Musicians 1 - 0 Computers
    By News Staff | July 8th 2008 11:00 AM | 1 comment | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    There are a few areas where computers cannot surpass humans and a new study says music is still among them.

    Neuroscientists in a new study looked at the brain's response to piano sonatas played either by a computer or a musician and found that, while the computerized version elicited an emotional response – particularly to unexpected chord changes - it was not as strong as listening to the same piece played by a professional pianist.

    Senior research fellow in psychology Dr Stefan Koelsch, who carried out the study with colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, played excerpts from classical piano sonatas to twenty non-musicians and recorded electric brain responses and skin conductance responses (which vary with sweat production as a result of an emotional response).

    Although the participants did not play instruments and considered themselves unmusical, their brains showed clear electric activity in response to musical changes (unexpected chords and changes in tonal key), which indicated that the brain was understanding the "musical grammar". This response was enhanced, however, when the sonatas were played by musicians rather than a computer.

    Dr Koelsch said: "It was interesting for us that the emotional reactions to the unexpected chords were stronger when played with musical expression. This shows us how musicians can enhance the emotional response to particular chords due to their performance, and it shows us how our brains react to the performance of other individuals."

    The study also revealed that the brain was more likely to look for musical meaning when the music was played by a pianist.

    "This is similar to the response we see when the brain is responding to language and working out what the words mean," says Dr Koelsch. "Our results suggest that musicians actually tell us something when they play The brain responses show that when a pianist plays a piece with emotional expression, the piece is actually perceived as meaningful by listeners, even if they have not received any formal musical training."

    Citation: Koelsch S, Kilches S, Steinbeis N, Schelinski S (2008) Effects of Unexpected Chords and of Performer's Expression on Brain Responses and Electrodermal Activity. PLoS ONE 3(7): e2631. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002631


    It all depends on the programmer. Music has liked being considered as a only human's domain. But actually, computers do replace humans in a lot of ways: From luthiers to complete orchestras. Right software equipped computers do can, and will replace human in every unimaginable ways. It is only a matter of time and will to make computers surpass any limit being set (and not a matter of computer's hardware capacity anymore). It is also a matter of where you set up the limit to compare. Computer music players (CDs, MP3, etc.) are examples of the top of the line in complete music playing capacities; from there you can go down to the physical instruments to acoustic variables of the place, musicians' ways of performing, etc. and set as many steps as you wish to make comparisons (and solve them one by one). Humans tends not to accept computers do can replace them and always are looking for, or like to use the "almost" word, to qualify computers' human replacing capabilities. But you can also program a computer to make "errors" as well as humans in order to feel them more "human" if you'd like so. Computer's programer will also be needed... yes, only to solve the next limit being set by humans themselves, and of course that you will never substitute the physical presence of a pretentious blonde Richard Clayderman or a savage Jimmy Hendricks playing in person.