Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, 2011, 1, 94-101
doi:10.4236/jbbs.2011.13013 Published Online August 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JBBS
The Lateral Occipital Complex Is Activated by Melody
with Accompaniment: Foreground and Background
Segregation in Auditory Processing
Masayuki Satoh1, Katsuhiko Takeda2, Ken Nagata3, Hidekazu Tomimoto4
1Department of Dementia Prevention and Therapeutics, Graduate School of Me di ci ne, Mie University, Tsu, Japan
2Department of Neurology, Mita Hospital, International Medicine and Welfare University, Tokyo, Japan
3Department of Neurology, Research Institute for Brain and Blood Vessels, Akita, Japan
4Department of Neurology, Grad u at e Sch ool of Me di ci ne , Mie University, Tsu, Japan
Received February 21, 20 1 1; revised April 13, 2011; accepted May 15, 2011
Objective: Most of the western music consists of a melody and an accompaniment. The melody is referred
to as the foreground, with the accompaniment the background. In visual processing, the lateral occipital com-
plex (LOC) is known to participate in foreground and background segregation. We investigated the role of
LOC in music processing with use of positron emission tomography (PET). Method: Musically naïve sub-
jects listened to unfamiliar novel melodies with (accompaniment condition) and without the accompaniment
(melodic condition). Using a PET subtraction technique, we studied changes in regional cerebral blood flow
(rCBF) during the accompaniment condition compared to the melodic condition. Results: The accompany-
ment condition was associated with bilateral increase of rCBF at the lateral and medial surfaces of both oc-
cipital lobes, medial parts of fusiform gyri, cingulate gyri, precentral gyri, insular cortices, and cerebellum.
During the melodic condition, the activation at the anterior and posterior portions of the temporal lobes, me-
dial surface of the frontal lobes, inferior frontal gyri, orbitofrontal cortices, inferior parietal lobules, and
cerebellum was observed. Conclusions: The LOC participates in recognition of melody with accompaniment,
a phenomenon that can be regarded as foreground and background segregation in auditory processing. The
fusiform cortex which was known to participate in the color recognition might be activated by the recogni-
tion of flourish sounds by the accompaniment, compared to melodic condition. It is supposed that the LOC
and fusiform cortex play similar functions beyond the difference of sensory modalities.
Keywords: Music, Positron Emission Tomography (PET), Melody, Accompaniment, Foreground and
Background Segregation, Lateral Occipital Complex (LOC)
1. Introduction
The human visual cortex contains many areas whose
functional characteristics, connectivity, and anatomy have
been extensively documented [1]. Several studies have
revealed the brain regions in association with recognition
of the segregation between foreground and background
[1,2]. Malach et al. reported a cortical region that re-
sponded more strongly when subjects passively viewed
photographs of objects than when they viewed visual
textures [3]. This region, which is located on the lateral
bank of the fusiform gyrus extending ventrally and dor-
sally, is named the lateral occipital complex (LOC) [2].
The LOC is thought to participate in the recognition of
subjective contours involved in visual segregation be-
tween foreground and background, that is the figure as
the foreground and the texture as the background [1].
Hasson et al. used a modified Rubin face-vase illusion
(in which subjects perceived either a face or a vase) and
reported that activation of the LOC correlated with times
during which subjects reported they saw a face [4]. A
study revealed that the LOC and cortex in its vicinity
were activated more strongly when subjects touched ob-
jects than when they touched textures [5]. Thus, the LOC
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JBBS
might constitute a neural substrate for convergence of
multi-m odal object representat i on [2] .
Most songs in modern western music consist of a
melody and accompaniment. Even if the melody and ac-
companiment are played by the same instrument (namely,
sounds in the same timber) and even if they have a simple
and almost equal rhythm (such as a chorale with the
melody in the top part, supporting lines in the others, and
a regular harmonic tread) [6], we can identify the melody
from the accompaniment easily and effortlessly. The cog-
nitive processing of that auditory identification is re-
ferred to as foreground-background processing [7]. The
melody is referred to as the foreground, with the accom-
paniment the background. When we listen to music con-
sists of a melody and an accompaniment, the segregation
between them is automatically performed. If the LOC
participates in foreground and background segregation
not only in visual and somatosensory but also in auditory
processing, it is likely that the LOC is activated when
subjects listen to music consisting of a melody and ac-
companiment. In order to examine this hypothesis, we
carried out a positron emission tomography (PET) acti-
vation study involving music perception. Musically naïve
subjects listened to unfamiliar melodies with and without
an accompaniment, and, using PET subtraction technique,
the brain regions that were significantly activated by the
accompaniment were identified.
