Jazz, Creativity, and the Brain—Sound Health: Music and the Mind

Jazz, Creativity, and the Brain—Sound Health: Music and the Mind

[Music] [Applause] (Dr. Charles Limb): Thank you. Good evening. It is such an honor to be
here for the closing event of this, what has been a really remarkable day and a
half. I just want to thank the Kennedy Center and the NIH for really impelling us
to do this really important thing for us. Now I have some serious misgivings about
tonight, because truthfully, I just want to go sit in the audience with you and
listen to these musicians play because they’re so phenomenal, but I have a
mission tonight and the mission is that we’re going to talk a little bit about
science and talk a little bit about creativity and try to understand why it
is that scientists should be looking into what jazz musicians are doing. Now
I was watching Hamilton and you know the ending. It’s about who’s going to tell
your story and so I was thinking, who’s going to tell my story? I don’t know, so
I’m going to tell you my story. I think that when I was younger I really felt
that sound was just about the only thing that moved me and I wasn’t sure at the
time. I didn’t quite understand why that was, but sounds somehow seemed important
to me in a way that I couldn’t understand. Obviously people mattered.
Friends and family mattered more than anything, but sound was this thing that I
kept kind of coming back to in my life. I had conviction in my life about music,
but not about being a musician, and throughout my whole life I grappled with
this sort of tension that I felt internally. Like my life was consumed by music, yet I
wasn’t going to be a musician. I never had that artist conviction and I don’t
know if I just knew I wasn’t good enough to matter in music or because I was too
practical, but somehow I felt that I was not ever going to be a musician, despite
loving music more than anything that I could describe. So I kind of sought a
life of sound without really even knowing it by going into medicine. So
at first my thinking was kind of simple. You go into life when you’re growing up.
You’re thinking about life, death, love, pain, happiness, all these kind of sort of
metaphysically important things, and then in the hospital you realize that, well
people live and die, and there’s a very physical life or death aspect of that,
but suddenly felt right to me and so and it might be that both my
parents are surgeons and somehow I had this backdrop that all of these kind of
nasty magazines that were coming with, you know, guts spilling out of them into my
mailbox suddenly seemed interesting and important to me. So I decided eventually
to kind of dedicate my life to this. And, you know, the one thing you realize
quickly as a child that you can’t see into your own ear.
You can try pretty hard, but that you just cannot see what’s going on in there and
so I always wondered now what if we’ve got this whole auditory world, this whole
environment, you know the world seems full of sound and music. It
seems full of meaning. Yet, how is it that that enters our consciousness? And it
seemed very strange to me that it could just be from these two little holes and
so I spent the rest of my life trying to figure out what’s actually going on
behind these two little holes. Now for those of you that were here yesterday, I show a
little bit about the template bond I’m going to describe in some more detail
today. So this is an amazing drawing by a guy named Max Brittle and this is a
pencil drawing of the temporal bone. Now each of you has two of these in your
head. Okay? One here. One here. And hopefully they’re
about here and here. Okay, now the temporal bone is the structure that allows you to
hear. It also enables balance. It’s the most
complicated and anatomically dense part of the body. The interesting thing about
the temporal bone is that we still are just really scratching the surface of
how it does something complicated. Now sound is in fact energy —
it’s a vibrational energy that goes through our ear canals — that enters our
ear canals and vibrates the eardrum. There are three tiny hearing bones —
called the malleus, the incus, and the stapes. These things are so small you can
barely see them if you put them in your hand and these bones get set into motion
when you hear a sound. That motion gets transferred from the air into the
eardrum through the bones into another thing which is the cochlea and it’s got
this kind of characteristic nail shape. The cochlea is where the magic starts to
happen because inside the cochlea vibrational energy becomes fluid
vibrations, and from there it becomes electrical energy and then the
vibrations stop. There’s no more acoustic energy past the cochlea and so hearing
at that point on is entirely electrical. So let’s listen to what some
electricity sounds like in your brains right now. [Music]
Sounds good. Electricity sounds good. Now that kind of
feeling that I have when I hear music I think about how complex it is that it
goes from the ear, then up to our brains, and gets reassembled there as sound is
pretty amazing and so that is what I wanted to understand with all of my
science, all my research. When I got to the field, instead I was confronted with this: [beeping sound]. Yes, and so that sound was what really
plagued me for 20 years because every time I wanted to understand somebody’s
hearing, that’s all I had to work with — a pure tone, a sine wave and while as the
smallest kind of sound unit that the simplest sound that we can conceive of,
it’s a really fundamentally important basic way to add knowledge about hearing.
It’s very far from something like Beethoven’s Symphony that some of you
got to hear last night and so with this idea in mind, that we could not
understand hearing by looking at the ear, I started moving up towards the brain.
Now when we think about the brain, a couple of things come to mind. When I
was in medical school, one of the things you do in first years, you actually
dissect the body if the privilege of somebody who’s donated their body to
science and you actually extract the brain out and you hold it in your hand.
First thing you realize, it’s kind of heavy, but then it’s, it’s kind of small. You can
really cradle the whole brain just in one hand like this, and you think to
yourself, every single thought that that person had, every memory, every feeling
every behavior, every activity, every precept, every conscious thought, is right
here; and you start to realize that life feels abstract. It feels metaphysical, yet
there’s a very biologically rooted physical source to this.
That’s an organ, and so even though we have this consciousness that we create
to understand the world around us, we are actually bundles of neurons firing back
and forth helping us recreate this kind of matrix in our heads that enables us
to make sense of the world. Now I wanted to understand how it
is that this brain can not only take input in and make sense of it, but also
give input out because to me, as a sort of struggling jazz musician, I like
nothing more than to try to improvise my own bad solos and so, as you know, as
you’re improvising and something, every once in a while you hit something, it
sounds kind of good and you’re like well, how do I, how do I do that?
And so that process of creation of creativity kind of consumed me and as I
started listening to the greats, I realized that there’s so much here for
scientists to learn about how the brain generates a new idea. Now there are many
different kinds of creativity and I’m not trying to say that music is the only
one. There’s culinary creativity, art creativity, painting, architectural
creativity, painting, athletic creativity, scientific creativity, there’s even
surgical creativity. Now this is my team doing a cochlear implant surgery; let me
reassure you we limit the creativity in the OR, but without a doubt we improvise
when we need to because things don’t always go right and sometimes there’s a
surprise in front of you. Now the kind of creativity that I wanted to look at for
me was the kind that you’re going to hear about tonight from some stellar
people and when in jazz we talked about the jazz greats and we talked about how
the music is changing and how you know we don’t know where the next generations
of music is coming from. Well let me tell you tonight, you are going to be really
rewarded by two people who are undoubtedly going to rewrite the history
of jazz moving forward. And so, Vijay Iyer. I’d like to bring him onto stage and
introduce himself musically with a little improv for us. Vijay.
