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Your Music on Film (the eBook for aspiring film composers) - New Music (recent compositions mixing the acoustic with the electronic) Lecturer at the NFTS - BBC Composer 1973 to 1998 - Early Compositions (Music for Collectors) - Still to Come (the writing)

January 26, 2012

In Two Minds

Our brains have already been cleft in two; but luckily there is a bridge between the halves

For some of us, the bridge seems more robust than others. If you are one of those whose bridge between the left and right brain is in danger of falling into the ravine; where the only way that the data can make the trip from imagination to method is by using the services of an elderly peasant and a rickety old cart, then this is for you.

Our brains simply don’t work properly without that bridge, despite some who dispute the true function of each half.

I remember writing the music for a documentary series on the Human Brain which contains a sequence about a woman who suffered from extreme epilepsy. It had been decided, and this now seems a severe solution, to disconnect the bridge between the two halves of her brain. An operation was performed and was, in their terms, successful. As a result of the operation the woman stopped suffering from epilepsy but was left with some curious side effects. There was a scene in which she was choosing clothes to wear for a night out.

She would go to the wardrobe, pick a top and skirt, return to the bed where she laid them on the bedspread to decide whether she had made the right choice. But instead, without pausing, she returned to the wardrobe and selected two more items. This sequence repeated itself over and over until all the clothes from the wardrobe were on the bed, and no choice had been made.

The explanation for her strange behaviour was that the left side of her brain, responsible for the organising, was dealing with the fetching and carrying, and the right side dealing with the aesthetic decisions about colour and suitability was in charge of her preferences. Both sides were working as normal, but because there was no link between them, the left side never got the message that the right side had made a choice, and so continued to fetch more clothes.

It seems fairly conclusive to me, different types of decision are divided between the two hemispheres of the brain; and this ‘division of labour’ seems never more pointed than in the creative arts.

We clearly can create ideas on the right, but cannot deliver them without the skills handled by the left, the nuts and bolts of making the ideas a reality.

If we turn our attention to the audience, something else is happening.

They are really only using the right sides of their brains to experience a movie. After all, the movie is simply a projection, everything they see and hear is an illusion, but it has meaning. Apart from a minute amount of left brain activity dedicated to keeping them upright in their seats, and managing their popcorn, the whole experience is a right brain one.

As creators of the movie we are having to compute on two levels, intuition and craft. This is why we so desperately need to consider the means of delivery as well as the idea, otherwise we will end up like the poor woman in the scene above, constantly making choices but never knowing when we have finished, never meeting a deadline.

An excerpt from my eBook 'Your Music on Film'...
available now from Amazon

Here's the spoken version of this post