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PODCAST: Grammys Edition: "Music on My Brain," featuring Rosanne Cash and Daniel Levitin [MP3]



In a few short hours, we'll all find out whether Rosanne Cash will take home a Grammy for "Sea of Heartbreak," her duet with Bruce Springsteen off The List (an album inspired by a compilation of essential songs her father, Johnny Cash, gave to her when she was 18). But you don't have to wait any time at all to get a behind-the-scenes peek at not only The List, but also Rosanne's brain itself -- from her actual physical neural functioning, to her thoughts on Sting's tantric sex practices -- by listening to our podcast of "Music on My Brain," Cash's tune-filled talk with neuroscientist Daniel Levitin at the Museum of Science a few months ago.  

The loins of Sting were a mere brief pit stop for the conversational wanderings of Cash and Levitin, whose scientific proclivities generally steered the discussion. Levitin is a former music producer worked with the likes of Blue Öyster Cult, Chris Isaak, Steely Dan, and Stevie Wonder, but found that his obsession with music fueled a curiosity that couldn't be satisfied astride a sound board. An erstwhile MIT and Berklee student (he dropped out to focus on his music career), Levitin left the record business to study neuroscience at Stanford under cognitive psychologist Roger Shepard. This life transformation led Levitin to write his acclaimed book This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (which got raves from none other than Oliver Sacks, who has a pretty good handle on this neuroscience-of-music thing himself).

So what did these two talk about? Here are some highlights:

-Levitin gets cosmic about the difference between music and visual art ("Music is manifest across time, while paintings are manifest across space").

-Cash gets cosmic about her fondness for minor chords ("I am defined by minor chords. My life has been spent in pursuit of an A minor chord").

-You liked that Pachelbel's Canon thing? Then don't skip the part where Levitin makes the connection between "Heart & Soul," Elvis Presley's "Blue Moon," and a little classical ditty from the year 1650.

-Prompted by the audience Q&A period near the end, Cash talks about her own recent brain surgery, in which a tumor was removed from her cerebellum. Her description of the recovery process would be right at home in any Oliver Sacks book, as it took her an entire year to return to her full musical capacity. (She jokes: "But I also dreamed that I had a bunch of doctors hitting me on the head with shovels, and I checked that out, and he [her doctor] said that definitely didn't happen.")

DOWNLOAD: "Music on My Brain," with Rosanne Cash and Daniel Levitin [MP3]

Recorded live at the Museum of Science, on October 21, 2009; if you liked this lecture, check out the MoS's schedule of upcoming events. To subscribe to our podcast, paste this RSS feed into your podcatcher or feed-reader of choice, or bookmark http://thephoenix.com/podcast.

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