Naeem's Reviews > This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin
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's review
Jan 05, 2010

it was ok
Recommended to Naeem by: Brianna Bortz
Read in December, 2009

I was keen on this book in the beginning for two reasons. First, it give me the basics of music theory 101 in a concise manner. I really needed that. Second, and more important, he went to some length to separate the universal elements of music from the culturally relative aspects. For example, an octave, he argues is a quality of sound itself -- an aspect of the physical world. But how different societies treat octaves depends on their musical traditions. Levitin is very compelling and clear in his explanations.

But at some point I grew tired, then annoyed, and then a touch angry. Tired because while Levitin says that he wants to talk NOT about the brain but instead about the mind, he spends most of his energy talking about the brain. For Levitin the mind is the entity that makes the different parts of the brain into a whole. For me, mind is a historical, cultural, and psychological entity. So while I appreciated learning about what brain scientists have done with music, that isn't really where my interests are.

Annoyed because, as a former rock musician, engineer, and producer he constantly references artists who are mostly white and north american. He gives examples of music that I consider to be anti-music (a term coined by Mat Callahan in his Trouble with Music).

And finally angry, because, as much as he doesn't want to, and as much as he would be astounded at the my accusation, Levitin produces a book that ignores the fuller world of music. It would be like writing a book on trees that concentrated mostly on trees in north America. Maybe he doesn't know anything else. But I happen to think that a focus on so called hard sciences is actually a way to avoid world politics.

Finally, for me, music is tied up with the divine and the sacred. And this too he ignores.
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message 1: by Martin (new)

Martin What do you mean by "music is tied up with the divine and the sacred?"

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