Enchanted Loom, The
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Enchanted Loom, The
(Symphony No 8), 4pc, hp, strings
duration 25:00  © 2018 Faber Music
Performed by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on the ABC Classic CD The Enchanted Loom

sample performed by the Melbourne Symphony with Sir Andrew Davis
sample performed by the Melbourne Symphony with Sir Andrew Davis
sample performed by the Melbourne Symphony with Sir Andrew Davis
sample performed by the Melbourne Symphony with Sir Andrew Davis
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Also see: Orchestral  
Program Note:

  1. the loom awakens
  2. the social fabric
  3. sheer invention
  4. euphoria
  5. imagining infinity

The term Enchanted Loom was coined in the 1930’s by British neuroscientist Sir Charles Sherrington to depict the function of the human brain as it weaves together our personal impression of the outside world and constructs, from raw sensory data, our internal sense of location, identity, and "mind". This poetic reference to the Jacquard loom reflects only certain aspects of brain function, yet has resonated with generations of neurologists since then.

This symphony conjures five imagined states of brain function.

i. the loom awakens
In his book "Man on his Nature" Sherrington imagines a brain emerging from sleep. "The brain is waking and with it the mind is returning. It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly the head mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern … a shifting harmony of sub-patterns."

A few pounds of fatty tissue floating inside our skull commences its daily task of re-creating our sense of place in the universe, weaving perception into recognisable structure.

ii. the social fabric
Viewing society as a fabric woven of contrasting elements is especially apt from the perspective of an enchanted loom. Although aspects of our social role derive from external factors like genetics and historical accident, our ultimate sense of belonging is produced by our minds. Happiness is unlikely without acceptance by and usefulness within a community.

iii. sheer invention
The source of creativity is endlessly fascinating. I am drawn to Oliver Sacks’ studies in hallucination suggesting that unexpected images and unprecedented concepts are a natural byproduct of random brain cell activity, possibly even influenced by the geometry and topography of the brain. Even if brains are weaving machines they can still surprise us.

iv. euphoria
Euphoric states serve many useful biological functions. They are generated entirely within the brainpan and delivered to our sensory systems, often without prompting, as reward or enticement, or both.

v. imagining infinity
One of the most astonishing feats of our brains is the ability to conceptualise and picture as concrete entities the very boundaries of the universe. We have to accept that our personal identity is manufactured by these lumps of grey tissue floating inside our heads, but the fact that they are simultaneously able to contemplate the edges of infinity is truly awesome.

Carl Vine, June 2018

The Enchanted Loom was commissioned by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and first performed by that orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis at Hamer Hall, Melbourne, on 30 August 2018.

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