Cortical Songs Album Release 21st July 2008

Patty at OboeInsight has the tip of the iceberg on this newflash. Here’s some of the remaining 9/10ths.

The Guardian reports that, “[Thom] Yorke is one of 11 musicians – among them Simon Tong from Gorillaz, John Maclean of the Beta Band and Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of the Russian composer – who have contributed to the classical remix album Cortical Songs, released this month on Nonclassical. Yorke et al have remixed an original work for string ensemble and solo violin by musician and physicist John Matthias and sound designer and producer Nick Ryan.

According to Prokofiev: ‘This is a way of searching for new sounds and direction in music. Yorke’s remix in particular – the first he has ever done of a classical work – is really adventurous and avant garde.’ ”

Here’s the track listing from the back of the album courtesy of Prokofiev the Younger’s mySpace page:

And, in case you were wondering, cortical is the adjectival form of cortex, which is the outer layer of your brain, coming from the Latin for bark. (think trees, not dogs) If you’ve got access to academic journals and the ability to wade through some pretty heavy medicalese, you may find [Ikegaya Y, Aaron G. “Synfire chains and cortical songs: temporal modules of cortical activity”. Science. 2004 Apr 23;304(5670):523-4] to be useful. Since Miss Mussel has neither of those, she’s hoping for liner notes that explain everything with words containing three or less syllables.

According to Pitchfork Media, Cortical Songs the composition is, “a process-oriented piece in which players are prompted to play based on the firings of a small computer-simulated brain.”

It this the first truly intellectual music then?
Only one way to find out. Watch this space.


  1. I’m not sure if I had the tip of the iceberg because I’m cold or because I’m a skimmer.

    Or both. ;-)

    Or maybe it’s that my particular brain is missing something. Outer? Inner? I dunno.

    But yeah. I need to learn to read more of what I link to, don’tcha think?

    And no big deal, but it’s Patty with a “y” as in “Why, why, why?” ;-)

  2. Miss Mussel

    Oh dear! All I meant was that I first heard a of the story from you and then went and did some digging to find out the rest of it. Not at all that you didn’t read it or anything.

    I was wondering about the i/y situation. Consider it fixed!

  3. chris

    Dear Miss Mussel,
    As I did my PhD thesis on synfire chains I am well placed to answer any enquiries you may have. Let me just say that synfire chains are really cool, in my unbiased opinion. They are *hypothetical* small groups of neurons in the brain; the neurons in each chain are organised in a linear manner by the synaptic connections joining them together (but the neurons in a chain can be almost arbitrarily positioned across the brain volume). A chain is activated by a brief wave-like pulse of electrical energy travelling along its length. During mental processes, many such chains which are “adjacently composed” (a bit like the picture on the album cover) are envisaged to be simultaneously activated, with the waves on neighbouring chains becoming “synchronised” to form much larger waves that make up distinct thoughts. Such structures of interlinked chains may underlie the richly interconnected and holistic nature of the mind, where each thought contains the germs of all the many other thoughts to which it is related, organised according to degree of relatedness in a halo like manner around its core identity. I could rave on much more about this….

  4. chris

    The radio antennae/amplifier analogy suggests input coming into the brain from the environment, which needs to be somehow ‘restored’. There is something to this, but it’s a lot more than mere amplification. To a large extent we have to construct an interpretation by filling in the gaps, using the knowledge we have already gleaned about the world. This knowledge is in my view embodied in the web of compositional relations between synfire chains, only a small fraction of which are directly coupled to the environment.
    On the other hand, the process I have described can quite happily go on internally without incorporating any information-carrying impulses coming in from outside, as when we reflect and dream.

  5. Miss Mussel

    @RBM It’s both. The album was based on a scientific idea, namely how parts of your brain works.

    I’m still a bit foggy on how it all works together but I did like parts of the resultant music. A review of the album is here, should that be of interest to you.

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