Tag Archives: Philharmonie

Electric Feel

A section of the museum! Daft Punk, an electric music duo, is French.

While travelling in Paris, I’ve passed quite a few musicians performing on the streets, whether they are singing, playing an instrument, or both. As someone who listens to music almost nonstop, I always find myself feeling a little brighter after I pass by these performers during my daily outings. What can I say? Music makes me happy, and good music happier. It’s not often that one finds time and space just for listening to music, but the “Electro: From Kraftwerk to Daft Punk” exhibit at the Philharmonie de Paris offered me this very opportunity, revisualizing the sonic experience of electronic dance music (EDM) into an immersive physical space. Tracing the origins of EDM to the present and featuring the works by renowned duo Daft Punk, “Electro” left me thinking about EDM for quite some time after I’d left. How do our brains process and respond to music, and how might the case be different for EDM?

I went to Shaky Beats music festival a year ago. The festival had several EDM artists playing.

Research suggests that listening to music is more complex than we might think, as it activates an entire network of cortical and subcortical areas (Zatorre and Krumhansl, 2002). Even the perception of rhythm involves multiple brain regions (Zatorre et al., 2007). When we hear music we like, our reward systems may activate, and when we tap our feet or bob our heads, we do so almost unbeknownst ourselves through activation of the basal ganglia (Trost et al., 2014; Zatorre et al., 2007).

A recent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study by Brodal and colleagues examined the relationship between rhythmic music and basal ganglia, an area of the brain typically associated with fine motor skills (Hikosaka et al., 2002; Brodal et al., 2017). To test participants, researchers created a continuous-stimulation design (10.16 minutes long, 120 beats per minute) using an EDM-style composition. Ambient noise generated by the MR scanner was synchronized with the music to mimic an accompanying instrument and to prevent disturbance of participants’ listening experiences. The continuous-stimulation design was a departure from previous studies’ use of short chunks of music, which Brodal and colleagues believed may have caused limitations (Brodal et al., 2017).

Regions researchers observed. (Brodal et al., 2017)

Researchers used stochastic dynamic causal modeling (sDCM), a technology used to examine interactions between auditory perception, rhythm processing, and reward processing, to observe connectivity in the auditory cortex, putamen/pallidum (PP), and ventral striatum/nucleus accumbens (VSNAc) of both hemispheres. The latter two grouped terms were chosen for this study because the low resolution of raw fMRI data prevented distinction between grouped locations.

The sDCM revealed significant connections between all three areas in both hemispheres, as well as reduced functional connectivity in the reward system. Results supported the hypothesis that stimulation from rhythmic EDM-like music decreases connectivity in the right VSNAc from and to the basal ganglia and auditory network. Stimulation also resulted in decreased self-inhibition via the VSNAc, as well as changed hemodynamic parameter of the VSNAc, suggesting an increased level of activation. Furthermore, reduced connectivity was observed in basal ganglia, reward system, basal ganglia and auditory network. Ultimately, results demonstrated reduced reward system connectivity in participants listening to rhythmic music, thus supporting the hypothesis that the ventral striatum/nucleus accumbens region plays a significant role in processing the emotions associated with listening to music (Koelsch, 2014).

As Brodal and colleagues note themselves, one weakness of the study is its methodological constraints. Though evidence already exists on rhythm and the observed effects, researchers’ use of only one music piece prevents confident establishment of a connection, at least in relation to the present study (Brodal et al., 2017). Furthermore, participants’ states while listening to the given music is only compared to one other state, the resting state. Brodal and colleagues note that it is thus impossible to definitively determine whether the observed effects emerged during the resting state (Brodal et al., 2017). Lastly, though not a weakness, laboratory conditions in the Brodal team’s study are far different from normal conditions in which one might listen to music. EDM in particular is often celebrated at large outdoor festivals, and it would be interesting to understand how music interacts with festival environments and other relevant factors to affect our emotions, reward circuits, and capacity for inhibition.

Or who knows? Maybe I’ll see for myself at my next EDM festival. In an era of increasing technologization, electronic music represents not only technology, but also the capability of technology to bring humans together. And it’s comforting knowing that something so powerful can serve us by bringing us joy.



Brodal HP, Osnes B, Specht K (2017) Listening to rhythmic music reduces connectivity within the basal ganglia and the reward system. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 11:153. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2017.00153.

Hikosaka O, Nakamura K, Sakai K, Nakahara H (2002) Central mechanisms of motor skill learning. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 12(2):217-222. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0959-4388(02)00307-0.

