Animals, music and the mind

According to James Randerson of the Guardian, "researchers have discovered that playing classical music to the animals reduces abnormal behaviours such as swaying, pacing and trunk tossing, although they said elephants don't seem to have a favourite composer." The point of the study was to improve the mental state of the animals in captivity. Mr Randerson's article goes on to site several other studies which offer suggestions that animals may be soothed by classical music but irritated by Heavy Metal.

Ok, link this to the recent bits I've been reading out of Oliver Sacks Musicophilia regarding the portion of the human brain that deals specifically with music. It seems there is an element of the brain that not only deals with music, but can become significantly larger (more developed) in professional musicians. This leads me to believe we are inherently pre-disposed to music and (without considering religious connotations, Sacks is a self proclaimed Atheistic Jew) it seems physically affected by music in more than just our mood.

I am not a doctor, let alone a neurosurgeon, so I don't know if the areas of the brain that are affected by music in humans are core elements to the brains of other animals - areas like, the corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres of the brain, or the auditory cortex. It seems, according to David Field, zoological director of London and Whipsnade zoos, "Elephants are incredibly sensitive beasts. Their appreciation of noise communication is far beyond our hearing range. They communicate in deep infrasonic vibrations." So, it is reasonable to suppose they may be predisposed to music at some level.

I also find it interesting these studies tend to use composers like Beethoven and Mozart as their basis for Classical music. What would be the effect if they played something like Webern, Schoenberg, Babbitt, Boulez or any of the more "radical" classical musicians; the ones that much of the modern audience has yet to appreciate. If we find animals do not much care for this avant-gard type music, perhaps we can summarize that maybe (just maybe) this music is less 'musical' than these composers would like us to believe - because our baser animal side of our brains just don't connect with it.

On the other hand, we could also suggest the avant-gard music is perhaps more elevated than what 'animals' can appreciate, thus separating ourselves from the animal kingdom, by virtue of our appreciation of a 'higher form' of music. But doesn't that smack of the divine creation of man, which might open a whole religious debate arguing for a number of composers who are also self-proclaimed atheists???


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