Thanks to the death of the clunky portable CD player, our entire music collections follow us on our phones as we commute to work and exert ourselves at the gym. Music is power, and with that power, artists are able to suppress our nerves, elicit excitement and fill us with dread.
Yet our favourite tracks don’t get full exclusivity over the credit issued when it comes to its developmental power; sharing it instead with sound itself. Scientists already know that babies in their initial few hours are able to differentiate between a native and foreign language, and this is something we can look into further by understanding that the mechanisms for hearing are developed at 30 weeks in gestational age. So around the 10 weeks until birth mark, the baby is already listening to mum, which makes mum the first person to call shotgun on influencing the unborn brain.
Moving back onto music, previously FACT have screened the remarkably moving documentary Alive Inside: A story of Music and Memory (available on Netflix), which follows Dan Cohen, founder of not-for-profit organisation Music & Memory, as he battles against the health care system in America to demonstrate how music can be used to combat memory loss. It’s interesting that through Cohen’s exploration and at times frustration, you begin to understand the critical importance that music has on not only getting us through that last rep at the gym, but also on a decaying or fractured mind.
It’s through the documentary that we’re able to look at something like dementia; with its various different types and how each spread through the brain like wildfire, burying experiences and killing off memories. What Alive Inside demonstrates is the incredibly transformative results of how music can do what even the most expensive drug might not be able to - reawaken a person and their memories.
Alive Inside presents a case establishing that music has incredible authority over the mind, yet what’s more fascinating is music not only positively benefits memory, but also improves sight. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that listening to music could restore impaired vision; specifically in stroke patients whom of up to 60% develop impaired visual awareness, which is commonly known as visual neglect. This is a condition that causes a patient to lose track of an object that’s in their field of view (on the opposite side to their damaged brain of course) and it can be so severe that it’d be like trying to shave, but only shaving half of your face.
Part of the research carried out by the National Academy of Sciences took a handful of patients and gave them tasks to complete, only they would be carried out under three different conditions: while listening to music they’d chosen, music that wasn’t their cup of tea, and in silence. The concluding findings from that study found that all of the patients who participated could identify coloured shapes and lights through the side of their neglected vision when they listened to music of their choice. You can delve even further into that study by looking at the statistics of one particular patient who was able to point out light in 65% of cases whilst listening to music he loved, yet when that was flipped and he did the same task, only this time listening to music he didn’t like, that number dropped considerably to 15% of cases. It’s certainly incredible.
Despite millions being plunged into the development of new drugs, followed by years of trialling - music is perhaps taken for granted as an alternative therapy, however, music is something that’s with us every step of the way from when we wake up in the morning, to when we go back to sleep in the evening. It’s fair to say we’re not quite at the stage of music being considered a priority for medical development in the same way a pharmaceutical drug is, but there’s definitely more personal gratification to be had in knowing that on our next visit to a dementia ward or something similar, we can help with bouts of discomfort or confusion by just acknowledging the power we hold in our pockets and by knowing someone else's favourite song.
To cut a long post short, in a nutshell music is magic.
Lesions in the Landscape is on display at FACT until 22 November, open Tuesday - Sunday 11am - 6pm and entrance is free.