Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Sci-Rangers Fail To Read The Report - Music Evades Science, Again

It took some time to get back to the report in Nature magazine that has been translated into claims such as "Bassists Are The Most Important Member Of A Band—According To Science" which, I doubt just about anyone who is reading and blog chatting about that claim has read.  I don't know if the pretty silly comment throwing the popular level journalism at me was supposed to upset me or not,  I suspect, coming from who it did, that it was.  What I learned from reading the Nature report leads me to conclude it doesn't support the claims made for it.

Trainor and colleagues used the technique of electroencephalography (EEG) — electrical sensors placed on the scalp — to monitor the brain signals of people listening to streams of two simultaneous piano notes, one high-pitched and the other low-pitched, at equally spaced time intervals. Occasionally, one of the two notes was played slightly earlier, by just 50 milliseconds. The researchers studied the EEG recordings for signs that the listeners had noticed.

To start with, the "music" used in the study, as described above,  was so minimalist that I doubt even Phillip Glass would count it as music.  He'd be wanting to wash his ears out with battery acid after a short time.  It isn't "music" in any sense of the word, it's hardly even a sound pattern.   I can guarantee you that any musician or even intelligent listener would start either filling the experience in with imagined sound or thinking about anything else within twenty seconds. What part that unobservable but very real distraction, not part of the study protocol would play in the validity of their findings is interesting to consider but impossible to account for.

As music is an intentional activity, I doubt that a difference of 50 milliseconds could achieve the status of notice, never mind significance.  I doubt if it occurred in a musical context that even the most sophisticated of trained listeners could identify it.

That detection by the brain showed up as a characteristic spike of electrical activity, known as a mismatch negativity (MMN), produced by the brain's auditory cortex about 120–250 milliseconds after the deviant sound reached the ear. It is a known indication that the brain senses something wrong — a kind of 'huh?' response that Trainor and her colleagues had previously investigated to detect listeners’ responses to 'errors' in pitch2.

The researchers found that the MMN signals were consistently larger for the mistiming of a lower note than for a higher note. They also measured the participants’ ability to adjust their finger-tapping to deviant timings of notes, and found that it was significantly better for the lower notes.

I kind of doubt that the researchers could come up with a way to connect what they found to the conscious experience of music as a person experiences it.  I think they found something, though I'd really like to look at their data and how they analyzed it before I came to any kind of conclusion about that.  I'd like to know how many times they did this with now many subjects, what the size of difference in responses they measured were, etc.  If they measured the results in the same subject over time if there was any difference on different runs of the experiment.   None of that is given in the report but this kind of research is often reported on the skimpiest of sample sizes and one-off runs.

To make matters worse, in trying to associate what they found and the conscious experience of music, apparently the subjects weren't even supposed to pay attention to what they were hearing, they were actively distracted from it.

The MMN does not depend on conscious recognition of a timing error — in fact, participants were told to watch a silent film during the tests and to pay no attention to the sounds they heard. And although Trainor says that “the timing differences are quite noticeable”, the MMN response precedes any conscious awareness of them.

Well, excuse me, but if they're actively distracted from even listening to the sounds then what they were measuring has little to nothing to do with music as I listen to it or want to play or have anything to do with.  It's not even an experience of sound at the most banal of musical activities which are at least supposed to be noticed.  I think even the most banal of pop music is more of a musical experience than the experimental protocol addressed.   Take heart, Simps, even the junk you've made a career on is safe from this kind of "science".

As I've said before, Aaron Copland noted that when a literary man puts two words about music together one of them will be wrong, I've said that when they try to turn it into science there's a good chance both of them will be.  This study has nothing to tell you about how people actually hear music or how music is made.  One reason that lots of music has a rhythm in the bass which is more often noticed on a basic level has more to do with the fact that usually bass lines are slower and more easily followed than the more complex lines above that, though that's hardly true across all music of all times, of all cultures as made by all musicians.

Update:  Let's go over this part of the report in Nature again:

That detection by the brain showed up as a characteristic spike of electrical activity, known as a mismatch negativity (MMN), produced by the brain's auditory cortex about 120–250 milliseconds after the deviant sound reached the ear. It is a known indication that the brain senses something wrong — a kind of 'huh?' response that Trainor and her colleagues had previously investigated to detect listeners’ responses to 'errors' in pitch2.

They're talking about a differnce in timing of a 50 milliseconds.  Consider that the shortest note duration that I'm aware of a composer ever notating is the 128th note value, which I doubt could be played with exact precision so as to match a computerized or machine "correct" timing of it.  Human beings just simply don't play notes within that range of temporal "accuracy" and they don't really notice any difference.  You can fit many, many 50 millisecond differences into notes played with what is perceived to be complete accuracy and evenness.  The study deals with a range of temporal precision that is not achieved in human music making, no one can make their fingers or their ears work within those ranges of timing.  The differences they purport to measure are irrelevant to human-made music, they show that the scientists don't get it, at all.  

