Musical Self-Representation

Technology has branded our society in a new way. Meaning, technology has a way of creeping into our lives and we have to confide in it in one way or another. Whether it’s new technology or old; things that are a commonality constantly surround us. For example, the car used to drive from one place to another, that’s a technology that we now use as nearly a necessity. But, what about non-necessities, such as: music, entertainment, or even breathing for some people? The point is, technology is surrounding everyone, and we have a way of portraying ourselves to fit what we want others to see us as. It’s not necessarily who we are, but who we want to be, to be liked or to be accepted into this society. Throughout this blog, I will explore music as a representation of the digital self.

Different media are ways to build profiles for ourselves. Some use website interfaces, social media archives, and others use music libraries to illustrate who they are. Profiles can be formed through the music one listens to. Look at iTunes, a music library that is designed to suggest music you may like; it gives you similar artists according to what you have purchased in the past. Or even the Genius button, that when pressed it selects all the music in your library that you enjoy and places them into a playlist to listen to; songs that sound similar.

Have you thought about a date? What music would you listen to? Probably something according to the date’s music taste. How often, on a first date, do you play only what you want to listen to, as if it was one of your friends? I would venture to say not very often, especially the first date. But, why is that? We do this because we want to portray ourselves as someone who will be easily liked. By playing music that they enjoy, you are creating a personal profile of who you want them to see you as. You wouldn’t want to play Heavy Metal on a first date, even if it’s your favorite genre. This seems simple, but it could have underlying effects; maybe a second date. The music might not be a direct correlation between having another date, obviously, but it could help the date run smoother, setting the mood.

Creating a musical profile in public is another good example. Imagine driving in the summer, when pulling up to a red light, do you turn down your favorite song in respect of others, or do you turn it up to show off who you are? This might be two-sided, but I know many people who turn up music no matter what, to show off whom they are. It’s kind of a statement in a way. You represent yourself as a promotion of a certain genre of music or certain artist. You can literally hear when a car pumps down the road, with heavy bass blasting through a sound system. That person is representing their musical tastes and preferences. In a music study on people and their representations, the researcher said “intrapersonal functions encompass the uses of music as a vehicle for emotional expression”[1] This means that music can be used as a way of communicating how one wants to be seen and to illustrate their emotions.

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.”[2] In this essay, she analyzes the digital archives that one can characterize one’s self through. These online sites reveal whom one wants to be based on their 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.

In conclusion, musical representations happen all around us, and we have come accustomed to this in our society. Whether it’s a music channel on YouTube, which recommends other music by that record label or just a mix of music you might like, or iTunes, we are constantly building our digital profile. Some make playlists of songs depending on the person they are hanging out with, it might not be music that you particularly care for, but you play it anyways to “win” acceptance of that person. It’s inevitable to build a profile, whether its accurate or someone you want to be seen as. Even music can build a persona.

[1] Boer, Diana, et al. “Young People’s Topography Of Musical Functions: Personal, Social And Cultural Experiences With Music Across Genders And Six Societies.” International Journal Of Psychology 47.5 (2012): 355-369. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.

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

Live Music: A Form of Community and Escapism

Jubelnde Konzertbesucher auf Rock-Konzert

Music has been around for ages. It is a form of entertainment that many people use to pass time, to help create a specific emotion, or to reinforce an emotion that they are currently having. These are typical examples of music being used on an individual basis through headphones. Music has many more functions for the individual person. My focus for this blog is not on what affects the music has on an individual, but what it is able to do to a group of people. It is a form of escape from the stress and obligations of our busy lives.

Ann Cvetkovich touched on this concept in her book “The Archive of Feelings” when she mentioned the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. She said “performed live, the song creates an opportunity for the audience to shout out the words as a group and affirm the many kinds of survival that bring them together”. She said that these live shows “form the archive in which my own feelings are deposited”. In my own experience with live concerts, I have experienced the same thing. Cvetkovich spoke of a collective “trauma” occurring in each of the attendees that brings them together and unifies them. I’d like to clarify through my experience that it does not take a traumatic experience to pull people together and enjoy these live shows. I personally haven’t really had a noteworthy traumatic experience in my life. However, that hasn’t hindered me from having an amazing, communal experience when I go to a concert.

