Imagining new music. Best research I’ve found (2020) has it as being in a half-awake, half-asleep, partially hallucinatory state: a semi-conscious state that rides halfway between dreaming and waking. In control and also feeling as if guided by a muse. This matches with my experience. I’m satisfied with this explanation. Finally.
A second point of comparison can also be offered which ties together many of the themes developed in this entry thus far: the comparison between the creative state and the dream state. As mentioned above, one of the most consistent statements of composers made about their creative processes is the foundational importance of a “dreamlike” generative state, in which “the best” ideas often come to them unbidden, and in the case of some composers (such as Mozart and Brahms) may even lead to the generation of an entire work, as long as this “semi-conscious,” dreamlike state of creation is not interrupted. Such descriptions of this generative compositional state more than superficially resemble the dream state: it is not simply that the feeling of this cognitive state is “semi-conscious” or “dreamlike,” but much more significantly that it is typified by the (seemingly) passive reception of mental contents—contents which some part of the composer/dreamer’s brain must of course be generating, but which seem to come from nowhere (or from a supernatural being, such as a god or devil). Dreams can on occasion be static and/or boring, but they are often interesting, even bizarre—and emotionally potent as well. When composers state that their “best ideas” come from such dreamlike states—or in Brahms’ words, “the themes that will endure in my compositions all come to me in this way” (Abell 1955, 6)—they seem to be saying not simply that ideas come easily in such states, but that the ideas generated in such states are actually better than those generated during normal waking consciousness—or what might be called “transformative” consciousness, the cognitive state characterized by the transformative phase. As stated previously, the generative phase is characterized most consistently by default-mode activity, while the transformative phase likely aligns mostly with executive network activity. It may be no coincidence, therefore, that the dream state is characterized by enhanced default-mode activity, and reduced executive-network activity. The neurochemistry of the dreaming brain is better understood than that of the creative (musical) brain, and therefore, it may also be productive to investigate whether and to what extent the neurochemical signatures of the dream state—high acetylcholine levels and low serotonin and norepinephrine levels—also typify and/or influence creative (musical) states.
However, it should be noted that to be creative is not simply to be asleep! Composers and other artists have developed elaborate rituals for maintaining partial consciousness during their dream-like, content-generative reveries, and in seemingly all cases a kind of hybrid state between being asleep and being awake is described. Semi-conscious states may be multiple and varied, as indicated, for instance, by comparing brain activity in different types of meditative state (as described in a recent review by Rozalyn Simon and Maria Engström). In some cases default activity is increased, while in others it is decreased; similar observations would likely be found for executive network activity, and possibly salience network activity as well. There may be any number of “semi-conscious” states that practitioners of improvisation, composition, mediation, lucid dreaming, dream yoga, and the like are able to access. Quite possibly these correlate in some way either with activity levels in the networks described here, in their within-network connectivity, and/or in connectivity across networks (whether facilitative or inhibitory, or a mixture of the two). Together with the cognitive modes that may be more consciously vigilant (such as the executively “controlled” transformative phase) or open to external influence (such as the evaluative mode, afforded by the salience network), this eclectic view of the large number of ways the mind appears to be used during creative musical behavior bodes well for neuroscience’s contribution to the developing understanding musical creativity in the mind and brain.
Neuroscience: Music and the Brain, David Bashwiner, and Donna Bacon (2020)