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Thoughts & Musings

Music. Musings on the power of music

I was abducted by two she-aliens recently. Apparently they’d singled me out because I was driving along with my music so loud I stole their attention. By a bizarre quirk of fate, the combination of Bjork and my unique vocal harmonies had created a sound strikingly similar to the mating-call of one of their alien men-things. I hadn’t seen the spaceship. They were in stealth mode. They were apparently playing a game where they hover invisibly over a car throughout its entire journey and change all the traffic lights to red as it approaches them. It seems the sounds emanating from me car got them all horny. So they’d twiddled the tractor-beam control, and I found meself in a predicament.

Fortunately, my bits didn’t fit their bits. And no harm was done trying. Anyway, after they admitted defeat and calmed down, they questioned me intensely about this strange sound coming from my car.  I explained that we call it music. They don’t have music. This revelation changed my admiration for their greatly superior technology and grasp of the English language into pity, as quickly as water turns that yellow powder into custard.

“How can you live without music?” I asked them.
“But what use is music?” they scoffed. “We’ve studied everything about you earthlings. We’ve observed it makes you emit bizarre sounds, and do strange movements. But we see no other purpose to it.”

“Have you got autopilot on this thing?” I enquired. “Right then, switch it on and turn off me car engine – or we’ll all get carbon monoxide poisoning. I’m gonna explain music to you.”

“Music is far more than something we can dance to, or listen to for pleasure, although its definitely that, I said. Music is something that expresses and invokes our emotions like nothing else can. It can fuse itself forever in our hearts and minds with people, places and events in our lives. Once that’s happened, simply hearing the music again – even decades later – can flood us with powerful recollections or emotions.”

I looked each of them in all 3 of their eyes searching for a spark of understanding. That’s when I noticed the one on the left was quite cute. “Go on,” she instructed, fluttering the flap of skin on the top of her head that covered her blow-hole.

“Well”, I said, “let me put it another way”. At this, they nudged each other and seemed highly amused.
“We tried every conceivable way didn’t we?” said the one on the left – the cute one. I remember thinking how strange it was that they don’t have music and poetry, but they have smutty humour.

“It can relax us or get us very excited”, I continued. “It can make us laugh or cry. It can make us feel happy, sad or even frightened. It connects with us physically, in some inexplicable way. Because of this it’s used in many ways other than just to entertain us. For example, virtually every advert ever made for TV and Cinema uses music. When combined with images it can create a feel, or a mood that cannot be achieved in any other way.

Virtually every film ever made also uses it to create moods and manipulate our emotions. They use it to give us clues about what is to come, or to lull us into a false sense of security. It tell us things about a character or their intentions. It helps make us cry, scared, or jump out of our seats. Even before sound was technically possible in films, music was played live at the cinema to accompany it, and serve similar functions.

I once saw a small clip of a scene on TV, where a man wandered round the outside of a house trying all the doors. He was looking up at the windows and trying to open windows on the ground floor. The first time it was played, it had simple incidental music that made it look like it was the man’s own house, and that he’d simply locked himself out. Then they played exactly the same scene with some sinister music. It immediately looked like he intended to break in and murder someone. The music alone changed the entire feel and message of the scene.”

The non-cute one leaned forward. “So this music can change the perception of a visual experience?” I leaned back tactfully. Her breath smelled of a strange blend of toothpaste and urine. “Oh yes”, I replied, followed by a slight cough splutter. “Without music, it would be very hard to frighten us in a film. If they have a situation in a film where someone is alone in a house at night, and they look out of the window to see a face staring in at them. In reality, if that was us, we’d get a shock. Our hearts would beat faster and adrenaline would pump round our bodies. In the scene, if they just looked up and it cut to the face at the window – that couldn’t really scare us. But if they’ve manipulated us before with the type of music that makes us uneasy, or teases us that something is going to happen, then we can get scared. If music jumps out loud at us as they cut to the face – we will jump and our hearts pound. We will have experienced the same shock as the person in the film. But with no music it just wouldn’t happen.

Sometimes they achieve the same effect by having no music at all in the preceding scenes. They rely instead on the contrast of virtual silence and sudden loud music. We often think it was the face that scared us but it was really the music that achieved it. Of course listening to the music alone wouldn’t have the same effect either. It’s the skilful marriage of them both that makes it happen.”

The cute one fluttered her flap again. The other seemed annoyed at her. “One of the very important things music can do is to carry messages with words that can be sung to it. Messages that may not reach us in quite the same way if the words were just spoken. In fact music is so powerful that it is used to help heal sick people. It is used to motivate, and to manipulate people all over the world in very subtle ways. Some even claim that subliminal messages embedded in the music can influences us.”

