I’m betting you’ve never heard of Tra La La Blip. Neither did I, until their founder emailed us yesterday. This rural Australian collective makes electronic pop; and all of the members of the band are “intellectually and physically disabled.” Their MySpace page has 4 songs that are really worth checking out. It’s somehow both touching and inspiring to hear these people making music – and doing it rather well – and proving that even an intellectual disability doesn’t have to make you less of an expressive person.
A lot has been written in the past 20 years about music and how it relates to the human brain – how we react to it, why we like it, and in some rare cases, why we don’t react to it and can’t really like it. Neuroscience has latched onto music in a big way, perhaps in part because neuroscientists like Oliver Sacks are such music lovers themselves, but also because music is apparently so far removed from anything humans would do as a part of our survival skills, and therefore seems to be something our brains have come up with on their own. So finding how music affects the brain – watching which segments of the brain are activated by listening to music, for example – is potentially a very useful thing. William James, the pioneering American psychologist, is quoted in Oliver Sacks’ book “Musicophilia” referring to music as the “back stairs” to the brain.
Our on-air discussion today of how music is being used in studies of autism is just part of a much longer, much more far-reaching series of conversations. Because music is not a physical, tangible thing, and because the workings of the brain cannot yet be reduced to a mechanical explanation of synapses firing in predictable patterns, these conversations are full of thorny questions, conjecture, and contradictions. But there IS hard evidence that music can reach even damaged brains. Maybe modern Western science is just now catching up to something the world’s oldest cultures seem to have instinctively understood – that music can heal a tourbled or damaged mind. (Look at the almost universal use of “trance” traditions for dealing with things like “possession” and “evil spirits,” which we in the West might diagnose as forms of mental illness.) From the case studies in Oliver Sacks’ books to the Tra La La Blip website, there is even a suggestion that once music takes us up those back stairs, we may be able to find other ways of negotiating the mind’s many rooms.
Do you have any experience with music’s power to heal? Or to reach a person whose mental state has been impaired? Leave a comment.