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Rice U. conference to explore music's role in human cognition and behavior

Rice University's Shepherd School of Music will bring together distinguished scientists, composers and musicians to discuss music's role in human cognition and behavior for the Exploring the Mind Through Music conference March 27-29. Aimed at increasing the dialogue between musicians and scientists, the conference events are free and open to the public.

The Shepherd School conference aims to be a trendsetter in encouraging neuroscientists and musicians to interface and share their latest findings and research.

"We hope this will serve as a catalyst for deepening the collaboration between musicians and scientists," said Anthony Brandt, organizer of the conference. "We see this as the first step to something bigger -- something that may help further the research and enable us to gain new insights into ourselves."

The top researchers from this burgeoning field of mind and music will present their work on topics ranging from congenital amusia (tone-deafness) to synesthesia to functional brain organization in relation to music.

"I expect to see some new collaborations forming as these experts discuss their work and experiences," said Brandt, associate professor of composition and theory at Rice. "Perhaps musicians will become advisers on research studies or neuroscientists will investigate the importance of early childhood music education, assess the importance of the arts in our mental and social development and consult on such issues as productive and efficient practicing habits."

Brandt's own interests focus on how classical music can offer insights into the mind, the limits of language and the elusive connections between thought and feeling. He has studied how music with cyclic structure -- a main idea repeating in its entirety either identically or with variations -- creates a predictability ideal for social situations. Classical music features musical statements broken into smaller fragments and reassembled in new forms. To process that music, the mind has to be active and diligent, according to Brandt.

"Because of the cyclic nature of pop music, you are constantly at risk of tuning it out," Brandt said. "Not so with classical music where your mind is hard at work. Because of its cognitive richness, I believe classical music is potentially a powerful resource for investigating the mind."

Neuroscientist and Rice alumnus David Eagleman will present his research in synesthesia -- where stimulation of one sense in the brain triggers an experience in a different sense. For example, the feel of sandpaper might evoke a sensation of forest green or a symphony might be experienced in blues and golds. Eagleman, director of the Laboratory for Perception and Action at Baylor College of Medicine, will concentrate on musical forms of synesthesia where pitches, chords or instrument timbres trigger the experiences of colors, textures or shapes. He will discuss the cutting-edge technology used in his laboratory to study such things.

Isabelle Peretz, co-director of the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research at the University of Montreal, will explore how congenital amusia provides a rare chance to examine the biological basis of music by tracing causal links between genes, environment, brain and behavior.

A talk by David Huron, professor of musicology at Ohio State University, will focus on how music evokes feelings akin to sadness or grief.

Other speakers will be Jonathan Berger, co-director of the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts at Stanford University; Fred Lerdahl, the Fritz Reiner Professor of Music Composition at Columbia University; Sarah Rothenberg, renowned pianist and artistic director of Da Camera of Houston; Gottfried Schlaug, director of the Neuroimaging Laboratory of Beth Israel Deaconess and Harvard Medical School; Ron Tintner, director of the Department of Neurology of The Methodist Hospital; and Mark Tramo, director of the Institute for Music & Brain Science at Harvard.


Contact: David Ruth
Rice University

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