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October 8, 2008

The curse of perfect pitch

There was a very interesting interview on NPR's Fresh Air recently with Oliver Sacks, author of a new book 'Musicophilia'. The neurologist explains that there is no single musical center in the brain, but rather 20 to 30 networks spread throughout every region that analyze different components of music, from pitch to melody. That's why a symphony that moves some people to tears is perceived by others as the cacophonous clattering of pots and pans, a condition known as amusia. Sacks also tells of people haunted by musical hallucinations, in which they hear a set of tunes, or even full-fledged choirs inside their head, a phenomenon one patient describes as his "intracranial jukebox."

Indeed, once music is part of us, it seldom takes its leave. Sacks tells the story of a man with Alzheimer's who "has no idea what he did for a living or what he did 10 minutes ago," but who "remembers the baritone part to almost every song he has ever sung." Music, Sacks says, "is one of the only things that keeps him grounded in the world." He also talks at length about the the phenomena of Perfect Pitch and how having it can be both a blessing and a curse. A very interesting listen here.

Posted by acapnews at October 8, 2008 9:34 PM

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