Update 2:  Stupy and the Eschatots don't understand it, or wouldn't if they'd read it.  They match 4th grade reading and math skills with post-doc levels of conceit. 

18 comments:

  1. So we hear "lower register" notes (I use quotes intentionally, as I will explain) better than "higher register" notes?

    Didn't we already know this? (Qualification of register is relative to the aural equipment involved. Elephants use "infra-sound," notes so low we don't hear them, and we call it "infra-" relative to our hearing range. Same with "ultrasound.") And the fact one registers earlier than consciousness registers just confirms its the aural equipment involved.

    Not to disagree with your critique (which I agree with) but sounds like a reinvented wheel to me.

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  2. You're just jealous because I'm a bass player.

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    Replies
    1. You're definitely base. My bass range is bigger than yours and people want to hear me.

      Delete
  3. Replies
    1. You wouldn't know them, they're the kind of people who actually listen to music.

      Delete
  4. So in other words, you got nothing.

    BTW, Sparky, the Anne Frank Center has your number.

    ""Make no mistake: The anti-Semitism coming out of this administration is the worst we have ever seen from any administration. The White House repeatedly refused to mention Jews in its Holocaust remembrance, and had the audacity to take offense when the world pointed out the ramifications of Holocaust denial."

    Hmm....who does it sound like they're also describing? Wait a minute -- it's you!!!

    Hey, if it walks like Holocaust denial, and it quack like Holocaust denial...if I were you I might want to rethink that libel suit you've been threatening.

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    Replies
    1. Are you enjoying your senility? Looking at the spectacle of it, I'm finding it mildly amusing.

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  5. You're demonstrably incapable of wit or humor, so I doubt it.

    Come to think of it, nobody's ever seen Trump laugh...

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    1. Simps, I don't do your 12-year-old boy level of humor, it's stupid. I think the last time I even smiled at that kind of stuff was the last time I watched a re-run of Monty Python while Gerald Ford was president. I moved on to the Broadway Danny Rose level but, when I found out too much of Woody's stuff was autobiographical I didn't find that funny, anymore either.

      I prefer Samantha Bee and Stephen Colbert, these days.

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    2. Uh, Simps, there are plenty of videos in which Donald Trump laughs at a level of humor you and the Eschatots favor. He's done skits like that, the one with Rudy Giuliani in drag, for example.

      Delete


  6. ME: "You're just jealous because I'm a bass player."

    SPARKY "You're definitely base...Simps, I don't do your 12-year-old boy level of humor."

    'You're definitely base.' Wow, that one was definitely worthy of after dinner conversation by Noel Coward.
    :-)

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    1. I think I'd rather have dinner with Samantha Bee or Al Franken or Barney Frank or so many others than Noel Coward.

      I think I'd probably rather have diner with Barney The Purple whatever he was than you. It would be your interminable self-referential stories that you regurgitate at Eschaton which even the mid-brows of Duncan's "Brain Trust" ignore out of politeness as they scroll on by.

      Simps, you haven't got the level of intelligence or imagination I make jokes at. And I don't do used jokes, the kind you have to have heard someone else tell so you know they're supposed to be funny. Though I might write on your bathroom wall that the used joke is in your hand.

      Delete
  7. "The level of intelligence or imagination I make jokes at."

    If you ever made a joke funny enough for anybody to actually laugh at it would die of loneliness.

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    1. Not as lonely as an intelligent, informed person who tries to hang out at Eschaton. That spam you sent me, I notice you start it "A former Atriot tells this wonderful story" One of several you're crapped out here over the past several weeks. I suppose it hasn't occurred to you there's a reason there are more "former Atriots" than current ones, it's because the goobers like you and JR and Tlaz and Skeps and Erin have taken it over with the permission of the lazy, has-been, Duncan Black.

      Eschaton probably hasn't done anything to the net good as compared to the damaging effect it has since c. 2005. It's a good example of what happens when a shit-headed Ivy Leaguer with a sense of his own importance decides to live on his past glory, which was mostly in his own mind. Sort of like your relationship to music after your ad-flyer dumped you.

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  8. They didn't dump me, you stupid shithead. I left for a job that paid me 20 grand more than Stereo, and I remained a contributor for years.

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  9. An ad-flyer that did an eight page feature on Elliot Carter.

    God, you're an idiot.

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    1. Wow, eight whole pages on the most eminent American composer of his generation.

      Ad-flyer with pretensions of being something else.

      Delete