[Applause] [Music] [Music] [Music]
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[Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Applause] So, now you can see why I want to sit down
with you guys. Dr. Vijay Iyer has a PhD in cognitive
neuroscience and decided. (Dr. Iyer speaking): Sort of, we could talk about that. I’ll correct a few
details. (Dr. Limb speaking): Now you know listening to you play and reminds you that words are
pretty bad at describing music and sometimes I don’t know that we should
talk about music so much as listening to music.
Now the next musician I’d like to introduce kind of needs no introduction;
her talent is really kind of spellbinding. There’s no other way to
describe it and I’d like to introduce Esperanza Spalding to the stage. [Esperanza enters, clapping] (Dr. Limb): Want to do some music intro for
yourself? (Esperanza): Oh, OK. (Dr. Limb): We’ve not rehearsed. (Esperenza): No, surely not. [Music and singing] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Applause] (Esperanza): Inspired me. (Dr. Limb): So, we talked about last night how
music is pretty old and so this is a fossil that may represent the first
musical instrument other than the voice. Now what’s interesting about this is
that it was probably carved from the bone of a bird dating back to somewhere
between 35 to 40 thousand years ago. So we think about this; this says something
to us about what human beings were thinking 40,000 years ago and somehow,
despite trying to have to survive, not get eaten by a lion, make fire, whatever
they had to do, they wanted to make a flute. And what are they playing? What
music are they playing? There’s no repertoire, there’s no radio,
there’s no sheet music, there’s no teachers as far as I know. What are they
playing? The first music might have been Improvised. Now, why is that important?
Because when we think about the capacity for improvisation, we have to rather than
think about it as this arcane thing that happens only in rare jazz musicians, we
have to think about is a very everyday normal biological act that allows us to
be creative, to innovate, to problem-solve, to make ourselves better and to reinvent
our brains in many ways. Now the first music being improvised says to me that
scientists should say this is a pretty important activity. Something that is not
important usually gets weeded out; somewhere you know, if not, maybe four
thousand years later it would have been weeded out. 40,000 years to persist. Every human
history, no matter where it’s been on this planet, in every culture, every age,
there has always been music. Humans are hard-wired not only to hear music, but I
believe to create music. I would like your thoughts on this idea. (Dr. Iyer): Yeah, well you know, so you start asking
like, what kind of music was it? But that’s already what we’re thinking in a
modern framework, when we say something like that.
But I think we have to really examine the category that we call music because
where does it begin? What’s not music? You know and that’sÖ(Dr. Limb): How
do you define that? (Dr. Iyer): Well, I think it begins with the category of the human;
actually it begins with us accepting each other as fellow beings; as part of
the same human family; it comes fromÖ it starts with empathy, in other words.
And then it starts with mood moving together, which is of course not specific
to humanity, right? But then beyond that the next step is being able to move in
sync you know; move synchronously which not many animals do, right? I mean, there’s
one thing to say — swimming in a school of fish, but when we, for example, walk
together or clap our hands and sing or sing in unison; that capacity seems to be
the beginning of what we could call music, because it begins. It’s, it’s, about
us listening to each other in very specific ways. It’s about coordinating
behavior and it’s about a sort of unity together as inter-subjectivity. (Dr. Limb): You
mentioned that most animals don’t synchronize. Now in this last session you
had that privilege, some of you, of hearing Ani Patel (Aniruddh D. Patel) speak and he showed
this very well-known bird that he had the opportunity to study. (Dr. Iyer): I know about
that bird, yes. (Dr. Limb): And so you know if you don’t believe the bone flute idea that
music is old, let’s take a look at this bird here. [Bird is dancing and gesticulating to music and squawking] [Laughter] (Dr. Iyer): I could tell by your face. (Esperanza): It’s the word
music, that’s, that’s all. That’s all that is differentiating sound that’s not
music, from sound that is music. Because everything is making a sound, everything
is vibrating. Any creature communicates via sound. Anything that
communicates via sound is making music. I mean we made the word music; I don’t know
that anything’s not music. So I guess we, we put a, we make a choice to have our
circle of concern only, only, encompass a specific type of organized sound. But I
think we’ve all experienced that phenomena where you are listening to
someone speak another language and you can’t make sense of the individual words
so you just hear the melody and the phrasing and the emotional intention in
the phrasing. And to your point, maybe we have been communicating via sounds since
before we had the concept of music is its own category aside from sounds. (Dr. Limb): Yeah
without anthropomorphizing this bird too much, I can’t help but think that this
bird is funking out to the beat. I mean, this bird seems to enjoy what’s going on
right now. That’s projecting a lot of our own thoughts about music on to that bird,
but it’s hard to really interpret it in too many other ways. I mean, Ani maybe
you can cover that later on. (Dr Iyer): Yeah I know that. Now
one of the points he’s made about this bird, and other species that can move to
music, is that vocal learning is part of it’s cognitive development. That’s,
that’s an attribute that this species has. But I think what’s also clear about
it, is that this bird is able to move at that tempo. I mean if that song where ten
times as fast or one-tenth as fast, then none of us could move to it, right?
Itís going to be just way outside of the physical range of possibility, so that’s
part of it too is that there’s like a, there’s some kind of harmonic
convergence of different frequencies that are inherent to the body. The, like
you know, this, I guess, if you did it as, if you look at the physics of it, there’s
like — what would you call it — ìmoments of inertiaî? There’s like a torsional
frequency that emerges from like just the body of the bird, right? And
that can only be in a certain range because of the physics of its body. And I
think we’re like that too. That you know, our arms and our limbs and our legs move
at certain tempos. Our heart moves us, you know, beats at a certain tempo, we breathe
at a certain tempo, we speak at a certain tempo, and I think those are all the
tempos that we associate with music. (Dr. Limb): Yeah, I don’t think it’s any coincidence
that our music grew to reflect the rhythms that are inherent in our biology.
You know, earlier we met for about 15 minutes before we came on stage and I
actually had to stop us from talking because we were using all of our good
material and one of the things that came up is this idea that there are many
other activities out there that are very analogous, or in some ways evocative of,
what a jazz improviser does, and so (Esperanza): Everything that’s happening right now,
the fact that I just interrupted you, is Jazz. (Dr. Limb): Felt good. I liked it! (Esperanza): Oh, the one you
were standing up there speaking something that you may have prepared, you
were improvising with your hands and you’re improvising with your head and
you’re improvising with your intonation and you probably added some sentences
for effect that you didn’t practice before and (Dr. Iyer): We were a accompaning for you.
We were a company for you. (Esperanza): We were. We were comping for you!
[laughter] (Dr. Limb): This is my one and only, first and last
gig with the great Esperanza. (Esperanza): Itís the first, but probably not the last. (laughter)
(Dr. Limb): So let’s all just quickly do this math problem in our
heads. So now what’s unique about this? If we all knowÖ The answer is ìDî. OK, if we all
took the time out to look at this problem, we would all figure out that
the answer is ìDî and in fact there’s only one correct answer to this problem
in the universe, right? There’s only one solution in the universe, once there ñ yes,
in this universe – as long as we understand the laws of quantum physics.
