Creativity has been defined as the ability to produce work that is novel, high in quality, and appropriate to an audience. While the nature of the creative process is under debate, many believe that creativity relies on real-time combinations of known neural and cognitive processes.
One useful model of creativity comes from musical improvisation, such as in jazz, in which musicians spontaneously create novel sound sequences. A study used jazz musicians to test the hypothesis that individuals with training in musical improvisation, which entails creative generation of musical ideas, might process expectancy differently.
Researchers used EEGs to compare the brain activity of 12 jazz musicians (with improvisation training), 12 classical musicians (without improvisation training), and 12 non-musicians while they listened to a series of chord progressions. Some of the examples followed typical Western chord progressions, while others followed atypical ones.
Jazz musicians had a significantly different electrophysiological response to the unexpected progressions, indicating that they had an increased perceptual sensitivity to unexpected stimuli along with an increased engagement with unexpected events.
This according to “Jazz musicians reveal role of expectancy in human creativity” by Emily Przysinda, Tima Zheng, Kellyn Maves, Cameron Arkin, and Psyche Loui (Brain and cognition CXIX [December 2017] pp. 45–53).
Below, the Miles Davis Quintet plays Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti, a work often cited for its use of unexpected chords; above, Davis, Shorter, and Herbie Hancock in 1964.
Two experiments investigated the influence of the harmonic content of background music on taste perception.
The participants evaluated samples of mixed fruit juice while listening to soundtracks that had either been harmonized with consonant or dissonant musical intervals. Each sample of juice was rated on three computer-based scales: One scale was anchored with the words sour and sweet, while the other two scales involved hedonic ratings of the music and of the juice.
Participants reliably associated the consonant soundtracks with sweetness and the dissonant soundtracks with sourness, rating the juices as tasting significantly sweeter in the consonant than in the dissonant music condition, irrespective of the melody or instrumentation involved. These results provide empirical support for the claim that the crossmodal correspondence between basic taste and a higher-level musical attribute (harmony in this case) can be used to modify the evaluation of the taste of a drink.
This according to “Striking a sour note: Assessing the influence of consonant and dissonant music on taste perception” by Charles Spence (above) and Qian Janice Wang (Multisensory research XXIX/1–3  pp. 195–208).
Another post about Professor Spence’s research is here. Below, some consonance and dissonance imaging.
When doctors discovered a tumor in Dan Fabbio’s brain, he began a long journey involving a team of physicians, scientists, and a music professor that culminated with him awake and playing a saxophone as surgeons operated on him.
A professional musician and music teacher, Fabbio suddenly started to experience hallucinations, and a visit to a hospital led to a CAT scan that indicated a brain tumor. It appeared to be benign, but doctors were concerned about its proximity to a brain region that is responsible for music processing.
Fabbio was referred to the neurosurgeon Web Pilcher, who contacted Elizabeth Marvin, a music theorist who also specializes in music cognition, and together they developed a series of cognitive musical tests that Fabbio could perform while researchers were conducting brain scans. Using this information, the team produced a highly detailed three-dimensional map of Fabbio’s brain that would be used to help guide the surgeons in the operating room.
The surgeons wanted to know if they were successful in preserving Fabbio’s ability to perform music, so they decided to bring his saxophone into the operating room; once the tumor had been removed, they gave the go-ahead for Fabbio to play it. “It made you want to cry,” said Marvin. “He played it flawlessly and when he finished the entire operating room erupted in applause.”
This according to “Saxophonist is told to play while undergoing brain surgery” by Norman Lebrecht (Slipped disc 30 August 2017). Below, a brief documentary fleshes out the story.
Psychoanalytic studies of the arts have mainly focused on visual art, literature, and film; launched by Psychosozial-Verlag in 2017, Jahrbuch für Psychoanalyse und Musik (ISSN 2367-2498) aims to fill the gap with psychoanalytic explorations of music.
The journal addresses musicians, musicologists, and cultural scientists as well as psychoanalysts and psychotherapists; its interdisciplinary approach illuminates seldom-noted connections between academic fields. The inaugural volume, edited by Sebastian Leikert and Antje Niebuhr, focuses on the unconscious meanings of interrelationships between music and language.
Below, the finale of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, a work discussed in the journal’s first issue.
All human societies have music with a rhythmic beat, typically produced with percussive instruments such as drums. The set of capacities that allows humans to produce and perceive music appears to be deeply rooted in human biology, but an understanding of its evolutionary origins requires cross-taxa comparisons.
Drumming by palm cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus) shares the key rudiments of human instrumental music, including manufacture of a sound tool, performance in a consistent context, regular beat production, repeated components, and individual styles.
Throughout 131 drumming sequences produced by 18 males, the beats occurred at nonrandom, regular intervals; yet individual males differed significantly in the distribution parameters of their beat patterns, indicating individual drumming styles. Autocorrelation analyses of the longest drumming sequences further showed that they were highly regular and predictable, like human music.
