Audial Memories

Jake Jenkins

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Comp. Studies 2367.04

Seth Josephson

Audial Memories

Imagine driving on the highway, zoning out from reality as you pass by the lamplights that line the side of the highway. As your mind begins to drift, you may start to tap to the beat that your subconscious hears. You notice your tapping foot when you realize you are listening to a familiar song that you have not heard in years. Maybe you feel excited because it was your favorite song; maybe you reminisce on the times when you were with your friends when listening to this song repeatedly. This song brought up feelings; whether they are good, bad, sad, exciting, or nostalgic. You felt something. Was it the song that made you feel this way? Maybe. Perhaps, it was your mind triggering a vague familiarity that gave you some flashback on a memory that is special to you. This shows how music can control one’s mood, whether it is only the melody or the significant memories attached to the music.

Music has a way of portraying the way one feels. When someone wants to get excited, feeling like they can conquer the world, one might put on upbeat music. When another wants to feel sad, or maybe calm, perhaps acoustical music is the answer. These genres have different effects for different people, but regardless of the genre type, it sparks something intangible. However, these genres do not have a direct relationship to moods. For example, one might have significant memories attached to an upbeat song and still feel somber. In this case, maybe it was a negative memory or a good memory that correlated with a sad situation, maybe it reflects the thoughts of someone who died. In any case, these audial memories are triggered to represent different slices of life. One could argue that the medium of music itself is a portal into a different reality; a different thought process; a previous time; a way to think on the good times, and perhaps the bad.

Today, it’s hard to imagine a life without music, and it has impacted people’s lives in a dramatic way. Music has adopted its way into today’s culture and maybe its purpose is to help listeners think on those past memories so that they will never be forgotten. Much like the taste buds on an individuals tongue, music is the stimuli for the brain to throw back those thoughts to an exact moment in time. Ann Cvetkovich, the author of An Archive of Feelings, says, “Music helps return the listener to the pleasures of sensory embodiment that trauma destroys”[1] Here, she directly relates music to feelings. She examines that the music is not just a medium or a structure of melody, but it is more of an escape from reality that throws one into a continuum of past recollections.

Cvetkovich illustrates this idea of “trauma” to represent the traumatic experiences of the past. Trauma can be represented in something shocking that happened to one in particular or one that is very close, in terms of relationship, to another individual. In such situations, music can represent trauma, or be used as an escape from trauma. For example, some people grow up in a rough household and their only escape from the tough times is to zone out through the access of music. Another example is that music itself is an outlet for trauma, meaning sometimes people listen to angry-sounding music to illustrate how they feel; thus, trauma is shown through music. Some artists even write about the trauma of their past, which can relate to listeners in the same type of situation. As a result, a community is built around trauma with people who experience the music the same way that others do.

Music is used not only to escape from reality by enjoying the melody, but also to create an archive of one’s feelings that can be accessed through this outlet of sound. For example, whatever favorite artist one enjoys listening to now, will most likely not be their favorite artist two or three years from now; if that individual were to hear the melody of their favorite song from this artist in four years, he/she will most likely think back to this current year. Scholar Jérôme Daltrozzo said, “The feeling of familiarity evoked by a melody may reactivate emotional or associative concepts carried either by the melody itself or by the memory representations of this melody”[2] Here, he means that a melody is more than just a sequence of different notes; it has a way of carrying itself into a state of the familiar, a state of memory, a state of meaning. Music is more than just music notes and lyrical sounds; rather, it’s a way to access a library of thoughts, a way to live in the moment and in the past, a way to capture who one is through sounds of enlightenment.

Another way to think about music is in the musical representation of self. Different media are ways to build a profile for one’s self. Some use website interfaces, social media archives, and others use music libraries to illustrate who they are. Profiles can be formed through the music that someone listens to. Look at iTunes, a music library that is designed to suggest music an individual may like; it gives suggested artists according to previous purchases in the past. Or even the Genius button, that when pressed it selects all the music in one’s library that person enjoys and places them into a playlist to listen to, songs that sound similar.

In Watson’s Studying the Digital Self, she says “Online sites gather, authorize, and conserve present and past versions of self that document a person’s life, habits, and desires.”[3] In this essay, she analyzes how one can use the digital archives to characterize one’s self. These online sites reveal whom one wants to be based on the present and past. Music works the same way; people want to show others who they are based on their musical preference. People can shape their desired self through movements of sound.

Furthermore, people use music as an analytical tool to show others who one sees one’s self as. For example, when going on a first date with a new friend, one typically plays music that the date likes. One would not want to play the genres that he/she only likes. Granted that the date may or may not have musical genres in common. In such case, music can be used to build a persona or to almost “win” acceptance of those one is around.

Therefore music is way more involved than just simple sounds; more like a compilation of digital memories and feelings captivated in a variety of melodies to represent one’s self or desires. Whether it is an act of representation or denoted from feeling a certain way, music helps enhance those moods and representations when one already feels a specific way. For instance, when one initially feels sad, typically one chooses to listen to sad music to enhance those feelings. In a study about mood stimuli and music, the researchers concluded that there is a tendency for sad individuals to avoid happy music” (Page 43).[4] In this study, research concluded that the subjects who were feeling sad generally wanted to listen to sad music because it complimented their initial feelings. This conclusion seems to be true because when people feel sad it is hard to shift one’s feelings to be positive when one’s mood is clearly unpleasant or sad.

Music has also been used as a tool to manipulate the audience into feeling one way or another. Take for example, animal shelter commercials; the visuals used in these commercials are solemn-looking dogs with gloomy piano music playing in the background. This tactic is used to manipulate the audience into feeling sad for the animals and going to the nearest shelter and buying an animal. This shows yet another example of how music can be used as a tool rather than as a simple sound structure.

In conclusion, music can be used for a variety of purposes whether it is to be used to manipulate an audience, to identify to others who one is and what he/she stands for, to enhance one’s own mood, or to simply structure one’s own mood. Furthermore music can be used as a tool of appeal or to reminisce on a previous moment in time. All of these are different ways to use music for a specific purpose. It is hard to project what the future holds for music in general and where the audience will take it, but one thing is certain: music will not die, it will live on through the memories and the representation of each and every individual, and it will continue to be a powerful apparatus.

[1] Cvetkovich, Ann. An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2003. Print.

[2] Daltrozzo, Jérôme, et al. “Temporal Aspects Of The Feeling Of Familiarity For Music And The Emergence Of Conceptual Processing.” Journal Of Cognitive Neuroscience 22.8 (2010): 1754-1769. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Feb. 2015.

[3] Watson, Julia. “Studying the Digital Self.” The Chronicle of HIGHER EDUCATION. University of Wisconsin, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

[4] Taylor, Christa, et al. “Sad Mood and Music Choice: Does the Self-Relevance of the Mood-Eliciting Stimulus Moderate Song Preference?” Media Psychology 18:1 (2015): 24-50. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Feb. 2015.

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