§ One of the hazards of listening to somewhat obscure electronica, or really any non-mainstream instrumental music, is that you can’t search for lyrics to identify something stuck in your head. For many, including myself, that’s the go-to search method to identify a song in the wild: note a novel phrase in the lyrics and search the web when you get the chance. Chances are very good that the lyrics are online somewhere—with the title and artist.
You can’t do that if there aren’t lyrics in the part you remember, though. I went for literally several years hearing the sound at ~2:36 in “Waxen Beats” by Vesna without remembering where it was from. I tried to find it (hmm, sounds like that one DJ Shadow track on The Private Press … listening … listening … no, that’s not it. Argh!) and then quite accidentally heard it during a listen to Vesna’s album. It was like hearing angels singing the lost chord.
Since 2008 I’ve heard the three snare hits at ~0:41 in Brothomstates’ Qtio echoing in my head. I kept thinking it was Techno Animal, but, no. Well, you might note that this track samples The Pharcyde’s classic “Passin’ Me By”. One magic day quite recently I put them on. I think YouTube suggested Qtio next, which I hadn’t heard in years–not since I bought it on vinyl, and then gave my turntables to a friend. So feeling sentimental I gave it a listen … and felt God break like a tidal beat in my ears.
This problem compounds when you are musically illiterate—as I am. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had to hum some theme or other for a classical musician because it was stuck in my head and I had no way to search for it online. Even though we’re in the 2010s and search tools exist that can handle music note queries, I wouldn’t be able to use it without an off-putting amount of effort. And that’s assuming the particular theme is in the given tool’s database. Other tools exist that search by audio signature. Something catchy is playing over a café PA? Record a few seconds by smartphone and get track information. That’s just amazing. Sadly, it doesn’t help if the music is playing only in my head.
I was clubbing after a wedding reception and a fantastic dance anthem came on. I still hear it, and I heard it again at the reception for another wedding. The song itself was just the interchangeable grooves of a moment in pop culture, quickly forgotten by society, and quickly passed through in each DJ’s mix, but I remember the grooves vividly in my fingers and feet. But the words? I couldn’t remember a phrase meaningful enough to search for in the lyrics—most dance anthems’ lyrics are roughly the same—and I just lived with twitchy fingers until luck led me to listen to and recognize it again.
In dreams many hear (or at least remember) audible speech without the actual meaning. It’s like we dream about the idea of speech rather than the ideas in the speech. How does someone find the words they don’t remember? Do you find them at all? Or do you let go of the unimportant details and focus on the fact that speech occurred—or, for that matter, that the music was good?