And so now let’s take the task at hand that accompanies somebody when they’re
playing the tune ìTake Fiveî and the improvisers goal is to create a new
melody solo rhythmic harmony to this song in this using this general
guideline. Now what’s different about this as a sort of cognitive problem set?
One problem is that there’s no correct solution. There’s an infinite number of
possible solutions, and every single person in the world would come up with a
different solution if they had to do this. No matter how many times they had
to do it. Think about that as in terms of the generative capacity of the brain. If
every single human being on earth improvises a solo to this, it would be
different. Every time! Now I’d like your thoughts on that
because you guys have to play again and again, and I want to know whether or not
you ever feel that you are caricaturizing yourselves, falling into
patterns, licks, habits, tendencies, and how that affects your thinking when your
goal is to generate something new, but the fact that you’re human gets in the way. (Esperanza): No! Being human doesn’t get in the way!
Being human; what? Then we are damned! The beauty of improvisation is a container
that’s safe to be as human as you possibly can. So you can be ugly, you can
be rude, you can be kind, you can be sinister, you
can be destructive, you can be meddling, you can be celebratory, you can be
suffering, you can be lame, you can be unprepared. You can do anything and the
point is there’s a mutual agreement that we are all going to
co-create something that is beautiful, no matter what happens, or not even
beautiful. It can even be not beautiful. The only agreement is we’re all going to
co-create here. So nothing can get in the way; that is the state in which
you’re trying to create from, so all the, all of the worrying about patterns or,
like, oh, I’ve done that a hundred times, I’m not going to do it 101 times! All
that happens before you start improvising. That’s like your practice,
and the practice is to make more room so like a caricature of yourself. I think
most improvisers would think is just like a barrier, because it means every
time I get to this kind of chord I can’t get past this thing I always play,
because that’s the best I can do. So the practice is to expand that
boundary a little bit so I’m not left with just this caricature I can do more.
So the practice is like expanding the container. It’s been in the container and
you expand it with language and with facility and with harmonic references
and harmonic palettes that you can paint from. But once you hit ìgoî in the improv
department, you’re challenged to undo all your processing faculty. You’re trusting
something else, which is a place from which you create, and it’s your total
humanity that’s the prerequisite. (Dr. Iyer): You know, you, uh, you place this imperative of
newness on the situation, but that’s not actually what it is. It’s about, it’s not
about creating something as new. It’s about creating something that’s true. It’s that simple, actually [laughter] and so then
that doesn’t make it easy, but it’s simple. I mean, what that means is that
you just have to be. It’s part of probably about just accepting what
happens. It’s also about listening. Because you know, there’s also this. You
framed it as like basically as what does it, what do you do as a soloist? But one
of the main things that you do when you’re playing with other people is you
listen. Right? And soloing involves listening too.
It involves relating and coordinating like I said and giving way to one
another, synchronizing, building together you know.
So that’s actually what’s happening. (Dr. Limb): How do you define your concept of what true
means – musically? (Dr. Iyer): Oh, well, all I mean is, I guess maybe a better word even than true
is honest. (Dr. Limb): OK. (Dr. Iyer): Actually there’s I think you were going to show something about
Coltrane and Giant Steps. (Dr. Limb): Yeah, I will. (Dr. Iyer): But if you check out that, I think we even
talked about this last time we were on a panel together, but if you check out the
out takes of the Giant Steps, there’s a few seconds or of audio where
he’s talking to the band. He says he’s having trouble with it actually,
and he saidÖ Coltrane says to his band members, you know, I don’t think I’m going
to improve this. I’m not, I’m just trying to make the changes, I’m not telling
those stories. And then someone else in the band says Ö you know, if you make the
changes, I’ll tell them a story. (Dr. Limb): That being said, you can still be a truly
honestly terrible musician [Laughter] (Esperanza): And that that’s allowed. (Dr. Iyer): That is allowed. (Esperanza):
That’s allowed, that’s okay, and guess what? You have to be part of the time,
otherwise, you won’t know that you have to get better. I mean that’s I’m telling
the truth. Yeah, I’m being honest that is true so
there’s another part ofÖ I think you mentioned acceptanceÖ that is a
prerequisite, but I think that’s a fundamental part of the process of
expanding your improvisational skill,Ö is being
willing to face what actually is in your playing and what’s happening. What might
come back is like — Oh damn, I sound sad right now, let me try to do better the
second chorus. That could happen. You only come to that understanding if you’re
really listening to yourself though, and that requires acceptance. I think one of
the challenges in improvising is actually listening to yourself as an
individual, while you hear your place in a, in an entity larger than yourself. And I
think, as long as you are listening and doing, you’ll be honest. And you know, to
be fair, you know when you’re being honest. You, you know full well
that’s probably quantifiable in terms of what’s happening in the brain. (Dr. Iyer): And you
know what else, other people also know. Right? (Esperanza): Yeah, it’s
like, like, do you like these shoes? [Laughter] and you know like they’re cool, and
and it’s look, how scary, how scary would it be to tell a friend or loved
one that, like, I don’t like those. I think they’re ugly, because of A, B, C, D, and E.
Sorry! Now, in an improvisational context, thatís what,
that’s what you are asked to do. That’s what you’re asked to
do! But again, we’re co-creating. The mission is co-creating. So, if somebody
said that to me, like well you know, I think thatís fine, because in the music,
they just said to me you know yeah maybe thatís the light, and I get dirty. But you know
without the dirt, how do you know what the light really is? Without the dark, how do
you know what the light is. I’m just trying to scuff it up so I can get some
void on my feet. You know or whatever, so after that comes like the acceptance thing,
because sometimes you be on the bandstand and you are sad. You are sad.
You whatever reason, things are in the way, it’s not your instrument, and what
comes out is not what you want. But you’re, you’re asking for the truth from
the people on the stage with you and sometimes the truth is — I can’t really
bring it right now, so we’re going to co-create and
have that as long as it’s moving, as long as we’re co-creating in real time, we are
improvising. If the mission is improvising,
mission accomplished as long as you keep creating. And, you know, when you know when
you tell the truth, but it’s hard to be in that state because realistically
we’re not honest Ö most of the time. [laughter] (Mr. Limb): And this is why the science of improvisation
is challenging. Dr. Iyer: Well this is real. I see I’m a guy who
kind of keeps dismantling categories, which makes me, I’m not sure if it makes
me, that’s why I’m not really a scientist. And why I had to modify the category you
put me in — of cognitive neuroscience, because I wasn’t really interested in
definitively answering questions. I was actually interested more in revealing
the problems inherent in some of the questions we ask. You know, and like when
we talk about improvisation, as you said earlier, I mean when we talk about
improvisation as this rarefied thing. That only a select few, great musicians
are able to pull off. I mean, the fact is, that we’re all improvising all the time.
