David Byrne, the well known lead singer and songwriter of the seminal band Talking Heads, has had an extensive solo career, won an Academy Award for his work on The Last Emperor soundtrack, exhibited his artwork internationally, and authored five books, including, most recently, Arboretum. For 10 years, Daniel Levitin worked as a session musician, sound and recording engineer, and record producer. He is now the James McGill professor of behavioral neuroscience and music at McGill University and the author of The New York Times bestseller This Is Your Brain on Music. Recently at STK, in New York’s Meatpacking District, the two traded ideas about music, language, and memory.
DAVID BYRNE: So, in the penultimate sentence of your book, you write that music is a better tool than language for arousing feelings and emotions.
This ties into what we were discussing a few months ago, about music and visual art bypassing the filters that language seems to get snagged on, in emotionally affecting you.
DANIEL LEVITIN: Yes.
DB: When somebody tells us what this song is about, or what this painting is about, we’re kind of stuck because talking about the art, and the art itself, are almost separate areas. The music seems to have straight access to the so-called “reptile brain,” and we feel it immediately. But often it’s also touching all kinds of other parts of the brain. If it has lyrics, there’s language in it. If it has a strong rhythmic element it’s touching what you would call the motor parts of the brain and muscle. All kinds of stuff is involved. How do you think this all happens?
DL: My guess is it starts with trying to unite rationality with irrationality.
[H/t Roop Roy.]