PBS: The Music Instinct: Science and Song

PBS: The Music Instinct: Science and Song

A two-hour documentary for PBS featuring world famous musicians including Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma with visionary scientists. The program explores startling new discoveries about the power of music and its connection to the body, mind and nature.

Broadcast: June 24, 2009

Do any of us really know what music is? Is it merely physics? Mathematics? The stuff of romance, or of commerce? Why is it so important to us? What is its essence? — Sting

THE MUSIC INSTINCT: SCIENCE & SONG explores startling connections between music and the human mind and body, the natural world and the cosmos.

Anyone who has been mesmerized by a Bach melody, moved to tears by a national anthem, stirred to dance by a rock rhythm, or taken back in time by the notes of a pop tune from their past, knows this power. The power of music. The Music Instinct: Science and Song provides a ground-breaking exploration into how and why the human organism – and the whole ebb and flow of the cosmos – is moved by the undeniable effect of music. The program follows visionary researchers and accomplished musicians to the crossroads of science and culture in search of answers to music’s deep mysteries.

We are discovering that music is encoded into us, into our bodies and into our brains. How does the foundation of music, vibration, affect the human body, even on a cellular level? How is current research revealing a new understanding of how music can help us heal? Is there, as many scientists now believe, “biology of music”, a hard-wired capacity for musical appreciation and expression?

This journey of exploration takes us from our first experience of musical sound in the womb, into the essence of our emotions, back to the story of our ancestors and song – and out into the world of nature and the cosmos itself.

Why do we have a music instinct – is it an evolutionary adaptation? Do other species have musical ability? Whales, birds, even elephants compose songs. Cosmologists have recently identified the pitches created by the Big Bang and those emitted by stars and black holes. Is music’s universality even greater than we’ve thought?

Featured artists include:

•    Bobby McFerrin
•    Yo-Yo Ma
•    Daniel Barenboim (conductor, pianist)
•    Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley (British rock stars)
•    Evelyn Glennie (percussionist)
•    Daniel Bernard Roumain (cross-genre violinist)

Producer/Director/Writer: Elena Mannes
Science Host: Daniel J. Levitin
Narrator: Audra McDonald
Editor: Donna Marino
Director of Photography: Dewald Aukema
Composer: Michael Bacon
Co-Executive Producer for Mannes Productions: Elena Mannes
Co-Executive Producer for Thirteen.org: Margaret Smilow

A Co-production of Mannes Productions, Inc., Thirteen.org and

Cine Golden Eagle 2009
PArisscience International Fil Festival Grandprix
BANFF Best Science & Technology Award




PBS is doing what it does best with THE MUSIC INSTINCT:SCIENCE & SONG. Where else would two hours of close attention be required and then rewarded with insights that will enrich all the remaining days of our lives?…There isn’t a boring moment here…few are likely to experience music in quite the same way again.

Knowing how sound works..that it is a chain of waves transferred from source to air to little bones and hairs within the ear and converted into bioelectrical impulses that are “played” by the brain – only gives one more things to wonder at. The ways in which that process becomes something more than sound is the subject of a rich..new documentary, THE MUSIC INSTINCT: SCIENCE & SONG…This splendidly expansive documentary…takes in physiology, neurobiology, medicine, anthropology, psychology, physics, quantum mechanics.
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES : Click here to read the full article

THE MUSIC INSTINCT: SCIENCE & SONG offers both a clear overview of the latest research an enjoyable survey of ..the age-old questions related to how and, more profoundly, why we are such a musically-inclined species.
Click HERE to read the entire BOSTON GLOBE review.

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