Thursday, January 22, 2015

Music and the Body

The program note for this month:s Mixed Bag

Linking music to the body is a hot topic among music theorists; much attention is paid to “embodied cognition” by neuroscientists.   Anyone attending a performance by a young(ish) string quartet will see ample (perhaps too much) evidence of body movement.

I confess I do not understand what the fuss is about, as all of music is generated by the physical reality of sound and of sound perception.  The body parts that interest me, however, are not visible to the ordinary eye: they are the 32,000 vibrating sensor-tipped hair cells in our inner ears, 16,000 on each side, transmitting information to the brain 200 times faster than any other sense perception.* My bodily involvement with music takes the very real form of chasing those vibrations.

My purpose in performing to small groups of listeners in these privileged circumstances is to invite you to join me in the chase, not always at fast tempos, but therefore all the faster inside.

A word about my CDs: They were all recorded in this room, for an audience like yourselves, and produced with state-of-the-art mikes and mastering, but no editing.  They are thus entirely different from commercial recordings - a bit like taking this evening home with you.

*As measured by James Hudspeth, Rockefeller University

Stopping Time to Listen

Musical time is one of the most difficult phenomena to describe.  Most likely the typical listener assumes that rhythm represents all there is to know about time in music, but that is far from the case.  Actually, as musicians listen millions of events occur within every entity that passes for "a" beat.  I guess you might call it fine tuning.

I experienced one of the best examples of the difference watching a silent movie, of all things.  It was at a series of westerns being shown at the Museum of Modern Art many years ago.  There, in total silence, a drama was unfolding on the screen.  Behind me an elderly gentleman caught (and commented on) the gist of the successive frames long before I did.  Clearly he was used to this kind of event depiction, where the emphasis was on silence. 

We are by now so accustomed to being almost literally thrown around by sound that we can't imagine what might really be happening.  I say "we" because I, too, have fallen for it.