Science and Creativity from Studio 360: the art of innovation. A sculpture unlocks a secret of cell structure, a tornado forms in a can, and a child's toy gets sent into orbit. Exploring science as a creative act since 2005. Produced by PRI and WNYC, and supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Charles Limb is a professor of otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins Medicine who has a sideline in brain research; he’s also on the faculty at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. He wants to know what happens in our brains when we play piano. Simple: stick a musician in an fMRI machine, and see what happens.
Not so simple, actually. The machines are magnetic, so Limb had a special keyboard made using no magnetic metal parts. “You’re laying on your back and he’s got a double mirror,” says Mike Pope, a jazz pianist who participated in the study. “Your head is in a cradle kind of thing — a cage, actually — you’re crammed in there. Your knees are up in the air a little bit and you’re seeing the keyboard laying on your knees. They shove you all the way into the tube and you’re just in there, just enough movement to move your arm, essentially.”
The conditions are hardly conducive to a great performance, but quality isn’t the point. It’s the design of Limb’s study that is innovative. He has a pianist first play scales; then play a learned melody over a backing track; and then improvise over the track. This way, he separates out the creative part from the more rote aspects of a performance. He studies the images to see what’s changing in the brain during these distinct musical tasks.…read more