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Music has always been at the centre of the human experience, framing, illuminating and intensifying our response to the world around us. But why – and how – our brains should have responded and adapted to music to the extent that it became a universal and unifying construct – ‘like breathing, all pervasive’, claims professor Jay Schulkin in the introduction to this fascinating collection of essays – has only just begun to be understood.

Marrying ‘an evolutionary perspective’ to a mapping of recent research into social and behavioural neuroscience, Schulkin feeds in data and discoveries from a range of disciplines encapsulating comparative biology at one end, musicological considerations about the origins of music at the other. What results is a revealing interrogation that begins with the emergence of anatomical features and biological systems necessary to the creation and consumption of music (not least the auditory system, larynx and cephalic expansion), goes on to explore the role of music in the development of human social interaction, to examine music’s links to memory and movement, and concludes with an analysis of music’s effect on our sense of well being. ‘Musical aesthetic imagination,’ Schulkin asserts, ‘is a wonder, an awesome sensibility, which intensifies the human experience of the world around us. The liking of music is one of the great gifts of cephalic predilection in our species’.

Complex though the subject is, Schulkin writes with the general reader in mind, balancing and contextualising scientific particularities with cross-disciplinary discussions of musicology, wider aesthetics and philosophy in an accessible, highly readable style. At 178 pages, it is a compact book, but a wise and welcome one too, on every page a fresh line of enquiry and a reaching towards an understanding of the importance of the brain to our appreciation of music and of music to our sense of ourselves.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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