Sounds like music

Art and Brain Week, sponsored by the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, of the Hebrew University will take place March 12 to 19.

‘Experimentalist vs Theoretician’: The Art and Brain Week program also takes a humorous look at the way we think (photo credit: BRUNO SHARVIT)
‘Experimentalist vs Theoretician’: The Art and Brain Week program also takes a humorous look at the way we think
(photo credit: BRUNO SHARVIT)
What’s your musical turn-on? Do you dig, say Miles Davis or the Sex Pistols? Maybe it’s the Fab Four or Rihanna, or even Mahler that get you shakin’ your bootie. Regardless of your taste, your brain duly processes the sounds that makes it to your auditory system and conveys the information in a manner that subsequently produces a recognizable sensation.
That and much more will be expounded on during the annual Art and Brain Week, sponsored by the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, of the Hebrew University. The event (in Hebrew) will take place for the seventh year from March 12 to 19, in collaboration with the Jerusalem Cinematheque, Beit Mazie, Tzuba Hotel, The Jerusalem Brain Community and HaMiffal artists’ cooperative. As usual, the program takes in a wide swathe of cerebrally associated topics designed to spread the word about brain research and the work undertaken by the ELSC, and – yes – to get us thinking about various areas of our lives that we may ordinarily take for granted.
How many of us, for example, consider the possible connection between enjoyment and suffering? Other than for those of us with the attributes of the classic, or hackneyed, Polish Jewish mother syndrome or, possibly, anyone with a penchant for sadomasochistic practices, Dr. Hillel Aviezer’s March 13 lecture “Between Pleasure and Pain: What do Expressions Express?” should be an enlightening experience. The talk will take place at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, with the neuropsychologist examining such intriguing questions as whether facial expressions expose our inner feelings. The lecture will be augmented by a performance by the Scapino Theater Company and followed by a screening of the fascinating documentary Weiner, which portrays Anthony Weiner’s tempestuous election campaign for the position of mayor of New York in 2013.
The cinematheque hosts the majority of the program slots, including Thursday’s “What Makes the Computer Laugh?” lecture, when Hebrew University School of Computer Science and Engineering professor Dafna Shahaf will regale her audience with a, no doubt, entertaining account of how she and some of her colleagues taught a computer to judge the comedic quality of cartoons.
The evening’s agenda also takes in an interactive improvisational show by a thespian foursome, including Dvir Benedek and Tomer Sharon. The actors will take suggestions from members of the audience, regarding predicaments in which they may find themselves, after which the former will perform stand-up routines, skits and even songs. Some of the paying customers may even find themselves joining the cast on stage.
Saturday’s cinematheque program will add depth to the week’s proceedings – literally – with Avi Kol’s lecture, “Three-Dimensional Vision: How the Brain Perceives Depth,” shedding some light on the various components of the visual system and on how the brain perceives depth and turns 2D images in 3D entities. Kol’s discourse will be followed by a screening of the spoof animation film The Lego Batman Movie.
How many of us consider why we might begin to shake a leg as soon as we hear, for example, the rumbling intro of Led Zeppelin’s blues-infused 1971 number “Black Dog,” or slip seamlessly into a state of blissful reverie as the first bars of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.
2 insinuate themselves on our eardrums? Prof. Israel Nelken, who earns his crust at the ELSC’s Laboratory of Auditory Neurophysiology will, hopefully, leave us with a better understanding of our cerebral auditory machinations when he delivers his talk on Sunday which goes by the self-explanatory title of “Music and Brain – The Surprising Link.”
So, what is so surprising about the connection between music and the way we think about it? “A sound that we are not expecting registers in the brain very quickly,” explains Nelken. “That is surprising. You would have thought that the brain first registers the sound, then it examines the structure of the melody and only after that considers whether the surprising sound is compatible with the melody. In practice, that takes place the other way round.”
The ordinary music fan on the street can, of course, get lost in the research based academia vernacular so it is helpful to get a tidier description from Nelken.
“The way I normally sum this up is by saying that if you accept [20th century French-born American composer Edgar] Varèse’s definition that music is ‘organized sound,’ then the organization happens first, and the sound follows.”
I mused whether the above order of priority is the result of some subconscious defense mechanism, to prevent us being overly thrown out of our stride.
“I don’t know why it happens like that,” Nelken admits. “You’ll have to ask the Great Planner (God),” he laughs.
“Maybe it’s something to do with evolution.”
Other Art and Brain Week slots include Prof. Adi Mizrahi’s Olfactory Tastings lecture on the mechanisms in the brain that process smell and their importance to social behavior, next Friday at Kibbutz Tzova – followed by a dairy-based brunch – and Prof. Hermona Soreq’s talk at Beit Mazie about the human genome project and whether efforts in the field may yield new remedies for brain-related ailments.
For tickets and more information: *9377, and