We’ve been improvising since we were in utero. I mean there’s never a time when you’re
not. (Dr. Limb): But let me point out that most scientists would probably say that what
they’re doing is looking for the truth. The truth about this world, and so maybe
you’re not so far from a scientist as you might think.
Now for those of you that you know, obviously the music
you just heard is probably sufficient to convince you that’s something that’s
improvised on the spot doesn’t have to be simple and it doesn’t have to lack
sophistication. We just referenced John Coltrane. This is an animation of a very
famous recording called Giant Steps. This is one of the first recordings that when
I was in college listening to it, you know, a hundred times made me realize I
should never be a musician, and really, and made me also realize that there’s
something going on here that is worth studying.
[Music] State the melody first and then
he’ll start. [Giant Steps] [Music] [by John Coltrane] [Music]
[Music] [applause] (Dr. Limb): Yeah, so that’s the brain improvising at
work and one of the greatest musicians to ever lived. Now in order to convert
what you hear on stage, you’re into science, you have to have some basic
assumptions. And the assumption that I start out with, one, is that artistic
creativity is a neurologic product. Agreed? (Dr. Iyer): But that sort of locates it all up here.
(Esperanza): I’m gonna go with you though because we’re jamming, so yeah, okay. (Dr. Iyer): Well I’m
gonna play on the offbeat. (Esperanza): Letís go! (Dr. Iyer): The brain is in the body, not just in it but
it’s integrated into the entire system of the body, so definitely that’s what my
dissertation was about. (Dr. Limb): I know. (Dr. Iyer): The role of the body in music
making and music perception, music cognition and we have a way of, we tend
when we talk about these conversations, they’re framed as music and the brain as
kind of reembraining it and forgetting that is embodied too. So
that’s my only qualification. (Esperanza): Our neurological processes do not have to just be in the
brain, right? (Esperanza): That’s not, you just want to clarify?. (Dr. Iyer): I thought, yeah that’s right. (Esperanza): Well
but maybe it’s not even just in the body. (Dr. Limb): Are we agreeing that the brain controls
the body? The brain, are you agreeing that the brain controls the body? (Esperanza): Control?
(Dr. Iyer): Control, we’re afraid of control. [laughter] (Dr. Limb): See, there’s a lot of assumptions that we
have to make here and this is why it’s hard to do this so. (Esperanza): Or is it responding
to the input coming in through the other faculties of the body? (Dr Iyer): Is the
brain a medium of the senses and actions? (Dr. Limb): So there might be a certain amount of
philosophy here that we’ll never get past [laughter] but I really like the idea that even
something like this. This shows how far apart scientists and artists can be. [laughter]
Honestly, and something that I have felt so in my science, the thing that I
regret the most, is that I’m taking something that is art and I’m trying to
apply a reductionist scientific approach that employs control over variables
as a necessary means to make progress. It bothers me. And so there’s
this idea what we call. (Esperanza): Yeah, I like to say, I like to ask, I like to say
something. (Dr. Limb): Yes. (Esperanza): For all that cool stuff we just said, honestly, that’s what we’re all
doing. That solo just there is a perfect
example of reducing the options that are available in every moment to try to
concentrate the focus so that it moves it forward. (Dr. Limb): OK. (Esperanza): I mean it’s the same
thing and again we’re talking about improvisation. There are different
branches, there are different branches so I think we were referring to a more
free form mode of improvisation and a lot of what we were speaking about applies
to when you’re really playing the changes, which is the equivalent of
creating assumptions. I think we all agree with these basic laws; these are
the basic scale tones that are available here, here, here, here, and here. Based on
those truths, what can you discover? But as you showed earlier, they’re multiple
right answers. (Dr. Limb): Let me say this. The brain is a necessary ingredient to create art, sure.
Esperanza: Okay, okay. (Dr. Limb): I’ll take that. (Dr Iyer): Yeah, everybody has
one. I’ll agree with you on that one too! [Laughter]
(Dr. Limb): I usually believe that. Lately, I’ve wondered. (Dr. Iyer): Yes.
(Dr. Limb): Now if artistic creativity is a product of the brain, partially a product of
the brain, we should be able to study it the way we study any other complex
biological activity. Okay? Now, we need this. The ability to look
inside your head while you are doing [a graphic is displayed], whatever it is you’re doing. (Esperanza): Is it, is it,
is it, just, can you talk about the fact that Ö is that a woman? [laughter] (Dr Limb): Are you talking
about on the right? (Esperanza): Yeah. But they’re both wearing long robes. (Dr. Limb): Actually
let’s consider them genderless for a moment. Yes, however, we want to (Dr. Iyer): There is a
sort of longing in that gaze; it doesn’t say anything about gender.
(Dr. Limb): No, no, no! Actually I never knew that this slide would actually cause conversation.
So we want to be able to look inside your brains real time. Now what do we do
in the modern scientific world? We use functional MRI. OK. Now this is one method
of many, but probably the best at looking at a complicated activity, because you
can do any biological activity pretty much that you normally do in this
scanner, as long as you comply with a few rules. Number one, it’s very small. Okay,
you are not fitting a tuba in there and jamming on it. Okay? It’s a big magnet. You
can not go in there with metal that is magnetic. Yeah, you’ll die, because the
magnet will suck in the metal and crush you. So there are other rules in there
which is that functional MRI is not really just taking an anatomic picture
of your brain, how it looks, okay? What it’s doing is taking a picture of how it
behaves, okay? BOLD Imaging is the term Blood Option Level Dependent Imaging.
This is a way to extract information about your brainís biology by the
principle that the active brain consumes blood at a higher rate that the inactive
brain. And that consumption of blood is converting oxyhemoglobin to
deoxyhemoglobin which happens to be detectable by a magnet such as an MRI
machine. And then you get in the end a statistical cluster of activity such as
you see on the right, not an anatomic rendering on the left.
Okay, so fMRI kind of looks like what you see on the right. So now this brings up
this question of jazz in an fMRI scanner. Now without
insulting you two too much, I decided to start with the blues. Okay, because the
blues is sort of the basic nuts and bolts of what most working jazz
musicians have often started with, and so I said well, what is an ecologically
valid normal biological activity for our jazz vision that I can convert it to an
experiment? So let’s write a blues for them, that they’ve never heard before, so
they won’t have any associations like … Oh!, I played this to my wedding, whatever it
is and they’re going to memorize it. It’s called Magnetism, they’re going to play
it and then solo on it and this is a video showing how that’s
done. So this is a plastic kiddie CaMKII one that we use for the jazz experiments
and it’s a 35 key keyboard that is designed to fit both inside the
scanner magnetically safe and minimal interferance that wouldnít interfere with any
artifact and have these cushions that it can rest on the players legs while
they’re lying down in the scanner on their back.
And it works like this. This doesnít actually produce any sound. It sends out
what’s called a MIDI signal or this motion additional interface
through these wires into the box of the computer which then trigger high-quality
handle samples like this. [Music]
Here these are double mirrors and my hands are up.
[Music] This is improvised.
