Music and Memory

There are many things about my 10th grade US history class that I wish to forget, and many of those memories I have indeed forgotten.  But there is one memory that I feel as if I will vividly remember for the rest of my life even though there really is no significance behind it.  I can’t even remember the name of my teacher, but I can visualize an entire seen of the classroom associated with a memory involving music.  I can remember showing my friend, Sonny, a song that my other friend and I had discovered the night before called “Mexico”. We sat in the back of the classroom right before the bell rang for class.  I can remember looking up the song, handing her the phone and trying to read her face to see if she approved.  I remember everything about that one moment, while everything surrounding that moment was fleeting.  And while I know that this is a pretty insignificant memory and that Sonny probably doesn’t even remember it, if I were to hear that song right now l would be reminded of that moment over three years ago.

Many more memories surrounded by music, just like this one, are vivid in my mind.  Seemingly unimportant moments of my life that I have not forgotten are ever present in my memory due to music.  Another odd one has to do with the song “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani.  As weird as it sounds, I can associate that song (Hell of a song by the way) with a specific image and moment.  I remember listening to that song when I was about 13 years old while driving past a group of apartments that were outside the righthand window of the car that I was riding in.  I remember the instant I looked out the widow and that is it.  I cannot remember who was in the car with me, what we were talking about, or where we were coming from/ going to.  These apartment complexes are near my house and every time I drive past them, I think of the song “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani.

Why does music, a form of sound that is not an inherit part of any listener’s past, offer such a connection between the two seemingly separate actions of audition and memory?  Music is such an organized form of sound, that it is easy to recognize the as a melodic repetion of a previous auditory experience.  Listening to a song can be a reminder that you’ve heard it before due to its form and recognizability but it does not offer insight into why we associate certain instances with these songs or why some memories remain vivid while others fade away.  There is something about music that seems to linger.  And while there are memories that I remember that don’t involve music, there are many more that do involve music that I know I should have forgotten, but just haven’t.

Draft Assignment #1- Changing Attitudes Towards Music

The first time I heard Uptown Funk was in the car on my way to my house. I think I was heading back for Christmas break or something. The 80s-inspired beat came blasting through my radio and I immediately changed the station. “Oh, how downhill music has gone. Artists are now drawing from the 80s because they have no more creative thoughts left”. I was pretty cynical about that song the first time I heard it and I’m not sure why. I’ve found that the more I hear a song in a positive atmosphere, the more I relate the two together and the more I actually enjoy hearing that sound. Uptown Funk has since become an increasingly popular song that is played at almost every party, as I’m sure anyone who goes out on the weekends knows.  Listening to it while I was surrounded by my friends and having a good time changed my perspective and made me view the weird 80s-like sounds in a different way. I don’t get annoyed when the song comes on anymore, I get excited because I know the upbeat tune that’s coming and the words so that I can sing along.

The weird phenomenon of changing tastes in music doesn’t just come into action with singular songs, it also pertains to entire genres of music. I used to absolutely despise country music, which was weird since I grew up in the south. I couldn’t really put a finger on what it was about it that I didn’t like. Maybe it was the fact that I was forced to listen to it any time I was in the car with my sister, including a grueling 10 hour ride to Orlando, or maybe it was because I had this weird thing about rebelling against what everyone else seemed to like at the time. Regardless, country music was just not my thing. It took me finding the unique, soulful sound on my own to realize how much I actually like it. The first song that brought me around to country music was the modern version of Wagon Wheel by Darius Rucker. His smooth voice singing “rock me mama” through the chorus can calm me down in any situation. Country music is now the thing I turn to first when I need to just relax and not think about things for a while. I’ve reinforced the connection between the slow, meaningful country music and the wonderful relaxation to the point where hearing country music makes me a calmer person.

