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October 4, 2006 10:57 PM   Subscribe

Music in the Head
posted by persona non grata (24 comments total)

 
He is his own ipod
posted by Cranberry at 12:22 AM on October 5, 2006


Boy, do I relate to this. In fact, one of the comments on the blog summed it up more concisely than I could have done:

You simply acquired a composer's brain. I've been this way since I was 6 or 7. And, of course, I'm a composer. You can't really do anything else when you're this way. But, it's really a wonderful gift if you can learn how to control it. Then instead of just listening to it, you can actually write or play it, and it can do some good in the world.
posted by triv at 12:47 AM on October 5, 2006


I have this all the time. Although I have quite a large collection of recordings, I prefer silence, because what's in my head keeps me happy.

Unfortunately, it may be composer's brain, but it's never so good once transcribed as it is in my head.

It gets much worse, or at least more intense, if I've been rehearsing learning new music. Then I suffer from earworm infestations, with the new material predominating. But normally I can just get a sort of pastiche of whatever's been on my mind recently.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:39 AM on October 5, 2006


I've talked with a few people who are completely unable to mentally reproduce music and, perhaps not coincidentally, were also tone-deaf.

I take it the difference between the condition described in the fpp and a normal ability to mentally induce the sensation of music is the voluntariness/involuntariness aspect. One person in that thread described it as music that is always playing, and he could just choose to listen in on it or not (no bets from me as to whether this is somehow actually true or if the act of paying attention triggers the sensation).

Any thoughts on volume? I used to think that an overactive imagination might be dangerous in a survival sense. If you can't tell whether you imagine a sound or actually heard it, it could certainly compromise your ability to survive. For that reason, I wondered if borderline-hallucination cases got weeded out of the gene pool and imagined sensations consequently a "muted" quality. To me, imagined sounds could never exceed a certain subjective volume. Like showing the sun on a television set, it could only be so bright.

Then, long story short, I took some drugs. (and some more, and a few more) Since those days, the one difference those experiences appear to have left with me, at least that I can put my finger on, is that my ability to mentally reproduce sounds and images has drastically improved. Not quite hallucination quality, but one hallmark of note is that I can now fill my head with sound if I so choose. Far more volume than ever possible before.

Any observations from others on the condition, experimentation, or normal range of ability with such things? It's fascinating but hard to get a handle on anything approaching the objective. Measuring the perception of externally-induced sensations is difficult enough.

Good post, png.
posted by dreamsign at 1:53 AM on October 5, 2006


You simply acquired a composer's brain. I've been this way since I was 6 or 7. And, of course, I'm a composer. You can't really do anything else when you're this way. But, it's really a wonderful gift if you can learn how to control it. Then instead of just listening to it, you can actually write or play it, and it can do some good in the world.

No offense meant, triv, but every bit of that is horseshit.
posted by Clave at 2:05 AM on October 5, 2006


I've read in several places that Shotakovich allegedly had this condition. Also reminds me of a story in 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat'
posted by BobsterLobster at 3:08 AM on October 5, 2006


I compose music in my head all the time. Even unintentionally during my dreams.

It's very electronica-based. What kind of instruments do y'all hear?
posted by Mach3avelli at 5:15 AM on October 5, 2006


This is a good post, but Dr. Leo Rangell needs an editor.
posted by ParsonWreck at 5:15 AM on October 5, 2006


Dr. Leo Rangell needs an editor.

Agreed. I have a great interest in the topic, but I couldn't get through the essay when I saw it a little while ago. I have very infrequently experienced the involuntary music thing, usually when I'm extreamly tired; every time it happens, I just sit there thinking 'that's the damnedest thing', enjoying the flow, wishing there were some device to tap the rich musical juice.

I also sometimes get a more minor variant, where after listening to music, if I stop it abruptly my brain keeps it going in a sort-of semi-conscious manner, slowly shifting the rhythms and introducing new parts. Mucho fun.

What kind of instruments do y'all hear?

Usually electronic and rock, probably because thats what I tend to listen to most, and often feature distinct sounds with distinct rythms (bass, drums, lead), which are easy for the brain to latch on to and begin to permutate and play with.

