Man, I’ve always thought it was just me.
When it was his turn to take Eagleman’s test, Champion spent nearly twice as long at the computer as the others—his competitive spirit roused at last. He needn’t have worried. Eagleman’s results later showed a “huge statistical difference,” as he put it, between the drummers’ timing and that of the random control subjects he’d tested back in Houston. When asked to keep a steady beat, for instance, the controls wavered by an average of thirty-five milliseconds; the best drummer was off by less than ten. Eno was right: drummers do have different brains from the rest. “They kicked ass over the controls,” Eagleman said. His next task would be to use the EEG data to locate the most active areas of the drummers’ brains, then target them with bursts of magnetic stimulation to see if he could disrupt their timing. “Now that we know that there is something anatomically different about them,” he said, “we want to see if we can mess it up.” …
What would it be like to have a drummer’s timing? I wondered. Would you hear the hidden rhythms of everyday life, the syncopations of the street? When I asked the players at Eno’s studio this, they seemed to find their ability as much an annoyance as a gift. Like perfect pitch, which dooms the possessor to hear every false note and flat car horn, perfect timing may just make a drummer more sensitive to the world’s arrhythmias and repeated patterns, Eagleman said—to the flicker of computer screens and fluorescent lights. Reality, stripped of an extra beat in which the brain orchestrates its signals, isn’t necessarily a livelier place. It’s just filled with badly dubbed television shows.
Yeah, pretty much, and I’m not even what you’d call a good drummer. It’s pretty useful to have that sense of time and timing when you work in radio, though, as I’ve done on and off during my career.