Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Voices Inside My Head
Reports the Times’ Carl Zimmer, “Musical hallucinations were invading people’s minds long before they were recognized as a medical condition. ‘Plenty of musical composers have had musical hallucinations,’ Dr. Aziz said.”
This stopped me dead. I wasn’t shocked that people heard music in their head — what stunned me was that it would be considered unusual, because I’ve had an internal soundtrack my entire life. Moreover, I thought everyone did. Certainly, the phenomenon is common enough that seemingly everyone goes through the annoying “song stuck in my mind” situation at least once. And surely musicians and DJs regularly imagine or recall music mentally as part of their creative process. Why else would they talk so much about “getting the sounds inside my head” onto to tape? (Or hard disc).
Further research into this seems to suggest that what differentiates the sounds in my head from musical hallucinations is that I can distinguish between internal and external sound — not unlike the distinction between maintaining an internal monologue and actually talking to yourself. Except that, just as not everyone plays music, I suppose that not everyone keeps an internal soundtrack going full-time — much less conjures entirely new songs or sounds in their mind’s ear.
Still, it’s a bit distressing to read about a researcher describing a composer’s imagining music as a form of hallucination. But, as Greg Sandow points out, cluelessness about classical music is disturbingly common these days, even among the ostensibly intellectual. There was a time when every well-educated person could be presumed able to read music, and would likely sing or play on a regular basis. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the only sound in some heads these days is the seashell hiss of white noise.