Saturday, July 30, 2022

Book Review: This Is What It Sounds Like

A legendary record-producer–turned–brain-scientist explains why you fall in love with music.

When you listen to music, do you prefer lyrics or melody? Intricate harmonies or driving rhythm? The “real” sounds of acoustic instruments or those of computerized synthesizers? Drawing from her successful career as a music producer (engineering hits like Prince’s “Purple Rain”), professor of cognitive neuroscience Susan Rogers reveals why your favorite songs move you. She explains that we each possess a unique “listener profile” based on our brain’s reaction to seven key dimensions of any record: authenticity, realism, novelty, melody, lyrics, rhythm, and timbre.

Exploring this profile will deepen your connection to music, refresh your playlists, and uncover aspects of your personality. Rogers takes us behind the scenes of record-making, using her insider’s ear to illuminate the music of Prince, Frank Sinatra, Lana Del Rey, and many others. Told in a lively, inclusive style, This Is What It Sounds Like will change the way you listen to music.

This guide to music and ourselves comes out on September 20, 2022. W.W. Norton and Company provided me an early galley for review.

Three things drew me immediately to this book: that glorious cover (I love the colors), a title drawn from lyrics by one of my favorite artists ever (the genius Prince) and one of the authors (Susan Rogers did amazing studio work with Prince during the 80's). I knew this one would be an interesting, enlightening read. You'll want to have a listening device handy as you read for a deeper experience.

This book very much reads like a college text on music theory and neuroscience. And that is to be expected given Rogers' background, education and role as a professor at the Berklee College of Music. If she does not use this as her textbook for a class, she should. I learned so much from it, and I wasn't bored like I had been in some of my college classes back in the day. This is fun stuff, and her writing style is very approachable.

An aspect of the book which I like is the "record pull" - where Rogers asks the reader to listen to tracks to help illustrate her points. This interactive element is very key to understanding the book's points and for the reader to connect to their own music profile.

This is one I would recommend to anyone who enjoys music, likes to understand how different elements of it work, and how we as humans process it.

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