Thursday, November 11, 2010

Beautiful Tunes @ TheBeautifulBrain

The other day I tweeted about something I couldn't keep a secret. If you had paid attention, you probably wouldn't need to read this post.

The Beautiful Brain, to which I've only recently become aware of, has some of the most beautiful imagery and amazing stories crossing the science art divide I have seen anywhere.

Take for instance their series Inside the Brain, Behind the Music authored by Joseph LeDoux, neuroscientist and singer/songwriter for The Amygdaloids. Joseph writes of the motives and science behind the creation of select songs from their most recent album Theory of My Mind. In doing so he also unleashes the thought processes of an scientist, artist and a musician. A little bit of neuroscience isn't the only thing you'll pick up when reading these brilliant insightful articles.

Fearing, which features in the first instalment of the series, is an adaptation of a "dark and stark" poem in an Emily Dickinson collection called Life. Being an adaptation a previous work, explicit scientific content is lacking obviously. It is only in relation to The Amygdaloids, that might it reveal Josephs keen interest and research in to the fear mechanisms of the brain.

With that in mind (no pun intended), Joseph added a thirty and sixty second lecture on the functional and psychological aspects of fear during the making of the music video where ordinarily there would have been two guitar solos. The lecturers don't detract from the music or the lyrics at all, in fact they strangely add to the dark and eerie character of the video clip, somewhat making the emotional connection more real.

Other songs are instead inspired directly from Joseph's personal experience and beliefs. In the second episode, Joseph goes behind the lyrics of Mind Over Matter to disclose the reasons for inclusion of both physical phenomena and what could be construed as irrational thoughts.

"I don’t necessarily spend every waking moment of the day carefully considering whether my thoughts and feelings match the predictions of physics." - Joseph LeDoux

In Mind Over Matter the lyrics tell the story of one person who is separated by the laws of time and space from another. This separation inspires the protagonist to will his mind to conjure ways in which to break these laws in order to be reunited with their lost one once again.

What amazes me most is how Joseph can fuse the science into what would seem to be just an ordinary ballad.

"There must be something in my brain, there must be something in my veins, there must be some primal glue, that keeps my memory stuck on you." - Lyrics from Glue

Take for instance the love song Glue quoted above. If you hadn't been told so, you may not have realised the explicit attention to neuroscience in this chorus. It is in fact a tribute to James McGaugh of the University of California at Irvine who led the way in showing how chemical modulators and hormones work to make memories stick.

Then there are songs such as How Free Is Your Will which take another leap into the philosophical realm of the mind. In fact this particular song asks more questions than it answers. The biggest one of them of all is implicit: "Are we responsible for actions produced by unconscious processes in our brain?"

I could quite easily write about these articles all day, but to do so would be plagiarism. Instead I hope that you can find the time to read through each one including parts five and six which I haven't touched on today - just because that's the order in which I did things.

The Beautiful Brain is definitely worthy of being in your reader or rss list. You can follow Joseph and the Amygdaloids on twitter as I do. Check them out on MySpace and download their music from iTunes.

Alternatively listen to the entire album of Theory of My Mind from their website.

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