Tuesday Evening Melody: “Meeting Mirabelle” from Shopgirl
by Scott Inglett, guest contributor
Do you ever dream music? I do. It’s infrequent — with a recurrent form, a recurrent structure, and recurrent imagery accompanying it. The imagery always involves some form of flight, as if I am actually soaring on high.
A series of chord progressions begin with the tonal color or timbre of cellos, of violins, of bowed instruments of some sort. The ground quickly drops beneath me until I’ve risen to a height that’s perhaps a tree length above the tallest trees appearing below, with a forward motion, a forward acceleration, that rapidly picks up speed, until the green leaf rooftop of some forest speeds underneath or the ripples of water, perhaps the surface of some river or ocean, rapidly dart behind me.
From time to time I might cross a small town, never a large city of any sort, but with streets and buildings that quickly disappear from my peripheral vision as I shoot across them. The music that accompanies my flight pulses and weaves with no discernible melody, just a mass of flowing chords that seem to match my speed, that seem to be the force propelling me. And, accompanying it all, there’s a mixed sense of exhilaration, of joy, and a deep longing that, in turn, makes me long to keep dreaming soon after I wake.
One day I saw the movie Shopgirl and felt exactly the same longings I felt in my dream, the longings the composer obviously wanted to ascribe to Mirabelle, the heroine of the film.
The reason I bring this up is Daniel Levitin’s book, This Is Your Brain on Music. He’s a neuroscientist who currently runs the Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University, but was at one time “a session musician, sound engineer, and record producer working with artists such as Stevie Wonder and Blue Oyster Cult.” Levitin mentions a few things in his book that have me wondering about just what might be possible:
“When I was in graduate school, my advisor, Mike Posner, told me about the work of a graduate student in biology, Peter Janata. … Peter placed electrodes in the inferior colliculus of the barn owl, part of its auditory system. Then, he played the owls a version of Stauss’s ‘The Blue Danube Waltz’ made up of tones from which the fundamental frequency had been removed. Peter hypothesized that if the missing fundamental is restored at early levels of auditory processing, neurons in the owl’s inferior colliculus should fire at the rate of the missing fundamental. This was exactly what he found. And because the electrodes put out a small electrical signal with each firing - and because the firing rate is the same as a frequency of firing - Peter sent the output of the owl’s neurons to a small amplifier, and played back the sound of the owl’s neurons through a loudspeaker. What he heard was astonishing; the melody of ‘The Blue Danube Waltz’ sang clearly from the loudspeakers.”
Might it be possible to record the music I dream? What would it sound like to my daylight mind? Would it affect me as profoundly while awake as when experienced while dreaming?
Scott Inglett works for a small, web-related software development company here in Rochester, Minnesota. I love the arts, am a bookish sort, and according to Myers-Brigg am also an INFP, which explains quite a bit.
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