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Losing Music (openlettersmonthly.com)
143 points by bdr on July 3, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 25 comments

"But what I’ve lost isn’t just a set of structured sounds, but the world those sounds create, a world you can live inside: Bach on a snowy afternoon, hard blues on a long night’s drive, the background mood in a restaurant or at a party (or, increasingly, any public space not yet colonized by ESPN on flatscreen TVs). Music is color. When you’re young you’re the hero of a movie, and the Heifetz you play in your car or the Velvet Underground you first try out sex to isn’t just background, it’s location and weather. You feel it on your skin."

This was one of the most heart-wrenching things I've read, and makes me really thankful for what I have, and if I'm honest, fearful for what I will eventually lose.

Music is woven into the happiest and saddest moments of my life, and my most important memories have sounds attached to them - from dancing barefoot on a remote beach in Goa with people I've since come to think of as family, watching the sun rise to the growls of a Roland TB-303, to coping with the loss of someone dear by listening to Radiohead's 'Everything in its Right Place' on repeat for hours on end, curled up on my bedroom floor.

I keep a diary - not of places I've visited or things I've eaten, but of moments like these where I've had a powerful connection with people and music. It's an incredibly emotional experience to go back and read through it all - I'm glad I have it, because otherwise I'd start losing bits and pieces of these memories, and with it, my past.

I'm incredibly fortunate in that I've been given the opportunity to work on solving this problem, a problem that I'll undoubtedly face as my tinnitus gets worse and a problem that my co-founder has faced for almost two decades. The next time we're having a shitty day at work, we'll only have to read this to keep on going.

Music is like your own personal life-diary that you don't even have to write. Music is such an important trigger for memories (along with smell which is even more powerful but less controllable) but the majority of people seem to take it for granted and make no effort to preserve these memories. It's staggering how hearing a song you haven't heard for 20+ years can immediately put you right back to being a kid, or some other nostalgic memory, even if only fleetingly.

Perhaps I'm overly sensitive to having my music memories overwritten; I've been known to leave clubs or bars or turn off the radio if a particularly personal song is playing because I don't want my original memory to be overwritten. My friends don't understand, to them music is just music and something to dance or shout along to. A handful of songs provoke extremely potent memories in my mind of when I was a kid. Hearing these songs is the only channel I have to experiencing that time of my life. The problem, and half of the beauty of it, is that I don't actually know what the songs are until I hear them. I keep intending to compile a list of which songs trigger these memories.

Infact I, along with most people I imagine, have a whole library of songs that read as mile-posts dotting throughout their life. Perhaps a particular song triggers a memory of a summer holiday, or high school party, or road-trips as a kid, or even just what you listened to whilst coding your first successful project.

The single worst thing that can happen to music is for it to be used for advertising. What may be a catch song to a marketer could be someone's last memory of a dead parent or friend. I commend artists, especially Radiohead, who vehemently forbid their music to be used for anything after it's been released. Thom Yorke (I think) did a great interview on the subject but I can't find it, annoyingly.

I've heard that song too many times,

I'll admit it.

It's not that I'm sick of it,

I just fear for its life.

The tunes get a little bit stronger

Every time they are sung,

Or a little more threadbare.

Slowly undone.

— The Fugitives, Slowly Undone


I sometimes put on music I don't really like anymore, just for some late-teen memories, both good and bad. I find it's very therapeutic.

I avoid listening to new music that I might like when I'm feeling bad, otherwise that music always brings back those feelings.

I enjoy music as much as I enjoy looking at a nice painting. It's good, but it's not important to me at all, and I wouldn't miss it for a second if I became unable to enjoy it.

I just thought I'd chuck that in there, because everyone always seems to talk about how important music is to them, and you never hear anyone saying the contrary.

my father was like that. He could take it or leave it, but it certainly wasn't important to him. That comes from both discussion and observation.

I drift in and out of having it be truly meaningful to me, but I would certainly miss it if I could not have it.

Explained simply, music is like color or taste but for the social and some technical portions of the brain. It is both technically thought provoking and emotionally compelling. That is interesting to me, if not important.

The comparison to color and taste describe what music is to me.

Most of the time I don't care too much about what I eat, as long as it's decently tasty. I rarely cook, and often consider eating a bit of a nuisance.

Most of the time I don't go out to see a sunset or notice the colors around me. I don't even bother walking around in the big forest right next to my house. In fact, I sometimes find it a nuisance to leave the house to do what I need to do.

And yet, when I do occasionally feel like eating something I really like, I bother to cook and savor it. And sometimes I get up extra early to ride my bike to the nearby lake and watch the sunrise.

Music's the same for me. I usually put on music that is easy listening while I work, or music that is by now so familiar to me that I know every little detail. Or I go without music an entire day.

But then sometimes I put on something meaningful, and I can spent a decent chunk of time just listening and letting my thoughts drift away.