2. Subjects and Methods
2.1. Subjects
Nine right-handed male volunteers (mean age 21.2 years;
range 20 - 26), participated in the study. All were stu-
dents at the Schools of Engineering or Mining, Akita
University, and met criteria for Grison’s second level of
musical culture [8]. None had received any formal or
private musical education, and none had any signs or
history of neurological, cardiovascular or psychiatric
disease. All subjects gave written informed consent after
the purpose and procedure of the examination had been
fully explained. The study was approved by the Ethics
Committee of the Research Institute fo r Brain and Blood
Vessels, Akita, Japan, and all experiments were con-
ducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki.
2.2. Task Procedures
The stimuli in this experiment were three new melodies
that had been composed by one of the authors. All pieces
were twenty-four bars in length and consisted of six
phrases, or subdivisions, of a melodic line. All musical
stimuli were played using a YAMAHA PSR-330 synthe-
sizer set to piano-tone and recorded on a mini-disc. For
each melody, following two tasks were performed: A)
Melodic condition: as musical stimuli, melodies without
the accompaniments were used. B) Accompaniment con-
dition: For each melody, chords consisting of two tones
and kept in harmony with the original melody were
added. Two conditions were randomly represented. Sub-
jects were instructed to listen to each melody, and PET
measurements were obtained during this period (closely
shown in the below). As behavior measures of perform-
ance, subjects were required to make a sign with the in-
dex finger of the right hand if they regarded some length
of the tonal sequen ce as one phrase, that is a subdivision
of a melodic line. All stimuli were presented randomly
and binaurally via inset stereo-earphones.
The instruction for both conditions was as follows:
Close your eyes. You will listen to a melody. If you re-
gard some length of tonal sequence as one phrase, please
make a sign with the index finger of your right hand.
2.3. Positron Emission Tomography
The protocol used in this study has been previously de-
scribed in detail [9-11]. Briefly, PET data were acquired
in 3-D acquisition mode using Headtome V (Shimazu,
Kyoto, Japan). Scans were performed in a darkened room
with subjects lying supine with eyes closed. Six CBF
measurements were determined for each subject, three
during the melodic condition and three during the ac-
companiment condition. Employing 15O labeled water
) intravenous bolus technique [12], emission data
were collected for 90 seconds in each measurement fol-
lowing intravenous bolus injection of about 15 mL (40
mCi) 15
. Each piece of music was started 15 seconds
prior to data acquisition, repeated two times, and contin-
ued for about 120 seconds. Emission data were corrected
for attenuation by acquiring 10 minutes of transmission
data utilizing a 68Ge orbiting rod source performed prior
to the activation scans. A wash-out period of approxi-
mately 10 minutes was allowed between successive scans.
For anatomic reference, all subjects underwent axial T1-
weighted imaging (T1WI) and T2-weighted imaging
(T2WI) using a 1.5T magnetic resonance system (Vision,
Siemens, Germany). T1WI (TR/TE = 665/14 ms) and
T2WI (TR/TE = 3600/96 ms) were obtained using a slice
thickness of 5 mm with an interslice gap of 1 mm.
2.4. Data Analysis
PET data analysis was performed on a SGI Indy running
IRIX 6.5 (Silicon Graphics, California), using an auto-
mated PET activation analysis package [13] composed of
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JBBS
six main processing stages that has been previously de-
scribed in detail [9-11]. The six main stages consisted of
intra-subject co-registration; intra-subject normalization;
automatic detection of th e AC-PC line; detection of mul-
tiple stretching points and surface landmarks on intra-
subject averaged image sets; inter-subject summation
and statistical analyses; and sup erimposition of statistical
results onto the stereotactic MRI. Deformation of indi-
vidual brains to correspond with the standard atlas brain
was achieved by spatially matching individual landmarks
to the corresponding predefined standard surface land-
marks and minimizing correlation coefficients of re-
gional profile curves between the stretching centers. Ac-
tivation foci were cons idered to be significan tly activated
if the corresponding P-value was less than a pre-deter-
mined threshold (P < 0.01, Bonferroni correction for
multiple comparisons, 117,882 pixels). Anatomical iden-
tification of activation foci was achiev ed by referring the
stereotactic coordinates of the peak activated pixels to
the standard Talairach brain atlas [14].
