Why Your Brain Craves MusicIf making music isn’t the most ancient of human activities, it’s got to be pretty close. Melody and rhythm can trigger feelings from sadness to serenity to joy to awe; they can bring memories from childhood vividly back to life. The taste of a tiny cake may have inspired Marcel Proust to pen the seven-volume novel Remembrance of Things Past, but fire up the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and you’ll throw the entire baby-boom generation into a Woodstock-era reverie.
From an evolutionary point of view, however, music doesn’t seem to make sense. Unlike sex, say, or food, it did nothing to help our distant ancestors survive and reproduce. Yet music and its effects are in powerful evidence across virtually all cultures, so it must satisfy some sort of universal need — often in ways we can’t begin to fathom. A few years ago, a single composition lifted Valorie Salimpoor almost instantaneously out of a deep funk (it was Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5, to be precise), and from that moment, she decided it would be her life’s work to figure out music’s mysteries.