Oliver Sacks has just published an article on ‘Hallucinations of musical notation’ in the neurology journal Brain that recounts eight cases of illusory sheet music escaping into the world.
The article makes the interesting point that the hallucinated musical notation is almost always nonsensical – either unreadable or not describing any listenable music – as described in this case study.
Arthur S., a surgeon and amateur pianist, was losing vision from macular degeneration. In 2007, he started ‘seeing’ musical notation for the first time. Its appearance was extremely realistic, the staves and clefs boldly printed on a white background ‘just like a sheet of real music’, and Dr. S. wondered for a moment whether some part of his brain was now generating his own original music. But when he looked more closely, he realized that the score was unreadable and unplayable. It was inordinately complicated, with four or six staves, impossibly complex chords with six or more notes on a single stem, and horizontal rows of multiple flats and sharps. It was, he said, ‘a potpourri of musical notation without any meaning’. He would see a page of this pseudo-music for a few seconds, and then it would suddenly disappear, replaced by another, equally nonsensical page. These hallucinations were sometimes intrusive and might cover a page he was trying to read or a letter he was trying to write.
Though Dr. S. has been unable to read real musical scores for some years, he wonders, as did Mrs. J., whether his lifelong immersion in music and musical scores might have determined the form of his hallucinations.
Sadly, the article is locked behind a paywall. However you can always request it via the #icanhazpdf hashtag on twitter .
Link to locked article on ‘Hallucinations of musical notation’.