Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia, and the Digital Era

MusicophiliaFound this link over at Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Daily Dish. Oliver Sacks is a neurologist and professor at Columbia University responsible for the book you see to your left. He recently produced a program for NOVA called Musical Minds, wherein he investigated all kinds of cool phenomenon related to music. In this article he talks a little about his book, music as torture, therapeutic techniques involving music, language, and about iPods. I never wrote the article about iPods that I had planned, mostly because I’m saving it for later, but Sacks identifies one of the disadvantages that mass exposure to music creates. You should read the entire article, but what follows is what Sacks had to say about digital media:

Clearly “brainworms” (or earworms, if you like) have been around for a long time. Mark Twain, writing before the era of recorded music, refers to the phenomenon in his story “Punch, Brothers, Punch!” A similar term, “the piper’s maggot,” goes back at least to the eighteenth century. Yet one has to wonder whether, in our current culture of nonstop musical exposure, brainworms may be triggered more often. (Certainly there is no doubt that overexposure to loud music is contributing to a rise in hearing loss.)

An interesting corollary is that our exposure to different types of music, and hence our musical literacy, has certainly expanded, but perhaps at a cost. As Daniel Levitin has pointed out, passive listening has largely replaced active music-making. Now that we can listen to anything we like on our iPods, we have less motivation to go to concerts or churches or synagogues, less occasion to sing together. This is unfortunate, because music-making engages much more of our brains than simply listening. Partly for this reason, to celebrate my 75th birthday last year, I started taking piano lessons (after a gap of more than sixty years). I still have my iPod (it contains the complete works of Bach), but I also need to make music every day.

If any readers have links to articles concerning the same topic, please send them my way. I think it’s fascinating stuff. If you aren’t sure what an earworm is, just check out this video.


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