Anticipation?

Neuroscience has turned its attention to the arts with a vengeance recently, and to music specifically in books by Oliver Sacks and Daniel Levitin, to name just two that have captured some attention.

Now Jonah Lehrer has weighed in at Wired.com. While no one should be surprised to learn that the brain reacts to music exactly like it does to drugs, sex, and other “pleasurable” stimuli — by flooding it with dopamine — Lehrer claims that scientists have indeed shown us something else that’s both new and interesting:

…it turns out that the most important part of every song or symphony is when the patterns break down, when the sound becomes unpredictable. If the music is too obvious, it is annoyingly boring, like an alarm clock.

This sounds OK to me, as long as you’re talking about Beethoven or a Coltrane solo or stuff on the more musically sophisticated fringes of pop. But so many of today’s autotuned and beat-detected hits sound, at least to this geezer’s ears, ever more monotonously obvious and thus entirely predictable. So what would explain the trenchant popularity of a Lady Gaga or Black-Eyed Peas?

–CL