Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Musicophilia

Before reading Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia, I thought that everyone heard music in pretty much the same way. I knew, of course, that some people could hear with greater degrees of structural understanding because of experience, and some people could hear with a greater degree of pitch sensitivity than others, but I never knew that there were actually people who "see" music in colors. I thought it was just something that people talked about in abstract terms, but in Sacks' chapter about synesthesia he writes at length about people who actually experience music in color the way I experience the world that I see in color.

I had a difficult time reading his chapter on musical hallucinations because every time Sacks would mention a piece of music I knew, I would hear it in my head. I can't say that I "suffer" from musical hallucinations, because I really enjoy having them. People often comment that I seem happy when they see me. It is probably because when I am out and about I always have something wonderful going through my head. I often dream about pieces of music, or I work out problems with something I'm writing by playing passages over and over in my head until they are fixed. I guess I am pretty lucky because I can control my musical thoughts and auditory hallucinations pretty much at will. There are people who cannot.

This book is a great companion to This is your Brain on Music (Sacks quotes Levitin often), because it explains to the non scientist in clearly-explained physical and neurological terms what actually happens in differently-wired people's brains when confronted with musical situations. Sacks writes as a neurologist, but he also writes and as a passionate music lover as well as a skilled amateur musician.

5 comments:

rootlesscosmo said...

I work out problems with something I'm writing by playing passages over and over in my head until they are is fixed.

I work out piano fingerings while lying in bed waiting to fall asleep. Sometimes they don't work when I get to the keyboard but more often they do.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Practicing jujitsu in one's head is effective, because the firing neurons are almost as good as firing muscles with physical practice.

Elaine, I was flabbergasted some years ago to discover that one friend of mine has essentially no musical memory. She can recognize music at the level of "Happy Birthday," because she's heard it so often, and she has a good memory for words, so she recognizes some songs because she knows the words.

I have another friend who cannot distinguish the instruments in an orchestra unless they are extremely highlighted, as in playing extended solos.

Michael Leddy said...

Elaine, do you mean that if you read the title "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" then the song will start running through your head?

Oh, sorry...

Elaine Fine said...

Yup. It's a good thing that I know how to make it stop.

Lee said...

I've got this one of my TBR pile but must bump it up to the top. Perhaps over Christmas I can hide from the family in the cellar ...