It’s interesting how people associate sounds with experiences and how relating certain music to a positive memory can alter the way you hear it. The things I go through in life will continue to shape my perception of the sounds I hear and my taste in music. It’s curious thinking about what kind of music I’m going to be listening to in a few years, whether my tastes will have varied drastically or I’ll still be shifting between the alternative music or soulful country songs that I typically turn to.

Draft #1: Memory of a Sound

For some reason, pretension probably, I was very hesitant and late to the game when it came to Vampire Weekend, I really only became a fan of them in late 2012/early 2013. It seemed like were just icons of some sort of entry-level alternative teenage girl culture (which isn’t wrong by any means, take a look at the crowd in every Vampire Weekend show and it’s pretty evident) that I had no interest in concerning myself with. At the persistence of my friends whose artistic opinions I trust highly, I listened to Vampire Weekend’s self-titled album, which caused me to listen to it at least once a day for the next three months or so. This album became anthemic to me, particularly the closing track, “Walcott”, a song primarily devoted to leaving, a perfect audial representation of the end of something: the album, a place, a period of your life; this song alone has become integral in my life in transition this past year.

To give a little context, Walcott, was the character that vocalist Ezra Koenig performed in his high school amateur short film aptly titled, “Vampire Weekend”. In which a high schoool student, Walcott, must escape the rapidly increasing vampire population of Cape Cod. Escaping something that you must get away from, something possibly toxic to your well-being, leaving your hometown, Walcott and his escape from the vampire infested movie, becomes iconic even more than Ezra’s humorous personality, but the essence of what Vampire Weekend’s first album, and namely, “Walcott” comes to represent.

I skipped my second-to-last day of high school to drive 4 hours to Miami to see Vampire Weekend with a few friends, only to drive back the next day to go to school one last time, and then head to Tampa to a music festival, where, who else, but Vampire Weekend were playing. These three-days were probably 3 of my more formative experiences with this song, permanently engraining the concepts in my mind. A well-known trope of every Vampire Weekend show is to end it with “Walcott”, as both a signal to the audience to leave and a coping mechanism for them as well. Ezra hit me with a proverbial sack of bricks, as the incredibly surprising mosh pit broke out to this song, signalling a catharsis of emotional and physical proportions, I confronted the thought of high school ending, in a way I had never before, and I couldn’t have been happier. Don’t get me wrong, I loved high school, but there is nothing more relieving than knowing that you are finally out of that same circle of people, forced to interact and deal with the internal politics of social life in high school on the daily.

The second I got into the car after attending a graduation, I didn’t want to go to, it was an immediate, almost idiosyncratic response to hit play on “Walcott”, on my iPod. Driving away from a period of your life that you’re more than content with leaving behind, is a sensation that I’m wondering if I’ll experience again. While this was an ultimately joyous, occasion listening to the song, leaving, isn’t always the best or most clear cut feeling.

August 21st, I woke up at the ungodly hour of 5 AM, just to witness the sunrise over the ocean where I’ve spent more or less my entire life in, before leaving to the landlocked town of Davidson. A few hours later, I was alone entering I-95 blasting the euphonic movements of the string section and Rotsam’s piano in “Walcott” in a car on the verge of breaking down every moment of the ride, filled with everything I deemed worthy enough to bring with me, feeling more confused than ever over how I felt about actually leaving.

It’s pretty incredible the ways in which anthems used for specific actions can elicit a spectrum of feelings, such as the ways I’ve come to interact with “Walcott”. It seems only suiting that as I’ve typed this I’ve been chugging along down Vampire Weekend’s first album, reaching the song of topic, only just a moment ago as I attempt to end this in some smooth way. But this is all I’ve got:

P.S. This was tweeted the day of my graduation and is in no way a shameless plug for twitter followers. Screen shot 2015-02-15 at 4.56.51 PM

The “Sweet Caroline” Effect

When I think of summer, I think of “Sweet Caroline.” Throughout my childhood my family and friends escaped each May to a nearby lake, where shoes were flung off, Coppertone was lathered on, and Neil Diamond was placed on repeat. Lazy boating days and lasting summer nights were markers of this season of my childhood, embodying the escapism it represented on a yearly basis. Music was a critical element throughout these summers, a uniting force which provided a common thread through many years by mirroring human movement and emotion.

