Thursday, November 29, 2012

Music Making Synchronizes Brainwaves

A while back I posted on a study showing how musicians brain waves can synchronize when playing music together. The same group has done more work on the subject.

  In 60 trials each, the pairs of musicians showed coordinated brain oscillations — or matching rhythms of neural activity — in regions of the brain associated with social cognition and music production, the researchers said. . . .  

. . .  the researchers say their results provide stronger evidence that there is a neural basis for interpersonal coordination. The team believes people's brain waves might also synchronize during other types of actions, such as during sports games.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Horn Diary

Back in August I got a new horn and it's been an amazing ride ever since. The move was from a Yamaha 567 to a 667, and it's still hard for me to believe how much easier it is to play. It's physically lighter, so playing off the leg as I do is less tiring, but the main thing is that the "slots" for each pitch are so much easier to hit. It's as if they are more uniform throughout the full range of the horn and that there's a much more either/or feel to getting the right pitch. 

It's also the case that I find it much easier to hit what note I want at the beginning of a piece, or after a long rest. That used to be a scary proposition for some pitches, but somehow those better defined slots make that easier as well.

With the new horn, my high G immediately went from sometimes there to just as good as the notes right below it, and the high Ab and A are starting to be possible. The written D a ninth above middle C has also become much easier to play. Previously it was always something like a register shift that I didn't always get, and now it's just another note.

Overall the instrument just feels more refined, especially the rotor levers. I now sometimes notice I'm playing with exactly the right amount of finger effort and that the valves changes are much more synchronous with embouchure changes as I move from note to note.

The overall tone is more refined as well, though I wonder if I'll ever be able to get that raw sense of anguish I got during the Fauré Requiem on the old horn. 

I didn't post on the new horn right away because I wondered if there'd be a honeymoon period right at first, and there was. After about 10 days or two weeks there was a week or two of getting that slight buzzing sound that almost sounds like something is loose, but that somewhere Farkas says is a bit of saliva right in the aperture of the embouchure. After a while I somehow adjusted and the horn plays as it did right at first.

Since my background is largely in stringed instruments - guitar, cello and banjo - I'd never really experienced how a better instrument is so much easier to play. With the strings the same technique will sound better on a better instrument, but there's nowhere near as much of a sense of the instrument being so much easier to play. 

On a different topic - I've finally begun to transpose horn music. The same local music man who organized the Fauré Requiem a couple of years ago is going to do the Brahms Requiem this spring and has asked me to play, so I downloaded the horn parts. I don't think I'll ever be able to transpose at sight, but working with this music over a couple of weeks I've been able to play it as written and not needing to put it in Finale and transposing it, as I always thought I would have to. Because I've played piano since childhood, both bass and treble clef read as second nature - and with all the arranging I've been doing, viola clef and tenor clef make sense to me. With that background, seeing music written in one key and playing it in another is really just sort of another clef substitution.

One last thing is a comment on the strength of muscle memory. The trigger on the new horn was set up as they all are, needing the trigger pulled to get the Bb horn. Back when I had my embouchure crisis and began working with Jeff Smiley's Balanced Embouchure method, I also restrung the trigger so that doing nothing gives me the Bb side and depressing the trigger gives me the F. My thought was that I was tensing up way too much in places I didn't need to when playing the Bb side, so that relaxing the thumb when going that direction helped me counter the over stressing. (I get a lot of strange looks from regular horn players). Anyway, the point is that until I restrung the new horn, I really couldn't play it as the trigger feeling backwards threw me for a loop. Intellectually I knew it really shouldn't make a difference, but it did. I went to a store to try out the new horn, but basically decided to get it on faith as I couldn't really play it as it was.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Archeo-acoustics Round-up

This article in Discovery Magazine covers a lot of what archeologists have been discovering about the acoustical properties of ancient sites, and then talks about one I hadn't heard of before in central Peru.
The most detailed evidence of ancient acoustical design comes from the Stanford team studying Chavín de Huántar, which was constructed between 1300 and 500 B.C. Peruvian archaeologists first suspected the complex had an auditory function in the 1970s, when they found that water rushing through one of its canals mimicked the sound of roaring applause. Then, in 2001, Stanford anthropologist John Rick discovered conch-shell trumpets, called pututus, in one of the galleries. The team set out to determine what role the horns played in ancient rituals and how the temple may have heightened their effects. Archaeoacoustics researcher Miriam Kolar and her collaborators played computer-generated sounds to identify which frequencies the temple most readily transmits. Over years of experiments, they found that certain ducts enhanced the frequencies of the pututus while filtering out others, and that corridors amplified the trumpets’ sound. “It suggests the architectural forms had a special relationship to how sound is transmitted,” Kolar says. The researchers also had volunteers stand in one part of the temple while pututu recordings played in another. In some configurations, the sound seemed to come from all directions.

Friday, November 9, 2012


I just came across this story on "Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response" and want to put up a link because it fits into something I've been thinking about a lot lately. It's my feeling that people are communicating in more ways than we are aware of, and in ways science has yet to adequately describe.

Several years ago I had a go around with frequent commenter Jonathan West over how to talk about the way we sometimes feel so fully engaged with other music makers, particularly during "flow" experiences, and that that feeling can extend to and include audiences as well. I came up with the phrase "enhanced awareness" so as to avoid the negative baggage of ESP.

According to people who feel they can have this experience, ASMR can be triggered by a whole series of videos with boring content delivered in a whispering voice. One of the makers of these videos, which have an established internet audience, says, 

“I think it has to do with childhood,” she said. “Whenever your mother would treat you delicately, or your doctor or teacher would talk to you gently… The caring touch is the biggest trigger.”

The physical response in susceptible people is said to be:

a tingle in your brain, a kind of pleasurable headache that can creep down your spine. It’s a shortcut to a blissed-out meditative state that allows you to watch long videos that for someone who doesn’t have ASMR are mind-meltingly dull.

Wikipedia has kicked off pages trying to talk about this, so it's definitely fringe territory. Should there be something to it, though, I can't imagine there's not some kind of an overlap with some kinds of music.