Saturday, November 17, 2007

Open Letter to Oliver Sacks

A bit of TAMILDAA going on here. But still...

Sent the following to Oliver Sacks after listening to this radio show/podcast episode: Open Source » Blog Archive » Speaking of Music Again: Oliver Sacks.
Dr. Sacks,

Listened to Christopher Lydon's Open Source show about your Musicophilia book. Was particularly interested, as an ethnomusicologist and ethnographer, in your comments on music mediation.

At 18:30, you began questioning musical universality and mention "pygmies in the rainforest" (which does sound like a composite narrative of well-known ethnographic cases). More interestingly, though, you allow for music to be mediated: "I think I took a little bit of license in that sentence of mine you read out. I think I said, I wrote something about music not needing any mediation. I think it does need mediation, everything needs mediation. But it's a very strange sort of mediation with music and it's like nothing else." (19:27-19:46)
Wanted to thank for your honesty and thoughtfulness.
Lydon didn't follow up on the mediation point. Have you written something to elaborate a bit on the mediated character of music? It might be quite useful for some of my teaching and research activities.

As an aside... You mentioned (McGill figures) Dan Levitin, Robert Zatorre, and Steven Pinker. By any chance, did (Cambridge figures) Ian Cross and Nicholas Cook make their way into your book?

Again, thank you for thoughtful and thought-provoking statements.
My mention of Ian Cross had to do with the music in evolution chapter (preprint PDF) we read in our course. We have talked repeatedly about Dan Levitin's This Is Your Brain on Music during the semester. We haven't really talked about Robert Zatorre during this semester but his name does come up fairly frequently, along with those of other music cognition in Montreal. Nicholas Cook wrote a "very short introduction" to music, the first chapter of which sounded really insightful (as read, in French translation, on another podcast).
I also wanted to mention classics in musical aesthetics (including Leonard B. Meyer, who was mentioned in Charles Keil's article on PDs and is discussed by Keil and Feld). But I found the institutional links too interesting not to use them, even half-jokingly.

The actual Open Source radio show (and podcast (MP3)) was, unsurprisingly, focused on WAM and alluded to conceptions of absolute music. Lydon has something of an "Old School" (erudite dilettante) perspective on music. He also tends to be obsessed with transcendentalism (Ralph Waldo Emerson et al.).

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