When I go to a concert by a band that I have been listening to nonstop and know all the songs by heart, the feeling of community is indescribable. In most cases, the people around you love the songs as much as you do. They are singing along to every word just as you are. The lyrics don’t have to be speaking about a traumatic experience or anything negative, its about the atmosphere that the music creates. Songs with positive, encouraging lyrics are just as powerful as traumatic, negative ones. The music behind the words has a profound affect on the movement and mood of the audience. Alternatively, dance concerts and festivals have very little words at all in their music and the feeling of community and acceptance is just as strong. An article in the Los Angeles Times talks about the Electric Daisy Carnival or EDC. The Electric Daisy Carnival is a massive festival that plays Electronic Dance Music, or EDM. This music typically has very few lyrics and is focused on the music and the beat. In this article, sociologist Yale Fox said “When everyone is listening to music at the same time, they’re all stimulated in a similar fashion … there’s something magical about everybody moving to the same beat.”(1) So, whether it has words to sing along to or not, the music has a way of bringing people together and putting everyone in a collective mood. Both the sense of community and the escape from stress are factors that will continue to make live music an unbeatable source of entertainment.

Footnotes:

(1) “Electric Daisy Carnival, EDM Thrive on Escapist Atmosphere.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2015. <http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-et-ms-electric-daisy-carnival-20140621-story.html&gt;.

Image: http://www.frecho.com/files/2014/07/festival-ete.jpg

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’re listening to a familiar song that you haven’t heard in years. Maybe you feel excited because it was your favorite song; maybe you reminisce on the times you were with your friends when listening to this song on repeat. This song brought up feelings; whether they are good, bad, sadness, excitement, 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. Throughout this blog, I will explore the ideas of music and how it reflects our feelings.

Music has a way of portraying the way we feel. When we want to get hyped for an exam, feeling like we can conquer the world, we might put on upbeat music. When we feel sad, or maybe calm, we might put on acoustical music. These genres have different effects for different people, but whichever genre you listen to, it sparks something intangible. I know that I listen to specific artists when I want to feel a certain way, and different albums represent different timeslots of my life. For example, when I listen to the artist, Emarosa, I instantly recall all the campfires that my friends and I had in high school, specifically my junior year. 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 truly has impacted our lives in a dramatic way. Music has adopted its way into our culture and maybe it’s to help us think on those past memories, so that we don’t forget them. Music is the stimuli for the brain to throw back those thoughts to an exact moment in which we lived. Ann Cvetkovich says, “Cultural artifacts become the archive of something more ephemeral: culture as a ‘way of life’” (9).[1] This “artifact” she speaks of could mean music; and, music is not just a way to think, it’s a way to live.

Cvetkovich illustrates this idea of “trauma,” and the choices and the memories throughout our lives can result from one trauma or another. In this case, 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 the 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. If you think of artists, some artists write about the trauma of their past, which can relate to listeners in the same type of situation. Thus, a community is built around trauma with people who experience the music the same way that you do.

Music is a way to escape from reality by enjoying the melody, but also to create an archive of our feelings that we can access through this outlet of sound. For example, whatever favorite artist you enjoy listening to now, will most likely not be your favorite artist two or three years from now, and if you were to hear the melody of your favorite song from this artist in four years, you 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. I believe that music is more than just music notes and lyrical sounds: 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 we are through sounds of enlightenment.

[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.

The Medium is the Music?

McLuhan talks about, among other things, the medium being the key of how the message is transmitted and received by its target audience. With the focus on music as the medium of transmission, desired messages can be shared in unique ways that strike close to the core of who we are as humans. As described by MIT, music is a “pervasive environmental influence” (1).  This is also in accordance with McLuhan’s thoughts on hearing being the one thing that is always present, and most importantly, the thing we tend to ignore most. Is hearing believing? If so, how does music influence our beliefs?

In my opinion, music today is one of the purest connections we have with our ancestors. According to National Geographic, music in the past may have helped to unite groups (2), and today it does the same thing, albeit in a slightly different way. That is to say, it unites us with our past. How often do you hear a song and feel the need to move in response? How can a different beat change your day? Do you feel the music, have it your head all day? I know that I experience this on a daily basis.

