Saturday, February 10, 2007

Hearing Music

This post has absolutely nothing to do with Sam's House.

For some reason, when I am in Nepal I have a clarity of thought and focus of mental energy that I do not similarly enjoyh at home in the US. I read faster and with greater retention. Writing is easier and, in my personal opinion of a fact unknowable to you, I feel like a write better too. Part of this, I know, is due to being away from work, and, even though I am working here, it's not quite the same pace or as consuming. I figure there are other reasons as well such as the lack of TV watching, internet surfing and the greatly reduced level of spoken communication. For while Dinesh and Rekha speak excellent English, I utter far fewer words in the course of a day than normal.

I bring this up because I've been experiencing, more often than usual, a phenomenon that I'm sure you're familiar with and that I'm sure has a proper name in some field of study but which I can't quite understand except to relate it to mental clarity.

I have my iPod with me but I don't listen to it much. Maybe a few songs before bed. Otherwise I use it almost solely for studying Nepali, enjoying Dinesh's dulcet voice as it leads me into "conver-sa-sion practice."

What happens is I'll be walking down the street and I'll find myself humming or singing or hearing a song in my head. And it's never one of my favorite songs; usually an obscure one from a band that I like and often a song that I can't remember having listened to in a long time. For example, the other day I found myself singing "Snowman" by XTC, the last song on side one of English Settlement, a track exclusive to the US release of that album in 1982. Then later I could hear, in my head, "Evidence of Autumn" by Genesis from side four (talking LP records here) of Three Sides Live. Now I like those songs well enough but I probably wouldn't ever choose them from a list. It's like our brains have these background loops of all the music we ever heard that shuffles its way to the top of the deck when our minds find themselves uncongested by all the mundane tasks we have to address each day.

It reminds me of a related phenomenon (at least I think they're related) where you have in your music-listening history a particular album or mixed tape or mixed CD that you've listened to countless times. Then, in some other context, you hear a song from that entity, perhaps on the radio or over a store's in-house music system. Then you move on from that place and later you find yourself singing or humming another song that would've followed the song your heard earlier on that album/CD/tape.

For example (a nod to my friend Jells here), if I hear Tom Sawyer by Rush, the first song on Moving Pictures, an album I've heard at least 200 times, I can almost bet that I'll soon find myself humming (or singing or hearing) Red Barchetta, YYZ, or Limelight or any of the songs that follow to the end. It's like certain sequences of music have burrowed into our self-consciousness and are triggered into life by hearing one of the songs in that sequence. Your mind presses "play."

I know there's other ways, very common, that music conjures up memories of a person or moment or action. But I think this is something different.

So, I tried to figure out that day why I would be singing "Snowman." I thought maybe I overheard something in Nepali speech that connected sonically, linguistically to a lyric from that song. Or that maybe I heard a Hindi or Nepali song on a store's radio that resonated musically (even though, I believe, they use a different tonal scale here--12 notes per octave instead of eight. I might be wrong.).

In any case, I suspect you've all experienced this. I think they whole experience is kind of cool and it puts me back in touch with a lot of songs I'd forgotten. Like mining through my mind's attic of music. I'm sure it has a name because psychologists say that our mind remembers, on some level, everything it's ever seen or heard. It's just a matter of figuring out how to press play. If you know the name of this, I'd be obliged.

All right... enough tripe for now. Tell us about Sam's House, you moron!

1 comment:

Sheila said...

I have some favorite mixes that linger in my head when I hear certain songs that I generally don't hear on the radio, like Bizarre Love Triangle, All Together Now, or Interstate Love Song. No idea what it is called, but it is kind of fun.