On People Who Don’t Derive Pleasure from Music

A recent study has found that some people don’t derive much (or any) pleasure from listening to music, compared to other worldly pleasures (such as money). From the study’s abstract, describing this as specific musical anhedonia:

Music has been present in all human cultures since prehistory, although it is not associated with any apparent biological advantages (such as food, sex, etc.) or utility value (such as money). Nevertheless, music is ranked among the highest sources of pleasure, and its important role in our society and culture has led to the assumption that the ability of music to induce pleasure is universal. However, this assumption has never been empirically tested. In the present report, we identified a group of healthy individuals without depression or generalized anhedonia who showed reduced behavioral pleasure ratings and no autonomic responses to pleasurable music, despite having normal musical perception capacities. These persons showed preserved behavioral and physiological responses to monetary reward, indicating that the low sensitivity to music was not due to a global hypofunction of the reward network. These results point to the existence of specific musical anhedonia and suggest that there may be individual differences in access to the reward system.

The study focused on recruiting college students, so I am not sure if the generalizations of the study can apply to people younger or older than the sample. Perhaps our affinity toward enjoying music changes with age?

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(via The Verge)

Not Everyone Wants to be an Entrepreneur

In a post titled “The End of Quiet Music,” Alina Simone discusses her dive into a solo venture to promote an album, failing, and learning what went wrong. Her story is interesting because she found a voice, later, through writing. She begins:

Not long before my first album was released in 2005, I spent a summer in Russia interviewing small business owners. An American microfinance organization had sent me there to gather rosy statistics and uplifting stories about how their loans had improved the lives of this new crop of entrepreneurs.

Instead, I would arrive in some city with a recently gutted economy, only to have men and women selling knockoff jeans or fruit from Uzbekistan tell me the same thing: they missed the factory. That is, their old jobs working at some inefficient Soviet enterprise. They didn’t like the financial uncertainty of their new jobs or the longer hours. They missed being able to check out at the end of the day. Many of them were less happy with the work itself. I heard the same thing again and again: Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur.

At the time, I felt confused — what was so bad about being your own boss? Their words only resonated with me years later, when I abandoned my music career.

The realities of forced entrepreneurship in the music business hit me when, in 2010, the label that released my previous two albums went bankrupt. By the time its Web site vanished without warning one day, I was already done recording a record. Rather than cast about for another struggling indie label, I decided to go the route of so many other bands and put the album out myself. 

Alina mentions that she’s been friends with Amanda Palmer (who raised more than $1.2 million on Kickstarter) since middle school, but that even Amanda has

worried publicly about what the future will hold for the artists who refuse to roll up their sleeves and join the self-promotional melee — tweeting, fund-raising and “incentivizing fans” to run “jampaigns.” 

Her conclusion is a strong one:

We’ve placed the entire onus of changing-with-the-times on musicians, but why can’t the educational, cultural and governmental institutions that support the arts adapt as well, extending the same opportunities to those whose music provides the soundtrack to our lives? If they don’t, Darwinism will probably ensure that only the musical entrepreneurs survive. I can’t say if the world of music will be better or worse off if that happens, but it will certainly be a lot louder.

On Goldfish Listening to Bach

A new study suggests that goldfish not only listen to music but are able to discern various composers from one another. Discovery Magazine summarizes:

For the study, published in the journal Behavioural Processes, Shinozuka and colleagues Haruka Ono and Shigeru Watanabe played two pieces of classical music near goldfish in a tank. The pieces were Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky.

The scientists trained the fish to gnaw on a little bead hanging on a filament in the water. Half of the fish were trained with food to gnaw whenever Bach played and the other half were taught to gnaw whenever Stravinsky music was on. The goldfish aced the test, easily distinguishing the two composers and getting a belly full of food in the process.

This is an example of auditory discrimination. From the paper’s abstract:

This paper investigated whether music has reinforcing and discriminative stimulus properties in goldfish. Experiment 1 examined the discriminative stimulus properties of music. The subjects were successfully trained to discriminate between two pieces of music – Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565) by J. S. Bach and The Rite of Spring by I. Stravinsky. Experiment 2 examined the reinforcing properties of sounds, including BWV 565 and The Rite of Spring. We developed an apparatus for measuring spontaneous sound preference in goldfish. Music or noise stimuli were presented depending on the subject’s position in the aquarium, and the time spent in each area was measured. The results indicated that the goldfish did not show consistent preferences for music, although they showed significant avoidance of noise stimuli. These results suggest that music has discriminative but not reinforcing stimulus properties in goldfish.

Interesting.

Focus@Will: Music to Help You Concentrate

I’m testing out a music service called Focus@Will. It’s designed to stream music that gets you to concentrate (up to 100 minutes) without your mind wandering, thinking about music.  The founders of the start-up behind the service call it a “DJ in the sky” that always plays great productivity music to support whatever you are focusing on.

