â€œListen to this,â€ Daniel Levitin said. â€œWhat is it?â€ He hit a button on his computer keyboard and out came a half-second clip of music. It was just two notes blasted on a raspy electric guitar, but I could immediately identify it: the opening lick to the Rolling Stonesâ€™ â€œBrown Sugar.â€
Then he played another, even shorter snippet: a single chord struck once on piano. Again I could instantly figure out what it was: the first note in Elton Johnâ€™s live version of â€œBenny and the Jets.â€
Dr. Levitin beamed. â€œYou hear only one note, and you already know who it is,â€ he said. â€œSo what I want to know is: How we do this? Why are we so good at recognizing music?â€
[…] Dr. Levitin is singular among music scientists for actually having come out of the music industry. Before getting his Ph.D. he spent 15 years as a record producer, working with artists ranging from the Blue Ã–yster Cult to Chris Isaak. While still in graduate school he helped Stevie Wonder assemble a best-of collection; in 1992 Dr. Levitinâ€™s sensitive ears detected that MCA Records had accidentally used third-generation backup tapes to produce seven Steely Dan CDs, and he embarrassed the label by disclosing it in Billboard magazine. He has earned nine gold and platinum albums, which he tucks in corners of his lab, office and basement at home. â€œThey look a little scary when you put them all in one place, so I spread them around,â€ he said.