But the most vivid, infrequent examples that come out of nowhere, curiously, are usually more melodious, classical style sounds, which sort of meander dreamily with less pattern. Very occasionally I get complex IDM-style electronic, with crazy purcussive patterns which I find astonishing and extreamly frustrating, since I have no ability to make them real.

See also from NYT, Neuron Network Goes Awry, and Brain Becomes an IPod
posted by MetaMonkey at 6:24 AM on October 5, 2006


The constantness and the sense of physical location this guy describes is very much something unusual, but what I think of extremely informally as Pervasive Earworm Syndrome isn't all that odd. I've got a tape deck somewhere in my head, and that fucker can be hard to turn off. It's never been an issue of composition—I don't find that I have novel music pouring out the spigot—but I will have a song, or a set of songs, or a specific domain of songs, more or less irrepressibly resident and looping in my head, sometimes for as much as a day or two at a time. Active mental distraction with some other task can make me forget about it for large stretches of time, but if I get into an idle state, bam, it's motherfucking Yankee Doodle Dandy picking up right where it left off earlier.

No offense meant, triv, but every bit of that is horseshit.

Need to work on that bedside manner, Clave. Would you mind go into detail?
posted by cortex at 7:04 AM on October 5, 2006


Yeah, triv, I have to disagree (and not just because I write music as your username spelled backwards). I saw that comment as a guy briefly skimming the article and being overeager to say "OH YEAH I TOTALLY HEAR MUSIC IN MY HEAD TOO!!!" without really letting what the article was saying sink in.

It really isn't about "composer's brain," or "I've got an iPod -- IN MY MIND!"

I rely on "playing" and "writing" music in my head on a daily basis, it's my whole life. This is not the same thing. We are thinking (and often obsessing) about the music -- not hearing it, outside our heads, as a genuine auditory hallucination, as if the sound were vibrating our eardrums (This eardrum, it... ).

Though maybe you're busted in the head too, in which case I apologize, and suggest "Schnappi, das Kleine Krokodil" as your next earwig.
posted by jake at 7:05 AM on October 5, 2006


(To clarify, I don't think it's horseshit at all, just the right response to the wrong subject!)

(And for the record, the music I hear in my head is often Wagnerian overtures; things as mundane as bathroom breaks have become awe-inspiring.)
posted by jake at 7:14 AM on October 5, 2006


I have to say that this composer's brain thing does sound like bullshit. Just because you hear music in your head doesn't mean that:
a) You've created it (it seems more likely that you're recreating it)
b) You can transcribe it in a meaningful way
c) That it'll be any fucking good.
I say this as I am a composer (I write music as my actual work). There are many levels to hearing music in ones head. I have, of course, the earworm phenomenon (often two or three songs/pieces of music that pop up over and over again in some kind of random order) but underneath that, in the background, there's another 'type' of music which is what I hear and thus what I write. I don't know if that makes any sense as I've never actually thought about this before...
posted by ob at 8:29 AM on October 5, 2006


Just because you hear music in your head doesn't mean that:
a) You've created it (it seems more likely that you're recreating it)
b) You can transcribe it in a meaningful way
c) That it'll be any fucking good.


Creating it is trivial. I can do as much, just by rearranging the sounds of whatever bit of music is playing in my head, using different instruments, whatever. No musician or composer claims to do anything different.

Transcription is a skill like any other and can be learned.

Value/beauty/whatever isn't guaranteed by any gift, if that's what this is. Anymore than eidetic memory would make for a great painter. (it might in a particular case, but that's not the point)

Anyway, whether you can hear music in your head or not is really not what this is about. It seems to be a fairly small number of people who cannot. This is the other end of the scale, and I still wonder about the quality of that experience apart from whether or not it is voluntary. If it's just the usual "underslept syndrome" then big deal. If, however, this guy can't tell the difference between a sound in his head and a radio playing next to him, that's pretty significant and certainly qualifies as a hallucination (or at least a delusion if another sound was misidentified). That's more than the noisy babble in my head most mornings on 2 hours' sleep, and it sounds like it's like that all the time.
posted by dreamsign at 9:28 AM on October 5, 2006


Ballet in the Head
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:33 AM on October 5, 2006


jake/clave - no, i wasn't that guy saying "Yeah man, I like, hear music everyday in my head".

