Been a while since I wrote anything so I thought I’d make a wee entry today. As in write in my blog (I don’t mean taking a wee as my entry).
Something that has been on my mind a lot lately is stress levels and the different ways that humans opt to deal with stress.
Specifically I’ve chosen to hone in on and talk about one particular outlet that I enjoy more than others (although from my perspective it’s more like a way of life than it is a thing that you elect to use).
That outlet is music.
Ever since the supple age of 10 I’ve always been surrounded by music. I remember getting my first 30 gig brick of an iPod on my (I think) 11th birthday, loading it with albums upon albums of music, and always having it by my side as I went to and from intermediate school.
I remember actually listening to Stairway to Heaven one day, and having it deeply affect me emotionally for the first time like it never did before.
I remember music taking on a new life as I experienced it for the first time live in concert, to have sound & euphoria become inextricably linked thereafter in that sweaty Muse pit in ’07.
The reliable constant in my life has always been music since all of that.
So I decided to compile a list of aspects about music which form a collective body of reasoning as to why I’ll always have music by my side until my ear drums burst (what a sad day that will be).
Up until around midway through University I’d only experienced music on an auditory & emotional level.
After this time I began to notice music involuntarily (and literally) taking shape in a different way for me.
I would usually be in a deep calm mental space. Music would be playing (of course) and I’d be thinking about some inane idea that refused to stop plaguing my thoughts (like why the hell do all sea otters carry one special rock with them their whole life? Like are they just really possessive of it? Is it a tool? Are they all insane? Is it just a weird coincidence? Is it a collective smokescreen secretly agreed upon by the whole sea otter community as they slowly take over the known universe? That shit freaks me out. I’m watching you sea otters. And not only because you’re so damn cute). Out of nowhere, small visual flashes would suddenly permeate my conscious dashboard. At first I thought I had schizophrenia (thanks a lot Web M.D.), but I soon realized that the flashes coordinated perfectly with certain portions of the songs I was listening to.
That was my first raw experience.
As the years went by this became more and more frequent, until the point now where it happens practically every time I listen to music. The difference being that now, instead of them being static bursts of visual flashes, they now become involuntary images related to & linked to the music I am listening to. In essence, an involuntary visual experience driven entirely by music, similar to the images formed when one reads a book, except in this case – at least for me – the images are much more vivid and, distinctively, involuntary.
The saying that ‘good music paints a picture’ definitely took on a new meaning thereafter (and the saying is true too by the way).
As great as the experience is (and it is awesome), it proves to be quite the dilemma now. Whereas I used to select music based solely on what I wanted to hear/feel from the music, now the added consideration is what I wish to see as I listen to music. That being said, the added decision factor is a relatively minor trade-off compared to the awe-inspiring images that some good music can conjure up.
I tend to find that when I have good music that paints a good picture like this, my creativity tends to spike, and I am in a better position mentally to come up with original thoughts and ideas. Being a creative individual at my core, this is a great resource to tap into. I also find that I tend to recharge a lot quicker as an individual when I’m in this state listening to music that paints a good solid picture and the images flow nicely.
Of course I realize that, as is true with all art, what I find to be good music is entirely subjective and driven primarily by my life experiences. So, in line with this, hip-hop, soft electronic pop, and space/conspiracy rock music tend to conjure up the most vivid pictures for me.
I tend to think that the visual element of music for me is in direct relation to the energy I take in from that particular piece of music. For example thinking back to a recent concert I went to while I was in England, I remember feeling incredibly re-energized after seeing Coldplay live. After the gig I was still buzzing, all I kept seeing was the image of an almost entirely transparent orb within the center of my visionary dashboard and I felt amazingly energetic. As my energy levels dipped after the show, this orb comparatively shrunk in size in real time.
I believe that music, when it is really good and it connects with you, can directly influence how you feel and your emotional state in real time.
The best way to describe it is with an example.
Like I mentioned before, the Coldplay concert was an incredible experience for me. There was a point where I distinctly remember not consciously being aware of the particular sounds that I was hearing (no I wasn’t deaf). I was in a state where I knew there was music playing, but for some reason I couldn’t consciously hear it. It was like it was miles away. But what I did notice was that with every flicker of Chris Martin’s voice, with every strike of the keyboard & guitar, there was an equal & compensating fluctuation in my emotional state. Invigoration and feelings of awe ebbed and flowed corresponding exactly with the rhythm and flow of the music.
At this point I believe music becomes a conduit for direct access & manipulation of the emotional state of the individual.
I’ve always known music has had the power to do this, I just haven’t experienced it as vividly as when I did at the Coldplay concert. This is primarily the reason why I have numerous playlists on Spotify with cryptic labels on them: they are particularly constructed to contain only certain songs which arouse a certain emotional/mental state in me. I do this in an attempt to anchor certain emotions to certain songs/playlists, so I can tap into them when I require those psychological states.
