Neuroscientists have found that a piano sonata played by a human being elicits stronger emotional responses than the same piece played by a computer:
Senior research fellow in psychology [at the University of Susses] 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.
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.”
Looks like there’s still a place for human musicians in the world yet…at least until the Singularity makes all of us obsolete.