Sunday, November 13, 2005

Heard. Felt. Found.

Madonna - Let It Will Be

What music do you like? It sounds simple, but I think there are actually quite a few elements of confounding at work. It's like this...

Familiarity and fondness are intimately associated. I used to think that this was one of the most important contributing factors in determining music preference. After all, what besides the constant repetition and subsequent familiarity could explain the popularity of top 40 radio? Surely not the inherent qualities of the music. I was skeptical of some of my prefences. I found myself liking songs I had left on playlists by accident that I hadn't liked upon first listen. Do I like it because sequential listenings have revealed new textures or elements or do I like it because I've heard it before?

Active vs. Passive. Every other day or so I make a playlist of about thirty mp3s from various mp3 blogs and play it in the background while I'm cleaning or reading or folding clothes or something. I sort of worry that I won't notice a great song because I'll be preoccupied with whatever I'm doing. Does full appreciation of music require active listening or will passive exposure be sufficient?

And then there's mood. When I'm feeling energetic it pains me to listen to slow music. When I'm sad or tired something like reggae could kill me. Do I need to be even-tempered and unemotional to identify true preference? Or does every track deserve a few listens just to eliminate the possibility of mood-bias (enter, the confounding familiarity concept)?

Here's what I've come up with: Music that you really truly like, music that makes you feel or move, music that makes you forget your life or your surroundings, will stand out to you. While there are plenty of songs that I've discovered actively or through repetition, there are thousands of others I've missed. But those would be the intermediate songs: the ones you listen to when you're in a specific mood, because they remind you of a time, a place, a boy, a girl, or just because they showed up on the playlist. The music I love, the tracks I keep going back to, the tracks that feel like they're inside me, bathing every neuron, like I have to close my eyes and stop everything... those tracks stand out the first time, no matter how distracted you are, no matter what mood you're in. I'm sure it's all chemical, but it feels so good.


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