In an excerpt from his new book, David Byrne explains why sometimes, he prefers hearing nothing.
The UCLA study proposed that our appreciation and feeling for music are deeply dependent on mirror neurons. When you watch, or even just hear, someone play an instrument, the neurons associated with the muscles required to play that instrument fire. Listening to a piano, we “feel” those hand and arm movements, and as any air guitarist will tell you, when you hear or see a scorching solo, you are “playing” it, too. Do you have to know how to play the piano to be able to mirror a piano player? Edward W. Large at Florida Atlantic University scanned the brains of people with and without music experience as they listened to Chopin. As you might guess, the mirror neuron system lit up in the musicians who were tested, but somewhat surprisingly, it flashed in non-musicians as well. So, playing air guitar isn’t as weird as it sometimes seems. The UCLA group contends that all of our means of communication—auditory, musical, linguistic, visual—have motor and muscular activities at their root. By reading and intuiting the intentions behind those motor activities, we connect with the underlying emotions. Our physical state and our emotional state are inseparable—by perceiving one, an observer can deduce the other.
People dance to music as well, and neurological mirroring might explain why hearing rhythmic music inspires us to move, and to move in very specific ways. Music, more than many of the arts, triggers a whole host of neurons. Multiple regions of the brain fire upon hearing music: muscular, auditory, visual, linguistic.