Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Radiolab's "Pop Music"

Radiolab's podcast, Pop Music*, is about songs - why some invade our mind, how someone creates a catchy tune, music that transcends stereotypical cultures, and the way tunes are recognizable to a worldwide audience even if there is no clear “original” artist. The podcast claims a song’s melody that stays in our head is vague one typically only one part or piece of the song is remembered over and over again; this happens to me quite often especially if it is a Gwen Stefani song.


Sometimes, for me, the song I have in head playing ad nauseam will not go away completely until I listen to the song from start to finish, but sometimes it takes a little more than that like maybe listening to something else for a while or simply turning my brain off. Sadly, this is not the case for some people.

For one man, Leo Rangell, the music does not stop no matter what he does, is doing, or where he is going. Leo began having music hallucinations after he woke up from surgery and has had music hallucinations ever since, more than a decade now. When Leo has a song in his head, it is often reflective of a memory that is maybe not fully known but is recalled once a certain piece of the song plays; however, there are times when a part of his memory recalls a situation, like driving home, and a song, suitable for Leo, will play in his head.

Both comforting to some and nerve racking for others, music hallucinations specific to the songs people hallucinate are subjective for each listener, meaning what Leo would hear and what I would hear would most likely be two very different things. After all, Leo probably wouldn’t hallucinate Gwen Stefani but it is possible that I might hear “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”  Why? I speculate it is because I have heard both songs before.

Songs are more than the lyrics. Personally, the melody is more important. I have heard some songs that have terrible lyrics but the melody is simply fantastic. Perhaps it is because I cannot sing but I can hum to my heart’s desire and someone can turn and say, “Hey, I love that song!” This podcast raised me to ask: “Well, what song do you think it is?”

This podcast demonstrated that one melody can fit many different songs and sometimes those different songs can be overlayed with one another and there is hardly a difference. With these minute differences in song tunes, it is evident that many different cultures could communicate over these similarities if they could communicate about little else. Thankfully, technology is able to illustrate comparable works for other to hear. How else might someone listen to The Elvis of Afghanistan, Ahmad Zahir?

The podcast’s was done in a manner that is reminiscent of motion pictures in that the music does not overpower the commentary but instead strengthens what is said. The interplay between the two is familiar to me yet discomforting if I am the one to do it; however, a podcast is a personal reflection on a particular subject and this is something that Radiolab exhibits well and is something I would like to emulate. Yet, I would forgo the sudden jumps from one subject to the next and concentrate on making something close to a concept album where the podcast tells a story, not necessarily linear, but something that does not feel like the podcast should be separate tracks.

The podcast intertwines point-of-view and concrete, scientific evidence. It is almost as if someone asks why the sky is blue and gives both opinion and objective evaluation providing stories on different sides of the same coin.

Perhaps this podcast is less about how a song gets stuck in our head, which to me conveys a negative connotation, but rather how music stays in our head, how music communicates strongly to us regardless of culture or nationality, and how music can be with us even when we are alone.

*For more on this Radiolab's podcast, please visit http://www.radiolab.org/story/91629-pop-music/ 

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