3. Results
For behavioral measures of performance for the melody
and accompaniment conditions, the mean correct re-
sponse was almost 93% ± 6.3 (mean ± standard deviation)
for both conditions. We conclude that subjects performed
experimental tasks reasonably well. The results of sub-
tractions in terms of significant regions activated during
each condition are given in Tables 1 and 2 and Figures 1
and 2. The regions activated during the accompaniment
condition, but not during the melod ic condition are listed
in Table 1 together with stereotactic coordinates based
on the brain atlas of Talairach an d Tournoux [14]. These
results show areas of relative blood flow changes that
emphasize differences between the two conditions and
minimize areas that are common to both conditions. Sig-
nificant increases of relative cortical blood flow were
found in the lateral and medial surfaces of both occipital
lobes, medial parts of fusiform gyri, cingulate gyri, pre-
central gyri, insular cortices, and cerebellum (Figure 1).
Table 1. Regions showing significant changes in rCBF during the accompaniment condition.
Talairach coordinate
Anatomical structures Brodmann area x y z z-score
Lateral surface of occipital lobe 18/19
L –26 –78 20 2.74
R 37 –71 –7 5.76
Fusiform gyrus 19/37
L –35 –60 –7 3.65
R 39 –42 –16 3.54
Medial surface of occipital lobe
L 17 –19 –87 2 4.79
R 18 17 –78 27 3.92
Cingulate gyrus 24/32
L –12 –13 38 2.75
R 8 –15 40 2.45
Precentral gyrus 6
L –53 –4 27 3.8
R 17 –31 61 2.98
Inslar cortex 41
L –33 –19 14 3.1
R 37 –22 20 4.1
L –24 –58 –45 3.37
R 15 –64 –7 3.55
Coordinates x, y, z are in millimetres corresponding to the atlas of Talairach and Tournoux. The x-coordinate refers to medial-lateral position relative to midline
(negative = left); y-coordinate anterior-posterior position relative to the anterior commissure (positive = anterior); z-coordinate superior-inferior position rela-
tive to the anterior commissure-posterior commissure line (positive = superior). Z refers to the z-score of the maximum pixel in the region. L and R refer to the
left and right hemisphere, respectively.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JBBS
Table 2. Regions showing significant changes in rCBF during the melodic condition.
Talairach coordinate
Anatomical structures Brodmann area x y z Z
Anterior portion of temporal lobe
L 38 –26 14 –29 3.71
R 21 48 –6 –9 3.17
38 26 8 –38 4.28
Posterior portion of temporal lobe 21
L –55 v31 –4 2.88
R 57 –40 –2 4.39
Medial surface of frontal lobe 8/9
L –1 17 61 4.64
–10 48 47 2.99
R 8 44 50 4.19
28 46 32 3.23
Inferior forntal gyrus 45
R 48 19 11 3.58
Orbitofrontal cortex 11/47
L –12 41 –22 3.39
R 28 21 –7 3.31
Inferior parietal lobule
L 40 –51 –46 45 2.43
R 40 55 –37 27 3.55
39 51 –58 36 2.95
L –8 –73 –43 5.03
R 10 –82 –32 3.36
Details as for Table 1.
The melodic condition produced significantly greater ac-
tivation bilaterally than the accompaniment task in the
anterior and posterior portions of the temporal lob es, me-
dial surface of the frontal lobes, inferior frontal gyri, or-
bitofrontal cortices, inferior parietal lobules, and cere-
bellum (Figure 2, Table 2).
4. Discussion
4.1. Lateral Occipital Complex (LOC)
Participation in the Segregation between
Melody and Accompaniment
For the current study, we suppose that the LOC has a
relationship with the segregation between foreground
and background not only in visual and somatosensory,
but also in auditory processing. In our experiment, the
lateral surface of the occipital lobe which contained the
regions of the LOC and its vicinity was activated during
listening to the melody with accompaniment, but not to
the melody without accompaniment. In reported litera-
tures, the activation of this region was also observed in
listening to a popular song with an accompaniment of
Schmithorst’s experiment [15]. Using functional mag-
netic resonance imaging (MRI), Schmithorst investigated
the activated brain regions when subjects listened to po-
pular melodies with or without harmonized accompa-
niment [15]. Compared with the latter condition, the
former (namely, melody with accompaniment) bilaterally
activated the inferior occipital and fusiform gyri, which
seemed to contain the regions of the LOC and its vicinity.
