No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

Vital musical research

The Guardian's Improbable Research Column tackles an experiment to monitor a pianist's EEG during a performance of Erik Satie's "Vexations". Now, the score is relatively unremarkable, apart from a hideous number of accidentals. But the original bears an inscription by Satie, "In order to play the theme 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities."
Now, in the 19th century they had not yet invented the phrase "... and if you can't tell I'm being sarcastic," so when musical genius John Cage got a hold of this, he arranged the first public performance of the piece (840 times) in 1963 [though I will concede the genius of issuing timecards to the audience, who were refunded portions of the ticket price based on how long they remained in the audience.]
Though Cage arranged the performance in shifts with several pianists, the current experiment used but a single pianist, Armin Fuchs, who seems to be a "Vexations" specialist. So, for 28 hours, they recorded music and brainwaves. The researchers' site provides additional data, including MIDI files, EEG data, and a 660 MB mp3 file.
As for the results, to quote the Guardian article:
Fuchs's playing grew inconsistent during the periods of drowsiness. But when alert, the man was a model of consistency. "Most importantly," says the study, "whilst in deep trance, which included effects such as time-shortening, altered perception and characteristic changes in the EEG, the pianist managed not only to keep on playing but also to maintain a constant tempo, hence executing complex motor schemes at a high level of performance."

This is one of those experiments that is simultaneously stupid and interesting.
Tags: music, science

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