Music of the Hemispheres
Turns out that music is alive, or at least might as well be, as far as the right cerebral hemisphere is concerned. For "research suggests that understanding music is perceived as similar to knowing a person" (ibid).
And in fact, more generally, "works of art -- music, poems, paintings, great buildings -- can be understood only if we appreciate that they are more like people than texts, concepts or things" (ibid).
Then again, not all music is alive, is it? There are clearly "degrees" of musical life, although such a concept literally makes no sense to the left brain.
Furthermore, we can't just take refuge in some easily understood concept such as "complexity," because there are very simple forms of music that endure, and extremely complex ones that don't (cf. the pointless virtuosity of most "progressive" rock vs. the seemingly simple music of a classic bluesman such as Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters).
Music is direct person-to-person communication; one might say that the person is somehow embodied in the music.
I just read a biography of Sinatra, and it occurs to me that this was precisely the source of the overwhelming effect he had on (especially) female fans in the early 1940s. That is, it seems that he was the first popular vocalist to use the new technology to forge a deeper intimacy with listeners.
Prior to the perfection of microphone technology, singers relied on megaphones to reach the audience. Singing was a "declamatory art." In order to be heard, they had to project their voices over the band and to the back of the hall, resulting in a formal and stilted manner. There was almost no such thing as "phrasing."
The bottom line is, you can't whisper sweet nothings to a girl through a megaphone. There were plenty of fine voices out there, but Sinatra realized that the microphone "was his instrument, as surely as the pianist's piano or a saxophonist's sax."
Sinatra even preferred a black microphone, as it would disappear into his tux and "give the illusion that his hand was empty, that he was connecting directly with the audience."
I am also reminded of something Paul McCartney said about the early Beatles songs. They were consciously written in the first person, so as to sound as if they were singing directly to the girl: I Want to Hold Your Hand, Love Me Do, Please Please Me, From Me to You, Thank You Girl, P.S. I Love You, Ask Me Why, Do You Want to Know a Secret, All My Loving, etc. It was a big departure when they finally decided to write one in the third person, She Loves You.
An editorial in the February 2013 Stereophile goes to the musical differences between left and right brains. The author writes of auditioning a new piece of equipment with a group of listeners. Some of them heard only "quantitative" differences, such as more bass. But the author writes that he heard things differently -- that "it let me hear music more organically, in ways that touched me deeper."
There it is again: a living person behind or within the music.
The problem is, if you try to listen to the differences, you end up engaging the left brain: equipment reviewers "often discuss certain musical elements to the exclusion of others," and "give short shrift to how the totality of the musical experience affects us....
"When all we talk about is the sound of specific sonic elements, rather than how the entire musical experience makes us feel, I fear we ultimately lead readers astray." We focus "on individual fragments of the sonic experience instead of receiving music as an organic whole."
Again: organic. And receiving. The soul must become actively passive, so to (not) speak, similar to religious experience.
Now that I think about it, this has clear psychopolitical implications. For example, like Sinatra, liberals have perfected the trick of using technology to speak intimately to low-information adolescent girls (of whatever age or gender).
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to this problem. Talk radio, for example, has an overwhelmingly male demographic, and the same women who respond to the sweet nothings of the left are extremely turned off by fact and logic. I love Rush, but he does kind of sound like he's declaiming through a megaphone, doesn't he?
Maybe we just need someone with a smooth and seductive voice to convey the message, because if McGilchrist is correct, music is actually prior to speech, and what we say is easily defeated by what our listeners feel.