Think twice, it’s all right

Professor Alex Lubet discusses the complexity of Bob Dylan‘s music and how this may interest scientists’ understanding of how the brain perceives songs.

Joseph Kleinschmidt

What: âÄúMusic, Language, BrainâÄù

When: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Today

Where: McNamara Alumni Center

Cost: Free

Protesters continually re-appropriate Bob DylanâÄôs monumental 1963 anthem âÄúThe Times They Are A-ChanginâÄô,âÄù and the Occupy Wall Street movement is no different. Rumor spread that Dylan might join crowds, but like the incessant Radiohead rumor, this turned out to be false.

What makes Dylan so powerful to this day may be in part how people perceive his music cognitively. The density of DylanâÄôs songs, both lyrically and in structure, may explain his indefinite relevance to listeners. The series of lectures for the Center for Cognitive Science fall institute, âÄúMusic, Language, Brain,âÄù features speakers representing fields in music composition, linguistics and cognitive science that may aid in understanding the music of artists like Dylan.

âÄúI donâÄôt think itâÄôs possible for any one pop artist to have the kind of influence that Dylan and The Beatles had in the âÄô60s,âÄù professor and music scholar Alex Lubet said.

Specializing in DylanâÄôs music, Lubet teaches courses âÄúRock I: History of Rock Music to 1970âÄù and âÄúBob Dylan,âÄù combining his academic background in music composition with his deep appreciation for the Duluth-born artist. Lubet is particularly interested in the complexities Dylan creates both in concert and recordings.

âÄúUnlike DylanâÄôs pop contemporaries, he does not do his songs in concert the way they are on the record,âÄù Lubet said. âÄúPeople who go hear Dylan know heâÄôs going to do the songs radically different every night.âÄù

Moreover, the stylisticranges in DylanâÄôs performances are coupled with the apparent density in melody and language present in many of his songs. Because he represents particular challenges for listeners, Lubet is interested how this might alter listenersâÄô habits.

âÄúWhether they can track the sounds moment to moment or whether there are some points in listening to DylanâÄôs songs where one stops to reflect and lose track of the flow of the composition,âÄù Lubet said, âÄúThis has a lot to do with the fact that people are so concerned with the lyrics.âÄù

Dylan is known for toying with verses, lyrics, melodies and rhythms for live audiences. Even Beatles drummer Ringo Starr could not identify âÄúMaggieâÄôs FarmâÄù from an early Dylan concert.

When he suggested Dylan play the track off âÄúBringing it all Back Home,âÄù DylanâÄôs band laughed and said they already did. Ambiguity and tenuousness define both DylanâÄôs music and life. His concerts reflect both sides and fans are eager to keep identifying DylanâÄôs own changing interpretations.

âÄúItâÄôs not an easy thing to even recognize the songs, what Ringo calls âÄòfinding the songs.âÄô You have to simultaneously listen to the music that youâÄôre anxiously hearing and go through your Dylan catalog in your mind and hear an original recording of the song,âÄù Lubet said. âÄúI think that people like the struggle.âÄù

The 70-year-old legendary musician may not be occupying Wall Street, but he still continues a lasting legacy of creativity in his songwriting. Music critics and scholars like Lubet devote entire books to describe the singerâÄôs social and political impact.

âÄúI think Dylan more than anyone blurred the barrier between high culture and low culture,âÄù Lubet said.

Now, LubetâÄôs discussion may inspire cognitive studies regarding complex music like DylanâÄôs. Specifically, Lubet points to DylanâÄôs nostalgia on his 33rd record, âÄúTogether Through Life.âÄù The song âÄúI Feel a Change CominâÄô OnâÄù uses deeply layered lyrics indicative of the Center for Cognitive ScienceâÄôs interest.

And while the song harkens back to âÄúThe Times They Are A-Changin,âÄôâÄù through fansâÄô memories of DylanâÄôs early âÄô60s persona, he wonâÄôt be protesting any time soon.