Chapter 8: Professor Peter Vuust
Peter Vuust was a musician before he became a researcher. Now he is both, and it is still his interest in music and what it does to us that drives him.
“First and foremost, I am interested in understanding why I as a 13-year-old I listened to a Paul McCartney record and thought: ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ From a biological point of view, it is extremely strange that music is such a big part of our everyday human life but there is no trait that can point to survival reasons as to why it is like this. Darwin describes it in his book published in 1871, The Descent of Man. Here he basically writes that music exists to help humans mate. There might be something in that. I once saw a wonderful broadcast about some flies whose eyes are on long stalks. It makes their sight worse, but the purpose is to impress the females, which longer stalks do! So, it is an evolutionary trade-off: they can’t see anything, but the females can.”
Peter Vuust is driven by the question of how music affects our brain. This drive came from his career during which, at least half of the time, he has been a musician. He practices daily and works with music theory. Music theory, he says, is extremely complex and fascinating, an endless combination game that forms tones in different ways. His research combines music and music theory with measurements of activity in the brain. Then you can register whether when something specific happens in music, it also happens in the brain. He still plays 60 gigs a year, and he combines what he intuitively experiences as a musician with his research.
“I have never been able to reconcile music and research – they can never quite co-exist in a sensible way. There is a dynamic that drives me. When I play, I think that I could stop doing the research. When I research, I think that I could stop playing. It is a daily challenge for me and most likely also an important driving force.”
You can read the full portrait of Professor Peter Vuust (in Danish) by downloading the chapter below.