Monday, June 15, 2015

Bach, Mozart, and a Brain Wave Illustration

This post was motivated by Zelter and Geothe's reflections on the mystical power of Bach's organ music.  Select quotes are presented below. Personally, I believe careful attention to Bach's music can help us ascend to an advanced mystical state of consciousness. Why do I feel this way? His music contains at the same time extraordinary musical complexity and extraordinary beauty. To the average listener, it can seem both simple and complex at the exact same moment. At a minimum, I believe it helps one to begin to understand why mathematical equations can be beautiful.

I sense that this music can help us approach the level of contemplation taught by Diotima to the disciple Socrates in the Symposium:

...and after laws and institutions he will go on to the sciences, that he may see their beauty, being not like a servant in love with the beauty of one youth or man or institution, himself a slave mean and narrow-minded, but drawing towards and contemplating the vast sea of beauty, he will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in boundless love of wisdom.

In our mystical ascent, we progress up to contemplate the beauty of the sciences and knowledge, of which I think mathematical equations are a part. What, then, makes mathematical equations beautiful? Not this one or that one, but them all? Perhaps Bach is leading us to this realization captured in Diotima's teaching.

These mystical heights are not achieved in the EEG results below. Lying on my living room floor, tired after a long day, we were in no mental state to achieve spiritual greatness. Rather, they are a simple and preliminary illustration of how Bach and Mozart can influence the brain.

The Bach results are from the Muse wearable on my head. I am 33 years old and have meditated quite seriously for about 6 years. Providing a different perspective, my fiancee also wore the Muse while listening to her favorite piece of music--Mozart's Et Incarnatus Est as performed by Barbara Bonney under the direction of Sir John Eliot Gardiner. She is mid-twenties and has trained in voice and violin since a young child. She brings a wealth of musical knowledge to her experience listening to the music.  She writes:

...usually when I practice, I get into an intense trance-like mode of concentration and I felt the same way listening to the recording. I think more than just enjoying the piece as a listener, I was also singing along to the soprano line in my head, preparing breaths in the necessary spots, lifting my palate and imagining singing along with some of the high sustained notes, etc.

I, on the other hand, have no musical training, and can barely hum a string of quarter notes.

We begin.  Videos first, then time-series plots of the entire session.


It is only since Mozart's time, that there has arisen a greater inclination to understand Sebastian Bach, for the latter appears thoroughly mystic, just where the former impresses us clearly from without....

-- Letter from Zelter to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

[W]hen my mind was in a state of perfect composure, and free from external distraction, that I first obtained some idea of your Grand Master (Sebastian Bach). I said to myself, it is as if the eternal harmony were conversing with itself, as it may have done, in the bosom of God, just before the Creation of the world. So likewise did it move in my inmost soul, and it seemed as if I neither possessed nor needed ears, nor any other sense--least of all the eyes

-- Letter from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Zelter, on the organist Berka playing Bach.

The organ is Bach's own peculiar soul, into which he breathes immediately the living breath. His theme is the feeling just born, which, like the spark from the stone, invariable springs forth, from the first chance pressure of the foot upon the pedals. Thus by degrees he warms to his subject, till he has isolated himself, and feels alone, and then an inexhaustible stream passes out into the infinite ocean...Weighing every possible testimony against him...[Bach] is one of God's phenomena. 

-- Letter from Zelter to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

EEG Illustrations

Brain waves while listening to the Bach Prelude for Organ in E-Flat Major BWV 552. Eyes are closed. The artist is Helmut Walcha. The recording is Walcha's Bach: Great Organ Works, from DG.

Subject: Male, 33 years old. 6 years of meditation experience.

Brain waves start with high alpha wave dominance. Later, the brain waves begin a pattern of Beta and Gamma dominance. Patterns really start to change at about the 4:00 minutes mark. By the end of the piece, Beta waves are the highest.




EEG Illustrations

An example of music leading one into deep, focused concentration.

Brain waves while listening to the Mozart's Et Incarnatus Est. The recording is from You Tube and features Barbara Bonney.  Eyes are closed.

Subject: Female, mid twenties, who has trained as a classical musician (violin and voice) since a young child and performs regularly today. 

Brain waves start with high alpha wave dominance. Later, the brain waves begin a pattern of Beta and Gamma dominance. Patterns really start to change at about the 2:00 minutes mark: beta and gamma soar.  By about the 4:20 mark, beta and gamma are clearly dominant and remain so until the end. Noe: the EEG loses signal strength at several points in this recording. 

1) Coleridge, A.D. (1892). Geothe, Letters to Zelter.  London:  George Bell & Sons. Accessed via Google Book's Free Ebooks.

1 comment:

  1. Organ music is something incredible. Hearing it once, you will never ever forget the way it sounds. It gives pleasant shivering through all body leaving an indelible mark in one`s soul. Here is a blog I want to just leave here for you to view. You will find loads of interesting information within the blog.