This is a very touching article and it reminds me all too well that I most likely don't have that long before I go full-on deaf again.

Now, ironically enough, being deaf played a huge role in my appreciation for music. My condition led me to being completely deaf by the age of five, and a few years and a bunch of surgeries later, I had recovered a good part of my hearing (which I'll always be thankful for).

Coming from a family where music had little to no presence, it really surprised my parents that I would develop a strong sense for music. I picked up piano as a kid and numerous other instruments in more recent years.

I couldn't live without music, and I'm not saying this lightly, but being deaf is not the end of it.

I would dare say that there's a dimension to music, or more generally speaking sound, that cannot be heard but can very much be felt. I've spent a great deal of time (and still do) feeling music/sound through my skin and my body, and maybe because losing a sense sharpens others, or maybe simply thanks to focus, I discovered and appreciated a completely different quality to sound.

It might be easier to say because I've already gone through it, but I'm not particularly worried about losing my ears again. Sure it can be limiting at times, but being deaf comes with an interesting world of its own, one which I find myself longing for on occasions, as curious as it might sound.

Very powerful text. Makes me contemplate everything I have, everything I am sure to lose :')

I came here to say something very much along those lines: treasure the moments and the things you have while you have them, but don't cling, because you will lose them. All of them. Everything.

Definitely agree

"We’d be driving along and yukking it up and I’d pop in Congolese rhumba icon Papa Wembe’s “Awa Y’okeyi” and everyone would be patient for a couple of beats. Then somebody would break in with “Alright, what the hell is this?” and derision would ensue. The CD would come out and some indie thing slid into its place."

Hum, so his friends are extremely limited in their ability to understand anything not desperately mainstream. That's more or less the definition of limited cultural openness and poor taste for me.

> Hum, so his friends are extremely limited in their ability to understand anything not desperately mainstream. That's more or less the definition of limited cultural openness and poor taste for me.

Or the setting was just not right for putting on something new and unfamiliar. Music can serve many purposes, and easy listening or the communal knowledge of music can be very important.

'Driving along and yukking it up' might not be the right time to put on something that is unfamiliar, and result in a group rejection (and some gentle ribbing), in the same way that meeting with a bunch of friends on a friday night and putting on some weird art-house flick is likely to result in derision.

It doesn't necessarily mean that these friends are not open to new stuff though. Could just be group dynamics.

In dismissing his friends' taste he is guilty of the same. It's never fun to be the only person in a group who likes some music, but it happens and it doesn't make the minority any better or more open than the majority. It's just different preferences.

He doesn't really dismiss their tastes as much as provide an idea of why they were rejecting the disc he put in.

It's not like he put in something musically strange; it's a piano and a guy singing. A reaction of "what the hell is this, make it stop" is not very reasonable.

I guess one person's indie is another person's desperately mainstream.

This is wonderfully written. It reminds me of a condition called visual snow [1] where sufferers develop continuous TV-static-like tiny flickering dots in their entire visual field. Makes you appreciate the things you have.

[1] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/head.12378/full

This was a touching post. I've thought a lot about this in the context of my own musical practice and through an acquaintance who's been going through rounds of neurologists, MRIs and what not to get at those symptoms.

Part of musical practice is playing digital piano with the sound off, or playing a solidbody guitar unplugged and with earplugs in so i can't hear anything. The point being you have to extrapolate what sounds would be produced and later resolve what you expected and what you actually perceive.

Also, this reminds me of musicians like David N. Baker (jazz trombone), Evelyn Glennie (percussion) and Leon Fleisher (classical piano), who had different challenges but learned new instruments or kept playing when they were essentially unable to play their primary instruments. There's others: Django Reinhardt is famous, of course, but Michel Petrucciani not so much

I wonder why his doctors haven't recommended surgery. "surgical procedures are performed on the endolymphatic sac to decompress it."


I also suffer from Ménière’s disease (thankfully only in one ear, as an acoustical consultant having it in both ears would mean the end of my career) and while it was never bad enough that surgery was considered, my impression from speaking with doctors at a couple of prominent Boston hospitals was that the surgery itself and ongoing side-effects could be rough of patients so it truly is a measure of last resort.

Surgery can be used (as mentioned above) as a last resort to relieve persistent vertigo and dizziness, but it's very risky in terms of preserving remaining hearing, can cause total deafness.

Yes indeed. I happen to only know about the surgery because the first American to go to space in the Mercury program, Alan Shepard, was diagnosed with Ménière's in 1964, after his historic first flight, and was grounded. He opted for what was then very experimental surgery. For him it was successful and he went on to command Apollo 14, the 3rd moon landing.

Music is a very important part of human life. But in recent times, you rarely get to listen to good music, which is sad!

The good music didn't go away. We just keep adding to it.

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