[Music] (Dr. Iyer): All right though, yeah, we heard you, that
was you? (Dr. Limb): That was me. Now so, so, we did this
experiment. We brought jazz musicians to NIH and we looked at their brain
activity and this is what we had them do. So we had them either do something
memorizing, they overlearned, or we had them improvise. And the improvisations that
were recorded in the scanner were actually not bad, OK? This is a recording
ìIn this Gameî. [Music]
[Applause] [Music] Now I have seriously heard the solo now
like 800 times and I still like it, so considering that this was recorded in an
MRI scanner on that plastic piano player that has 35 keys, not bad, and so we
looked at their brain activity and we saw the following things: that this is
slices, okay so slices of brain activity, and it says, hey, you know we’re going to
zoom down the head, kind of like this, almost like a loaf of bread and look
which parts of the brain are active and whether or not there are hotspots or
whether they’re cold spots and we can also look at the actual activity as a
sort of graphic ìemo dynamicî response functional graph and say, hey, and if you
look at this point in space in the brain, it did this during the course of the
solo, or it did this during the course of solo, or whatever it might be and then
you can convert all of that into a pretty picture that looks something like
this [graphic shown] that says, that when we are improvising, at least in a solo context,
the prefrontal cortex of the brain is shutting itself off in large part. This
is the part of the brain that is involved in conscious self-monitoring.
It’s the part of the brain that censors you when you’re about to make an error.
Now what does this suggest? It suggests exactly what the two of you, I think,
started out talking about, which is that you are trying to clear the space away;
in a way get out of your own way, so that you can create. I would like your thoughts on that. (Esperanza): Oh,
wow. I just think Ö wouldn’t it be such a treat to have a safe space where
you could find out what you really think and feel: good, bad, ugly, friendly,
beautiful, in a place where it would be received and given back to you,
beautified? I think of it like the few times you’ve absent-mindedly slipped up
and said something inappropriate and if I was like, oh, actually that’s not okay
to say, let me tell you why. It’s received compassionately. And it’s, it’s
transformed by the compassion and creativity the other person and they
play it back for you and help you understand what’s just come out of you
and how it relates to the world around you. And inversely, or on the other hand,
you might say something really profound and beautiful when you’re not thinking
and someone hears you, and then says, Oh my God, Vijay, and so and so Ö and he’s really
like, yeah, man, because bla bla bla bla bla; I think the practice of improv is, is,
a practice of trusting that it’s okay to do that; it’s safe to do that; that you’re
in safe company that encourages truth exposition, self exploration, and
communication in a way that it’ll be like I said received and given back to
you and put in a larger context and you can do the same for others. When you’re
walking around inhibiting yourself all day long. (A) You don’t find out the depth
of your viewing capacity and (B) you don’t find out the stupid stuff that you have
absent-mindedly absorbed and repeat. (Dr. Limb): So that combination of ideas you said is
really interesting, because in the brain I pointed out first the shutdown of the
prefrontal cortex, but actually there’s something that’s activated in red and at
the bottom there — the medial prefrontal activation. This is a part of the brain.
Right here in the middle, if you kind of point smack in the center of your
forehead, right at the front. This part of the brain is an autobiographical part of
the brain. If you tell a story about yourself, this
part of your brain is active. If you hear a song that reminds you of summer in
sixth grade, this part of your brain is active. And so in a solo improvisation
context, what’s happening, at least in these expert musicians that were
playing, is this self-monitoring area shutting itself off. This self expressive
autobiographical areas turn itself on. When we think about improvisation as
you’re telling your musical story, it might start to make some sense
biologically. (Dr. Iyer): Yeah, it’s sort of like when they say you’re getting ready for a job
interview or a date or something and they just say, oh your friends just say,
just relax and be yourself. But that’s basically what you’re saying,
right? Because those are also improvisational moments. (Dr. Limb): So I hate
myself! [laughter] (Dr. Iyer): But then you learn, you learn, to not just
accept, but fine. You know the other thing that happens while you were saying, that
sometimes you blurt something out that you didn’t think you meant to say or
sometimes you’re cornered and something happened, something comes out of you that
is kind of like you’re in survival mode you know, and I need to act and
those areÖ. I’ve had moments like that on stage. I’m sure you have too and that’s
like, you hear something, you’re like, wait Ö who played that? You know, is that
me? That wasn’t me, but then it was, and then you learned something
about you, something is revealed in that process and that’s your story too.
(Dr. Limb): Very basically, how often do you like your playing? (Dr. Iyer): How often? (Dr. Limb): Do you
generally like what you’re playing? (Dr. Iyer): Well I’d say that (Dr. Limb): You should. I’m not saying
you shouldnít. (Dr. Iyer): At every moment, there’s something wrong with it and something
right with it. At every moment, so that’s basically the way, you know, in this, is
like and usually what I find that might be right about it, is more relational in
the sense, like well, at least I landed at the same time as the drummer. (Dr. Limb): Do you feel the
same way? (Esperanza): No. No, I don’t feel the same way. I feel differently and I don’t think of,
I don’t think about it. I just think about what other people might think.
I can’t do any better than that right then. Like I swear, like, I’m really
giving my best. So I love to keep practicing this and a change, but
honestly for being honest about it in this improvisational context, I’m really
just worried about the other people, like Vijay, and you, and you, like who that, I hope,
I hope this is doing something, you know. Because self-expression and all that is
wonderful, but ultimately you’re hoping for complicity, you know that
wasnít why you want to tell a story? Because you
want complicity, you want somebody else to receive what happened in your life
that’s important to you and know that it’s understood, or at least paid
attention to for a moment. So I think more than like ñ Oh my god, was that good
or was that was stupid? It’s um you’re performing, you are building
narrative in real time doing your absolute best and in a way more than I
think, because it’s cool, I’m trying to sense the complicity. You’re trying to
gauge like how much it’s activating the attention of the people in my midst.
(Dr. Iyer): Yes. (Esperanza): It’s communication. So if you, if you’re not getting down what I’m saying,
something’s got to change. (Dr. Iyer): Yeah, you know. You put it in a, you framed
in a sort of aesthetic term when you said Ö do you like your playing? Like, is it
kind of like a weak aesthetic, like you would click ìLikeî on something, but that it
doesn’t matter; doesn’t mean that’s itís right. But to like you’re playing, versus to
believe in it, right? You know, because you’re talking about decisions at every
level, right? The macro level of, like, is this reaching everybody in the room, and
literally every body in the room, right? That’s the, those are questions. (Esperanza): Sometimes
you just zone out and be like well, just watch us perform — deal with it.
That’s your problem, we are doing our thing. (Dr. Iyer): Well that happens, I remember actually
when, when you were at a friends and we tried this stunt of putting you
in the, in the pub, basically you played a set out there and these were for like
locals in rural Alberta, so they weren’t really like, Oh my god thatís Esperanza Spalding playing.
