If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Category: Music

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

People not only wish but deeply need to attribute Profound Sensitivity to the performer when, in reality, the profundity is all, or nearly all, in the notes on paper. It’s the composer’s soul, not the performer’s, that is speaking to them. But it’s such a typical human desire to assign credit or blame to the flesh-and-blood human before their eyes rather than to an invisible abstraction of a human, a shadow long since vanished from view.


National Geographic (Oct. 2017)

Humans and their canine companions both find solace in music. Researchers from the University of Glasgow put on five different playlists for kennel dogs while monitoring their stress. Although reactions differed, the music had a calming effect–particularly soft rock and reggae.

“The Science of Dogs”

Lewis Thomas – Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1983)

Surely, music (along with ordinary language) is as profound a problem for human biology as can be thought of, and I would like to see something done about it.

“Things Unflattened by Science”

Douglas Adams – The Salmon of Doubt (2002)

The familiarity of the Brandenburgs should not blind us to their magnitude. I’m convinced that Bach is the greatest genius who ever walked among us, and the Brandenburgs are what he wrote when he was happy.

Douglas Adams – The Salmon of Doubt (2002)

Whatever new extremities of discovery or understanding we reach, we always seem to find the footsteps of Bach there already.

Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia (2007)

A piece of music will draw one in, teach one about its structure and secrets, whether one is listening consciously or not. This is so even if one has never heard a piece of music before. Listening to music is not a passive process but intensely active, involving a stream of inferences, hypotheses, expectations, and anticipations (as David Huron and others have explored). We can grasp a new piece – how it is constructed, where it is going, what will come next – with such accuracy that even after a few bars we may be able to hum or sing along with it.

Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia (2007)

Another difficulty was mentioned to me by the neurologist and musician Steven Frucht, who himself has absolute pitch. He sometimes experiences a certain difficulty in hearing intervals or harmonies because he is so conscious of the chroma of the notes that compose them. If, for example, one plays a C on the piano and the F-sharp above this, he might be so conscious of the C-ness of the C and the F-sharpness of the F-sharp that he fails to notice that they form a tritone, a dissonance which makes most people wince.

Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia (2007)

Although a teaspoon of Mozart may not make a child a better mathematician, there is little doubt that regular exposure to music, and especially active participation in music, may stimulate development of many different areas of the brain – areas which have to work together to listen to or perform music. For the vast majority of students, music can be every bit as important educationally as reading or writing.

Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia (2007)

It really is a very odd business that all of us, to varying degrees, have music in our heads. If Arthur C. Clarke’s Overlords were puzzled when they landed on Earth and observed how much energy our species puts into making and listening to music, they would have been stupefied when they realized that, even in the absence of external sources, most of us are incessantly playing music in our heads.

Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia (2007)

But why this incessant search for meaning or interpretation? […] Music can have wonderful, formal, quasi-mathematical perfection, and it can have heartbreaking tenderness, poignancy, and beauty (Bach, of course, was a master at combining these). But it does not have to have any “meaning” whatever. One may recall music, give it the life of imagination (or even hallucination) simply because one likes it – this is reason enough.