I have a theory about the relationship between music and thought which is very similar to another theory I have on somnolence. Basically, the kind of music that we choose to listen to has to do with whether we want our thoughts to be our own or whether we need someone else to do the thinking for us or simply to not think at all. In terms of sleep, our desire for sleeping has to do with whether we are prepared to confront our inner-most thoughts while aslumber. Yes, I will explain . . .
Bob Marley sings in “Trench Town Rock” that one good thing about music is that when it hits, you feel okay. That is the beauty of music — how it makes us feel. I think there is a relationship between the type of music we choose to listen to and how we want to feel. For example, I would say that there are three ways of enjoying music (at least, how I enjoy music). First there is instrumental music. Generally, I would say that instrumental music is Jazz or classicial music without lyrics. Next, there is music with words — music with words that we are listening to and processing. Then finally, there is music that has words but whose significance we are not concentrating on.
As a caveat, let me explain that I think in terms of words. Thus, when I am working and need to concentrate, I am incapable of listening to any music with words. The words distract me and I can’t think on my own. In these situations, I choose music which is solely instrumental. I use the sounds to set my pace. This is when I am the one who wants to do the thinking. I let the music serve as my background.
Sometimes, though, I do not want to think. I prefer to escape from my own thoughts, and I flee from them by turning up the volume and allowing the music to talk over the voices in my mind. Kundera writes something similar about this in both “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” and in “Slowness“. According to Kundera, there is a correlation between speed and forgetting, or rather the pace at which we move and desire not to think about our present reality. Thus, for example, we drive really fast to distract ourselves from what is around us. In the same vain, I think we listen to loud music to drown out the thoughts in our minds.
Other times, we want to relish in our present state of mind, but instead of actively creating the thoughts ourselves, we turn to the thoughts of someone else. That’s when we put on our favorite songs with our favorite lyrics. We like to be accompanied in our joy and pain, and feel someone else’s empathy.
In this sense, music serves all of our cognitive needs. We either think for ourselves, hide from our thoughts, or allow ourselves to be accompanied by someone else’s thoughts.
This relationship between the conscious mind and escapism I also find in our sleeping patterns. From what I can remember from taking psychology in high school (and yet I am having trouble finding corroboration on the net), children escape from the stress of life by sleeping as much as possible. This, as I understand it, is known as “somnolent detachment”. Basically, children are so overwhelmed by the stimuli of a new world that they must detach themselves via sleeping. Sleeping also serves the specific physiological function of giving the conscious mind a well-needed rest. And the way the conscious mind rests is by surrending itself to the subscious.
Thus, I wonder whether insomnia may at times be the result of a fear of confronting oneself with the subconscious. Sometimes our desire to sleep is to escape from the daily stress. It is like putting on loud music to overpower our thoughts. Sometimes maybe, like in Borge’s Circular Ruins, we flee to the subconscious world because that is where we are the most creative and lively. But, sometimes maybe sleeping is actually like the most gentle of sounds, Chopin’s Nocturns or Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #5, and we are so afraid of our thoughts that we do every thing we can to stay awake.
Our minds are like fertile little nests and hyper sensitve ears. We run to or from our beds and constantly play with the volume on our stereos to find that perfect balance between self reflection and forgetting.