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Why We Move To The Beat (Beat Not Required)

Monday, March 03, 2014

Why do we dance? Researchers are exploring which musical elements create physical responses to music  Why do we dance? Researchers are exploring which musical elements create physical responses to music (D Sharon Pruitt/flickr)

If you've ever been to a wedding reception, you know that people respond and move to music in a wild variety of ways. But despite your Uncle Gus' idiosyncratic electric slide, research is showing that there is some consistency to the ways in which people move -- even when a beat isn't readily identifiable. 

Mariusz Kozak, an Assistant Professor of Music at Columbia University, has been exploring the myriad ways we physically interpret sound. His research is part of a larger field of study known as embodied cognition, which inquires into how the human body is an intrinsic part of what we mean when we talk about the mind.

In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Kozak explains how his background as a classically-trained violinist led him to some personal insights about the relationship between music and time, and he guides listeners through some of the audio "tests" that he has been employing in his research.

"Movement is usually related to some kind of a beat, something regular and periodic in the music," says Kozak. "But when it's absent, it's not like people freeze or start moving willy-nilly; there is still some organization in terms of movements, and this organization can be observed between participants of various levels of musical and dance expertise. So the question is: what musical elements contribute to this organization?"

Guests:

Dr. Mariusz Kozak

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