These regions were similar to the brain regions activated
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JBBS
Figure 1. Activation maps for the subtraction of the ac-
companiment versus the melodic condition. Areas of sig-
nificant activation (p < 0.001) are superimposed onto the
surface maps of the averaged MR imaging of the brains of
nine subjects. The lateral and medial surface of both oc-
cipital lobes, medial parts of fusiform gyri, cingulate gyri,
precentral gyri, insular cortices, and cerebellum were re-
markably activated. Lateral surface of left hemisphere (ll);
medial surface of left hemisphere (lm); lateral surface of
right hemisphere (rl); medial surface of right hemisphere
(rm); upper surface (up). The left side of the bottom-image
shows the left side of the brain.
during our accompaniment task. They did not denote the
accurate function of these brain regions, and not mention
cognitive processing of the segregation between melody
and accompaniment. Using 15O-water PET, Brown et al.
[16] studied the song system of human brain: singing
repetitions of novel melodies and singing harmonizations
with novel melodies. Comparing the rest condition, the
latter task showed the bilateral activation of frontal op-
erculums, anterior portion of temporal lobes, superior
temporal gyri, and right ventral occipito-temporal cortex
which belonged to the LOC. The authors presented the
activation of ventral occipito-temporal cortex only on
their figure, and they did not mention it on the table and
in discussion. From the results of Schmithorst’s [15],
Brown’s [16], and the present study, we may say that the
LOC might participate in recognition of melody as the
foreground and the accompaniment as the background.
To the best of our knowledge, there was no case report
which described the impairment of the segregation be-
tween melody and accompaniment due to the lesion of
Figure 2. Activation maps for the subtraction of the melodic
versus accompaniment condition. Areas of significant acti-
vation (p < 0.001) are superimposed onto the surface maps
of the averaged MR imaging of the brains of nine subjects.
Anterior and posterior portions of the temporal lobes, me-
dial surface of the frontal lobes, inferior frontal gyri, orbi-
tofrontal cortices, inferior parietal lobules, and cerebellum
were bilaterally activated. Details as for Figure 1.
the LOC. Such case studies will ascertain the multi-mo-
dal function of the LOC of foreground and background
Someone may ask, “Is it possible that the LOC par-
ticipates in perception of harmony?” The brain regions
which participate in the perceptio n of harmony remained
unclear, but, based on the results of a previous PET acti-
vation study [10], we can reply in the negative. That
study evaluated which brain regions were activated when
subjects listened to the soprano part or harmony of new
identical musical pieces [10]. When listening to the so-
prano part was compared with listening to the harmony,
there was significantly greater activation bilaterally in
the lateral occipital lobes, which con tain the LOC. While
listening to the harmony, the anterior portions of both
temporal lobes were activated, but not the LOC. So, we
may say that during listening to the soprano part the
LOC played a role in recognition of melody as the fore-
ground and accompaniment of the harmony as the back-
ground, results that are consistent with those of the pre-
sent study. As closely discussed below, the comparison
between the accompaniment and a passive resting condi-
tion might be needed to settle this problem.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JBBS
The fusiform cortex is known to participate in color
recognition from case [17] and PET activation studies
[18]. The sound of the melody and accompaniment is
richer, in other words flourisher, than that of the melody
without accompaniment. The fusiform cortex might be
activated by recognition of rich sounds that were repre-
sented by the accompaniment condition of our present
and Schmithorst’s [15] study. We may say that, in the
human brain, some neural substrates of association cor-
tices, for example the LOC and the fusiform cortex, car-
ried out the similar functions beyond the difference of
sensory modalities.
The neurofunctional significance of the insular cortex
remains unsettled. The insular cortex has connection
with auditory and visual association and somatosensory
cortices. The insular cortex may have an important role
in multimodal convergence of sensory input [19] and the
conscious awareness of feeling emotions [20,21]. In this
experiment, this region might participate in the reference
of auditory information to the v isual co gn itiv e system via
the connection to the auditory and visual association cor-
tices, and in the emotion which was induced by the
flourish sound by the harmony of the accompaniment.
