There’s the conventional wisdom that scientists live on one side of the brain — all cold steel and pragmatism — and the dreamy artists live on the other.

But there are some very simple elements in common between the study of science and the study of art. One is the concept of beat. In music, the beat relates to “all rhythms of life,” said musician, composer and conductor Steven Schick. Walking involves a beat. Talking involves a beat or a cadence of a particular language.

And scientists are studying the way the brain processes that beat.

Our partners from NBC 7/39 joined me last week for a conversation along these lines between Schick and local neuroscientists John Iversen and Ani Patel. Here’s the clip from that segment, and you can scroll down to see some links mentioned in the presentation.

View more news videos at:

Iversen and Schick said they sometimes encounter a fear that the scientists trying to explain what our brain does to process music will kill the artistic enjoyment of music. But they don’t think that has to be true.

“No one is trying to ruin the mystery of music by examining it from a rational perspective,” Schick said. “But what we’re trying to do is illuminate it and see, by shedding light on these things, from our different perspectives, what are the inner workings of this fundamentally moving experience of listening to music?”

A few more highlights from the forum:

• Patel and Iversen talked about YouTube videos they’d been sent of a sulphur-crested cockatoo, Snowball, who appeared to be able to dance in time to the Backstreet Boys. The implications of the bird dance were huge; this could prove to be the first non-human example of a species’ brain’s ability to perceive a beat and respond to it. Patel and Iversen have studied this bird with the help of his owner in Indiana, Irena Schultz, who runs Bird Lovers Only Rescue Service. Here’s Schulz’s collection of Snowball’s studies in science, and videos of Snowball dancing.

• Patel and Iversen’s research is also involved a test hosted by the BBC: How musical are you? You can take the test here.

• The scientists showed a video of a patient suffering from Parkinson’s whose treatment includes listening to music to help her walk.

• Some links have been found between a musical composer’s native language and the cadence of the music he or she composes. Schick performed part of a piece called “Toucher” by French composer Vinko Globokar, where a percussionist speaks aloud a story about Galileo in French, and chooses a drum to represent the various syllables of the French words in the story. By the end, Schick was dropping his volume so that the percussion instruments appeared to “speak” and replace his voice.

I’m the arts editor for VOSD. Have something you think I should know about? Please contact me directly at or 619.325.0531 and follow me on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.