From their FAQs, here is how the music is designed to help you focus:

  • The focus@will music stream engages your non-focal (background) attention, but not so much that it interferes with your conscious focal attention on the task at hand. This is music you hear but should not be actively listening to.
  • If a track is too bland, your subconscious will start ignoring it, and if too interesting, novel, dynamic or exciting, you will start consciously noticing it, which will distract you. Every track in our exclusive library has been remixed/re-edited and remastered to deliver the precise set of required attributes to keep you in the focus zone.
  • The patented secret sauce is how the system subtly phase sequences the stream to trick your limbic system (the fight or flight survival mechanism in the brain) into not habituating (tuning out) this focusing/anti distracting effect over time.

Worth reading is their science primer that further explains the motivation and research behind the start-up. I’ll follow up, either as an update to this post or in a separate entry on whether I’ve noticed an increase in my productivity using Focus@Will.

 

Joseph Bertolozzi’s Eiffel Tower Music

The composer Joseph Bertolozzi is going to Paris, knowing no French. Why? He intends to make music banging on The Eiffel Tower. From The New York Times:

His mission is to “play the Eiffel Tower” by striking its surfaces, collecting sounds through a microphone and using them as samples for an hourlong composition called “Tower Music.” He eventually hopes for a live, on-site performance of the work to celebrate the tower’s 125th anniversary next year.

What a cool story. Mr. Bertolozzi has spent more than four years on his quest. He raised $40,000 from private donors and convinced the Eiffel Tower administration that he was a legitimate musician. And he’s dedicated:

In preparation for his Parisian experiment, Mr. Bertolozzi studied the design of the Eiffel Tower. He listened to the works of French composers like Ravel and Poulenc, whose pieces have elements of cafe music and street sounds.

The tower, too, serves as “a deeper inspiration for me to try to find new ways of creating sounds,” he said. “So it’s just constant reinvention.”

On Discovering and Treasuring New Music

Mike Spies, writing in The New Yorker, remembers the days of going to the flea market or a record shop and carefully selecting the one item he would take home:

I’m trying to describe an intricate process, crucial to forming a lasting, meaningful relationship with a piece of art. Because if I was going to buy a CD, back when I bought them, I had to eke out some time, and even pray for a little luck, as I could spend hours in a dimly lit store, and leave with nothing.

But with the advent of Spotify and other online music listening stations, we are living in a different world. It doesn’t require much curation on our part: we just hit next. Here is Spies:

We seem to have created an environment in which wonderful music, newly discovered, is difficult to treasure. For treasures, as the fugitive salesman in the flea market was implying, are hard to come by—you have to work to find them. And the function of fugitive salesmen is to slow the endless deluge, drawing our attention to one album at a time, creating demand not for what we need to survive but for what we yearn for. Because how else can you form a relationship with a record when you’re cursed with the knowledge that, just an easy click away, there might be something better, something crucial and cataclysmic? The tyranny of selection is the opposite of freedom. And the more you click, the more you enhance the disposability of your endeavor.

How many of you echo this sentiment? I know I do.

I Can Hear Music for the First Time Ever, What Should I Listen To?

A reddit user, deafstoryteller, writes:

I’ve never understood it.

My whole life I’ve seen hearing people make a fool of themselves singing their favorite song or gyrating on the dance floor. I’ve also seen hearing people moved to tears by a single song. That was the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around.

I was born profoundly deaf and all music sounded like trash through my hearing aids.

That is until a couple days ago when I put on a new pair of hearing aids for the first time in years.

The first thing I heard was my shoe scraping across the carpet; it startled me. I have never heard that before and out of ignorance, I assumed it was too quiet for anyone to hear.

I sat in the doctor’s office frozen as a cacophony of sounds attacked me. The whir of the computer, the hum of the AC, the clacking of the keyboard, and when my best friend walked in I couldn’t believe that he had a slight rasp to his voice. He joked that it was time to cut back on the cigarettes.

That night, a group of close friends jump-started my musical education by playing Mozart, Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Elvis, and several other popular legends of music.

Being able to hear the music for the first time ever was unreal.

I realized that my old hearing aids were giving me a distorted version of music. they were not capable of distributing higher frequencies with clarity, instead it was just garbled gibberish.

When Mozart’s Lacrimosa came on, I was blown away by the beauty of it. At one point of the song, it sounded like angels singing and I suddenly realized that this was the first time I was able to appreciate music. Tears rolled down my face and I tried to hide it. But when I looked over I saw that there wasn’t a dry eye in the car.

I finally understood the power of music…

And then he goes on a “binge of music”, with the following five favorites in his brief exposure:

  1. Mozart’s Lacrimsoa
  2. The soundtrack to Eleven Eleven… I can see how this comes off as narcissistic, it being my own film and all but it’s such a personal work that when I listened to it for the first time I broke down. I felt like I was truly seeing the film for the first time ever. I’m grateful that Cazz was able to capture the tone perfectly. We discussed the film and specific scenes with essay-sized reasoning/deliberations on what should be conveyed. The critical response to the film surprised me and I still didn’t quite get it until seeing the visual images coupled with the soundtrack.
  3. Sig Ros’s Staralfur
  4. IL Postino-Luis Bacalov
  5. Minnesota’s A Bad Place

The comments are excellent. I echo those that are saying to start a blog and document your music listening adventures!

