Music, Math, and Mind: The Physics and Neuroscience of Music

Columbia Univ. Apr. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9780231193795. pap. $28. MUSIC
With this whimsical, philosophical deep dive into the musical interplay of science and mathematics, Sulzer draws on his dual roles—as professor of psychiatry, neurology, and pharmacology at Columbia University and as an experimental musician (under the name Dave Soldier) who has recorded an album with a 14-elephant ensemble called the Thai Elephant Orchestra. Sulzer explains how an enormous gas wave in space was calculated at 57 octaves below middle C and unpacks with ease the five-note Pythagorean pentatonic scale, used in “Amazing Grace” and “Auld Lang Syne.” Complete with mathematical figures and historical sidebars, this volume invites multiple readings. Each chapter unfolds with theory, history, mathematical notation, and riveting storytelling. The work emerged from a class that Sulzer teaches at Columbia, and his pedagogical prose is replete with probing questions and summaries of dense explanations.
VERDICT Spending time inside the brain of this talented scholar and artist is worth the price of admission; a truly joyful experience.
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