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The Nerve: Music and the Human Experience

A CBC production about music and the human experience.

Navigation for The Nerve: Music and the Human Experience

A CBC production about music and the human experience.

Music is found in every culture worldwide. It's our constant companion, from birth through childhood, love, marriage and death. It has a starring role on every stage of the great human drama - whether we are at war or at prayer, by ourselves or with others, happy or sad - music is there. But does it really have a purpose? Where does it come from? And why does it have such power over our hearts and minds?

Hosts Jowi Taylor, Chris Brookes, and Paolo Pietropaolo look at music and the brain -  how and why we're wired for sound.

Broadcast on RNZ in 2014.

Episode 1: Wired for Sound (Music & the Brain)

On Episode 1 of The Nerve, host Jowi Taylor takes you on an aural journey, from the creation of sound at its source, through the air and the outer ear to the cochlea, the spinal column, and the cerebral cortex. On the way, you’ll hear about how and why hearing evolved, and how the human ear is designed to react to certain sounds. Why do we hear some sounds as music, and other sounds as noise? What’s the critical relationship between anticipation and satisfaction that drives music? Just what happens when the human brain and music become dance partners? And what roles do the elements we call rhythm, harmony, melody and timbre play in that dance? (#1 of 6)

Episode 2: In the Key of DNA (Music & Evolution)

Episode 2 of The Nerve asks the question why? Why did music evolve in the first place? Some people think music is merely an evolutionary frill, a by-product – delicious cheesecake for our ears that has no evolutionary purpose. Darwin himself was puzzled by music. Observing songbirds, he suggested music’s role was in sexual selection (which may explain why rock stars from Franz Liszt to Tommy Lee have had such busy sex lives). Others believe music’s origins may be found in the mother-infant interactions we call baby talk, and others consider the importance of the lullaby – a need to pacify infants. Others theorize that music developed in tandem with the social cohesion necessary to the survival of bands of early humans, critical to them through its power to strengthen social bonds. (#2 of 6)

Episode 3: The Pipe, the Drum and the Thunder Run (Music & War)

On Episode 3 of The Nerve, host Jowi Taylor surveys the entwined histories of war and music. Military music is meant to stir the blood. In order to achieve this, some instruments, some compositions, some sounds are more favoured than others. The Israelites used trumpets to bring down the walls of Jericho. Coppola’s Apocalypse Now helicopters played “Ride of the Valkyries,” which was based on an actual practice used during the Vietnam War – and is used today as part of the “Thunder Run” strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Scots went to war with bagpipes. And every army has a band. And music can also be an instrument of torture, as happens today, when the U.S. Army uses music to “forcibly interrogate” its prisoners( #3 of 6)

Episode 4: Enchanted, Entranced (Music & Spirituality)

In Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and every minor religion around the world, music has been used as a tool to elevate the spirit or unite the faithful. On Episode 4 of The Nerve, host Jowi Taylor looks at how music has come to be so closely associated with the sacred, and how chanting, singing and drumming in unison produce tangible physical effects, evoking altered states from trance to exaltation. Many cultures consider music to be a gift from the gods. But apart from the claim that it is a gift from God, what is it exactly about music that makes it have such power over our spirits? (#4 of 6)

Episode 5: myTunes (Music & Identity)

Today, it seems, everyone has the opportunity to create their very own personal soundtrack to their lives. There’s a very simple reason that the iPod starts with the letter “I”. On Episode 5 of The Nerve, host Jowi Taylor examines how music plays an integral part in everyone’s identity, regardless of class, race, religion, education, gender, or sexuality. But wait – no, in fact, it’s got everything to do with class, race, religion, education, gender and sexuality. (#5 of 6)

Episode 6: Sentimental Journey (Music & Emotion)

Some music expresses joy; other music expresses sorrow. It also can affect our emotions and * make* us happy or sad. On Episode 6 of The Nerve, host Jowi Taylor asks what makes sad music sad, and whether those elements are universal across cultures. Music is like a drug, in a way. It’s used to enhance the effect of dramatic entertainment and evoke moods in an audience. We often use it to alter our own moods. Is there a recipe composers can use to achieve these ends? (#6 of 6)