Music is a Black Hole
By Nate McMahon
Noise terrifies me. Like a swarm of bees inside my head, the endless buzz of external and internal stimuli drive me insane. So much to remember, to ponder, and concern myself with in my day-to-day life. Am I going to have enough money to feed myself? Do my friends actually want me around? Is there a future for me down the road - past the pain and the stress of my depression? Am I real?
My thoughts swing wildly between the inane and the grand. I have such immense, lofty illusions of grandeur and importance - sometimes, everyday I need escape. Music is my escape, my entertainment. A fine distraction. A useful tool that makes my life easier and more manageable.
And maybe I rely on entertainment too much, maybe we all do. I’m okay with that. My comfort zone is my coping mechanism. They are one and the same. Sometimes I pretend they are not. Sometimes, I think I have full autonomy over my life - that maybe the choices I make are actually my own and that I could “give up anytime” so to speak.
I’m a slave to my comfort zone, to my safe space.
I’m a slave to my friends, to my family, to my relationships. I’m a slave to my music.
My bed is my protector. My duvet heralds me into the new day, and nights, I snuggle away deep inside. Sometimes, I think I can escape the world and leave it all behind. Comfort zones and coping mechanisms are a double edged sword.
Each morning I find it harder to leave. My bed is more powerful than me and I do not have the strength or independence of thought to fight back. I languish under the covers. I skip classes. I waste away. I struggle even to eat - I skip meals and you can see my bones through my skin.
That was before.
Now it’s not so hard. It’s no longer my place of comfort, and I feel more in control. I’ve gained some of my autonomy back. Though, don’t get me wrong, while I would love to talk about my bed endlessly, you need to understand:
My bed is no different from your music, your relationship, your hobbies, your safe space. Please, try to see the forest for the trees. Please, recognise you walk a fine line between healthy and unhealthy escapism everyday. Maybe you abuse your art to avoid coping with stress, debt, depression or death. It is okay. A fine distraction, a useful tool that makes living just a little bit easier. We have all been there before. Some of us are still walking that path as best we can. I know I am.
All I’m asking is that you recognise when you need help.
As I said in my opener: Noise terrifies me.
We all learn to cope with the noise. As babies we learn to turn to our mothers & fathers and as children we turn to each other for comfort and companionship. Often, these social bonds are communicated through the language of music, and their positive effects continue to linger on in our subconscious. To this day, I can still remember my mother singing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and ‘You Got It.’ These songs help me feel a little less alone when I am at my lowest. They hold a lot of power.
I sang them to my girlfriend when she told me she loved me.
We can all agree that: in social creatures like ourselves...where sound was one of the most effective ways to coordinate cohesive group activities, reinforce social bonds, resolve animosities, and to establish stable hierarchies of submission and dominance, there could have been a premium on being able to communicate shades of emotional meaning by the melodic character (prosody) of emitted sounds (Panksepp, Bernatsky, 2002).
Essentially, these lullabies communicated our safety and our trust. My voice laden in history and nuance that would otherwise be difficult to express. I was always going to be there for her.
There is a sense of clarity I find in social bonds. A relinquishing of control. Freeing the mind of all the clutter and the noise. No longer does the swarm of bees sting me to submission. No longer is the world too much for me.
It is together that we find purpose, and it is together that we are stronger, more confident, and more capable. Together we form a plethora of communities. For some, art brings us together; music, sports, food - all offering alternatives to our endless concern and doubt.
There is freedom in slavery. The irony of escapism.
I am always listening to music through my headphones. The constant companionship stops me from slipping away. I know it’s not healthy, but still it’s my place of comfort and it never leaves my side. While I care about my friends, family, and relationships so very, very much, they are not always going to be there for me. Instead of leaning on them for emotional support, I lean into my music.
We all hear the music we like as something special, as something that defines the mundane, takes us “out of ourselves,” puts us somewhere else (Frith, 1996). I know.
It’s this escapism: this self-induced meditative state that transports me far away. It’s this medication for the socially-impaired that ‘disconnects’ us so-to-speak from more traditional means of community. Where we once relied on our neighbors, coworkers, and such - now we only need our internet, our media, our entertainment...
To, well, entertain us.
Although there is no denying the possibility of some primitive responses to music, most of our responses to music are learned (Lacher, 1989). Our use of music as distraction, entertainment, and escapism, is all learned behaviour. As is our unwillingness to come to terms with the horrifying noise.
We have created this culture for ourselves. This collective ignorance will never make the horrible noise go away. Our existential angst - mine and yours - is here to stay.
Panksepp, J., & Bernatzky, G. (2002). Emotional sounds and the brain: The neuro-affective foundations of musical appreciation. Behavioural Processes, 60(2), 133-155. doi:10.1016/s0376-6357(02)00080-3
Knight, A., & Frith, S. (1998). Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music. American Music,16(4), 485. doi:10.2307/3052293
Kathleen T. Lacher (1989) ,"Hedonic Consumption: Music As a Product", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, eds. Thomas K. Srull, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 367-373.