“Go on!”, they exclaimed in unison. At last I seemed to have gained their full attention. “Tell us more about this power to manipulate.”

“Ok.” I said. “But I have to get off soon or I’ll be late”. They mumbled something about altering the time continuum for me but I didn’t pay much attention.  I was all fired up about music. “Just as long as I’m back for me tea”, I added, and continued my explanations.

“Music can be so powerful it can threaten whole sections of society. Older generations often worry about the influences it seems to have on their children. Even Governments can become concerned about the influence of certain styles of music, or certain artists and their messages. Rap music, Rock and Roll and Punk have all been particularly controversial at times. Artists like Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Manson, Eminem, Sex Pistols etc. have all been banned or accused of having a negative or destructive influence on people. The American CIA watched John Lennon for years as they saw his peace messages and anti-war songs as a threat to their foreign policies. Broadcasters have banned songs, and musicians have been sued by people who claim their music has damaged their son or daughter.”

They looked positively engrossed by now. “This music sounds much more powerful than we realised”, said the cute one. “It is indeed”, I replied and naively carried on..

“In 1990 a British heavy metal band called Judas Priest were sued by the parents of two American boys who had shot themselves in a suicide attempt. They were listening to one of their albums called Stained Class at the time. One of the boys died instantly, but the other survived. The boys parents claimed that the repeated phrase “do it” was subliminally embedded into one of the songs and had triggered a suicide impulse. The allegations centred on the alleged use of a technique where verbal messages were recorded backwards on tracks. This was somehow supposedly planted subliminally in the mind of the listener. The parents lost the case. To be honest the idea that it could really influence us is completely ridiculous. But it shows that the idea at least had enough credence to make it to court. It also shows how powerful music is acknowledged or believed to be.

Another bloke, Michael Waller, shot himself in the head while listening to Ozzy Osbourne’s record Suicide Solution. His parents claimed that subliminal messages may have influenced his actions too. The case was thrown out because they couldn’t show that subliminal messages were even present in the record.

In 1997 Marilyn Manson was also taken to court by a parent who claimed his son had committed suicide after listening to his music. No case has ever been won. However, it just shows that some people give music an awful lot of accredited power.”

For some reason they now appeared disappointed. I carried on regardless. “People claim that music can heal people too”. The one with bad breath stood up. “Tell us more about the power to influence and control people”.
“Yes tell us”, added the cute one.

“Well”, I said sticking to my original point. “It can do good things like bring people back to consciousness sometimes.”

“Can it render them unconscious?” They blurted.

I was now starting to get suspicious and ignored the question. “As a demonstration of its power, I can show you a story of how it helped bring a human out of a coma. It’s done similar wonders many times all over the world for many people. It seems to be able to get through to them and awaken their desires to live again, which is awesome. Hang on, it’s in yesterdays paper on me passenger seat. It’s a good job you beamed me car up too”

“Here it is” I said as I held it up, “I’ll read it out for you.
Music brings youngster out of a coma – A Northumberland mother says her 12-year-old daughter came out of a coma after hearing Eminem through a set of headphones. Dione Armstrong was in a critical condition after suffering head injuries in a car accident. Her mother Karen says she opened her eyes after 11 days on a life support machine when she was played an Eminem tape. Mrs Armstrong, of Cramlington, said Eminem is helping to save her life. The minute I put on that music she was moving her hands. The tape was played through headphones in case other children on the ward were offended by his controversial lyrics. Songs played to Dione include Stan – the tale of an obsessive fan which includes themes of mutilation and murder. Mrs Armstrong told the Newcastle Evening Chronicle she is such a big fan. Every night she puts him on the ghetto blaster at home and goes to sleep to him. The youngster is now off the critical list and recovering on a normal ward at Newcastle General.”

“Interesting – tell us more.”

“Well, the modern use of music for healing began during our first World War. Musicians began visiting injured veterans in American hospitals just to entertain them, many of who were suffering from physical and emotional trauma. But it became apparent that the music was having a physiological and psychological affect on them. It seemed to lessen their complaints of pain. It appeared to calm them, as well as lessening their depression, and encouraging physical activity and recuperation.

Since then there have been many studies and it’s now accepted that music has a positive effect on our health. A bloke called Burke did some research and found that people who have music played to them before having surgery had a 21% drop in tension, used less pain controlling drugs, and left the hospital sooner than patients who didnt listen to music.

There are loads of people called Music therapists who use music to treat ill people. Scientists discovered that muzak piped into a New York City intensive care unit seemed to help lower the mortality rate 8 percent below the national average and other scientists have discovered that levels of stress hormones can drop while listening to it.”