For example my playlist labelled “Frozen Sunlight” consists entirely of songs which, when I listen to them, remind me of summer & puts me in a ‘summery’ kind of emotional state/mood, so naturally I love listening to the playlist during summer.
When you are walking around and you take the time out of your day to observe nature and just reconnect with it, you suddenly start to see the world in a different way.
I’m sure everyone’s experienced this. Your thoughts turn from the normal day-to-day drivel to more open-ended, philosophical ponderings about the universe surrounding. You think about these more and more, and you start to plug in your own answers to those questions by raising plausible hypotheses to some of life’s biggest questions (and if you’re as big-headed as I am and like to think your hypotheses about the world are the absolute answer, you give your ego a nice comforting stroke by thinking to yourself “woah did God know he created such a genius? Stand back everybody – undiscovered philosophical mastermind right here”).
In those moments we feel like we’re beginning to uncover & understand how the world works.
From my perspective music offers the same opportunity to understand life. I believe what makes these thought exercises so special when one is amongst nature is nature itself. You’re out and about, exploring the world around you. Exploring nature as it was intended.
With music you are doing the same thing, the only difference being is the nature that you are observing is from another human being and it is transformed into an artistic framing & medium for you to be able to consciously perceive it (coordinated sounds collectively known as music). In essence you are observing the inner nature of another human being through sound.
In this way as you are exploring and observing music, so too can you start to drift and ponder philosophical thoughts and wonderings as if you were physically amongst Mother Nature herself. Most conveniently though, you don’t have to set foot outside your front door to do this either (but personally I prefer doing both at the same time if I can).
I think in line with I’ve just mentioned, music has the potential to alter one’s perception of time and space.
If you are exploring nature and are connecting with it, the meditative state that emerges is a result of your brain focusing on one central idea. In traditional meditation practice, this is always the starting point towards getting into and developing one’s relationship with our innate meditative state. So while you are exploring nature, you are thinking only about the nature around you and nothing else, this pushes out all your anxieties about the future and expels all your depressive thoughts about the past, forcing you to live in the moment – and you enter a meditative state.
When you are in a meditative state, by the very nature of this mental state your immediate perception entirely changes. Since the scope of your attention span has shrunk from larger to more minute details, every sensory nuance of every second is being completely scrutinized unconsciously by your brain as you consciously focus on that one central thing; these mental overheads tend to drag the perception of time on for longer than it usually is, and as a result you tend to enjoy the moment a lot more (which is great).
Every Friday if I’m in the city I like to go to my favorite bar for a drink after work (Ding Dong Lounge: happy hour from 5-8pm with craft beers on tap). Other than the cheap quality beer, what I love is the acoustic guitarist & singer that is on every Friday evening. I believe he’s South American, and he plays covers of many well known rock tunes (my personal favorite cover of his being Clocks by Coldplay).
What I find is that, with the buzz of the working week firmly behind me, I’m more easily inclined to wind down and just focus on one thing; in this case it is the acoustic singer and his music. So I always find that my perception of time seems to slow whenever I sit down to enjoy his performance, and for that reason I tend to enjoy it that much more because I can savor every moment, every nuance, and every finely tuned aspect of his set (pun intended).
Skeptical individuals I meet in a magic capacity always like to challenge me about the fact that I would never be able to ‘trick them’. Time and time again (with a few exceptions) I am devilishly handsome enough to prove that the contrary is in fact true (in the most polite way of course), and thus I am able to gently swindle them of their belief that they are particularly observant individuals. At the end of it they are always in good spirits as they admit that the hand must be quicker than the eye, further than that they are always very inquisitive about how they could be bamboozled in such a way. This has always fascinated me about magic as well.
The truth is that if a random spectator of magic is able to see in plain sight how a trick is being done during a performance, it is more or less a reflection of the skill of that magician. The role of the magician is to be able to control the directional flow of attention during a trick, often times using various unconscious social cues, so that, when important sleights are made, the attention of the audience is nowhere near where the dirty act is taking place. In effect from the audience’s point of view what transpires should be a relatively normal procedure within which something unusual has impossibly occurred. Fundamental to this performance model is that social cues are being followed, which assumes that “normal” social convention(s) are being adhered to.
Side note: when I get questioned by family and friends as to why I prefer not to put on a full performance for them, this is essentially my answer. Assuming I know the people who have made such a request, they already have an established baseline for my normal behavior, therefore traditional social convention and cues no longer apply as they know what I may be doing intentionally to misdirect their attention (mainly because from their point of view it would be an exceptionally out of character way for me to behave). Then, in essence, the main tool I have to bring about a magical experience is no longer at my disposal. So it would reduce the whole thing down to a form of bad acting; which in turn reflects badly on my skills, and I will inevitably get triumphant comments about how viewers believe they know how the trick is being done. Brilliant.
