Music, Memory v. Moment

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One song is perceived ten different ways in ten different: locations, moods, experiences, you name it. Music and emotion together are a powerful and mysterious force. Two ways in which music wields impressive control over our emotions is while actively experiencing music and reliving past experience through music.

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. – Aldous Huxley

We’re emotional creatures, human beings.eMotion (cc) Music is a source of a lot of that emotion, am I right? We tend to gravitate toward music that embodies and exemplifies our desired mood. You probably play your favorite songs during the morning commute knowing it can improve your mentality; maybe you get your EDM fix on the ride to the bar. Whatever your fix, there’s a sensible chance something deep inside your head made the decision for you. You just don’t always know it.

Listening to music to establish a mood isn’t the ideal experience. In most cases we focus far more on surrounding events than the music itself. While it does serve a purpose, listening to music with intent to induce a mood won’t produce nearly the same psychologically in-tune experience as the following.

You know the feeling. A familiar tune wafts across the room and for a moment you revel in the joy… oh, but it’s gone. Not a grin before your head is overrun with images and emotions intense as the day they transpired. Moments long forgotten waltz in as though they never left and suddenly you’re somewhere else. Aware the mindset is not your own, yet able to reach out and resume each emotion to a sometimes uncomfortable extent.

Too often music achieves this affect with memories we’d like to avoid. A broken-heart, the death of a loved one, or any traumatic experience are the memories to which a song will bind forever. This phenomenon is no stranger to pleasant memories, those with a negative connotation just dig a little deeper. So is the case with many things in life.

So, there must a happy-medium between listening for pleasure and listening for experience?

You’re already thinking it. What about the songs from my youth that evoke intense feelings of joy and happiness? Well, they’re arguably the most important. Music’s tendency to revive unpleasant memories more than the joyous translates to pleasant memories being that much more intense if they’ve earned a spot in the memory banks.




The key lies in learning to fend off feelings of sadness and mortality when the song begins to move you. Joy and happiness are in abundance, but escaping the urge to go back in time to what now looks and feels like a much better place is difficult and sometimes impossible. Practice, practice, practice.

It ultimately takes time to screen out all negative emotions associated with a song, even if it’s attached to a particularly awesome moment. Mood at the time of listening plays the largest role. But, should you succeed in achieving the same level of emotional intensity in a positive way, the result is exhilarating.

Unfortunately, some unknown force in our skull cavity makes this a commendable feat and one that occurs far too little for the mind-altering power it possesses.

Finding those selections from childhood and youth that themselves have long since been forgotten is a challenge. Spotify and other music services should be full of playlists catered to specific generations and genres. So it could take some listening, but you’ll slowly build your own ‘throwback’ playlist embodying much of who you are as person.

It’s important to find and hang-on to a personal epitome of music before it fades further in to the past. The music we grow up with is one of few aspects of life that elicits the same emotional response no matter life’s stage.


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