The “Sweet Caroline Effect,” as I have dubbed it, came into existence the summer that my parents had a momentary lapse in judgment and purchased our family a karaoke machine. This machine unlocked a world of retro songs that we pre-teens had no idea even existed. After each long afternoon of boating, the parents fired up the grill while the kids fired up the karaoke machine. Soon, our repertoires were filled with Billy Joel, Duran Duran, Elton John, Bon Jovi, and Tears for Fears. But our favorite song was always when Neil Diamond launched into the intro of “Sweet Caroline.” Lyrics were memorized, dances were choreographed, and karaoke machine purchases were regretted.

The parents eventually learned to appreciate the art of karaoke, and as the season continued, they began to enjoy “Sweet Caroline” as much as we did. Late summer nights became marked by our parents singing the songs they grew up to, which turned out to be the songs we were growing up to as well.

As my friends and I trudged through secondary education, “Sweet Caroline” welcomed us back each summer to simpler times. Now, Neil Diamond hums in the background as we sit in Adirondack chairs by our campfire pit near the lakeshore. Fireflies twinkle, stories are shared, and a concerning amount of s’mores are consumed. Schools and jobs have changed, but the people and music have always been constant. And every time I hear Neil Diamond start to sing, “Where it began,” it is like these memories and relationships are reinforced and strengthened.

In this way, music can be a powerful tool that unites both people and time. Something about the unique qualities of music allows it to harbor memories and emotions not written into the sheet music. This is a phenomenon that I have experienced with various other songs, and one which I’m sure others have experienced as well. Not only can a song transport you to a different time, but it can also resynthesize lost emotions.

This idea of music soliciting emotion prompted me to research this idea more online. I was able to find the following video to aid in the development of my ideas on this topic. This video (link below) suggests that we “might read emotion in music the same way we read emotion in human movement.” This means that, much like the information garnered about emotion from body language, people subconsciously gather intel about the emotional make-up of music.

Therefore, this quality of musical emotion mirroring that of human movement allows certain songs to harbor emotions and re-elicit them at a later time. In these ways, music not only provides a common link to connect people and time, but also stores emotions to facilitate these links. This speaks to the universality of music, and the power it holds to generate connections and sentiments.


Draft Assignment #1- Associating music with memory

There are very few songs that pull back memories for me so clearly as “Amsterdam” by Coldplay. The deep resonance that my earliest memory of this song left me is the reason why I’ve cherished it for almost a decade. I keep songs like “Amsterdam” very close to my heart, rarely sharing them with others and only playing them when I can take the time to be still and lose myself a little bit. “Amsterdam” takes me back to when I was 11 on a trip to Austin, TX. We had left Houston pretty late into a warm summer evening, so an hour or two into the drive it was already dark outside. I sat curled up in my seat, staring out the window, plugged into my bulky iPod classic. At this point in time, I basically only listened to whatever albums by dad had haphazardly downloaded into my library, ranging from Italian opera to The Cars. As we drove through sleepy Texas towns, I reached Coldplay’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head” (2002). The entire album played out, and I listened, completely enchanted, focusing on deciphering the lyrics. This was probably the first time I had ever taken an active interest in music, and I can still remember how exhilarating the experience was. Finally, I reached the last song on the album, “Amsterdam”. I shut my eyes and sat in the darkness, lulled by the noise. The song opens with a muffled screech, like the engine of an airplane before it takes off. Then a piano begins to play, full of depth, as if the player was inside a huge, cavernous hall. Chris Martin’s voice enters next; his soft intimate croon comes on along the piano. “Come on, oh my star is fading, I swerved out of control, if I’d, if I’d only waited, I’d not be stuck here in this hole.” Back-up vocals then come in behind Martin, and then an instrumental break: the echoing piano comes back, sounding almost like an organ. In my head, I sat alone in a huge European cathedral, the entire space filled with sound. When the vocals came back in, I ran out the back of the church and down a cobblestone street until I reached a river. I sat down on the bank, dangling my bare feet off the edge. It was night, and the streetlamps shone a dim light over my surroundings. The piano kept playing, but it was fainter than it had been before, and everything else was silent. My brother jolted me awake by pushing me out of the car, almost dropping my iPod in the process. Later that night, unable to sleep, I grabbed my iPod, headphones, and sneakers and, as silently as possible, snuck out the back door and ran down to the lake. I played “Amsterdam” on repeat, sticking my feet in the water and trying to put myself back into the beautiful city that I knew almost nothing about and had never visited. I leaned back, feeling the wet grass beneath my shirt, and looked up at the stars, a rare sight in Houston, and imagining a star speckled night sky in Amsterdam. The last few lines of the song came on, “Stood on the edge, tied to the noose, but you came along and you cut me loose.” After that night, my perspective on music changed entirely. I had no idea that such a connection could be formed with music, and even now, when I’m driving around at night I’ll put on “Amsterdam” and feel that same childlike excitement for something so incredibly familiar.

