Music is universal, profound, stimulating, fundamental and something that seems to be rooted within our DNA. It can seem transcendent, reminding us of something heavenly, while connecting us to something deeper within us.
In the Bible, Revelations 14:2 talks about the sounds in heaven being like that of harps. While the Muslim poet and mystic Rumi wrote: “When I am silent, I fall into the place where everything is music.”
According to Paul Gladstone Reid, a British singer and composer, rhythm has the ability to send you into the trance [i], which is well known in many African cultures. Music’s intoxicating affect is powerful, but not always, of course, in a good way.
A couple of years ago I spoke to Lawrence Parsons, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield. He has spent many years studying the affects of music and dancing on the brain. “With the rise of the Ipod and Iphone, people are increasingly going into their own little bubble, detaching themselves [from the wider world],” he says. “People use music as a form of self-medication and to put us in a particular mood.”
What does he think about the crude and weird music of people like Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and others? “The main thing that is driving people like that is capitalism. The capitalist system wants a product to be talked about and this is done by making something new or outrageous,” he says.
“Rihanna and Gaga are good musicians but that isn’t enough to make a lot of money. To be talked about they have to do things that are new and demand attention. I don’t think they want to be that way, I think they know they just have to be that way otherwise they won’t get attention,” he says.
Music can convey meanings that ordinary language can’t and has the ability to promote trust, sexual attraction and bonding between people. According to Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist and music producer, music not only stimulates more parts of the brain than any other form of communication it also activates the most primal parts of the brain [ii]. In other words, it can affect our very core. Music is something we are deeply interested in, enjoy and, quite often, can’t live without. That’s, perhaps, why you read this.
[i], [ii], What Makes a Masterpiece, Channel 4 (2012)