They’re like, oh, there’s a band playing! Anyway, so you
know, so they weren’t quite with you and you, you found a way to, not just power
through it, but rise above it and still deliver a message as I recall. And
and we’ve all been in situations like that too. Where, it’s like well, how do you
play for people who actually aren’t here to listen? How do you reach
them? (Esperanza): But if hearing isn’t just through your olfactory senses. Sorry, that’s not,
how did you call it? (Dr. Iyer): Auditory? (Esperanza): Auditory!
(Esperanza): If hearing could be a broader neurological experience. (Dr. Iyer): Yes. (Esperanza): Then in a
way it doesn’t matter if they’re aware or not that what your playing is
entering the system, because vibrationally — it is, whether
they’re active or passive, right? So they’re still a part and they’re still
affecting the improvisation. (Dr. Iyer): They are. (Esperanza): So if we’re improvisers, then it doesn’t matter.
(Dr. Iyer): But it kind of, see, like I think that you, I know that you can hear people
listening, because it’s audible. (Esperanza): Itís very zen! (Dr. Iyer): It’s true, though, because we can hear it,
we can hear them listening, we can hear them responding and breathing with us, taking a moment when we take a moment, or filling in a moment when we take a moment, that’s, you know, and that actually
affects how we make each choice the next thing to say or do and I think
that’s happening, you know, while we put, it’s definitely happening when we make music.
(Esperanza): Itís happening right now. (Dr. Iyer): Yeah. (Esperanza): It’s happening right now. (Dr. Limb): You know one thing I
realized is that we have about 10 hours of material to discuss, so I want to talk a
little about some of these constraints, okay? Now emotion is one of the big
constraints, or you know, real reasons why music may exist, and so I want to invite
you to improvise for us, in fact how about this. Esperanza, do you see that face up
there? (Esperanza): Yeah. (Dr. Limb): Can you give us a short improv based on that face? (Esperanza): Sure, on the base!!!
(Dr. Limb): Yes, yes! We’d like to hear it. [laughter] (Esperanza): I can’t tell if it’s a stink face or a
sad face. (Dr. Limb): I would say sad more than stink. (Esperanza): You don’t know what she’s looking at? (Dr. Iyer): Just look at
the face. [laughter] Look at the Facebook. [laughter]
[laughter] [Music] [Music] [applause]
(Esperanza): Oh babies. (Dr. Limb): That’s a very good look thing, yeah. (Dr. Limb): Oh. Vijay, can I invite you to play a
little bit on this face? (Dr. Iyer): OK. (Esperanza): A warm drop for you. (Dr. Iyer): Hmm. OK.
(Esperanza): I’m the opening act. Now sheís ready. She’s really excited now! [Music] [Music] [Music] [Applause] (Esperanza): I know you’re a doctor as well as a
researcher in the field of neuroscience (Dr. Limb): That’s true. (Esperanza): So part of your mission, part
of your work, part of your artistry is helping people heal, right? I will be
curious to know what you think the applications of your research could be
in terms of healing. What are you hoping to discover and prove and how might it
apply to our everyday lives as a healing tool? (Dr. Limb): Okay. (Dr. Iyer): So anyway, we get to ask you
questions? (Dr. Limb): That’s a complicated question, so in my, in my hospital life, it’s
actually pretty concrete what I’m trying to do on a day to day basis, because I’m
trying to help people who can’t hear, to hear again. There’s a very concrete
element to it, somebody who’s deaf and trying to get them to hear music again
using a surgical device. Now the research, especially the research on creativity,
has a much larger and in some ways a little bit more of a kind of nebulous
concrete goal, but to me it’s the following. Improvisation and music making is
a very socially bonding and personally transformative experience and we don’t
understand why it is the case or how it is the case and how we should take that
experience that some people get to experience and transfer it to people
that have never had that experience. I do believe that through this research
eventually, and it might be 20, 30, 40, 50 years, maybe well past my lifetime, and
we’re going to know how to take human creativity and apply it in new ways that
are more, more everyday and so it won’t just be in the realm of the artist, you
know, the artistic genius that gets to have this kind of feeling that we could
make ordinary human beings more creative on a very everyday level. Now if we could
accomplish that, let’s say we could make our society ten percent more creative. I
think the world would be a just phenomenally better place. [applause] Now the reason why I put you through
this exercise is because it turns out that the brain reacts to these
constraints and targets, such as emotion, in an important way. So if there was
actually a third face, which is not showing up, but looks like this. Okay? And
so this face is more neutral. Now if you take and consider all of these faces, you
have musicians improvise to these emotional targets in the scanner. There’s
no labels, just faces, and you actually look at the brain activity and it turns out
that the emotional target or contacts changes the kind of prefrontal cortex
activity that you have. Okay, now what does that mean? It means that the story
is just not that simple. It’s not like, oh, I’m creative — brains off!
That is not the case. Okay, in fact what it shows that we barely understand
anything at all; and so, there it is. (Esperanza): Thank you! Good night! [laughter] (Dr. Limb): Yes, if there is one take-home
point from this, honestly from my perspective, it’s that I want you to
understand that this could all be wrong. However, it has some small chance of
having a kernel of truth in it, and bit by bit you know, science is in layers. You
add little nuggets of information over a year, so you aggregate them and bit by
bit, your picture gets truer and truer. That’s what’s going to happen here. This
happens to be one of the first studies of jazz improvisation. We just don’t know
that much about it. Eventually, we’ll have a working model that makes some sense.
What this is telling me, though, is that creativity is affected by many, many
things, whether it’s mood or emotion or being solo or playing with another
person, and we need to understand all those parameters have their effect on
brain activity, because it just can’t be so simple that a portion of your brain
is shut off, right? That may be a fundamental aspect of it, but I would be
dumbing down the artistic process significantly if I try to say ñ well,
that’s the whole story, OK? I will never believe that it’s the whole story.
I liken functional MRI to the following: there’s a house, a great big mansion. I
want to know what the lives of the people are like that live inside it, but
all I have is one square inch of basement window to look through,
okay? So I’m staring through this window and every once in a while I get a little
glimmer of inside and say, oh, there’s like three people here and there’s like, you
know, one is a man and then, bit by bit, you could get more information.
That’s kind of like where functional MRI is compared to what it means to be alive
or to be an artist or to be a musician and so we’re trying to say a lot from very
little. On the other hand, it’s better than not having that window and so right
now there is no better technique for complex cognitive musical behaviors than
functional MRI that I’m aware of. One day there will be; we’re just not
there yet. Now all of this work raises many, many questions and to me the
question that I think I’ve always found most fascinating about our music is this
concept that we have of ìmusic being the universal languageî. I think that most
people have an intuitive idea of what that means is that, you know, yeah, of
course, ìmusic is the universal languageî. But let’s actually explore that a little bit
further. What is language very good at? It’s really good
at specific propositional thought, okay? Like Ö ìVijay, I’d like you to meet me for
lunch today at noonî, okay? Perfect, we both know, you know. Now let’s say I wanted to
ask him that with my saxophone. (Dr. Iyer): It’d be easier if I could
meet you tomorrow at noon. (Dr. Limb): Good point, good point, yes, we don’t know how to time
travel yet. (Dr. Iyer): But I’ll work with you! (Dr. Limb): Yes, but now, so let’s say, I wanted to ask you
to meet me tomorrow at noon by playing my saxophone, okay? I could play for 15
years and you’re not showing up at noon, okay? You had no idea what my music – the
universal language – was trying to tell you, okay? Now, what does that mean? It
means that music is very bad at communicating specific propositional
thought. In fact, they can’t do it at all because fundamentally music is abstract.
