I have been reading my NetGalley books behind the scenes, filling in September, October and November’s publications, and have saved up some reviews for next week but this is a good solid non-fiction title that fits in with Nonfiction November. Yes, it’s a music/neuroscience book by a Rogers but is very different from Jude Rogers’ “The Sound of Being Human” (links to review on Shiny New Books) and the two books complement each other nicely.

Dr Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas – “This is What it Sounds Like: What the Music You Love Says About You”

(25 October 2022, NetGalley)

Music’s features do not predict love – music listening does. Two people can listen to the exact same song and report dramatically different accounts of “This is what it sound like … to me.”

Rogers is a sound engineer who worked for such luminaries as Prince: she went back into education mid-life in order to study psychology and came out with a PhD and as a professor of cognitive neuroscience. Ogi Ogas is more in the background, providing neuroscience detail and notes on research and being credited as co-author.

Rogers’ central thesis is that there are seven dimensions of music listening, and by paying attention to these we can work out why we love a particular piece of music / song / record and even learn something about ourselves in the process (I wasn’t entirely convinced by this: does my love of the timbre of an American slightly whiny man’s voice (They Might Be Giants, REM, Weezer, et al.) really say much about my own personality?). The dimensions themselves are useful pegs to hang decisions about music on: authenticity, melody, realism, rhythm, etc. and the suggestions for tracks to listen to that feature various aspects of these were useful and interesting and enlivened a few dinner times.

There’s lots of detail, especially in the later chapters, about what our brain is doing when we hear familiar music or music we score highly when we first hear it.

Woven through the book are details of Rogers’ life in music, the developments in the technology of recording and how they changed what music sounded like, her reaction to various songs, records and musicians, and even a chapter on how the facets introduced in this book relate to music production. There are also short pieces from a range of her students and associates on their favourite piece of music and why they love it, so the text stays lively and varied throughout. The notes are great and there’s also a website, a playlist and the like to allow you to explore the text and its concepts further.

A really interesting and well done book, never boring or too technical.

Thank you to Random House for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “This is What it Sounds Like” was published on 6 October 2022.

This was Book 8 for Nonfiction November.