Because of this connection the message transmitted through music can speak to us very deeply, whether it be a political message, an emotional one, or one that simply makes us think and alter our perspective. This ability is rare in today’s world, with a media environment that is pervasive and in a constant state of flux, a constant rushing inundation of the newest, the breaking, and the trending. Yet, if we take a 3 minute respite from the flood and engage our hearing and let ourselves feel completely, our entire state of consciousness can change. Have you ever walked into a church and heard the hymns? Or heard chanting of monks? Regardless of one’s level of spirituality (I admit that mine is nonexistent) the sound can make one feel more in touch with one’s essence and direction.

This potential once again reinforces McLuhan’s claim that hearing is the one sense that is always present, and possibly his assertion that hearing is believing. We do tend to take things more seriously when said in song, do we not? There’s a reason that love songs are so popular, and that John Cusack’s character used a boom box to get the girl in the classic movie “Say Anything”. We all know that the right soundtrack can alter our beliefs and emotions, and most of the time it will strengthen them, and make us feel and believe more deeply and profoundly than before.

The medium is the music. The music transmits feeling and belief across generations that disappeared long ago, and will continue to do so in the future. It’s inherent in the way that mothers sing to their babies, and the way that we create rhythm all around us. As stated in one of my favorite movies, August Rush, “The music is all around us. All you have to do is listen”.  The omnipresence of music unites us, and despite our other media cluttering us more and more with each day, there will always be the place inside of us that connects with the past, and our true nature.

1 Minsky, Marvin. “Music, Mind, and Meaning.” Music, Mind, and Meaning. MIT, 1981. Web. 05 Feb. 2015. <https://web.media.mit.edu/~minsky/papers/MusicMindMeaning.html&gt;.

2  Silver, Marc. “Why Did Humans Invent Music?” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 24 Aug. 2013. Web. 01 Feb. 2015. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/08/130824-invention-music-phish-stevie-wonder-blurred-lines-robin-thicke/&gt;.

Artifact Politics

Imagine a normal work day, or a school day, or even just a day at home. Everyone goes about their day work, errands, meetings, dates, food, travels, and other normal every day activities. You’ll never know the life of the nice person walking  beside you on your way to class or the lady that just passed you going twenty over the speed limit on the highway. The one thing that separates you from the next person is the ability to make your world private. Headphones were made to allow people to make their music private (1). Many people would agree that music speaks to the soul and it has been heavily integrated into life, especially younger generations.

Anyone with a computer probably owns or has been in possession of set of headphones, Apple even includes headphones in the purchase of an iPhones, iPads, and iPods.  They are a revolutionary invention but have made generations more anti-social (1). Along with allowing persons to make their music private, the possession of headphones have also allowed a type of portable entertainment; for the long wait at the doctors office or the long walks to work or even to break the silence in the car on the commute to work. There are earphones, ear buds, in ear headphones, on ear headphones, and over ear headphones produced by Apple, Sony, Bose, Dre, and other electronic companies. The idea to be able to listen to music without disturbing those around you or being able to use audio hearing devises wirelessly are two revolutionary thoughts, but with great ideas comes great responsibilities. Although headphones and Bluetooth car connections make enjoyment and communication easier for the common technologically advanced American, it has also further isolated younger from older generations and people in general.

Growing up, before elementary school students had access to cell phones, kids talked and laughed on the bus. Now, if you sit on a school bus there may be some talking but most kids will be staring indifferently out of the window with their headphones in or immersed in their cell phones. Although headphones has given musicians the opportunity to expand their abilities, they have also given their users the ability to clock out of reality and immerse themselves in a different world which is a favorable thing for most people. Dr. Michael Bull stated, “People like to control their environment […]” (1) In families, the younger rebellious teen would turn to headphones and ignore arguments, siblings, and even word of parents. This has resulted in a giant, awkward, gaping hole between parent and child and as a result the important family connection is then at risk of being lost. On a college campus, a large number of students walk to class listening to music. Having headphones in has essentially granted the user the right to ignore who tries to interact with them. Private music creates a social medium where a someone is comfortable with people around but does not wish to interact with their surroundings.

As a result of the divide between parent and child and between individuals, social gatherings have become less abundant, lunch get-togethers have become less conversational, and dinner time has become less about family. Being an independent person has become a goal in who we want to become because people are scared to be dependent. Dependence has been thought of as a sign of weakness and the price of independence is often loneliness, and being lonely is obviously better than being weak in the eyes of society.

Regina Yu

Footnotes:

1. The Atlantic: “How Headphones changed the World.”
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/05/how-headphones-changed-the-world/257830/ 30 May 2012