“Where do goosebumps come from?” It’s an interesting question, especially when one considers the powerful impact music has on not only the artist creating the sounds (some would say “channeling the sounds,” if one has ever watched Trey Anastasio with his gaze towards the heavens during a particularly spellbinding solo), but an audience member, or lone bloke sitting in his darkened living room, feeling the warm glow of some brilliant passage that can’t quite be explained in words. It’s all emotion, baby—majestic and pure.
In Music Instinct: Science and Song, director Elena Mannes explores the correlation between the creative portions of one’s brain and its subsequent emotional residue and the abstract notions of art and imagination, leading to the powerful legacy of music within the various strands of human civilization. The documentary features noted composer, conductor, and improvisational musician, Bobby McFerrin, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, and numerous other scientists, physicians, and musicians from various genres, including Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley, Yo-Yo Ma, Evelyn Glennie, and Christiane Karem. Lofty messages are pondered, as well as the bond between music and the growth of humanity. Its importance upon various cultural changes are also discussed and dissected.
What Mannes finds—in this excellent and fascinating look at the marriage between the exploratory and sensitive mind and formless music and structured melodies—is that the mysterious strands of creativity cannot always be quantified by the sometimes overly cerebral ponderings of the scientific community. There is a damned good reason that music is often played on the floors of those creating graphic design on their precious Apple computers, and there is claustrophobic silence hovering over the corridor of any science wing. Music is ethereal, and not something to be so easily pinned down by logic and formal discussion. The endless hunt for the origins of musical goosebumps continues.