Monday, January 10, 2011

the science behind our love for music

Study: Love music? Thank a substance in your brain

NEW YORK – Whether it's the Beatles or Beethoven, people like music for the same reason they like eating or having sex: It makes the brain release a chemical that gives pleasure, a new study says.

The brain substance is involved both in anticipating a particularly thrilling musical moment and in feeling the rush from it, researchers found.

Previous work had already suggested a role for dopamine, a substance brain cells release to communicate with each other. But the new work, which scanned people's brains as they listened to music, shows it happening directly.

While dopamine normally helps us feel the pleasure of eating or having sex, it also helps produce euphoria from illegal drugs. It's active in particular circuits of the brain.

The tie to dopamine helps explain why music is so widely popular across cultures, Robert Zatorre and Valorie Salimpoor of McGill University in Montreal write in an article posted online Sunday by the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The study used only instrumental music, showing that voices aren't necessary to produce the dopamine response, Salimpoor said. It will take further work to study how voices might contribute to the pleasure effect, she said.

The researchers described brain-scanning experiments with eight volunteers who were chosen because they reliably felt chills from particular moments in some favorite pieces of music. That characteristic let the experimenters study how the brain handles both anticipation and arrival of a musical rush.

Results suggested that people who enjoy music but don't feel chills are also experiencing dopamine's effects, Zatorre said.

PET scans showed the participants' brains pumped out more dopamine in a region called the striatum when listening to favorite pieces of music than when hearing other pieces. Functional MRI scans showed where and when those releases happened.

Dopamine surged in one part of the striatum during the 15 seconds leading up to a thrilling moment, and a different part when that musical highlight finally arrived.

Zatorre said that makes sense: The area linked to anticipation connects with parts of the brain involved with making predictions and responding to the environment, while the area reacting to the peak moment itself is linked to the brain's limbic system, which is involved in emotion.

The study volunteers chose a wide range of music — from classical and jazz to punk, tango and even bagpipes. The most popular were Barber's Adagio for Strings, the second movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Debussy's Claire de Lune.

Since they already knew the musical pieces they listened to, it wasn't possible to tell whether the anticipation reaction came from memory or the natural feel people develop for how music unfolds, Zatorre said. That question is under study, too.

Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, an expert on music and the brain at Harvard Medical School, called the study "remarkable" for the combination of techniques it used.

While experts had indirect indications that music taps into the dopamine system, he said, the new work "really nails it."

Music isn't the only cultural experience that affects the brain's reward circuitry. Other researchers recently showed a link when people studied artwork.


Sunday, January 09, 2011

Just Kids - Patti Smith

Obviously, Patti Smith is a gifted poet and songwriter, but this book proves that she is also a terrific story teller and author. Concentrating on the time that Patti spent with Robert Mapplethorpe as a lover, friend, confidant and fellow artist, she also delves a little into their early years to give the reader some background on the characters. Their time in New York City is the time that both of these talented outcasts grew – together and apart – through life’s experiences and many chance encounters.

Robert & Patti met simply because Robert was one of the people currently occupying an address Patti had for some old friends who had moved to the city. Another, later coincidental street meeting brought them together and they rarely left each other’s sides for years afterwards.

A random series of happenstance brought them to the Chelsea Hotel, which brought them into contact with such diverse and influential people as the poets Corso and Ginsberg, musicians such as Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin (Patti was there when Kris Kristofferson first sang Janis “Me and Bobbie McGee”), and Jimi Hendrix, as well as Warhol’s contingent and the likes of Sam Sheppard. These and others – and each other – encouraged both Patti & Robert and Patti convinced Robert to start taking his own pictures for his artwork (he was mostly doing collages and assemblages at the time) and Robert convinced Patti to do poetry readings.

From there, both grew as artists but also grew apart (to an extent) as Robert explored his homosexuality and Patti traveled and took other lovers (such as Jim Carroll, Allen Lanier of Blue Oyster Cult, Tom Verlaine and her eventual husband, MC5's Fred "Sonic" Smith). They remained friends and continued to encourage each other and kept in touch throughout their lives.