I compose for a living, and depending on my mood it'll either be something I've written, something i'm going to write or if i'm poorly and running a temperature, it'll be a full on classical orchestra with an overture of some kind.

So like I said, I identified with the comment. Thanks Clave for your opinion, it meant alot to me.
posted by triv at 9:37 AM on October 5, 2006


Creating it is trivial

No I think that's exactly the point. If there is such a thing as a composer's brain then surely actually creating the music is the main function of that brain. I have no idea what creating means, but surely a composer's brain would do that. I was arguing against the idea that this guys has a composer's brain. That's the only point I was making.
posted by ob at 9:46 AM on October 5, 2006


And I thought I just had a song stuck in my head all the time. I can get drugs for this, yes?

I too have had this all my life, and am now a musician (although I've never really considered the music in my head to be a cause of my musicianship, just a big help). I've always sort of assumed that people who are excellent with the visual arts--drawing, painting, etc.--have a similiar affliction, only visually-oriented. I.E., they have the ability to hold an image steadily in their mind and study it as I have the ability to hear music in mine and study it. Can any visual artists speak to that?
posted by Darth Fedor at 10:06 AM on October 5, 2006


A brain mis-wiring like this is not the same thing as what composers typically experience. It may or may not be reasonable to suggest that people who are composers are more often able to remember music clearly in their head than people who are not composers, but either way, it has no practical use unless you're able to identify it quickly and write it down. The natural combination of those abilities is what I'd call "composer's brain".

Transcription is a skill like any other and can be learned.

I disagree, in this context. Transcription by ear might be a learned skill, but it usually takes more than practice to be able to capture stuff before it sublimates (or, worse, mutates into something different.) It can definitely be honed and improved upon, and augmented with theory knowledge and arrangement skill, but I have many highly experienced friends whose chief frustration is mind-to-staff lag.

Basically, everyone works differently and some people have a knack for things that others don't. The guy in this article basically got his brain scrambled, for better or worse. Let's not conflate that with "ADULT ONSET COMPOSING ABILITY", or pretend it's the same thing as "hearing music in your head", is all I'm sayin'.
posted by jake at 10:22 AM on October 5, 2006


And while I'm at it: Is there going to be another MeFi album? With all these earwigged professional composers up in this bitch, we should be organizing.
posted by jake at 10:24 AM on October 5, 2006


Thanks Jake, that's what I was trying to say.
posted by ob at 10:33 AM on October 5, 2006


The songs in my head comprise a running commentary -- sometimes hilariously ironic -- on the events occuring at that moment in my life. So, at the crudest level, if I were putting together a list of addresses for e-mail, I might pause for a moment, and notice that the song playing in my head is "I've Got a Little List," from the "Mikado." Because my head is so well-stocked with love songs, fights with wives and girlfriends always have something pertinant in playing in the back ground, from Tom Jone's "Please Release Me," to Badfinger's "Without You."
In any case, the music is near continuous. When I was in my twenties, I thought "If I could only stop this music, I'd be sane." Now, I realize that the music has been a good thing, and may very well have kept me sane. Unfortunately, as I've aged, the music has much less variety, and sometimes, it will play a single song for days on end. Or not play at all. When it is not playing, I do my darnedest to conjure its return...
posted by Faze at 11:04 AM on October 5, 2006


Sometimes the music does reach genuine hallucination level - mostly when I'm about to go to sleep.

But yes, I see what you're getting at jake, and I think you're right.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:52 AM on October 5, 2006


The songs in my head comprise a running commentary -- sometimes hilariously ironic -- on the events occuring at that moment in my life.

BING! Fantastic -- finally someone else gets that. It's my best personal bit of evidence for a subconscious, because I eventually started paying attention to the songs going through my head, and there's usually some wry snark about what's going on at that very moment -- yet I hadn't intentionally thought of the song or the lyrics until that moment.

However, that is still, for me at least, in the realm of purely run-of-the-mill imagined music. Again, I wonder about a qualitative difference between that and something hallucinated. The descriptions in the link seem to suggest something more than a wandering mind.
posted by dreamsign at 1:33 AM on October 6, 2006


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