Posts Tagged ‘book’


Read: This is Your Brain on Music 

February 21, 2008

This is Your Brain on Music

This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession
Daniel J. Levitin

When I was in graduate school, I mentioned within earshot of a professor that I probably know more about alternative and independent music from 1980 onwards than I know about anything else. The professor insisted that I must know more about my doctoral thesis, but I couldn’t agree – when I think about the thousands of songs I can recognize within a few bars or can sing or hum along to, to say nothing of the masses of ancillary information like band names, albums, song titles and who dated whom, the sheer number of terabytes in my head dedicated to music is staggering. But the really astonishing part is that I’m not unusual. Everyone is great at remembering music. This is the book that explains why.

Written by a platinum-selling music producer who went to graduate school to study cognitive neuropsychology, This is Your Brain on Music addresses the cognitive underpinnings of the remarkable human facility with music. Daniel J. Levitin starts with a brief, lucid introduction to the fundamentals of music theory, and then goes on to discuss how we discern rhythm and harmony, how the brain processes music, and how we remember songs, ending with a discussion of the evolution of ‘the music instinct.’ Levitin shows how these processes are complex and highly distributed, involving regions of the brain ranging from the most primitive (the cerebellum) to the prefrontal cortex, the seat of higher reasoning. Throughout the book, Levitin is clear but doesn’t oversimplify, and he alerts you to the many, many open questions that remain in the field. This is a great book for anyone who’s given any thought to how we think about music.


website [includes hundreds of musical samples that are referenced in the book]


Read: Love is a Mix Tape

January 26, 2008

Love is a Mix Tape cover

A friend of mine, who knows how much I enjoy making mix CDs, lent me Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time, a memoir by Rob Sheffield, who’s a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. The book is structured as a series of vignettes, each framed by a mix tape from the time of the events.

I have built my life around loving music, and I surround myself with it. I’m always racing to catch up on my new favorite song. But I never stop playing my mixes. Every fan makes them. The times you lived through, the people you shared those times with—nothing brings it all to life like an old mix tape. It does a better job of storing up memories than actual brain tissue can do. Every mix tape tells a story. Put them together, and they add up to the story of a life.

While Sheffield does reach back to his childhood, most of the book centres around his relationship with his wife Renée, her untimely death, and the reality of living as a young widower. Sheffield’s personal narrative is poignant and well-told, and he paints a touching portrait of his deceased wife. I occasionally found the prose to be (in the words of Julien Temple and David Bowie) a little clever-clever, but it was nevertheless an enjoyable and touching read.


Update [January 27, 2008]: By strange coincidence, Rob Sheffield is about to visit the Boston area. He’ll be reading from this book at Brookline Booksmith on Wednesday, January 30th, 2008.