Monday, February 21, 2011

Week 5

This is a summary of my thoughts on the preface and Chapter 1 of Musicophilia, Chapters 2 and 3 in A Manual for the Performance Library, This is your Brain on Music, and a few music cognition websites.

Preface and Chapter 1 - Musicophilia

Having never thought about it, I found it fascinating that Sacks and other scholars make an argument that music is pointless in an evolutionary sense. Truly, if one looks at most other human behaviors such as the need to reproduce, eat, find shelter, and make tools, one can draw those tendencies to the need to survive. However, with music, despite the fact that humans seem to enjoy it from infancy, it seems that there is no scientific evidence as to why we are drawn to it. Sacks' mention of music's ability to help and/or hinder mental patients was also interesting, either culminating in a hallucination or a therapeutic song.

The story of Dr. Cicoria and his sudden love of music after a lightning strike made me think of a documentary I've seen on schizophrenia. In it, there is a schizophrenic piano savant who can play amazingly. However, if he is representing a different personality at the time, he will argue to the end of the world that he is not a musician. If you sit him in front of a piano, he has no idea what to do. It is amazing how the brain seems to have an on/off switch for musical inspiration and talent. Sacks seems to tease the reader with what the true catalyst of musicophilia could possibly be. He mentions that there are select groups of people who suddenly become music lovers in their late 40s. He says that near-death experiences can deeply affect people to the point that they become completely different afterwords. Whether the phenomenon can be explained scientifically or spiritually, it certainly seems that music has a profound effect on people.

Chapter 2 and 3 - A Manual for the Performance Library

Purchasing and general acquisitions for music most definitely seems specialized. Having to track down certain revisions of an obscure musical score sounds like a challenging task. A performance librarian must also evaluate musical scores based on a few criteria. I found it especially interesting that proper page turns and actual paper quality are taken into consideration, these are things I had not previously considered. Reading about all of the different fees taken into consideration when renting music made me think back to Gordon's recounting of the costs involved in say, putting music on a soundtrack. Certainly the fees make sense, but it's amazing how many of them seem to add up.

Girsberger specifies that in his opinion, performance librarians can come up with their own way of classifying music in their library. This seems counterintuitive and I'm amazed he doesn't encourage a standard format such as a MARC record. Surely whoever happens to use the collection would get used to the cataloging tendencies, but a standardized rule set would make more sense. Despite the fact that these materials may not circulate outside of the library, keeping everything the same as other libraries would be most user-friendly.

Despite its publication in 2006, I'm surprised that Girsberger recommends a card catalog and in the previous chapter only mentions in passing that websites for rental music might be a helpful resource. Surely, a consistent electronic catalog would be easier to maintain than a card catalog.

I have to reconsider a bit about what I said about a standardized cataloging rule set earlier. At least in terms of instrument arrangements, the coding for cataloging seems consistent. The organization of flutes/oboes/clarinets/bassoons translating to 2 2 2 2 representing each number of instrument needed seems to be a widely used shorthand for musical cataloging. Similarly, Girsberger does mention that standardized cataloging rules such as MARC are used by some music libraries.

Girsberger talks a bit about using a rule set in terms of how to enter data when there are multiple titles and ways to spell a particular name. He recommends that the cataloger use an authoritative source such as a book to refer to. Although it would be more time consuming, it seems to me that a more searchable catalog would include as many of the different spellings and titles that are available. This may not be feasible in every situation, but I think this cataloging attitude would improve the retrieval of the search engine.

This is your Brain on Music

It seems that this book draws many similarities to Sacks' work, weighing the mysteries of music with human cognition. Things like an especially trained ear or perfect pitch - are we predisposed to have this talent or can it be learned? Music can evoke emotion and be studied for years without knowing all of the answers. Each of these articles and books seem to be making music to be more enigmatic and nebulous; outside of human comprehension.

Ohio State University Music Cognition Center website

This website has a frustrating number of questions with no answers. Certainly these questions piqued my interest. Specifically, wondering if there are different ways of "listening" sounded interesting. Certainly there's passive and active listening, but it would be fascinating to find how different people listen to music. In the introduction to This is your Brain on Music, Levitin mentioned that Paul Simon listens to his records as a whole. I'd imagine some others listen only to the lyrics or yet others listen to the rhythm parts.

Origins of Music Website

I find it amazing that from simple hieroglyphics and drawings that researchers could decipher melody and specific musical notes. It did make me wonder what they operationally define a "song" as, though, because I'm sure neanderthals or similar ancestors could have beat out rhythms or have sung songs without documentation.

Brain Diagram

I thought it was interesting that memories and associations were involved in the diagram as a brain's effect on music. I sometimes underestimate good memories being associated with a certain song I like. Perhaps my favorite album is not necessarily because it's the greatest recorded of all time, but because of the positive memories I correlate with it. The way music conjures memories is unlike many other senses.

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