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The Music of Silence. Part I: Responses to Musical Imagery Encode Melodic Expectations and Acoustics

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The Music of Silence. Part I: Responses to Musical Imagery Encode Melodic Expectations and Acoustics

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Abstract

Musical imagery is the voluntary internal hearing of music in the mind without the need for physical action or external stimulation. Numerous studies have already revealed brain areas activated during imagery. However, it remains unclear to what extent imagined music responses preserve the detailed temporal dynamics of the acoustic stimulus envelope and, crucially, whether melodic expectations play any role in modulating responses to imagined music, as they prominently do during listening. These modulations are important as they reflect aspects of the human musical experience, such as its acquisition, engagement, and enjoyment. This study explored the nature of these modulations in imagined music based on EEG recordings from 21 professional musicians (6 females and 15 males). Regression analyses were conducted to demonstrate that imagined neural signals can be predicted accurately, similarly to the listening task, and were sufficiently robust to allow for accurate identification of the imagined musical piece from the EEG. In doing so, our results indicate that imagery and listening tasks elicited an overlapping but distinctive topography of neural responses to sound acoustics, which is in line with previous fMRI literature. Melodic expectation, however, evoked very similar frontal spatial activation in both conditions, suggesting that they are supported by the same underlying mechanisms. Finally, neural responses induced by imagery exhibited a specific transformation from the listening condition, which primarily included a relative delay and a polarity inversion of the response. This transformation demonstrates the top-down predictive nature of the expectation mechanisms arising during both listening and imagery. SIGNIFICANT STATEMENT It is well known that the human brain is activated during musical imagery - the act of voluntarily hearing music in our mind without external stimulation. It is unclear, however, what the temporal dynamics of this activation are, as well as what musical features are precisely encoded in the neural signals. This study uses an experimental paradigm with high temporal precision to record and analyze the cortical activity during musical imagery. This study reveals that neural signals encode music acoustics and melodic expectations during both listening and imagery. Crucially, it is also found that a simple mapping based on a time-shift and a polarity inversion could robustly describe the relationship between listening and imagery signals.

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