“I’m a bad singer. And deep down, it matters.” Falling down a rabbit hole in B-minor, Canadian science writer Falconer (Magazine Journalism/Ryerson Univ.; That Good Night: Ethicists, Euthanasia and the End-of-Life Care, 2009, etc.) explores all that bad singing entails.
The author grew up in the golden age of pop music, but he lacked the ability to carry a tune. As he writes, his siblings were similarly unable to distinguish notes and pitches, to the point where one sister could not even tune a guitar well enough to take the lessons that might have given her a fighting chance. Once grown up, Falconer marched into practice rooms and laboratories to figure out what’s taking place between the ears—and, to boot, what’s happening at the intersections of music and technology. We don’t really need to sing in order to enjoy a song, he writes, “any more than we need to paint to enjoy Vermeer or Monet or Basquiat.” But that equation doesn’t quite hold up, since we don’t gather around to group-paint but do, as Falconer notes, come together in song—or at least once did, since group songs are harder to come by, given the fragmentation of the market. Back on topic and in quest of the dulcet tone, the author examines the neurological and physical tricks that go into our ability to match pitch to voice control—to sing on key, that is, a talent not everyone has. At the far fringes of his amiable researches are amusiacs, those who for whatever reason cannot process music but few of whom admit as much lest “other people will consider them inhuman.” At the nearer edge are such wonders as software that allows even the most tone-deaf among us hit the notes, tortured though they may be in real life. So look out, Kayne….
A spirited, even adventurous look at the mysteries of how the human brain perceives and processes sound—and even, on occasion, manages to make beautiful music.