BRAMS celebrates 10 years of making brains sing

Isabelle Peretz

Isabelle Peretz

Credit: Christian Fleury

In 5 seconds

The International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS) opened its doors a decade ago. Co-founder Isabelle Peretz tells us about its future.

“Music keeps babies calm longer,” Quebec's TVA network announced on its website in October, publicizing a study by Isabelle Peretz and her team at Montreal's International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (better known by its acronym, BRAMS). The report was one of dozens around the globe on the topic.

“This research is an empirical demonstration of what we already knew, which is that when addressing infants, singing is better than talking,” said Peretz, a psychology professor who specializes in music perception and who did her new study with her students Mariève Corbeil and Sandra Trehub.

The lab produces a dozen studies a year, and the latest is one of several that have have caught the attention of the media, with coverage as far afield as Europe and Asia. But it's only a small part of the BRAMS, which celebrated its first decade of existence in October, does.

First and foremost, the lab is an interdisciplinary research centre dedicated to the production of knowledge, with an educational vocation. It is unique in that it has been administered by two institutions: Université de Montréal and McGill University.

“When I founded BRAMS in 2005 with Robert Zatorre of McGill, we came to the conclusion that it was better to keep both identities — we never regretted that decision,” said Peretz, whose contributions to science were recently recognized with an award of excellence from the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies.

A symposium for researchers

A symposium held for BRAMS' 10th anniversary on Oct. 22 and 23 was extraordinary on many levels, said Peretz. With 500 participants, attendance was much higher than expected. Her favourite presentation was a conference given by Princeton University psychologist Uri Hasson on neural mechanisms used during conversation.

The event was not intended as a retrospective — "we talked about the future,” said Peretz. "Although BRAMS has gained international recognition over the past decade, the great mysteries of the musical brain are still a long way from being solved. We were not going to waste the opportunity of this exceptional gathering to simply congratulate ourselves on the fact we exist."

What lies ahead for BRAMS? For now, the focus is on four areas of research: the effects of age on musical perception, neurogenetics, social neuroscience and education. The lab now has more than 35 members and about 100 students and post-doc researchers working on projects — a concentration of experts in the neuroscience of music and auditory cognition that is unique in North America.

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