The Science of Music: A Talk with Pascal Wallisch, Ph.D.

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Why do humans listen to music? Why do we create it? And what does our taste in music say about us as individuals? These were some of the questions that Pascal Wallisch, Ph.D, set out to address in his talk at an event titled, The Science of Music. Hosted by Think & Drink NYC, this talk was part of an ongoing series organized by the cultural initiative to bring experts in their fields to local bars in hopes of stimulating the minds of bar-goers. Responding to thoughts regarding previous studies on music, Wallisch said, “To be honest with you, I don’t think we fully understand what music is.”

Wallisch, a clinical assistant professor of psychology at New York University, began his lecture by explaining that what differentiates music from sound in general is repetition. “If you ask people,” Wallisch said, “to judge when [a repeating sound] becomes music, there’s a certain repetition frequency in which a random environmental noise becomes music.” For example, as Wallisch explained, water droplets falling are just sounds, but at a certain point of repetition they would be considered musical. He continued by saying that while repetition over time is necessary for something to be considered music, it is not sufficient. “If rhythm is all that matters, then music would be palindromic,” he said, meaning that it would play the same backwards as forwards. Obviously, this is not the case for most, if not all, music.

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