The World’s Highest-Paid DJs

Forbest has a “special report” on the world’s highest paid DJs. Dutch born DJ Tiesto tops the list with earnings of $22 million, who makes an average nightly gross of $250,000. Grammy-winning California native Skrillex ranks second with $15 million, followed by Scandinavian trio Swedish House Mafia, which recently disbanded despite pulling in an estimated $14 million. French DJ David Guetta claims the No. 4 spot with $13.5 million:

Though these Electronic Cash Kings hail from all over the globe, they’ve got at least one thing in common: they all make the bulk of their money by touring. Often toting nothing more than a USB stick and a pair of Pioneer CDJs, their production costs are often negligible, unlike rockers and pop stars who typically take home just one-third of gross ticket sales.

Our estimates include earnings from these live shows—for many artists, that often means more than $100,000 for a night’s work—and from recorded music sales, endorsements, merchandise sales and, in the case of DJ Pauly D, television…

The collective total for the top 10 DJs is more than $125 million, or greater than the payroll of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Samuel Zygmuntowicz: The Violin Maker

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/37749081 w=600 h=400]

“The Violin Maker” by Dustin Cohen is an excellent short documentary profiling Samuel Zygmuntowicz, a violin maker based in Brooklyn. Samuel has been working with violin since he was 13 years old. He explains that his clients are very demanding, but ultimately, his job is highly, highly rewarding.

Also, make sure not to miss the excellent photo essay accompanying the film:

 

The Violin Maker

What Is It Like Being a Conductor?

What does a conductor do? And what does conducting feel like? David Anderson sought to find out. In this piece in New York Magazine, he describes how he led a rehearsal of Mozart’s six-minute overture to Don Giovanni. His guides in the process: Alan Gilbert, the music director of the New York Philharmonic, and James Ross, who with Gilbert runs the Juilliard School’s conducting program. What Davidson discovers is that conducting is therapeutic, beautiful, and addictive.

A harsh perspective on the conductor (perhaps deserving no credit for his work; maybe you feel the same way?):

Audiences wonder whether he (or, increasingly, she) has any effect; players are sure they could do better; and even conductors occasionally feel superfluous. “I’m in a bastard profession, a dishonest profession,” agonized Dimitri Mitropoulos, who led the New York Philharmonic in the fifties. “The others make all the music, and I get the salary and the credit.” Call it the Maestro Paradox: The person responsible for the totality of sound produces none.

This is a wonderfully descriptive paragraph:

Not only am I letting the musicians in on my own inner life, I’m also asking them to express it for me. The idea of conducting as a kind of emotional ventriloquism helps deal with one especially thorny bit of the Maestro Paradox: Leadership requires confidence that is difficult to acquire and impossible to fake. Orchestras are psychic X-ray machines. They judge a new chief within minutes, and once scorn sets in, forget it. I’m going to have to project the sense that I am entitled to be there, and first, I must convince myself.

On the addictive power of lifting and moving the baton:

Lifting the baton feels a little like getting ready to push off from the top of a ski slope, in that I’ll move in the right direction whatever I do, and also because fear will cause disaster. Neither fact is comforting. My downbeat is stiff, and the great D-minor wobbles accordingly…Okay, now it’s hanging together. I try a third time, and I focus on the sound. I turn my left palm upward as if to hold an imaginary grapefruit and try to feel the baton cutting through some viscous medium, meeting resistance. Suddenly, the big chords acquire a rounded glow. Cellos and basses toll like a great bell, and the violins echo their answer on the offbeats. I have seen conductors shape music with their hands like clay, and now I’m doing it. It is a powerfully addictive feeling.

On interacting with the musicians as Davidson is conducting:

As we power toward the final cadence and I exchange glance after glance with the young musicians, it occurs to me that they are bombarding me with unspoken questions and it’s my job to convey answers. That’s what a conductor does: mold an interpretation by filtering the thousands of decisions packed into every minute of symphonic music. The clarinetist inclined to add a little gleam to a brief solo by slowing down slightly, the tuba player preparing for a fortissimo blast after twenty minutes of nothing—each will look to the podium for a split-second shot of guidance, and the conductor who meets those fleeting inquiries with clarity and assurance will get a more nuanced performance. My efforts haven’t made me a good conductor, or even a mediocre one, but they have given me the glimmerings of competence—an intoxicating taste of what it might feel like to realize the fantasy of my boom-box days.

While the piece leaves something to be desired (namely, the technical details of conducting), it is gorgeously written. I quite enjoyed it.