What is your first true memory? A memory that is yours and yours alone? So often, especially with our early memories, what we believe to be records of our own experience are really recollections of stories told to us by relatives or recalling photographs we’ve seen over the years. Can you think of something that you remember with pristine clarity? I find that when playing this game with myself, the more “complete” the memory, the more likely it is that I’m actually accessing a stored experience, not conjuring up a fabricated image of parental tales or stills that inspired all those vintage instagram filters.
What do I mean by a “complete” memory? I’m glad you asked. To me, a memory is complete when it incorporates many different sensual experiences. Can you recall a scent that was in the air? Is there a feeling associated with the experience? Are there sounds? Tastes? A solely visual memory is suspect, as far as I’m concerned. A kinesthetic, gustatory, olfactory or auditory memory seems to carry much more weight. Haven't you ever gotten a whiff of something that overwhelmed you with a flood of memories? That's what I'm talking about.
My very first memory that I know is being generated by my own internal hard drive, comes from a time when I was very small, perhaps still an infant. I can remember rolling around on brown carpet and the slight smell of “old” rising out of the 70’s shag. I’m watching a thin tape transfer from reel to reel on an old player, mesmerized by the spinning circles. However, the sensation that dominates this memory is auditory; I am enraptured by the sound that permeates the air and saturates every cell of my body. I’m sure I had heard music before this moment, but I’m fairly certain this is the first time I ever really listened to music. It’s something I’ll never forget, mostly because when I’m wholly present and listening to music now, I still get that same, original feeling of rapture. Total immersion in presence, bathing in bliss, fully in flow, as perfectly human as I’ve ever been or ever will be. Aaaahhhh…music.
What is this human fabrication of rhythm and tone? It’s inextricably entwined with the entire existence of our species, yet, evolutionarily speaking, it serves no real purpose beyond our own pleasure. It’s not like music is necessary for our survival. We could certainly go on living, as a species, if all recollection of music were somehow stricken from the collective memories of all humanity. It’s not food or water or sleep or oxygen or warmth. We can certainly function without it, but to what degree and for how long? This is just my opinion on a silly thought experiment, but I think life would be a vacuous pit of despair without music. In fact, running along with this thought experiment, I think a world full of humans and instantly devoid of music would last exactly eight bars before music is reintroduced back into the cultural milieu. All it would take is one inflection of the voice and we’d feel the harmonic vibration within, a handful of footsteps in rhythm and immediately we’d want to explore that beat….because it feels So. Damn. Good.
Do you know anyone that doesn’t like music? I’ve know people who don’t really care about music, but to actively dislike it? That’s something I’ve never come across. Have you? There seems to be no real limit to human pathology, so I would not place it outside the range of possibility that there’s someone out there who has some type of hyper-aural over-stimulation where the sound of anything drives them insane, but that has less to do with music specifically as much as sound itself. Then there’s the unfortunate case of melophobia where a person carries a deep fear of music, but there’s nothing inherent or genetic about that disorder. It comes from a traumatic experience that occurs while music happens to be playing. The horror of the experience becomes associated with the sound of music and generates the fear. This has been proven to be reversible through therapy or Neural Linguistic Programming, so back to the question at hand…
Why is music so thoroughly embedded into the human experience?
Perhaps, it’s not just a human thing, but an entire existence thing? We humans seem to house a unique and particular flavor of consciousness, one that is markedly different from that of any other species on this spinning celestial orb we inhabit. Without getting too woo-woo or esoteric (too late?), this expansive sort of consciousness seems to act as a bridge between corporeal reality and a more subtle, unseen realm. A realm of thought where creativity flourishes and will is born. A realm of infinite possibilities where ideas swirl and belief takes root. To borrow a word from Teilhard de Chardain, a noosphere. Perhaps this noosphere, and humanity’s unique access to it, is why music is so important to our species?
Many different fields of religious and scientific study point to a primordial sound or vibration. Theoretical physics, Vedic philosophy, Dzogchen Buddhism, Christianity, even some 18th century Western philosophy seem to suggest that before anything ever happened in the physical dimension, there was an all-pervasive vibrating sound that not only sustained reality, but was the whole of reality itself. These doctrines appear to suggest that this beginningless sound or vibration continues to be the baseline of all manifest reality, it somehow generates reality. That’s some far out stuff, man! Taking all this into account, is it that far of a reach to say that everything is music? Now, I’m not making any claims as to the veracity of any of these traditions, but it’s pretty darn interesting that belief systems as seemingly disparate as science, philosophy and religion all make similar claims about the nature of existence, is it not? I think so.
There’s a lot of Belief Systems (or BS…wink, wink) to unpack here, but that will have to wait for another time. Right now, I’m enthralled with the idea that we humans might have an innate link to the primordial sound that all that BS is alluding to. Perhaps we make music out of necessity. Perhaps it is our birthright. Maybe, just maybe, our whole reason for being here is to perform the great song of existence. If so, sing on my friends. Sing as if the whole universe depends on it…because it just might.