I find it interesting that Patti waited until after her husband's death before writing this story, as she makes it sound as if Robert was her soul mate and the love of her life and she obviously cared a great deal for him right up until - and after - his death. In fact, he had her promise him that she would write their story and here it is - and it is well done, enjoyable and a terrific insight into the lives of these artists as they lived, loved and starved until they gained their well deserved fame.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Deep Purple – Fireball 25th Anniversary Edition

I have already reviewed the American release of this record, which had a slightly different track listing – it included the terrific “Strange Kind of Woman” in place of the also great “Demon’s Eye”. Both of the releases should have contained these two songs and left out the painfully dreadful “Anyone’s Daughter”, which is a bad joke that they should have kept to themselves.

This 25th Anniversary Edition has improved sound and also a bevy of bonus material. The original UK track listing is intact with “Strange Kind of Woman” added at the end, so you get the best of both worlds. The first bonus track is already better than the low points of the official release – “So Alone” has almost a Latin beat propelled by drum-master Ian Paice and fed with neat licks from Blackmore and Lord topped with a catchy melody. “Freedom” is purposely a mix of old school rock’n’roll (written to be a replacement of “Lucille” as an encore tune, with melodic references to this classic) and their brand of heavy rock and this works to great effect. Gillian stretches out with his patented high-pitched screams and Lord gets to work out on acoustic piano. Maybe they thought this was too derivative but again, this eclipses many of the previously released cuts.

Somewhat less successful is “Slow Train”, which has a great, rockin’ beat, and seems to be made up with bits and pieces that they instead used in other songs. Ian’s vocals and melodies are nothing special here, either – this one is understandable as an outtake. The re-mix of “Demon’s Eye” doesn’t change it very much to my ears, though I am not overly familiar with the song. “The Noise Abatement Society Tapes” show the band goofing off with familiar themes, such as the "William Tell Overture", but seemingly drunkenly and with much hilarity.

Also included is an instrumental version of “Fireball” (still mighty powerful), a solo piano track that was manipulated, taped backwards and put at the ending of “No One Came”, and, fittingly, a remix of “No One Came”.

Much improved from the original release, though still not the band’s best, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not sure who was their producer at the time, but the final track listing of the LP would have been much better with a couple of these bonus tunes replacing some of the final tracks and this album would be remembered much more fondly. Ah, but such is hindsight…

(PS - the full color, 28 page booklet is a wonderful addition, too!)

Jimi Hendrix – South Saturn Delta

A seemingly endless supply of unreleased Hendrix material apparently exists, though, of course, some is considerably better than others and none was completed to Jimi’s satisfaction and ready for release. But engineer Eddie Kramer has been involved in these new releases and has done his best to come up with quality material and items of interest. These really are just for fans as the “official” releases are still Hendrix’s finest moments.

That said, this CD gives another look into the mind of this guitar genius and shows some early takes on classics and previous versions of songs that changed dramatically before being “finished”.

“Look Over Yonder” was originally included on the Rainbow Bridge soundtrack and is a powerful piece with a lot of intricate guitar interplay. The early demo titled “Little Wing” actually has far more in common with the later release, “Angel” and very little to do with the lovely song from Axis, but shows the amount of changes that can go into a tune before it is molded into its final shape.

“Here He Comes (Lover Man)” is well known from live shows but this fine studio version was never released until now. The title track is unique and interesting in the inclusion of a 4 piece horn section – something that was never done on any official release. Unfortunately, this sounds like a fairly loose jam and was certainly never meant to be a finished piece.

After being featured on the live Band of Gypsys album, the studio “Power of Soul” was relegated to the tape vaults, except for an abbreviated cut on the Crash Landing LP, that had some new studio additions. This is the entire, original tune. Another Band of Gypsys tune is “Message to the Universe (Message to Love)”, though this take is with the expanded Gypsy Sun and Rainbows group and has some noticeable and enjoyable differences, including a ravin’ guitar crescendo.