These discoveries provide a rare comparative perspective on the evolution of rhythmicity and instrumental music in our own species, and show that a preference for a regular beat can have other origins before being co-opted into group-based music and dance.
This according to “Tool-assisted rhythmic drumming in palm cockatoos shares key elements of human instrumental music” by Robert Heinsohn, Christina N. Zdenek, et al. (Science advances III/6 ).
Above, a male cockatoo (right) drumming with a stick for a female; below, a video produced by the research team.
In 2016 the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro launched MusMat: Brazilian journal of music and mathematics, which brings together articles, interviews, and news on the interactions between music and mathematics in applications in analysis and composition. The journal is peer-reviewed and open-access.
Below, a work by Rodolfo Coelho de Souza, who discusses his compositional methods in the inaugural issue.
Recent research suggests that tango dancing may be an effective strategy for influencing symptoms related to mood disorders.
In one study, 41 participants were randomized to tango dancing for 1.5 hours, four times per week for two weeks, or to a wait-list control condition. Self-rated symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, self-efficacy, satisfaction with life, and mindfulness were assessed at pretest, posttest, and one month later. The tango group participants showed significant reductions in depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia at posttest relative to the controls, whereas satisfaction with life and self-efficacy were significantly increased. At a one-month follow-up, depression, anxiety, and stress levels remained reduced relative to the wait-list controls.
In another study, 22 tango dancers were assessed within four conditions in which the presence of music and a dance partner while dancing were varied in a 2 x 2 design. Before each condition and five minutes thereafter, participants provided salivary samples for analysis of cortisol and testosterone concentrations and completed the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule. The data suggest that motion with a partner to music has more positive effects on emotional state than motion without music or without a partner. Moreover, decreases of cortisol concentrations were found with the presence of music, whereas increases of testosterone levels were associated with the presence of a partner.
This according to “Intensive tango dance program for people with self-referred affective symptoms” by Rosa Pinniger et al. (Music and medicine: An interdisciplinary journal V/I [January 2013] pp. 15–22) and “Emotional and neurohumoral responses to dancing tango argentino: The effects of music and partner” by Cynthia Quiroga Murcia (Music and medicine: An interdisciplinary journal I/1 [July 2009] pp. 14–21), respectively.
Below, Tina Frühauf provides a testimonial.
BONUS: A translation of lyrics of the song in the video:
Think it over
before taking that step
that perhaps tomorrow
you may not go back.
Think it over.
I have loved you so much
and you have sent me into the past
perhaps for another love.
People can systematically match information from different senses; these matches are known as crossmodal correspondences.
A 2013 study demonstrated that at least some color-music correspondences can be explained by emotional mediation.
A later study investigated the emotion mediation hypothesis for correspondences between odor and music, testing whether the strength of odor-music matches for particular odors and musical selections can be predicted by the similarity of the emotional associations with the odors and music. These researchers found that perceived matches were higher when the emotional responses were similar and that a model including emotional dimensions captured a significant amount of the variance of match scores, providing new evidence that crossmodal correspondences are mediated by emotions.
This according to “The smell of jazz: Crossmodal correspondences between music, odor, and emotion” by Carmel A. Levitan, Sara A. Charney, Karen B. Schloss, and Stephen E. Palmer, a paper included in Proceedings of the 37th annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (Austin: The Cognitive Science Society, 2015, pp. 1326–1331).
Many thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention, and for noting that “fishy was comprehensively unpopular, except with the category heavy metal, where it was first on the list.”
SMUG is a system for generating lyrics and melodies from real-world data, in particular from academic papers.
The developers of SMUG wanted to create a playful experience and establish a novel way of generating textual and musical content that could be applied to other domains, in particular to games.
This according to “SMUG: Scientific Music Generator” by Marco Scirea, Gabriella A. B. Barros, Noor Shaker, and Julian Togelius, a paper included in Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Computational Creativity (Provo: Brigham Young University, 2015, pp. 204–211).
Many thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention! Above, an excerpt from the score generated from Charles Darwin’s On the origin of species by means of natural selection. Below, an app that generates music from barcodes.
Many know Saint-Saëns as the composer of Le carnaval des animaux and other landmark Romantic works; fewer know that he was an avid amateur astronomer.
Saint-Saëns was friends with the eminent French astronomer Camille Flammarion and participated in the Société Astronomique de France. His stature as a great French composer brought attention to the Société and astronomical research, and he contributed several articles to the group’s journal, Revue d’astronomie populaire.
This according to “Inspired by the skies? Saint-Saëns, amateur astronomer” by Léo Houziaux, an essay included in Camille Saint-Saëns and his world (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012, pp. 12–17).
Today is Saint-Saëns’s 180th birthday! Above, the composer (right) with Flammarion; below, Saint-Saëns adresses the heavens (Laudate, coeli!).