Should We Change the Soundscape of Mass Transit?

While still better than the DMV, I think we can all agree, whether from hearsay or experience, that the subway system of New York City is one of the most recognizably unpleasant aspects of urban life. The grating of the turnstiles, the incommunicable voice overs of the conductor, shouts, stampedes, the soundscape is riddled with cacophonous ringings as if it were a symphony intended to provide discomfort. As New Yorkers, or any subway traveler in any city really, continue with the drudgery of urban travel, we as bystanders or commuters must wonder the commutative abilities of changing the soundscape. James Murphy (vocalist and producer of LCD Soundsystem) has had this idea rattling around in his head for years and recently has simulated the sounds which he plans to create, with an online petition in support of it. Murphy claims that the soundscapes infrastructure is already built and able to be changed a bit so “why don’t we just make it a nice sound?” Imagine melodious comings and goings through the subway throughout the day, rather than the rickety grinding of old gears in the turnstile. While the alternative internet community appears to be in full support of the change, the subway system is being much more resistant, mirroring the brutality in the soundscape by saying that the “don’t really care”. In his defense, they shouldn’t. His resistance may not be a stoic skepticism of working art into the urban setting, but non-diegetic sounds that are more than the accustomed nature of things. James Murphy’s utopian perspective of creating a harmonious soundscape to hopefully promote a better outlook on the rigidity of the urban system, may be a little too idealistic. As mentioned in class Brian Eno’s “Ambient 1: Music for Airports”, while being inspired by and intended to create a more realistic soundscape to airports appeared to be too disorienting for the public, the reality it created was too unsettling. I fear this may be the case for Murphy’s subway renovations as well, Murphy’s support comes mainly from the creative youth population on the internet and assumedly that would be his support within the city as well, who would not be the main consumers of this noise as it would be the working class American population, long accustomed and expectant of the grinds and cacophony engrained in the subway structure. We never seem to predict how people will respond to diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, as in early film it was assumed that music without seeing a band in the setting of the narrative would be much to unsettling, to the point where in one film a man actually walks by in a secluded scene in the woods, playing a violin, which proved to me much more illogical than otherwise. While I applaud Murphy and support most of his sound endeavors (including his latest to use the data from World Series to create sounds), this seems to be too radical and possibly discomforting, while I’m all for integrating beauty and art into every aspect of urban life, it doesn’t seem like we are at the futuristic utopian point where this would be relevant, besides there’s something lovable in the trope of awful sounds in the subway system.