An instrumental cover by an obscure Swedish group, “Tax Free” has never really hit home with me as a memorable track. Of course, Jimi’s playing is terrific and interesting, but regardless of its time changes and arrangement, it sounds like a jam. Not bad, just not up to par with Hendrix’s own compositions. An early mix of “All Along the Watchtower” has most of the components of the final release but with enough variation to again make it interesting in the comparison. “Stars That Play With Laughing Sam’s Dice” (STP/LSD) was a big reason that I wanted this release, as this tune has previously only been available on the UK version of the Smash Hits album, so I wanted a CD take. This is the original version of this fun and eclectic and wonderfully noisy, outer space song.

“Midnight” (aka “Midnight Lightning”) was an Experience tune proposed for their never-to-be-released fourth album and was eventually added to the War Heroes album. Another instrumental, this original composition seems to have more substance to it than, say, “Tax Free” and it would have been fascinating to see how Jimi would have fleshed it out (if at all). A four track demo of “Sweet Angel” featuring just Hendrix is more complete and sounds better than many bands finished products! This shows the song in practically its finished state and is a superb document. Unfortunately, the only surviving master tape is damaged at the beginning, so the track begins with the song already in progress.

Mitchell and Cox back up the man for another original take on the blues, “Bleeding Heart” which is followed by another Rainbow Bridge soundtrack instrumental, “Pali Gap”. This began as a jam but was augmented with extra guitar(s) but never officially titled by Jimi, but given this name as a connection to Hawaii, the locale of the Rainbow Bridge movie. This is a surprisingly strong composition, given its origin.

There are a number of Dylan compositions that were uniquely interpreted by these bands and “Drifter’s Escape” becomes a terrific guitar jam – quite different from anything Dylan has ever done! The finale is one of my favorites of this set – Jimi alone with his guitar creating a Delta blues version of “Midnight Lighting”, once again showing this man’s extreme, supreme talent and the fullness he could provide all on his own. A true master.

Hendrix can really do no wrong in my book, so my vision may be skewed, but once again, Kramer has put together a wonderful compilation of highly listenable, educational and entertaining tracks. Again, not for the casual listener but definitely for fans!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Patti Smith - You Light Up My Life

This is another bootleg that I picked up in the late 70’s (this must have come out very quickly since the show was May 12, 1978 and I know I did a drawing from the cool cover photo within a year of that) that shows the band in reasonably light mood, with the entire first side of the album (presumably the first half of the show) made up of cover tunes.

Starting with “The Kids Are Alright” (with some vocal help from Lenny – I think Patti was still recovering from her broken neck at this point and so allowed the other members a little more spotlight than normal), they go to their girl group roots with “Be My Baby” before moving on to the Stones’ “Time is On My Side” (with a short poetic intro from Smith and spot on leads from, I think, Lenny Kaye).

The B-side to John Lennon's “Imagine” single, “It’s So Hard” comes next, with a literal shout out to Ivan Kral, who then trades lead vocals with Patti, followed by the title tune – “the Academy Award winning song of 1977” (the year that punk broke), Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life”. Introducing the song Patti says “we’re a top forty band, we’re the Patti Smith Group, we’d like to do a little top forty for you” – apparently referencing their success with “Because the Night” from the Easter album that they were promoting. I always assumed that this was supposed to be humorous, though you never know with Smith. She also admonishes the audience to give her next single the amount of applause and enthusiasm that the audience gives to this cover.

Side one closes with their iconic take on “My Generation”, this time without John Cale but still fabulously chaotic! Vocals are traded off throughout, with Kaye more or less on “lead”, as much as that is applicable in this case.

Side two is entirely made up of their own tunes and all from the then-new album. “Rock’n’Roll Nigger” has a slightly different introduction, though the song itself is pretty much as recorded. “Till Victory” and “Space Monkey” are also fairly true to the originals, though a bit rawer and with rougher vocals from Smith.

Opening with a noisy blast of feedback and distortion, “25th Floor” is practically spat out and the middle section is sung improvisationally rather than done in spoken word, as on the vinyl. There is a nice build up to a loud and climatic ending! The boot finishes off with their own top forty tune that was previously alluded to, “Because the Night”, which is done quite traditionally.

Overall, another excellent bootleg and a fine window into the band’s influences and attitudes. This and Teenage Perversity are the only two Patti boots I have but both are high quality and utterly recommended.