Research

My name is Iballa (Ibi, for easiness), I live in the beautiful land of Finland and my focus revolves around the interdisciplinary study of music. My current research deals with the dynamics of brain activity underlying music-related working memory (WM) in a naturalistic setting. My goal is to identify WM mechanisms engaged especifically for music stimuli (as opposed to verbal, for instance). Currently I am at the hypothesis building stage regarding working memory networks. These hypotheses will be tested soon against the fMRI dataset and they'll become fine-tuned as the study moves forward, for instance, once I have analyzed the musical stimulus acoustically (spectral analysis) and run some perceptual tests about the similarity of the different motifs, which are the main material for memory tracking in this study.

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Although my thesis topic concerns working memory and music, my interests are wide-ranging: cognitive neuroscience of music, auditory neuroscience, embodied music cognition, computational musicology, algorithmic composition, improvisation, music psychology, music perception, music and emotions, music and mathematics, music and movement.

Why is the scientific study of working memory important? Working memory (WM) is at the core of any cognitive function as it is necessary for the integration of information over time (Nan et al., 2008). The study of WM is central to understanding how memory and thought work (Wager & Smith, 2003). Working memory helps us make sense of the continuity of our experience of time and of our self. Although WM plays such a critical role in high-level cognitive functions we do not know enough about how it is implemented in the neural tissue. If we want to comprehend all other aspects of cognition, it is fundamental to first explain how humans store and process information.

 

Research on auditory WM shows differences between linguistic and musical memory, leading to the speculation of specific networks encoding memory for music. In neuroscience WM has not been studied in ecologically-valid listening conditions but rather with artificial tasks (e.g., n-back task and Stenberg). In this present study a real music piece without any manipulation will be used to study how WM traces are formed over time, that is, this research will deal with musical working memory in a naturalistic condition.

Repetition patterns occur naturally in Western tonal music, which allow us to study the phenomenon of tracing musical motifs in the context of real music, therefore activation of WM-related neural networks will be studied by tracing motivic repetition.

Methods

Computational methods (MIRToolbox) will be used to obtain motifs and their variations unfolded in time from the music, combined with brain measures (fMRI). Connectivity analysis will be performed to extract the neural networks engaged in WM applying the general linear model (GLM) to fMRI analysis and thus testing specific hypotheses on the neural networks involved in storing musical motifs in the brain. Based on previous studies I expect to find activation in frontotemporal regions (e.g. supratemporal cortex, exhibiting stronger connections with dorsolateral prefrontal cortex for successful storage and retrieval). The question of hemispheric specialization for short-term music memory is relevant here.

The music selected was “Adios Nonino” by Piazzolla, written in October 1959 while in New York in memory of his father, Vicente "Nonino" Piazzolla, a few days after his father's death. The piece has proven to be one of Piazzolla's most well known and popular compositions. However, only one of our subjects out of 11 reported to be familiar with the piece. Hence, this does not represent a problem for the study (in music, WM gets activated even if subjects have already a long-term memory of the piece overall). In this study, the activation of WM-related neural networks will be studied thanks to the repetition of two motifs in “Adios Nonino”.

There is more than sufficient amount of motivation for researching in memory. Memory is the foundation of cognition and also emotion, and it should be noted that emotion in music is thought to be one of the major factors that shape how and what we remember (Dolan, 2002). This research offers a valuable contribution to the corpus of musical WM by using a naturalistic stimulus to study real-time memory traces, given the scarcity of fMRI studies dealing with real-life music (ecologically valid approach). Finally it is important to emphasize that the study of how memory encodes music will also tell us about the nature of human memory in general.

Research interests

Cognitive Neuroscience of Music | Auditory Neuroscience | Music Perception | Embodied Music Cognition | Music Psychology | Music and Emotions | Algorithmic Composition | Computational Musicology | Jazz Improvisation | Music Therapy | Psychophysiological Effects of Music/Sound in living things | Brainwave entrainment | Music and Language

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