Here’s the video in which he discusses this project:

The significance of concerts

“We meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people. That’s one of the great things about music. You can sing a song to 85,000 people and they’ll sing it back for 85,000 different reasons.” –Dave Grohl

The condition that Grohl brings up reflects not just the connection that a band can feel to its audience during a live concert. In a way, it epitomizes why humans develop such deep emotional connections to music. Especially for a band with such a complex and alternative sound as Nirvana, each listener will form his or her own opinion and interpretation to a song. This interpretation can change over time; as people change, the way they listen to music can change as well. Maturity and experience can enable someone to find new meaning or forge a deeper emotional connection to music. Grohl understands what an intimate and personal experience a concert can be, and how the performance can forever change the meaning of the band’s music for an audience member. After reading Rose’s analysis of rap concerts and why they are often viewed as a hotbed for criminal and violent activity, I began to think about the role that concerts play in creating “noise” and how they can enrich a listening experience. Countless concerts have yielded outbreaks of violence, some even requiring police intervention. What is it about concerts that perhaps induce such passionate responses or outbursts? A live concert creates a shared musical experience, and though each member of the audience hears the exact same thing, each moment will affect everyone differently. Concerts create a relationship between an artist or a band and their listeners that cannot be replicated by listening to a student recording, or even a recorded performance. Some concerts try to create a greater stimulation of the senses, while some prefer to keep the music the main focus of the show. For example, Coldplay’s “Mylo Xyloto” Tour incorporated a light show in which each audience member participated by wearing a wristband, which would light up at a specified time, creating stadium-wide lightshows. Other artists, such as folk singer Shakey Graves, prefer small venues which no adornments, or even a band; he’s a one-man band who plays guitar, a foot drum, and sings. Some artists believe that by featuring visual elements, it enhances the overall experience for the audience, while others believe that concerts should solely highlight the music without any superfluous elements. I believe that both opinions are valid; after attending both kinds of concerts, I’ve found that regardless of the visual elements, the atmosphere of the audience and the dedication and performance of the artist are prioritized are what makes or breaks a concert. A number of factors contribute to the atmosphere of the concert; certain genres of music typically pull a specific crowd. Rose cites rap and heavy metal concerts as attractive venues for troublemakers; these genres are stereotyped as chaos-inducing music. As a result, their fans are perceived as immoral youths who chose to create social ills. These unfair stereotypes are highly influenced by the results of their live concerts; they play a huge part in the discourse of each band and genre of music.

“Sound and Sentiment”

I have always wondered about why certain sounds or combinations in music can alter a person’s emotions so easily. I know what kind of music affects me in certain ways but I never understood why or how it did that. There is no specific genre of music that I listen to the most because it really depends on what time of day it is, what I’m doing, and what kind of mood I’m in. For example, the music I play while I’m in the car is always different depending on where I’m going. On my way to volleyball practice and on my back from practice is completely different. Headed there, I crank up something with a big bass that’s super upbeat and gets my energy levels up before I go to work on the court. On the way back home was a completely different story. I would listen to slow, heartfelt country music that would put me in a more relaxed and peaceful state of mind. I didn’t always give much thought to my choice of music, it just seemed right at the time.

I recently found a ted talk, titled “Sound and Sentiment”, that touched on this topic as well. Mira Calix is an artist who has been working on a project that deals with different sounds and how they capture the sentiment of certain emotions. She notes that everyone perceives these sounds differently, interpreting it in their own way and feeling or recognizing the emotions they feel appropriate. She is attempting to make people connect the sounds she has created with specific emotions, but faces a challenge because she can only do so much to entice certain sentiment from people. I thought this project was interesting because I’ve never tried to pinpoint distinct sounds that affect my emotional responses, but she does a particularly good job of composing sounds that really capture them.

Finally, I enjoyed the quote that she ended with from a coworker who said, “I haven’t understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it.” Music really is more about the way it makes people feel than anything, that’s what is so influential about it.

Is my noise your noise?

