Stacey Severn’s Photo of Eric Whitacre and Neil deGrasse Tyson, taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stacey Severn’s Photo of Eric Whitacre and Neil deGrasse Tyson, taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Hidden Science of Music, with Eric Whitacre

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Eric Whitacre, before the pandemic. Photo Credit: Stacey Severn.
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About This Episode

There’s science in everything, even when you don’t realize it. On this episode of StarTalk Radio, Neil deGrasse Tyson sits down with Grammy-award winning composer Eric Whitacre to explore the hidden science of music. Joined by comic co-host Chuck Nice, neuroscientist Heather Berlin, PhD, and mathematician and concert pianist Eugenia Cheng, PhD, we’re investigating how science and mathematics can influence and shape music. 

To start, we discuss something a lot of people have dealt with: forced music lessons. Can forced piano lessons stifle creativity in children? We explore rote learning vs. creative learning. Heather explains why learning music is like learning a language and how reading music can impact growth in other areas of the brain. 

You’ll find out how Eric became a musician even though he was on a path to be a scientist. We explore why people have irrational fears of math and science. Eric tells us how he draws musical inspiration from the science he’s embraced. We take a look at the history behind the Hubble Deep Field image and how it inspired Eric. Eric also tells us why he thinks NASA is a “crazy collection of artists.”

Then, Eugenia Cheng, PhD, helps us demystify math and music, and shows us how they interact. She plays us examples from Bach, Rachmaninoff, and Tavener. Heather sheds light on the importance of storytelling. Neil poses the question: would all musicians be better if they had more knowledge in math?

Lastly, we explore the patterns of music, how important novelty is to the brain, and why rebelling against patterns lead to the development of classical music. All that, plus, Eric takes us inside the creative process and we ponder the importance of looking at the big picture vs. focusing on the details. 

Thanks to our Patrons Julia Zeikowitz, Cory Ricci, Sridev Pawar, Mark Hachem, Michael Gessner, Roderic E Hairston, Chuck Betlach, and Riyam Al-Sammarraie for supporting us this week.

NOTE: StarTalk+ Patrons can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free.

About the prints that flank Neil in this video:

“Black Swan” & “White Swan” limited edition serigraph prints by Coast Salish artist Jane Kwatleematt Marston. For more information about this artist and her work, visit Inuit Gallery of Vancouver.

In This Episode

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