It doesn’t, it’s not even clear what music means ever. Now that’s an important
point, but let’s think about this. What we heard last night, as some of you heard
last night, Beethoven’s Fifth da, da, da, daa. Itís so famous, so iconic. What does that mean? It
means nothing, other than what you wanted it to mean, or what it feels to you to mean.
There’s no objective meaning to it that’s correct. There’s no interpretation
that’s really incorrect. There’s no way to use words to describe the meaning
that’s better than just hearing the phrase itself. (Dr. Iyer): But that’s a particular perspective on what
music is. I mean there are African, West African drumming has these traditions
that are where rhythms are derived from proverbs that actually do have literal
meaning and figurative meaning but they’re like their words, and that could be
taught and learned, and it could be that you had a rhythm that you can play that
said ìmeet me at lunch tomorrow at noonî. (Dr. Limb): But, but you would have had to have learned
that right? Yeah, so you couldn’t import that rhythm over to New York City and
have all these people flocking to your restaurant at noon. (Dr. Iyer): Yes, but if somebody,
if you were speaking Yoruba right now, I’d have the same problem, which is that
I wouldn’t know that you were saying ìmeet me at noonî. (Dr. Limb): So maybe we’re saying that music,
and neither music nor language is universal. (Dr. Iyer): Well I guess I put it, is
language not music? (Dr. Limb): Is language not music? That’s going to take a whole
another conference. I would say that music, that language is not music.
I would say that there are aspects of language that are musical, but
I would say that language is not equivalent to music. (Dr. Iyer): Do you mean that
it’s completely, but it’s more than or that’s less than? Is it separate? (Dr. Limb): No.
I’m making no value judgments. (Dr. Iyer): Okay. (Dr. Limb): I’m just saying that this
conversation we’re having is not music. (Dr. Iyer): But why? (Dr. Limb): It’s interesting. It’s not music though.
(Dr. Iyer): Why isn’t it? I mean, let me say how it is, okay? (Dr. Limb): Okay. (Dr. Iyer): Which is that, when I
take for example, a pause, and you say okay, that’s rhythm;
that’s quite well synchronized. (Dr. Limb): I agree that there are musical elements that
form a part of how language works. (Dr. Iyer): And there’s a melody that emerges in the way
that you talk and when I challenge you, your voice gets higher. (Dr. Limb): I don’t know what
you’re talking about, Vijay. (Dr. Iyer): And so, so, there’s pitch information that I am
responding to and harmonizing with. (Dr. Limb): Yes. Now. (Dr. Iyer): Anyway, I mean okay you can say that
language does things that what we call music doesn’t do, but it doesn’t mean
that music could never do that. (Dr. Limb): Okay, good. And then maybe what we’re getting to is
that spoken language is different than the written language, which is different
than other aspects of life. So, let’s say this: texting is probably not music! [laughter] Now
what am I going with this. (Dr. Iyer): I’m sorry, I interrupted. (Dr. Limb): No, no, so we should explore this
idea of how music can be the universal language. And how can we do that? Because
musicians that improvise often have musical conversations, and so I would
like the two of you to have a musical conversation.
[Applause] [Laughter] (Dr. Iyer): We were texting just the other day about
zombies. (Esperanza): Yes, we were, and I thought it was a jam. [laughter] (Esperanza): It wasnít a musical, but we were jamming.
(Dr. Limb): When you text, it probably sounds good. [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Applause] (Dr. Iyer): Musical conversation, eh? (Dr. Limb): I had no idea what you guys are
talking about. (Dr. Iyer): Bunch of lies. I was lying the whole time. (Dr. Limb): Well, I just hope someone
shows up for lunch tomorrow at noon. Wow, awesome, awesome.
So if we do a pseudo version of that in the scanner, we do the following: We
take two, two musicians and we have them have a musical exchange while one is in
the scanner and another person’s in the control room and they’re going to do Trading
Force in the scanner. Now I recruited my friend, Mike Pope, who happened to live
near Johns Hopkins where I was doing a lot of this work and he came with me to
do this experiment which I’ll show you right now. [piano playing] And now I’m gonna set him up
in scanner. [off screen female voice]: Nothing in your pockets, right Mike? (Mike): No, nothing in my pockets. (Dr. Limb): Those are electrostatic
earphones. That’s a non ferromagnetic counter keyboard. Now you’ll see his legs
sticking out the scanner up there on the TV screen.
[Music] By now, now he’s listening. He’s gonna
respond. [piano playing] (Mike): This is a pretty good
representation of what it’s like. It’s good that it’s not too quick, you know,
the fact that we do it over and over again, unless you acclimate, you know to
your surroundings. So the hardest thing for me was the kinesthetic thing, you
know, I’ve just you know looking at my hands through two mirrors laying on my
back and not able to move at all, except my right hand. That was, that was a
challenge, but again you know it was, there were moments
for sure you know I mean there were moments of real honest-to-god music interplay
for sure. (Dr. Limb): So now if we take a look at every note that was played and
we can look at it like a musicologist and say, oh, there were all of these
different musical behaviors took place and we can also look at it statistically
and say, if we look at the melodic expectancy, the memorized condition was
pretty expected. The improvised condition was unpredictable, however, statistically
correlated with what came before and after, because there was listening going
on, there was interaction going on, just like you just heard. Their playing was
statistically correlated with one another, even though it was unpredictable.
Now if we look at the brain activity, it starts to get really interesting, because
during this wordless musical conversation, traditional para sylveon
language areas are highly active. So what I’m saying. In the brain.
Sorry, in the brain when you speak there’s these areas that have been classified,
they have been identified to be active brocaís area and wernickeís area in the entire
cortex. These areas of the brain are showing up during this musical only
conversation, okay? So when we think about why music might be the universal
language, part of the reason may be because we use our language areas of the
brain to have this musical conversation. However, there’s a blue part — that corner
there — a little mark that says AG. That’s the angular gyrus. This part of
the brain is deactivated during this musical conversation. One, not the only,
but one of the key principle acts of this area is for
semantic cognition; things to give meaning to words in a vocabulary. This part of
the brain is not involved in this musical communication, so maybe part of the way
that music can achieve this sort of universal language like quality, is by
suspending with the need for semantics and going straight to the source of
these communication areas and that might be a part of why we can say that music
is the universal language. [Applause] (Esperanza): Wow, so cool. (Dr. Limb): Now in our last few minutes, I just
want to probe one small topic here which is — what is genius?