Activation of cingulate gyri and cerebellum has been
observed in PET activation studies regarding music
processing in the brain [9,10,22,23]. To date, anatomical,
physiological, and functional neuroimaging studies have
suggested that the cerebellum participates in the organi-
zation of higher cogn itive functions [24] including music
processing [25]. These brain regions might be activated
in relation to mental processes to anticipate a new learned
task and involve in trying to identify musical stimuli.
4.2. Activated Brain Regions during the Melodic
Since the accompaniment condition also contained mel-
ody, the significance of the activated regions in the me-
lodic condition can not be explained by the presence or
absence of melody perception during performances. In
the accompaniment condition, the subjects might per-
form some different kinds of cognitive processing com-
pared to the melodic condition: listened to sound of mu-
sic as a whole and segregated the melody and its accom-
paniment from that sound. So, it is possible that the de-
gree of melody perception can be different between two
conditions. Under such a limitation, we tried to discuss
below the function of brain regions which activated dur-
ing the melodic condition.
We hypothesized that during the melodic condition,
the temporal and frontal lobes would participate in per-
ception of melody and auditory imagery. A previous re-
port has pointed out that the anterior portions of the
temporal lobes are activated when subjects listen to fa-
miliar melodies [11]. In another study of patients who
underwent temporal lobectomy for treatment of epilepsy,
patients with right or left lobectomy had a deficit in rec-
ognition of familiar or unfamiliar melodies [26-28]. In
our present experiment, too, the anterior portions of the
temporal lobes might have been activated by melody per-
We may say that the frontal and posterior portions of
the temporal lobes have a relationship with auditory im-
agery processing. Using PET, Halpern and Zatorre re-
ported that the frontal and posterior superior temporal
regions and medial frontal cortices were activated by au-
ditory imagery for familiar tunes [29]. Several neuro-
imaging studies that used functional MRI and MEG have
supported this opinion [30,31]. Thus, activation of poste-
rior portions of temporal lobes and frontal regions in our
melodic condition might have been caused by the gen-
eration of melodic imagery.
The inferior parietal lobules with frontal regions might
be activated by attention [32 -34]. As for activation of th e
cerebellum, its exact function remains unclear. However,
the pattern of activation was different between the me-
lodic and accompani ment conditions. Ou r results suggest
the anatomical localization of higher cognitive functions
within the cerebellum.
4.3. The Limitations
This study has some limitations. F irst, the comp arison of
rCBF between two conditions and the resting state was
not carried out, so it could not be concluded whether the
results of the study were due to the decrease or the in-
crease of rCBF in LOC during the melodic or accompa-
niment condition, respectively. It is well known that, in
functional neuroimaging data, we often observe activity
decreases when the task condition was compared with
passive resting state. The presence of such decreases im-
plied the existence of a default mode of the brain which
might participate in the maintenance of information for
interpreting, responding to and predicting environmental
demands [35]. But, some researchers suggested that
resting scans were likely to be confounded by group dif-
ferences in vascular factors or rCBF coupling, and the
poorly defined cognitive nature of “rest” offered little
that enabled us to distinguish specific psychological and
physiological processing [36]. We did not know the lit-
erature which reported the decrease of rCBF at the brain
regions shown in the present study during performing
musical tasks. Much still remains to be done about the
interpretation of meaning of resting state in activation
Second, the subjects were young and male, so it is an
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JBBS
unsettled question whether the results would be consis-
tent across different age and gender groups.
And third, the activated brain region during the melodic
condition could not be completely determined, since the
accompaniment condition also contained the melody.
The difference of the activation might be caused by the
difference degree of the cognitive processing of melody
perception between two conditions.
5. Conclusions
The LOC was activated when subjects listened to melody
with accompaniment. It has been postulated that the LOC
participates in the segregation between foreground and
background in visual, somatosensory, and auditory proc-
essing. The fusiform cortex might be activated by recog-
nition of flourish sound in a manner that is similar with
visual processing. During the melodic condition, tempo-
ral and frontal lobes were mainly activated. Those re-
gions have a relationship with the perception of melody
and auditory imagery processing. Additional experiments,
especially with passive resting condition, will be neces-
sary to completely determine the significance of the ac-
tivated brain regions in the present study, and how the
same neural substrates carry out the similar functions
beyond the difference of sensory modalities.
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