There is a new and burgeoning interest in establishing a biological basis for musical experience. Whilst such pure scientific exploration is facilitated by the remarkable recent development of noninvasive brain mapping, it is driven by a powerful urge to understand the mysteries of music. By mapping the structures of the brain that support music we may gain insight into the roots of personal identity and social relationship as well as into the nature of musicality itself.
Whilst these technological advances in brain mapping have undoubtedly moved this topic significantly forward, so has our new culture of inter/intra-disciplinary collaboration and exploration and perhaps the one has driven the other.
The human cerebrum has two broadly symmetrical hemispheres, which in some areas have different but complementary functions. It used to be thought that spoken language and words were solely the province of the left hemisphere whilst music and emotion were located and processed only in the right side of the brain. However, contemporary non-invasive brain mapping techniques reveal a far more complex, interconnected and distributed network of brain areas, which include the evolutionarily older brain areas of the cerebellum and brain stem, which come into play in order to comprehend and discriminate musical sounds.
Mapping Blood Flow Response to Brain Activity
Both PET and fMRI require a good deal of data analysis because the main interest is in the relatively small differences in brain activity relating to specific stimuli.
Much of our best current information comes from the result of combining information from different technical approaches. Irrespective of which approach they favour, the common dedication and passion of all our contributors is to better understand what music is, and why and how we experience it. It is also true to say that everyone working in this field has been touched by music and moved by its mysterious power.