Now genius is an overused word, hard to define, maybe impossible to define, yet you
kind of know it when you see it. Like I kind of look at you two and I think — you
two are geniuses, okay? [applause] Now it’s kind of how you look to me, okay? Now I want to
show you a girl. Now this girl is a. Let’s watch her play piano.
[Music] So she was kind of a genius when she was
eight. Now she grew up to be a very, very famous
piano player by the name of Gabriela Montero. Now Gabriela Montero is in the
classical tradition, known as someone who will improvise half of her concerts and
here she is improvising on jingle bells. (Gabriela): So this is a little jingle bells.
[Music] [Applause]
[Music] [Music] [Music]
(Dr. Limb): Yeah, yeah, so that, so she’s pretty amazing. Now one day before you go yeah
(Dr. Iyer): I’m sorry, no that was fantastic, but here’s, here’s
an experience I had once I was teaching. I taught course at NYU in the
Performance Studies Department, which is not a music department. They’re not, they
don’t, they don’t self-identify as musicians or anything, and so I thought,
oh, this is my chance to show them and talk about musical improvisation with
people who are just coming from outside of it. So I played a video of Monk. I said,
this is Monk improvising, and it’s like, this performance that’s very dear to my
heart of him playing LuLuís Back in Town. You can see this on YouTube. It’s live in Oslo, I believe, in the 60s with his quartet, and you know, it’s one of these,
for me, this like jaw-dropping heart-stopping, like hair-raising
performance. Then when we were up to the end of it, one of the students said Ö okay,
so you know if you hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t know that he was improvising. So
I guess I’m going to, I mean, I for me for me, that just kind of like — WHAT? I was
like you know, but I guess I could put the same question to you in this case.
What about it announces itself as an improvisation? (Dr. Limb): Well I have no idea. (Dr. Iyer): But
or you could even ask like, how do you know? (Dr. Limb): Well, let me tell how I know. Because
she emailed me. [Laughter]
(Dr. Iyer): Yeah, but can she be objective? (Dr. Limb): I’m gonna try to go back here, sorry. So one
day she emailed me and said, could you scan my brain? And I said yes, come over,
and so she came over to the lab and in fact she can improvise all day long.
That’s like turning on a fountain. She says she describes it like you turned
the water on your faucet and you just start playing. She could go for hours. It
just keeps going and so we brought her to the lab, okay?
So here she was getting practice and then we put her in the
scanner. We had her basically do minuet in G as a control condition, and then
improvised. So this is a, this has been G but let me just skip past this. [female voice] Improvise. [Music] We looked at her brain activity and we
compared the functional connectivity of her brain. Let me explain this concept.
When your brain does multiple parts of your brain, when you’re doing something,
these parts of your brain can either be in coherence, or they can be not in
coherence, to varying degrees. Her brain, when she’s improvising, is in far greater
coherence with itself than when she’s not improvising. So what does this mean?
This means that the creative brain, the improvising brain, is deeply engaged with
itself. It’s in tune with itself and this I think is something very important
about the idea of creativity and why it’s an important activity for us to
include in our schools and for us to not eliminate it from an education of a child. [Applause] Which should be self-evident, but seems
not to be for some reason. Creativity is an important aspect of how the brain
works. It’s unique. It’s a very, very powerful form of the brain engaging with
itself to come up with a novel idea. Now I don’t know that we can call her a
genius, but she seems pretty close in my mind and maybe one way to think about it
is that her brain was better able to get into coherence with itself since she was
really, really little. And so I’m, I’ve been trying to follow up on that
and say Ö well, what if we had an eight-year-old who seemed like they were
a genius? What could we do? Well, we could put them in a brain scanner, okay?
This girl is ten at the time and we could have her do an experiment where
even if you don’t know how to play piano, you can do this because it’s a black key in the
experiment and all you have to do is improvise on the black keys. There’s
no wrong notes. One note at a time. [Female voice] Listen, then improvise.
[Music] (Dr. Limb): Stop! Now this is work that I’ve begun with
music therapist Ed Roth and we’ve just started. We don’t have any real data to
show you yet. The biggest confound? Braces. Turns out
that a lot of kids want straight teeth and can’t actually get into the scanner
without our MRI showing me driving. So we’re looking for children to do this
experiment. One day we will have an idea of what it means to be a creative child, and
how that changes over your life as you acquire expertise, or if you don’t
acquire expertise. So to summarize, we can now measure the creative brain in action.
Musical improvisation is a fantastic model for the neural cords of creativity,
not the only one, but a really good one. The prefrontal cortex, if you had to pick
one area of the brain as your creative area to look at and examine and understand
further, that would be the target. Overall, the creative brain exhibits
greater internal connectivity or coherence with itself than the
memorizing brain, and then we have a lot to learn. Now, before I ask Vijay and Esperanza
take it out for us, these are the things that I’ve been thinking about lately.
What do I want to move ahead? How do we tell if something is good or bad in
terms of creativity? You know, for example, if we make you more creative, how can we
tell that your output was in fact better? How does creativity change over the
course of your lifespan from when you’re born, to when you’re adults, or when you
are aging? And does actually engaging in creative activities improve your aging
process? Can it stave off the deleterious affects
of aging? Can we make brains better? That’s what I really want to do. I want
to come up with a pill that’s a creativity pill that’s not that
different than a cup of coffee you take to be a little bit more productive,
except this is your creativity drink, okay? And you take it and suddenly you
are more creative than you were ten minutes ago, right? It’s not so
far-fetched once we understand the neurobiology of it. Yes, and then how do we
fund research on neuroaesthetics? That’s one of the real reasons why we’ve gathered
here is because we need to have resources to do this work? We’ve got
fascinating questions, fascinating people; we just don’t have the means to kind of
take it home and give you guys some information that you can use in your
lives just yet. And so I have people to thank: funding agencies, the NIH, the
Kennedy Center, all these people, people in my lab that have done all of this
work with me — an absolutely awesome group of people. And then fantastic scientists
that have inspired me along the way, or collaborated with me along the way, and
then amazing artists that I have had the chance to work with. And I would ask
these two amazing artists to take it out for us and thank you very much. (Esperanza): We’re here.
I really don’t think you need a drug to get the brain up to a higher level of
creativity, my two cents. (Dr. Iyer): Yeah, really, all you need is, all you need is
an opportunity. (Esperanza): All you need is love, man! (Dr. Iyer): Have you done brain scans with people in love?
No thatís. (Esperanza): How long do we have? (Dr. Limb): Not that long, but that’s okay.
[Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Applause]
(Dr. Limb): Let’s hear it for Vijay Iyer and Esperanza Spalding! (Dr. Iyer): Charles Limb! (Dr. Limb): Thank you everybody for a great
night! Have a great evening! Hey!

2 thoughts on “Jazz, Creativity, and the Brain—Sound Health: Music and the Mind

  1. Brilliant commentary.

  2. i was there 😀

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