Koelsch S (2014) Brain correlates of music-evoked emotions. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience. 15:170-180. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plrev.2015.03.001.

Cité de la Musique: Philharmonie de Paris (n.d.) The Electro exhibition.

Trost W, Frühholz S, Schӧn D, Labbé C, Pichon S, Grandjean D, Vuilleumier P (2014) Getting the beat: Entrainment of brain activity by musical rhythm and pleasantness. NeuroImage 103:55-64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.09.009.

Zatorre RJ, Chen JL, Penhune VB (2007) When the brain plays music: Auditory-motor interactions in music perception and production. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience 8:547-558. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2152.

Zatorre RJ, Krumhansl CL (2002) Mental models and musical minds. Science 298:2138-2139. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1080006.

Image 1-2 taken by myself

Image 3 taken from (Brodal et al., 2017).

Memories sparked by music

As I was exploring the Electro exhibition at the Philharmonie de Paris, I was in awe of the transformation of electronic dance music over time. I did not know what to expect when I walked through those doors. Although I have recently been exposed to what goes into making a beat, I was truly amazed at the amount of detail and planning that needs to happen in order to create a harmonious sound. However, I don’t listen to electronic music all that often, and I was shocked at how much I was enjoying the exhibit. I realized that some of my favorite memories have been attached to songs and when I hear them, that rush of emotions comes back. I feel like I am reliving some of the best nights. Music has the power to move me emotionally and helps me remember experiences I wouldn’t always remember otherwise. I am always amazed with how much one song can mean to me, not because of the words but because of what memories are associated with it.

Part of the Electro exhibition

As I was walking through the Electro exhibition, I was reminded of some of my favorite nights listening to my friend make music, and it took me back to a time of such happiness. There have been studies conducted that conclude that music is strongly interconnected with memories (Belfi et al, 2015). In one study, participants heard 30 different songs and saw 30 different faces of famous people. The researchers were looking to measure the strength of memories evoked listening to the songs compared to looking at the faces. They found that the participants had stronger memory association for details and specific autobiographical information when listening to the songs (Belfi et al, 2015).  However, the researchers used a self-evaluation survey to rate the strength of autobiographical memory evoked by each stimulus. This recording strategy may have resulted in a bias or inaccurate association. This study helps us understand that it is possible for music to activate memories with greater specificity. The music in the exhibition had a similar effect on me as well. I was able to remember feeling happy and at peace  while sitting in my friend’s apartment listening to electronic music.

The same feeling of happiness and serenity may be triggered years from now by hearing the same kind of music. This phenomenon could be applied to help patients struggling with Alzheimer’s because music has also been shown to enhance memory in these patients (Cuddy and Duffin, 2005). Researchers wanted to test to see if listening to music helped patients learn and recognize new information (Simmons-Stern, 2010). By pairing unknown lyrics with sung or spoken recordings, the researchers measured which modality was easier to remember for these patients (Simmons-Stern, 2010). They found that after showing the song and the spoken word, the patients with Alzheimer’s disease recognized more words in the sung recordings rather than the spoken word as shown in the figure below (Simmons-Stern, 2010). Healthy patients did not have a preference between modality. To strengthen their conclusion, the researchers made sure to leave out any songs the subjects recognized prior to the study. This study helped demonstrate that there is a possibility of heightening arousal and memory for patients with Alzheimer’s disease through the use of music. Heightened memory may describe why listening to the specific music in the exhibit triggered happiness and peace for me.

The Recognition of Song vs. Spoken Lyric for AD and Control Patients

Stimulation in Electro Exhibit where you could make your own beat

Throughout the Electro exhibition, I was impressed with the way the sound made me feel. Even though I was just listening to the beat, I felt so at home in that space. I was truly impressed with how quickly I was able to transport myself to a different moment. As I walked to the part of the exhibit that let me manipulate instruments to make my own beat, I felt so happy, and I realize now that it’s because the music evoked a memory of my best friend teaching me to do the same thing on his computer. The comfort and happiness of that moment flooded me because the music I was listening triggered an emotional memory.


Belfi AM, Karlan B, Tranel D (2015) Music evokes vivid autobiographical memories. Memory24:979–989.

Cuddy LL, Duffin J (2005) Music, memory, and Alzheimer’s disease: is music recognition spared in dementia, and how can it be assessed? Medical Hypotheses64:229–235.

Simmons-Stern NR, Budson AE, Ally BA (2010) Music as a memory enhancer in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychologia48:3164–3167.

Photo of Study:

Simmons-Stern NR, Budson AE, Ally BA (2010) Music as a memory enhancer in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychologia48:3164–3167.