Back to my point; the distractions in this case are the social cues I am employing as a magician. Social cues to a magician are the swinging pendulum for a hypnotist. These are the tools of distraction used by the performer while they charmingly fleece the spectator and relieve them of all valuable possessions (on that note – James, I still have your watch. Holla at me).
For an individual, with any hardships experienced during life – whether psychologically or physically – the impact of those said hardships can be reduced immeasurably through the employment of music as a distraction tool. In the times before painkillers were invented, hypnosis was rumored to be the favorable option employed by medical professionals to sedate patients before a potentially excruciating procedure. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but I don’t disbelieve the potential power of distraction, whether by hypnosis or by music.
Music also serves as an opportunity for the soul to step outside of the hurricane that is life, and take stock of what’s important and what areas in one’s life requires more attention. In essence music can be the swinging pendulum for the parts of us that have unwittingly been brainwashed and unwillingly indoctrinated, while our true selves get a chance to breathe & reassess the current situation.
For all the positivity that music adds to my life, from time to time I like to take the rose-tinted glasses off and attempt to have an objective view about my use of music (as much as I can do, at least).
I’ve always been one to readily lean on escapism as a form of relief from a world which I sometimes perceive to be unbearable. I emphasize ‘perceive’ because that’s my perception, and I always realize that in the grand scheme of this life, my problems could be much much worse than they are.
When I wake up on a Monday I wonder whether or not I’ll have any free time to pluck around on my guitar or hit the gym during the week. That’s my idea of a problem.
In parts of this world there are people who wake up on a Monday and, in the same frank sense, wonder whether they will live to see the next Monday.
My problems will never be as bad. And I’m always very conscious of that.
That being said, I do tend to find I use music as a form of escapism. I’ve always tried to find reasonable justification for why I feel the need to escape psychologically, as this would probably be the same reason that my relationship with alcohol has, at times in my life, wandered into dangerous territory.
At the end of the day what tends to tie these things together is a sense of connection that comes about with constant use. With music, I feel more connected with myself as an individual, and I guess more spiritually connected with the forces that are at work within this universe.
The grammar of music are images and metaphors, and connection with music predicates itself entirely on being able to extract the relevant ideas of that imagery and apply it to one’s own life, and thus be reassured about current circumstances in life as other people – specifically creators of said music – have been or are going through the same thing.
The best thing is, like a meditative state, music allows me to reconnect and realign myself with who I am at my core. I can be subjected to whatever social influence my immediate environment chooses to throw at me, but being able to chill with some headphones on and some good music will always grant me the opportunity to get back to what matters most to me.
That voice inside you as an individual (and you: person reading this right now, you know exactly what voice I’m talking about) tends to grow quieter the more adult we become. Not until the time is too late in our lives do we finally realize that to have lived a fulfilling life that we will look back on favorably on our deathbeds, one has to listen to and actively engage that voice and live a non-passive lifestyle congruent with its requests. Unfortunately for most people by that time, the ever-churning socioeconomic system will have drained us of all our energy and resources, and spat us back out with a pat on a back & an impending heart attack. All by the time we are in our mid-40’s. That’s when it finally dawns on us that we’ve had our lives fucked up for us.
As the ‘real world’ takes its toll on the volume of that voice inside us, making it quieter and quieter, music allows us the opportunity to recharge our soul’s voice box so that we are more readily able to hear ourselves and thus come a few steps closer towards living the life that we were destined to live.
And, by the way, I don’t connect with alcohol in the same way. I’ve grown, over the last few months, quite infuriated with alcohol for many reasons, not least of which is its effect on our desires and aspirations. Not only does it quieten that inner voice within me, it makes me satisfied with mediocrity. It makes me more complacent and accepting of the circumstances around me which make my inner-self squirm in spiritual agony.
Music inspires me to make something of myself, to incessantly challenge myself and to give my proper calling in life a decent chance with full force. Alcohol attempts to reconcile my future aspirations with my current lifestyle, and reassure me that mediocrity is not so bad – Fuck. That.
Whereas even a few months ago the trade off was non-existent, these days I’d much rather bash my eardrums a bit more to hear my soul speak instead of have a seemingly nonthreatening beer for the above reasons. And I guess I have to concede that music is still a form of escapism, but if it functions at the very least as an effective coping tool then that’s all the reason I really need to keep music my life. Besides, I think my liver needs a break after all these years.
Side note: in the scheme of an individual’s aspirations being suppressed to such an extent, it does make one wonder why the system allows for such a favorable view of alcohol amongst the general population. #conspiracymuch.
I guess what fundamentally attracts me to music, if I were to answer it in one line, is the experience of feeling deeply connected to something bigger than one’s self.
With certain open-mindedness, music has the potential to be a heaven-sent, tailor-made message from the universe to reassure and reinvigorate one in this life of endless complexity and uncertainty.
Either that or the stress has really gotten to me and I’m starting to hear voices.