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Music, Pleasure and the Brain - 18th March

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  • Music, Pleasure and the Brain - 18th March


    A scientist and two musicians will demonstrate to the public how the brain
    and body and are influenced by different kinds of music at the Dana Centre
    in London on Friday 18 March.

    Dr Harry Witchel from the University of Bristol will explain how music
    causes the brain to respond to music by drawing on memories and associations that can bring on good or bad feelings. "Music can stimulate our emotions.

    Some elements of music are registered in the same way as vocal sounds or the tone of a voice" says Dr Witchel, whose event, 'Music, Pleasure and the
    Brain' takes place during Brain Awareness Week (14 - 20 March).

    To illustrate how music affects our senses and plays with our memory, French
    horn player Dominic Nunns and clarinettist Karl Dürr-Sørensen from the New
    London Orchestra will play a variety of music live on stage at the Dana
    Centre. "Sometimes music brings on emotions that appear to conflict with
    each other. Think of a scary movie, for example: a slow, staccato beat may
    be frightening but at the same time pleasurable because you know it is only
    a film," he says. Previous research has shown that many people work better
    if they like the background music. "Imagine how tedious aerobics classes
    would be without music with a lively beat," he says.

    The sounds we hear enter the auditory cortex of the brain and are correlated
    with our store of previous memories to interpret the music. Although music
    is not 'hard-wired' into our brains in the way, for example, breathing is,
    listening to music involves a number of brain regions. It is thought that
    the left hemisphere picks up the rhythm while the right hemisphere deals
    with pitch and melodies. At the same time the language areas in both
    hemispheres perform the same function in music as they do in speech, and
    analyse harmonic sequences. Usually, music makes us feel good and this is
    because messages are transmitted to the reward system of the brain.

    Dr Witchel, who works in the department of physiology at Bristol University,
    has been a musician for more years than he has been a scientist. He has
    played drums in bands and has produced music since the early 1980s. "Music
    has always had a profound effect on me and as we were studying the effects
    of pleasure on the heart and the brain in the laboratory, we are now putting
    the two together," he says.

    To this end, Dr Witchel is about to start pilot research project to
    investigate the changes in the body in response to music. Around 10 people
    in their late teens and early 20s will be linked to a heart monitor whilst
    different pieces of music are played, usually known to induce happiness,
    sadness, fear or anxiety and irritation. The study will compare the effects
    of the different kinds of music on the heart and circulation with the
    effects of physical exercise.

    "Music is integral to our lives regardless of race or culture and we want to
    discover how it wields such power over our emotions," says Dr Witchel.

    Music, Pleasure and the Brain - 7.00 - 8.30 at the Dana Centre, 165 Queen's
    Gate, South Kensington, London SW7. Nearest tube Gloucester Place or S.
    Kensington - Tickets are free - contact
    [email protected]