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MOSI Explores The Power Of Music

#Hooked looks into the science of...hooks

Written by . Published on October 21st 2013.

MOSI Explores The Power Of Music

WHEN Albert Einstein wasn’t thinking up the general theory of relativity or being an all-round science buff, he was often found indulging in his second love, music. In fact the Noble Prize Winner was a fine amateur musician, once remarking, “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician”. It’s likely the man himself  would be most impressed with the latest project from Manchester Science and Industry Museum (MOSI)  - a matching of music and science, #Hooked.

MOSI gave a sneak preview of their future plans by holding an impromptu silent disco in their Great Western Warehouse leading to some suspect dancing from the apprehensive journalists and a herd of excitable school girls singing Taylor Swift.

A citizen science initiative, #Hooked is the largest ever experiment into what makes music memorable, an attempt to find the science behind those painfully catchy songs and the hooks that make them great. As part of the upcoming annual Manchester Science Festival, #Hooked will be looking to get to the bottom of this unexplained phenomenon through online surveys, a name that tune game, silent discos and a bit of science.

This latest project is being headed by the trinity of Erinma Ochu, MOSI’s resident science pioneer and Welcome Trust Engagement Fellow, Dr John Ashley Burgoyne, computational musicologist at the University of Amsterdam, and Professor Alistair Burns of the Institute of Brain Behaviour and Mental Health at the University of Manchester.

Ochu, who helped produce last year’s Turing’s Sunflowers experiment, spoke of the importance of music in people’s lives:

“This mass experiment is a not only a great way to harness the wisdom of the crowd to gather data on what makes a musical hook but it will hopefully also get people talking about, listening to and sharing music. Much of human history is remembered through songs and as an added bonus, we aim to tap into, evoke and share the musical memories of many generations around the world.”

While the experiment is a fun look into why some songs rattle round in our heads for months on end, there are serious implications beyond simple scientific intrigue. Music has a powerful role to play in helping dementia sufferers; songs have been proven to revive memories once thought long gone.

Professor Alistair Burns, who has worked extensively in the field, is optimistic about #Hooked’s potential to help with Alzheimer’s and dementia:

“Music is really important in accessing long term memories. Many dementia support groups use music, singing and personalised playlists to help those with failing memory. The results from #Hooked could certainly have implications for improving the quality of life for people with dementia.”

Although #Hooked is officially opening on October 24, along with the Festival, MOSI gave a sneak preview of their future plans by holding an impromptu silent disco in their Great Western Warehouse leading to some suspect dancing from the apprehensive journalists and a herd of excitable school girls singing Taylor Swift.

#Hooked will be holding another free silent disco on October 30 along with a debate about the catchiness of music with some science boffins. The experiment runs until September 2014 allowing plenty of time for the public to get their opinions heard.

Already a poll of 700 people, including the likes of Janet Street Porter and Carol Vorderman, has been conducted in anticipation of #Hooked, compiling people’s requests and thoughts on the catchiest songs, with Kylie Minogue’s appropriately monikered I Can’t Get You Out of My Head topping the list.  

The question remains why? Is it the repetition or the distinctiveness of the track? Hopefully the combination of scientific theory and layman input will get us to understand the power of music and tell us why Einstein just couldn’t get Mozart out of his head.

To find out more about #Hooked, click here.

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