“We never just hear music”

Music profoundly changes our emotions. Sound has the potential to turn our feelings inside out.

In September, I committed to bringing my mother to the theatre. Local theatres do a lot of film screenings, I found with disappointment. Among them, I spotted The Graduate. I don’t understand why, but I love the film.

The events and characters are grim. The atmosphere is anxious. The ending is certainly filled with angst. But that’s not the aftertaste it leaves.

I rooted out The Graduate in college. Third year of medicine, a year dedicated to learning ginormous amounts of information, weighed heavy on my mind.

It was the weekend. Alone, I had nothing to do other than study and the mood dwindled. Somehow The Graduate lifted me out of melancholy.

I reckon it is down to the soundtrack. Amazing.

In an essay filled to the brim with reference to science, a music cognition scientist (yes, that’s a thing), says:

We never just hear music. Our experience of it is saturated in cultural expectations, personal memory and the need to move.

The revelation reminded me of something a friend said. She shocked me with a simple truth: you start having sex long before you enter the bedroom.

So yeah, our perception runs away from reality at the first chance it gets. I am sitting here imagining: in a film about Macbeth, what soundtrack would I choose? And when you think about it like that, you see that music manipulates emotion like nothing else.

Addicted to headphones

As soothers are to toddlers, headphones are to anyone who has given up their soother. As someone who’s trying to incorporate as much mindfulness as possible into my life, I was wondering why listening to music is so addictive. Anytime I leave the house I get a little rush – mmm, headphone time! The gym is great for listening to music too. Weights seem lighter and the treadmill moves in slow motion to David Guetta.


Having learnt about the rush on dopamine that’s associated with anticipation and how it makes our daydreams addictive, I’ve become intrigues as to what behaviours of mine are affected by this. I think my craving for the bass to drop is the same.

It all began when I started exercising. As well as being phenomenally good for me, it has turned into an exercise in escapism. When I hear my favourite tracks, my mind always wonders to the good times I had with my friends and all those associated daydreams. Essentially, listening to music has become an augmented day dream for me.

It seemed near impossible to leave my phone behind as I went for my evening walk. It genuinely felt like saying goodbye at the airport as your best friend is leaving for Australia (that would be a remote location relative to me!) I did. And it was a very nice walk. I noticed the shops that I passed by, I noticed some cool constellation – still no idea what it is – and I even helped someone with directions. Most of all, however, I was able to think more clearly. 

My yearning for the headphones is a case of classical conditioning. Once the music is on, my thoughts are off to a nice place – away from here. They go in a circle and never reach anything. This time – walking without headphones was different – I was more aware of what was around me – and in my own head. I came home and wrote some interesting notes down about a question that had been bothering me before hand. All of these occurred while I was walking – in relative silence.

I would argue that it is good to give up the headphones once in a while. Maybe even most of the time. Listening to music is different for different people, but for me it is a way to run away from my current state into a safe place. It’s necessary sometimes, but most of us probably overdo it.