This semester, I am taking a Music and the Mind class. Right now the class is rather boring since we are sort of learning about the evolution of music and how it compares to language by using a linguistic standpoint. But I am really excited to see how the class progresses and hopefully we will spend a lot of time on how music can have such a profound effect on emotions.
Obviously, the lyrics of songs can affect emotions greatly, from songs about happy times to sad love songs. For example, “Almost Lover” by A Fine Frenzy will always remind me of my ex-“whatever we were but definitely not boyfriend and girlfriend.” The lyrics to me describe what we almost had and what we will never have again.
Goodbye, my almost lover
Goodbye, my hopeless dream
I’m trying not to think about you
Can’t you just let me be?
So long, my luckless romance
My back is turned on you
I should’ve known you’d bring me heartache
Almost lovers always do
But the thing about music is that it doesn’t have to have words to produce strong emotions. I think the best example I can give is the work of Burial, a English electronic artists that was for years anonymous and produced albums that were highly acclaimed by The Wire and Metacritic, among others. In 2008, Burial finally broke anonymity and announced his real name–William Bevan of South London.
It is hard for me to describe his music. It is listed as dubstep on Wiki, but it is far from the wub wub wub…..bass drop of today’s dubstep, Rather, it is closer to the old 90’s dub step that came out of the 2-step garage music. Burial’s music has very few lyrics and is composed of layers of repeating electronic sound that waxes and wanes during the songs. But something about the music can produce intense emotions that literally make me stop what I am doing, sit down, and listen to the sounds weave in and out of my ears. Emotions such as loneliness, emptiness, regret, anxiousness, and longing for something I cannot name, but at the same time peacefulness, content, and almost joy.
For example, listen to this song…
To me, “Forgive” sounds exactly like walking in a city at 4am. Lights are dim, people walk silently around. I am walking alone: remembering moments good and bad. Loneliness is inevitable but so is this sense of contentedness with life the way it is. I cry, but because of sadness or happiness I am not sure.
How can a song do this to a person? How can a song, just tones layered over each other, produce real, lasting emotions that can reduce a person to tears?
PS. If you liked “Forgive” check out “Ghost Hardware,” also by Burial.