I’m really intrigued by recent comparative studies of music and language processing; it seems that linguistics has more in common with musical rules than was previously thought. There are a lot of links: language and music are both universal; they’re both composed of discrete units, hierarchical structures, and definite patterns. Another clue is that language disorders, like Broca’s aphasia, also seem to result in distinctive musical deficits. The interesting thing is that these deficits can be incredibly specific — for instance there are cases of people who are brain-damaged and then can read and understand music but not words; they can string together a song but not a sentence. Weird eh? (Here at the New York wing of Freaky Trigger Labs, I’ve been investigating syntactic processing in the ten rhesus monkeys I keep in captivity in my Manhattan studio apartment. After running them all through the functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner I have in my closet, the resultant brain scans were nothing short of mindboggling…)

There are a lot of interesting ideas coming from research into the developing brain: it looks like babies can distinguish pitch, timing differences, and rhythm almost as well as people who’ve been listening to music for years. The emotionalism of music, particularly when it comes to distinguishing the emotional resonance of major versus minor chords, doesn’t seem to kick in until about age six. Before then, there are ‘scary’ sounds and ‘nice’ sounds but it doesn’t seem like there’s widespread appreciation of ‘sad’ sounds. Then again my Russian piano teacher with crazy orange hair always used to berate me when I was about 12 or so for not fully comprehending Chopin’s existential misery when I was learning to play his various nocturnes. I was just too young, she said. ‘You can only understahnd thees muzeeek eef you have had your heart broken in halfff’ she would always say to me in a deeply tortured-sounding voice. Russians, they can comprehend pain better than anyone else on the planet, I think. Anyway, brains!