“Did you say music incorrectly then?” the cute one asked.
“No” I replied and flashed a nice smile at her. I said, “muzak; which is used to relax people, to get people to work harder, longer and more efficiently or otherwise influence them in a subtle – some would say manipulative way. Although any background music is often referred to as Musak, Muzak is actually the name of an American corporation that through its sophisticated business programming pioneered the use of instrumental music for a specific purpose other than to listen to.”

“We want to know more about this mu-zac” they said again in unison.
“But I havent finished about the healing yet” I moaned.
“Mu-zac!” came the reply.
“Don’t you want to know that a study published in the journal Adolescence found that music decreased the pattern of brain signals associated with feelings of depression? And a Dr. Meyer said that he has patients that use music therapy and that the changes he’s seen in their behaviour, mood and mentality show that it really works?”

“Tell us about the Muzak. Will it make slaves work harder?”

“OK”, I relented, influenced by their now menacing tone and penetrating gaze. “The Romans used to use the rhythmic beat of a drum on their Galley ships to make the slaves row quicker and for longer. Also, the Shaman use rhythmic drumming music to send people into a hypnotic state. Excellent, came the reply. Trying to steer things to a lighter note I told them about my recent visit to the gym. I went to the gym, to work out on the fitness machines today and they play a specific type of music over the loud speakers in there.”

“Musak?”

“No, its ordinary popular music but the principle is similar. All the music has between about 100 and 140 beats per minute. It’s ideal for exercising to, and it makes us work harder to the beat without even really noticing. It’s played not so much for our listening pleasure, although it works on that level also, but as a motivational tool. We work longer and harder than we would without it playing. As I looked around the gym this morning, I noticed every single person was exercising exactly to the timing of the music. Even those that were going at it like a dog after a rabbit were still keeping in time with the beat, just at double the beats per minute. I tried deliberately going out of sinc with the music and it felt very wrong and awkward indeed. Its almost impossible not to go at the pace of the music. They vary the music tempo so that we have little spurts of extra activity followed by a steadier pace.

The people behind Muzak, which is used all over the world in places of work, shops and other public places, believe that their specially designed music can influence productivity in the workplace. They claim that when play fast music, people doing a very simple mundane repetitive job, increase their productivity by up to 20%. It can also influence the speed at which people do things in other areas too; for example, fast music will lead to people eating faster in a restaurant. It can influence the products that people buy. If French music is played in a supermarket, people will tend buy more French wine, or playing German music can influence them toward German wine.

Whereas music is art, Musak is seen as a science, which they claim when used in an office causes the workers to feel better, get more done and generally feel happier. Factory workers suffer less tension and fatigue. The main difference between Musak and other so-called background music is that Musak is carefully created specifically not to be listened to but simply to be heard. If we pay attention to it, then it has failed.

The rhythm of music is a part of us from before we are born. In the womb, our environment is awash with sound and rhythm, like the beating heart of our mother, the sound of blood rushing round and our mothers voice. We can even hear outside music from the womb and when played relaxing classical music, babies kick less and have a steadier heart beat. Tests claim to show that we can remember music we heard in the womb up to a year later.

Most people walk at between 120 -130 Beats per minute (BPM) The most common tempo for popular music is between 120 130 BPM. This is no coincidence. If you had music playing in your spaceship you’d notice that all the people walking around are walking pretty much in time with the beat of most songs played on the radio – even though they arent listening to any music. I watch them all the time as I drive around.

The most amazing thing about it is that Western music, is made up of just seven bloomin’ notes. A B C D E F G. With 5 semi notes (sharp and flat) in between it creates just 12 notes which can be further changed by repeating the same notes in a different octave. But music can have millions of combinations.”

“I want some of this music to take to our leader”, said the foul-breathed one. “We have been looking for ways to control you earthlings, our leader will be pleased.”
The cute one stood up and looked equally as excited.
“Yes, we have learned how to control your traffic lights, and now we can learn how to control you.” She then let out a heinous laugh and all of a sudden she didnt look very cute after all.
“You can go now, but we will take your car to play the music to our leader. Make it play because our fingers cannot operate your machinery, we will be able to study it back at home.”

Thinking quickly on me feet I took the Bjork CD out and replaced it with Black Laces Agadoo And Other Great Party Hits, which someone had left and failed to reclaim ages ago. I turned the sound up to full blast and wound me windows down.

“The CD will keep playing over and over again with the auto play so that when you get back home your leader will be able to hear it”, I shouted as they dumped me at the side of the road. I could faintly hear Agadoo playing as they flew off with me car and watched as they erratically drove round and round in a figure of eight pattern before smashing into a tree and exploding. From the way they were driving it I reckon they didnt like Black Lace much at all.

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