more substantive base for music therapy is the Shared Affective Motion Experience (SAME) model, which suggests that musical sound is perceived not only in terms of the auditory signal, but also in terms of the intentional, hierarchically organized sequences of expressive motor acts behind the signal. Thus, the expressive dynamics of heard sound gestures may be interpreted in terms of the expressive dynamics of personal vocal and physical gestures.

According to SAME, in observing the actions of others our MNS continuously compares predicted motions (kinematics) with observed motions in attempt to minimize the prediction error, enabling the observer to determine the most likely cause of the action at all levels: intention, goal, motor, and kinematic. This pull toward minimized prediction error would explain the effectiveness of personalized iPods over live musical interaction on reducing anxiety for dementia/AD patients. In addition to providing a harder base for the previously cited Psychosocial Model of music therapy, the SAME model also correlates to theories of embodied mind and intersubjective consciousness.

To regard the practice of music therapy as a psychotherapeutic stimulation therapy, and a marginal one at that, is understandable from a classical cognitivist perspective in which music exists representationally as auditory percepts to be processed with limited physiological impact. This is perhaps why present discussions regard music therapy as limited to its affective capacities in emotional support, palliative quality of life, and feelings of happiness; categorically separate from pharmaceutical medications which are understood to truly effect ones physiology. However, in positing a more deeply embodied perspective of music as a perturbation/compensation in a richly physical dynamic interaction between bodily experience and neural processes, there emerges a view of cognition that troubles the affect/effect dichotomy, and with it, assumptions of what criterion constitute legitimate vs. illegitimate medical treatments.

Music as therapy has its limitations, to be sure, and music therapy stands to discredit its case by overstating what relatively little research has yet been able to substantiate its claimed miracles. Becoming ever clearer, however, is that its limitations are not well described by the standard cognitivist model that dominates medical and psychological sciences. As embodied cognition grows in establishment, the doors widen for music therapy, and other traditionally holistic care practices, to further state, test, and prove their case as a valid treatment in the care of the human mind, particularly an embodied mind.

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[1] Conrad, Claudius, Music for healing: from magic to medicine, The Lancet, Volume 376, Issue 9757, pg. 1980, Dec. 2010

[2] Seth Rogen Opening Statement (C-SPAN), Feb. 26th, 2014 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHqx3-mfHAY

[3] N. Simmons-Stern, R. Deason, B. Brandler, B. Frustace, M. O’Conner, B. Ally, and A. Budson, Music-Based Memory Enhancement in Alzheimer’s Disease: Promise and Limitations, Neuropsychologia. 2012 December ; 50(14): 3295–3303

[4] There is some debate whether or not mirror neurons support classical representationalism

 

UCSD, Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center Launch Convergence 2014: A Multidisciplinary Dialogue on Music

The Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center and the Department of Music at UC San Diego, in collaboration with Mozart and the Mind present:

Convergence: A Multidisciplinary Dialogue on Music

A unique symposium that brings together multiple streams of music research and knowledge, Convergence is not only a platform for interdisciplinary dialogue but also an opportunity for collaboration. Neuroscientists, psychologists, cognitive scientists, musicologists, ethnomusicologists, composers, performers, and music therapists will participate in a series of panel discussions moderated by music researchers from the Temporal Damics of Learning Center. This multidisciplinary dialogue will extend into an evening poster session.

Sunday, May 18, 2014, 8am to 7pm
Conrad Prebys Music Center, Room127, UC San Diego
Map and directions to Conrad Prebys Music Center (CPMC)

For further information, registration, or webcast registration, please visit:
http://convergencetdlc2014.eventbrite.com

Registration: $45 general, $15 student

Featured Panelists

David Borgo, Diana Deutsch, Dane Harwood, Carl Hermanns, Mari Jones, Layne Kalbfleisch, Lei Liang, Andy McGraw, Gabriella Mussachia, Roger Reynolds, Katharina Rosenberger, Michael Thaut, Concetta Tomaino

Information provided by the UCSD Press Room

Convergence

 

 

 

 

Songwriters, Composers and Publishers Come Together for 31st Annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards

“It all starts with a blank piece of paper…all of the sudden, a song comes into the room. How do you describe what that feels like? All of the sudden you’re not alone.”

-ASCAP President Paul Williams*

31st annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards - Show

Tom Petty, fun. and Other Top Names in Music Honored at 31st Annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards

Los Angeles, CA, April 23, 2014: The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) hosted its 31st annual Pop Music Awards tonight at the Loews Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. The star-studded event, which was attended by hundreds of songwriters, recording artists and music industry leaders, paid special tribute to rock legend Tom Petty and Grammy-winning band fun., and honored the songwriters and publishers of the most performed ASCAP songs on the 2013 pop charts.

 Top awards were presented to:

Legendary rock star Tom Petty was honored with the ASCAP Founders Award, which is the most prestigious honor that ASCAP gives to songwriters who have made pioneering contributions to music by inspiring and influencing their fellow music creators. Each recipient is a musical innovator who possesses a unique style of creative genius that will enrich generations to come. Past recipients include Ashford & Simpson, Burt Bacharach & Hal David, Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, Annie Lennox, Sir Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Smokey Robinson, Carly Simon, Patti Smith, Steely Dan, Rod Stewart, James Taylor, Steven Tyler & Joe Perry(Aerosmith), Tom Waits, Ann & Nancy Wilson (Heart), Stevie Wonder and Neil Young.

31st annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards - Awards

The 31st annual Pop Music Awards falls on the eve of the 9th annual ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO, a three-day conference dedicated to songwriting and composing. This year’s EXPO features Keynote Sessions with Dr. Luke, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and Gustavo Santaolalla in conversation with Paul Williams; Master Sessions with Jermaine Dupri, John Powell, Amy Grant, Mike WiLL Made It, John Beasley, Bear McCreary and Morten Lauridsen; plus numerous performances, panels, workshops, one-on-one sessions, song critiquing, networking events, product displays, state-of-the-art technology demonstrations and more. The EXPO takes place April 24th-26th at the Loews Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. For more details, please visit www.ascap.com/expo.

*Paul Williams is a Grammy, Golden Globe and Oscar-winning member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, known the world over for classic songs like “The Rainbow Connection,” “We’ve Only Just Begun” and many more. He has earned two previous Grammys, for “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)” and his songs from The Muppet Movie. As President and Chairman of the Board of ASCAP since 2009, Williams is also a leading spokesman for music creators in the digital age.

Image 1: HOLLYWOOD, CA- APRIL 23: ASCAP President and Chairman Paul Williams, ASCAP Founders Award recipient Tom Petty and Jackson Browne onstage at the 31st annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards at the Loews Hollywood Hotel on April 23, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tonya Wise/PictureGroup)

Image 2: HOLLYWOOD, CA- APRIL 23: Mary Lambert performs “She Keeps Me Warm,” based on the Grammy-nominated song “Same Love” that she co-wrote with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, during the 31st annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards at the Loews Hollywood Hotel on April 23, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup)