Can you believe it; it’s been 46 years since David Bowie’s song Space Odyssey hit the airwaves leaving us with the words “Commencing countdown, engines on, check ignition, and may God’s love be with you…” forever imprinted on our brains. Why is that?
Ten, Nine, Eight…
“Music is not tangible. You can’t eat it, drink it or mate with it. It doesn’t protect against the rain, wind or cold. It doesn’t vanquish predators or mend broken bones. And yet humans have always prized music — or well beyond prized, loved it,” says Dr. Valorie Salimpoor, Postdoctoral Neuroscientist at the Baycrest Health Sciences’ Rotman Research Institute in Toronto.
Why does this “thingless thing” — at its core, a mere sequence of sounds — hold such potentially enormous intrinsic value? Dr. Salimpoor set out to find out the answer. Her research was summarized in the New York Times, Why Music Makes Our Mind Sing.
“More than a decade ago, our research team used brain imaging to show that music people described as highly emotional engaged the reward system deep in their brains — activating subcortical nuclei known to be important in reward, motivation and emotion. Subsequently we found that listening to what might be called “peak emotional moments” in music — that moment when you feel a “chill” of pleasure to a musical passage — causes the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, an essential signaling molecule in the brain,” explains Salimpoor. The second you hear “Ground control to Major Tom” your cortex is abuzz!
Seven, Six, Five…
Dr. Salimpoor continues, “Each act of listening to music may be thought of as both recapitulating the past and predicting the future. When we listen to music, these brain networks actively create expectations based on our stored knowledge.” It’s those expectations of what’s to come is part of why My Virtual Dream is such a powerful experience.
“When pleasurable music is heard, dopamine is released in the striatum — an ancient part of the brain found in other vertebrates as well — which is known to respond to naturally rewarding stimuli like food and sex and which is artificially targeted by drugs like cocaine and amphetamine.
But what may be most interesting here is when this neurotransmitter is released: not only when the music rises to a peak emotional moment, but also several seconds before, during what we might call the anticipation phase. Composers and performers intuitively understand this: they manipulate these prediction mechanisms to give us what we want — or to surprise us, perhaps even with something better,” says Salimpoor.
Four, Three, Two…
Music is an integral part of the Virtual Dream experience for the audience, dreamers and musicians alike. Pianist Tom King, who composed and recorded several original pieces of music for My Virtual Dream, says, “When I’m writing I’m thinking about ‘us.’ By that I mean the audience and the musicians, does this particular piece of music move us?” When the answer to that is yes, there is little — in those moments of listening, at least — that we value more.
The “us” King refers to is key. It’s the collaboration that makes music so special. Collaboration among musicians; musicians building relationships with their audiences; and people in the audience sharing a common experience with each other, this is the secret to making music that moves people.
There’s a sense of community, if you will, a common bond that forms around music, especially when performed live. In this age of instant access to recorded music anywhere, anytime the notion of music performed live becomes a special, one-of-a-kind moment which is only heightened by being in-person, in-the-moment. “Music is a shared experience,” adds King.
One, Ready for lift off…
Rehearsals are underway today, getting ready for lift off on Friday. “Can you hear me, Major Tom? Can you….”
Space Odyssey credits. Writer(s): David Bowie. Copyright: Essex Music International, Onward Music/Essex Retentions c/o Bucks Music Ltd., Onward Music/Essex Retentions c/o Bucks Music.
By Richard Tavener, executive producer, My Virtual Dream