Peter Pesic – Polyphonic Minds: Music of the Hemispheres


The MIT Press, ISBN-13: 978-0262036917, English, 344 pages, 2017, USA

Our modern attitude to managing multiple tasks or streams of information seems related to our flexible minds. But the relationship between the ability to manage multiple sources of information and the ability to perceive them all at once is still unclear. Pesic argues that we might find the answer in music: looking at its abstract structure and the underestimated spectrum of multiple voices’ combinations, we can start to understand our abilities. The highest level of this process is polyphony, the interweaving of simultaneous sounds, which we perceive altogether. The author reconstructs the historical debate about the impact of polyphony on our brain. The technical evolution of polyphonic works and their cultural and sometimes political consequences are a metaphor for the cultural and social tolerance of complex music. This debate has been reformulated since antiquity, describing our mind’s reactions to single and multiple stimuli. That’s why Pesic describes Gould’s use of radio, the extravagant voices and silent multiplicity of Cage, and the adventuring in paralleling multiplicity of music and identity through Weber, Proust, Bakhtin and Bordieu. He connects this multifaceted polyphony with our “polyphonic brains” in the last chapters, with neuroscience’s current theories, finally arguing that we should define a different category called “polyphonicity” which, properly contextualised, seems a critical concept to understand current complexity.