I always find it slightly irritating and embarrassing when I get to hear my own voice through recording. To realize that is actually what I sound like to other people is a bit of a low blow. Once I get over the slightly higher pitched and somewhat raucous sound of my “real voice” it is actually pretty fascinating. I found a video that explained why this occurs and part of it is a result of our early process of learning to talk. Mimicking how other people form words has a significant influence on our young, plastic minds. It also has to do with a little science. Our voice coming out of our mouths is conducted by the air and than transmitted into our auditory canals until it gets to the inner ear and is processed. But we also have the noise that is bouncing around in our heads which is conducted by our bones and flesh and goes directly to the inner ear.  All of what is inside our heads, does a better job of transmitting deeper and more resonant tones so our voices always sound like their pitches are lower to us. Science aside, it made me wonder if this is the only instance where we hear things differently than others do. As farfetched as this idea may seem, I wonder if our auditory system is similar to our visual in the sense that colors are not universally seen the same way, are noises? I remember in my high school psychology class in the midst of a child development topic, we watched a video that demonstrated babies ability to recognize the difference of two Chinese words that sound completely the same once we pass four years old. I am fairly fuzzy on the details, but the words were something along the lines of “shi” and “chi” but I could be wrong. It was strange because I truly could not hear a difference in the diction, but the experiment proved that babies could. This may have been determined by a change in brain wave patterns when the recording was played, but again I could be wrong. The reason young children are adept at differentiating is in part culturally base. Their minds are fairly tabula rasa and they have yet to have their own voice and diction shaped by their parents and the world around them. Regardless, I do wonder if because of our upbringing, sounds are different from one ear to the next.

D’Angelo Justifiably is the Black Messiah

Concerning our recent discussions over the political nature of rap and hip-hop, as well as its ability to communicate racial issues and concerns to the community, I would like to discuss recent examples, concerning the ways in hip-hop is addressing civil rights issues raised out of tragic events in Ferguson, New York and in cities across the country. At the end of a fairly uneventful year in music releases, the soulful yet mysterious phenom, D’Angelo, dropped a crucial album, Black Messiah. After the surprise release, within days of even announcing the albums existence, it was revealed that D’Angelo had rushed production on the album, spending sleepless nights preparing it for release in the year 2014, in wake of the tragedies seen in the black community across the country and the protest which ensued. D’Angelo, living his reclusive lifestyle (keep in mind this is his first album in 14 years), has not spoken publicly on the issue only stating that “the one way I do speak out is through music,” and that he felt the need “to speak out.” In this way not only can we attribute the assertions from Rose’s “Prophets of Rage” as showing how hip-hop plays a critical role in the black community’s communication of issues regarding authority in the states but also the ways in which Attali describes music as being a mirror for cultural activities, music is meant to lyricize emotions so deeply embedded in society, as to bring these ideas as a culmination on the forefront of our perception. The latter claim, can even be backed visually, as the album artwork depicts a photo of the annual Afropunk music festival, where participants raised their hands in a sign of protest of racial injustices in the world, bringing us back to the societal functions live hip-hop has to play in the community as well, serving as an opportunity to unite and inspire, having inspiring figures discuss modern events. The chorus of “The Charade” echoes the bitter truth of the state of affairs in legal court proceedings against black youths, as well as trials of their murderers, by stating that “all we wanted was a chance to talk, instead we all got outlined in chalk.” D’Angelo performed this song on Saturday Night Live last night accompanied by his band wearing shirts with the neo-Civil Rights movement mantras, “I Can’t Breathe”, regarding the lethal and illegal chokehold by a New York Police Officer on Eric Garner, and “Black Lives Matter”. Standing over a chalk outline of a body, a band brandishing neo-Civil Rights based attire and presenting gestures of the Civil Rights  Movements, such as the fist showing solidarity. D’Angelo may present a more passively poetic take on authoritative injustices but still registers the same political force as seen in the era of early 90s hip-hop.

WATCH his performance here: