Friday, September 28, 2012

Pod Club: This is Your Brain on Music

Hi. My name is Rachael and I'm a music addict. I first realized I had a problem when I found myself overdosing on Tori Amos in high school. It escalated to late night binges on Arcade Fire and morning fixes of The Kills. It's hard for me to admit, but I often used music as a weapon against myself and others. Many times, I found that I enjoyed manipulating the emotions of crowds of people with my chosen playlists for work when i was a bartender.  If I was happy, I could craft the perfect combination of songs to foster happiness all around me and vise versa (mwah ha ha ha ha). I've been in recovery for almost a year now and learning to keep music in it's place. 

Why does music provoke emotion? That was the topic of this weeks Pod Club pick found at How Stuff Works. They began by asking what emotions are anyway and worked into how art and music can affect humans in various ways. Our brain is one complicated piece of machinery. When we hear a piece of music, it has to process the many facets (rhythm, melody ect...) and filter them through each individual's variables such as whether that brain has musical training or a negative memory connected to Disco. I'm sure somewhere there's amazing footage of the little pockets of brain lighting up as it figures out what to do with a song. Does it cause sadness? Joy? Anxiety? Anger? Memories may be accessed that contribute to the overall emotion as well. We all have songs that take us back to an exact moment. I have entire albums that transport me to a specific time or place. Someday I'll map it all out and create the soundtrack of my life. Until then, some of those albums are off limits. I'm still just in recovery after all!

I think the part of this episode that was the most interesting to me was when they brought up breakup songs.  Apparently love and music both stimulate the Limbic System in our brain. One study was referenced to illustrate that when the Limbic System is activated for a period of time it's almost like being on drugs (my words).  So when the Limbic System suddenly stops being activated we actually feel the effects as if in withdrawal from an intoxicant! It was during this part of the podcast that someone said maybe you need to "unplug and not listen for a while" and it really hit home for me.  For some reason I've stopped listening to music all day every day. I became aware of how my mood would change depending on the song playing on the radio or on my iTunes. Put my music on shuffle and you'd probably find me rocking back and forth in a corner after a few hours. 

Musical guest Ben Sollee is introduced for the second half of the show and I couldn't help but identify with many of the things he said.  I grew up in a very musical family and started writing and performing music with my sister for years (and will again when she gets sick of Brooklyn and comes back to this coast). Ben talked about what it feels like to write a song and perform it live. How crazy it feels to watch complete strangers be moved emotionally by something you've created.  I took issue with one point he made though. He said a songwriter has to be careful not to water down a song too much but shouldn't make it too personal either. I'd like to just say this: Tori Amos. Explain to me how people such as myself and many many others can be taken on emotional rollercoaster rides by this musical genius (can you tell I'm a fan?) when most of her lyrics don't make any sense.  My opinion is that if emotion is in that music, you'll feel it.  Maybe you won't understand why at first but you can't help feeling affected.

I finished this podcast with more questions than answers. Why do some of us prefer one type of music over another? What is it that makes hospitalized children prefer music time over play time? How does music do so much that nothing else can? What is dub step? Does it make me old that I listen to more podcasts than music? Why do I love music but hate crowded live shows when live music can me so amazing? Should I use my powers for good or evil? Where did I put my Fedora?

Thanks for suggesting this one Jill! I hope anyone who stumbles upon my ramblings here will check out Jill's take on the subject at her lovely blog: Just Jill.  Tune in next week to see what our ears are up to next...Pod Club welcomes new members!

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