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Daniel Levitin – neuroscientist and musician

Daniel Levitin worked with Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison and Santana and knows a lot about music, except for one thing – where does it come from.

In the early morning, students slowly fill out one of the classrooms at New York University, where a lecture on music perception will take place. Two girls came first – one with black painted nails, the other in hooligan vintage high-heeled boots.

Behind them is a young man with turquoise hair. It is easy to imagine how they would react to Professor Daniel Levitin, a 40-year-old lecturer, with a mobile phone on his wrist dressed in black jeans and a tie with a crazy pattern – what is it, the fiber of wood? Or bacteria unrealistically magnified by a microscope?

Levitin’s lecture, based on his new book, “This is Your Brain on Music,” begins with a tortured metaphor: something about lakes, boats, and a cork popping out of a bottle. So the neuroscientist is trying to explain to students the amazing sensitivity of the eardrum – “just a pair of skin flaps tightly stretched over the bone and oscillating back and forth.” “Everything that we hear,” he continues, “is interpreted by the brain, which bases its conclusions on information about the swaying of the eardrum, about how sound waves hit them, about the frequency and pitch of the sound. How much they oscillate and where exactly it vibrates sound on the membrane? ”

It seems that Levitin felt that he was losing the interest of the audience: he quickly hit the keys of his synthesizer, the initial sounds of the legendary song by Stevie Wonder “Superstition” were heard. “What do you hear?” He asks.

“Guitar,” one student casts a voice. “In fact,” the other intervenes, “it was a clavinet.” “That’s right, Stevie Wonder plays the keyboard, which makes it sound like a guitar,” Levitin answers. – Stevie actually composed this song for Jeff Beck, a guitarist who never bothered to record it. Stevie was very upset about it and recorded it himself – he wanted to get the signature sound “from Jeff Beck”.

Now Levitin is listening carefully. In fact, Daniel Levitin is as close to the title of a rock star as a scientist can be. He played with Van Morrison and the Steve Miller Band. Working with Wonder to compile a collection of his greatest hits, he gained the right to call Stevie by name.

In the 1980s, he was a producer and sound engineer, worked with musicians from the Blue Oyster Cult and Grateful Dead bands, with Chris Issaac, Santana and (he is less willing to admit it) with the accompanying band Whitney Houston.

However, fans in Levitin worship not a rock musician, but a neuroscientist. Since he wrote the book “Music and the Brain,” Levitin has become a fashionable speaker. The book, written in lively colloquial language, provides an overview of the emerging “neurobiology of music.” It analyzes everything from the genetic base of musical talent, which, it seems, does not exist, to Keith Richards’ sexual attractiveness.

After reading Levitin’s book, David Byrne even visited the McGill University of Canada, where Daniel runs the Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition and Expertise. And so that no one would think that Levitin was only interested in baby boomers, it should be noted that Byrne brought with him members of the Montreal group Arcade Fire (to the attention of the Boomers: this is the most popular post-indie rock band in the world today).

How does the department store sound

To everyone in New York, Levitin seemed a sociable, curious and calmly relaxed person. We went with him to Barney? S department store, where Levitin wanted to buy a jacket for his next appearance on Fox News. When he turned to the seller from the quick service department, while answering in a business tone on his cell phone, it seemed to me that his earlier image, created especially for the public, was weary again – a weary and irritated music magnate.

It is clear that Levitin is just as easy to talk about the psychology of the consumer society, as well as about neurobiology. He regularly lectures at Amazon and Microsoft, where he is almost always asked what kind of background music can become a driving force. “One study,” says Levitin, “found that when classical music was turned on in liquor stores, their customers bought more expensive alcohol. Is the background music in the men’s clothing department of Barney? S department store well-matched? They tried to find something youthful and “cool,” he says, listening to what he calls “music wallpapers” – in this case it’s a kind of easy funk. “I don’t think it was right.” So far, no one has hired him as a consultant on this issue. Maybe Barney? S going to want to do this?

Levitin is already a music expert for Nissan. “It’s interesting,” says Levitin. “They want to make the driving experience fun and safe (as much as possible) and wondered: is there a type of music that helps a person stay alert on the road?”

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