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Music, the Brain and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination Paperback – 7 Dec 2002

3.8 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 394 pages
  • Publisher: Avon Books (7 Dec. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038078209X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380782093
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 2.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 242,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Jourdian's deep love for serious music...gives his book a moral force and passon rare in science writing."-- "Boston Phoenix"

About the Author

When not writing about science and technology, Robert Jourdian plays the piano and composes. MUSIC, THE BRAIN, AND ECSTASY is his sixth book. He livesin Mendocino, California.

When not writing about science and technology, Robert Jourdian plays the piano and composes. MUSIC, THE BRAIN, AND ECSTASY is his sixth book. He livesin Mendocino, California.


Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Robert Jourdain's book does have some worthy insights to offer, but I am truly offended by much of it. His hostility towards 20th. century music is hardly veiled by his psuedo-science (see pages 99-101). He seems to view all modern music as a reaction against earlier music. Does he like Bach because the music is merely "pretty"? And does he dislike (e.g.) Berg simply because the music is atonal and thus "hurts his ears"? Doesn't he recognize the difference between Beethoven or Carter (art) and Andrew Loyd Weber (kitsch)? Surely we can transcend all of this and recognize the universality of all brilliant art music.
On pages 194-5, he proposes his hypotheses for why there are no "genius" composers in today's modern world, as well as showing his complete lack of knowledge of any modern music scene in the world. This is a uniquely American perspective -- in other parts of the world, living composers are respected and held in high esteem.
Indeed, Mr. Jourdain, there are many brilliant (living) composers of art music for those who are willing to open their minds a bit. Not all listeners feel the need to "flee" from a performance of Schoenberg (p. 100), and not all authors feel the need to criticize an art they clearly do not understand.
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Format: Paperback
Why does music us so deeply? In Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures our Imaginations, Robert Jourdain explores how music enables people "to attain a greater grasp of the world (or at least a small part of it), rising from the ground to look down upon the confining maze of ordinary existence." (p. 331) Most of us experience this transcendence while listening to music at some time in our lives and we are fascinated to learn that it is a universal, human experience.
Jourdain makes a complex subject comprehensible to lay persons. In the early chapters of his book, he lays the groundwork for his discussion of music in the middle chapters.
In the first chapter, he draws on biology, physiology, and neuroscience to tell us how our ears and our brains evolved and how they work. Here's his version of how we hear. "Music slams into an eardrum at the end of the ear canal and abruptly changes costume. Until this point it has traveled as a press! ure wave through air; now it proceeds as mechanical motion. Just beyond is the air-filled middle ear, where three odd-shaped bones, the ossicles, are strung from ligaments so that the eardrum pushes against the first (the malleus, or "hammer"), which yanks at the second (the incus, or "anvil"), which shoves the third (the stapes, or "stirrup") into an opening to the fluid-filled inner ear where neurons (nerve cells) await. Just like the air molecules that have transported music to the eardrum, these minuscule bones vibrate in a complex pattern that at any instant embodies every frequency contained in every note." (p. 8)
In the second chapter, Jourdain draws on physics to explain how sound becomes musical tone.
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Format: Paperback
While an interesting read, I found Jourdain's book frequently annoyed for the same reasons that, in retrospect, I now realize my junior high music snob phase annoyed. For a few years there, I listened to nothing but Western classical music of about 1500 to 1900. I reveled in my superior taste. Thank goodness I got that out of my system at an early age. Mr. Jourdain seems never to have outgrown it. His constricted musical tastes made him to lose credibility with me when he moved from areas with which he clearly resonates (harmony and mainstream Western classical music) to those that do comparatively little for him (rhythm, non-Western music, modern music, jazz, rock, the list goes on and on). The book is most interesting for what it reveals about the author, not for what it tells us about music.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Robert Jourdain takes a more technical approach to the question "What is music?", aiming to cover a lot of ground.
He looks at music as a mood enhancer used by different people in different ways. There seem to be some universal features such as the correct music for film scores to emphasize love, suspense, anger etc., but it is also personal, in that one mans exciting beat is another's boredom and irritation.

The book, I think mistakenly, sticks mostly to classical music. A true comprehensive study of the emotional impact of music should look at the music that most people listen and react to, rather than the (admittedly more interesting) minority classical area.

He follows the trail of sound from the most simple to the most complex, from chapter 1, "From sound.... " to chapter 10 ".....to ecstasy."

Hearing is identified as the most recent sense, following behind the evolution of vision, touch, taste and smell. Animals react to sound, and so do we, although we can take things to a higher level of analysis in what we hear. Our unique sound is structured speech (essential to us) and seemingly not so essential music.

Speech ranges from the very simple and satisfying, designed to communicate basic desires, to the complicated and difficult, designed to communicate complex ideas - potentially also satisfying, but in an intellectually more structured way.

Similarly, music ranges from the simple melody that gives an easy pleasure, to more complicated orchestral music that can deliver pleasure through more careful listening and appreciation of its structure.

He shows that music is unnatural in that it mostly deals in vibrations that emanate from 1 (which can be any frequency) and its simplest divisions; 2,3 giving1/2 2/3 etc.
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