Sonic Memory

Schecter Damient Guitar
Schecter’s Damien 6 (photo by Brian Wardwell)

Sonic Memory

Written by Brian Wardwell

A memory can be frozen in time. For some, it may be the diner down the street or a photograph of a building torn down and demolished many years ago. For others, myself it can be the way a loved one reassures us in the same way that they have since we were a child. For even others, myself included, the memory is sonic. Many people can hear a song and often have a visual memory of something related to that song such as a first kiss. Then, there are songs that they can not only define a memory but a core part of themselves.

One song, for instance, can bring me to a time as well as a place for me romantically. This song and period of life also revealed beautiful parts of myself that I never had seen before. Though it is possible these parts of myself may not be used again, a simple song can remind me that there are in fact these ingredients inside myself. This is even, or maybe especially, true on some days that are so dark that it seems as though no color can exist. Many of us, whether it was mix cassettes or compact discs or even the current playlist, arrange our listening experience according to a particular mood or even a vision/memory. I’m not a particular fan of musical labels, although they really are sometimes needed, but adore the idea of arranging songs to fit some particular need inside. We have our sad playlists, our “just clocked out at work” playlist, ones to wake us up in the morning or something similar of these.

These are some of the reasons why I think music is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. Finding anyone that hasn’t been touched by music in some way is nearly impossible, even in third world countries where they still sing, of course. Whether we call them composers, bands, or artists, there are also those who push the boundaries as even a definition of music itself. Dictionary.com defines music first as:

“an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color.”

This context can be used even in more recent boundary-stretching work as with Hans Zimmer‘s arguable theme for the Joker used in The Dark Knight in which he had a cellist play a single note under strain for long periods of time, seemingly endless, while the note very slowly stretched up one whole step and such as to create tension whenever the Joker was present. On a separate audio track, played simultaneously, he had guitarists simply do the same on the same note but with actual razor blades. The combination creates a very uneasy, emotional “theme” for the Joker. I use quotations in the preceding comment as some may not call it music. However, the above definition removes mention of music requiring high organization, any number of parts/sections, and so forth. It’s likely to be mostly perceived that in most music, or most uses, that music would likely need to contain something more or obvious repetition would be inevitable. Dictionary.com’s second definition:

“the tones or sounds employed, occurring in single line (melody) or multiple lines (harmony), and sounded or to be sounded by one or more voices or instruments, or both.”

This second definition obviously suggests something more. Regardless of the many varied opinions, which often tie into dubstep genre as well. Although, this is also nothing new. In the very late 1970s and 1980s, synthesizers were becoming more widely used. These boundaries were pushed fully by such artists as Germany’s Kraftwerk who went on to inspire Depeche Mode in the early 1980s and countless other bands. There were arguments over whether synthesizers and keyboards were so-called real instruments. The same happened with rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s from what my father and others seem to state. It’s likely a cycle that will always continue.

Whether it’s a piano, violin, guitar, synthesizer, or even a sampled piece of tin that’s being hit in rhythm with a steel pipe, music is no doubt all around us. I think one of the reasons why it’s so prominent and powerful is that any listener can easily adapt to, as said earlier, sonic memories. We can highly personalize a song, especially its music. A classical piece can be playing and you could close your eyes and imagine, and see, the ocean. Perhaps even though you’ve never visited this place before. It also helps us motivate, draw up energy, cope and grief, express happiness. While I think the first definition is too open, I love it’s use of the words “expresses” and “emotions”. There will always be rules, and musical theory, about music but it really is coming down to just vibrations that are used as language to express a thought, feeling, aspiration, or sonic memory.

Brian Wardwell

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