Music

@TEDMED: Catching up with Charles Limb, hip-hop creativity researcher

Posted by: Nafissa

The TED team is eagerly watching our content partner conference, TEDMED, happening now in California. (Look for TEDMED video fresh from stage in the coming weeks!) TED’s own Nafissa, is reporting from the conference; this morning, she caught a few minutes with TEDTalks favorite Charles Limb, who studies what creativity looks like in the brains of jazz improvisers and freestyle rappers …

What have you been up to since your talk (from TEDxMidAtlantic) went onto TED.com?

Over the past year, I have spent a lot of time acquiring more data on two main lines of experimental inquiry. The first is the neural mechanisms that underlie spontaneous creativity in musicians, and the second is the study of how deaf individuals who receive cochlear implants perceive music. Both of these areas of inquiry are deeply compelling to me. In terms of specific followup, we have completed functional brain image acquisition on jazz musicians who are having musical “conversations,” showing that traditional language areas of the brain are critical for this type of activity. Also, we have finished brain studies of freestyle rappers who are improvising, which will add further crucial insights into the neurobiology of creativity. We are now actively working on manuscript preparation in hopes to publish these exciting studies.

What are the projects you are currently working on that you’d like to share with the TED.com community

I am currently trying to work on a few studies — one is to see how mechanisms of creativity in jazz or rap generalize to other forms of spontaneous improvisation, such as in drawing. We are also trying to examine how these mechanisms differ in amateur vs. expert musicians, and children vs. adults. It is probably fairer to say that I am trying to work on getting funding for these studies, since they are in the conceptual stages at this point …”

What are your five favorite records?

My five favorite records? Tough question! How about five of my favorite pieces or songs:

1. Gustav Mahler, “Ich Bin der Welt Abhanden Gekommen” (recording with Janet Baker)
2. Astor Piazzolla, “Milonga del Angel” (from Tango: Zero Hour)
3. John Coltrane, “Lush Life” (with Donald Byrd on trumpet, no vocals; from album of the same title)
4. Miles Davis, “In Your Own Sweet Way” (with John Coltrane on saxophone)
5. Prince, “Adore” (from Sign o’ the Times)