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August 1, 2009

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin

pretty amazing clip - music and science :: click below to watch ::

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Comments (28)

Have you ever seen his Circlesongs? There's a CD but it doesn't come close to the video I saw on PBS. He improvises several songs with a large group of acapella singers. Begins by feeding them their parts and then does the main part over that.

Posted by: Adam at August 1, 2009 9:31 PM

I watched this clip yesterday after someone linked it on Facebook. It was sort of neat to observe, but I think I'm missing what the big deal is. Yeah, the pentatonic scale is familiar and comfortable; it is pervasive throughout all western music. We've known his for decades. What's new here?

Posted by: ben K at August 1, 2009 9:38 PM

Bobby McFerrin is amazing. No other word will do. Amazing.

Posted by: Dan at August 1, 2009 9:46 PM

Posted by: Nik at August 1, 2009 10:08 PM

ba ba-ba-ba. that's a postal service song.

-jay was here!

Posted by: jay aoyama at August 1, 2009 10:22 PM

Amazing! Moving! Always have loved this man and his immence talent and intelect.

Posted by: Safron McElwain at August 1, 2009 10:37 PM

this is gorgeous. thanks for posting

Posted by: tommy noble at August 2, 2009 12:11 AM

Community. =)

Posted by: AlexBTetra at August 2, 2009 1:36 AM

Perfect pitch, lovely man.

Posted by: Shelley Noble at August 2, 2009 1:58 AM

that was amazing, ze!
actually applauded my computer screen.
thanx for sharing

Posted by: lime_off at August 2, 2009 5:07 AM

Anyone know if the rest of the Notes & Neurons discussion is online anywhere? I'd love to see it.

Posted by: Nerdsavant at August 2, 2009 9:28 AM

Great start for my day. Thanks, Ze.

Posted by: Stephen at August 2, 2009 10:05 AM

Reminds me of the Movie big. Gives me an idea for improv everywhere.

Posted by: wipis at August 2, 2009 11:53 AM

That was pretty fascinating - and a great workout for Bobby :D

Posted by: Marianne at August 2, 2009 2:53 PM


Posted by: Sara Cooper at August 2, 2009 3:12 PM


I find it absolutely amazing how the audience just extrapolates the tones after having learned the first three or four ones. The pentatonic scale surely must be universal. Which of course it is, being natural and playable on instruments... but on humans?!

I re-whoa.

Posted by: llauren at August 2, 2009 3:32 PM

Ah! And no debates among the audience or boxes of paper carried in on dollies, no grandstanding, fillibustering or committees to decide what notes to sing. A picnic with no ants!

Posted by: jeano at August 2, 2009 3:55 PM

wow. Amazing stuff. Great experiment. However, I wonder if it would really work with asian audiences (for they have more subtle scales and thus different hearing habbits than we do).

I've seen Bobby McFerrin live and definitely recommend anyone to go and see him.

Posted by: andrej at August 2, 2009 4:51 PM

woah... that was... very extremely unbelievably awesome

Posted by: Dizzy at August 2, 2009 6:07 PM

thank you for that awesomeness Ze

Posted by: Dizzy at August 2, 2009 6:14 PM

This guy is amazing! He can really nail it!

Posted by: Alex at August 3, 2009 12:12 AM

ben k: wow, talk about missing the point...

That was amazing. He played the audience like an instrument and instantly devised a simple system of reading music... all with no instruction. This was an absolutely beautiful and elegant way to demonstrate how simultaneously complex and simple the human brain can be.

Posted by: Wayne at August 3, 2009 12:54 PM


Posted by: Mj Devlin at August 3, 2009 8:15 PM

Thanks Ze, we missed you during the summer.

This video and the one Nik posted were both great. Bobby McFerrin is great in them both.

Posted by: Harland at August 3, 2009 9:36 PM

He's the man! I couldn't stop laughing after watching the vid! Great stuff!

Posted by: Alex at August 3, 2009 11:22 PM

To ben K's comment, I don't think McFerrin is presenting something new and exciting, and I don't feel that's the point. I think the point is that the audience reaction is universal, intuitive, innate, instinctual. My (limited) understanding is that the goal of neuroscience--and much scientific research across disciplines--is to look at what's universal, what's obvious to our instincts and clearly true in our world, and then to iteratively question why and how it works that way.
I also find it really moving, and I think that, too, is the point in and of itself.

Posted by: Daniel Ari at August 4, 2009 1:09 AM

@ ben k, "...but I think I'm missing what the big deal is."

what i found interesting in this video isn't the ability of the crowd to sing along.

for instance, when i listen to mozart pieces i've never heard before, i can predict nearly every next note while listening (not taking away from his brilliance, just saying: he was so brilliant that his methods have become ingrained in music)

what spoke to me was that this isn't traditional audience "interactivity", yeah?

i think it's that he doesn't directly solicit it--it's obvious that it will happen, but not because he said "sing the next note" (he motions "sing along", but never "extrapolate the next note from the previous set of two"), but because the pentatonic scale *resonates* musically & mentally with everyone (in western culture, anyways) and so the reaction pulled out of everyone the same response, singing the next note...it's genuine, as spontaneous as you can get with a "demonstration"

Posted by: zach blume at August 6, 2009 5:23 PM

This made me laugh aloud with joy. I don't care to argue the pentatonic scale with regard to Western versus Asiatic musical culture or anything like that, I just want to enjoy a middle-aged man at a Science conference jumping back and forth on a stage getting a group of strangers to participate in a group event.

I wish I had been there, and I'm happier having seen this video. Is that not one point that can be taken away from this?

Posted by: jexx at August 10, 2009 9:33 PM

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