Listening to music is one of life’s purest pleasures: a stroll through the most boring neighbourhood is made fabulous with the right music in your headphones (still listening with wires? Why not rent a pair of Beats Studio Wireless?)
The fact that we take for granted music’s power to move and motivate our minds is perhaps its biggest strength - and a slew of new ideas are taking advantage of music’s power.
Soon, you may listen to music specifically tailored for you to enhance your mood, or you might be prescribed learning an instrument to stave off mental ageing (get started right now with some music making gear.)
MONTAG’s Joe Sparrow finds out whether Muzak may soon replace Prozac…
Those pesky Teens, eh? Always hanging around your porch, looking for Pokemon, Snapchatting their Starbucks cup, and generally causing a nuisance as they strive for the perfect selfie. Here’s One Simple Trick to get rid of them for good: take advantage of their superior hearing.
And because today’s Teens aren’t into drinking, drugs or sex any more their ears are not yet dulled by years of nightclubs, hangover-induced tinnitus, or screaming babies - presenting you with a tasty life-hack opportunity.
Humans can generally hear sounds that dally between 20 herz (very low sounds) to 20,000 Herz (very high sounds). Play the above video that spans the human sonic spectrum - at what point are you unable to hear the noise any more? And did a local Teen start pouting and flicking his hair grumpily as the noise got higher?
The Mosquito is a device that plays a very loud, very annoying very high-pitched sound: the trick is that only teenagers are likely to be able to hear it, be annoyed by it, and go and hang around someone else’s porch instead.
Frankly, while this is a smart wrangling of age-based physiological differences, it feels a bit cruel: loud high pitched noises are unpleasant and painful. And while the Mosquito uses a physical trick to cause The Teens to scamper - there’s actually an easier, cheaper, and more fun method that relies on physiological tricks too: play really uncool music at loud volumes instead.
The LA Times reports that, “the sound of classical music is apparently so repellent to teenagers that it sends them scurrying away,” and “chains such as McDonald's and 7-Eleven, not to mention countless shopping malls around the world, have relied on classical music to shoo away potentially troublesome kids.”
The hilarious image of Troublesome Kids hitching up their low-slung denim and fleeing frantically to a place where the sound of Trap music is playing instead aside, there’s some fascinating sociological and psychological effects at work here. It relies on this simple system: when you hear music you don’t like, the brain actually suppresses dopamine - the chemical that makes you feel high and happy.
Conversely, when you do hear the music you enjoy, your brain gets a hefty squirt of the good stuff. And it’s this incredibly simple and measurable dynamic of “music in; happiness out” that’s being hijacked for good use.
Music Sounds Better With You
You’re more familiar with the effects of noise on the brain than you might think.
Your emotions have been manipulated with sounds for years: the thumping heartbeat is a staple in low-budget horror movies when a director wants to ramp up viewers’ fear (and then throw in a lame jump-scare in lieu of something actually horrifying.)
You've very possibly hijacked your own brain - or that or a baby (you monster!) Desperate parents have used white noise for years to short-circuit a screaming baby's brain and lull them to sleep. White noise, whether hissing from a de-tuned radio or a simple app, seems to induce a calm, sleepy state.
One psychologist who used white noise to provide a subtle and privacy-inducing wall of noise in his waiting room realised that he sometimes emerged to find his next appointment asleep, which I suppose raises the valid question of whether a client would find an unexpected daytime nap better value for money than an hour of talking therapy.
WHITE NOISE BONUS FACT: as well as “white” noise, there is also Pink noise, Red noise, and the intriguingly-named Brown noise. Disappointingly, Brown noise has absolutely nothing to do with the fabled “Brown note” made famous in an episode of South Park, where our intrepid heroes discover a noise so deep and loud it induces immediate diarrhoea.
If all noise had a knock-on effect as noticeable as spontaneous bowel evacuation, maybe we’d have more mindful appreciation of its existence, albeit with a dramatically heightened dry-cleaning bill. Yet because noise is just there, all the time, we tend not to think about the effect it has.
Noise is all-pervasive, but as anyone who lives near a local airport will know, we’re really good at tuning it out, even very loud, repetitive, 747-sized noise.
But too much noise also has huge, measurable negative effects on your health. Oh wait, and too-little noise too. It turns out that noise has a wide range of effects that are only just being full understood.
Studies at Berkeley University have found that too much noise - like a nearby wind turbine or a yapping dog - can have horrible negative effects on sleep, mental health and even your ability to learn. Meanwhile, if you put some people in a room designed to create absolute silence, they start to freak out due to the lack of noise.
Far from being something that’s just fun or annoying, music, sound and noise has a very subtle - and very deep - impact.
Bring The Noise
Music has an incredibly strong emotional pull: when a piece of music moves us, “there is little — in those moments of listening, at least — that we value more.”
So, if the brain can be gamed with a carefully-curated playlist, what are people trying to do with this newly-found skill?
One company, called Sync Music, seem to be running in 20 different directions at once as it uncovers new ways that music can make life measurably better.
They’ve also collaborated with Marconi Union to create bespoke music in tune with your heartbeat that is designed to calm you down, and induce peace.
And Soylent-slurpin’, growth-hackin’, full-stackin’ Silicon Valley types can add another Powerful Life Hack to their list, because Sync Music has a way to make you #worksmarter, too.
They’ve made a bot for wildly popular workplace chat service Slack which creates smart playlists designed to help you concentrate when all about you are losing their heads (or at least having an utterly tiresome Nerf Gun battle), or give you energy to plough through the post-holiday bottomless pit of emails.
Beats, Rhymes and Life
It seems that music may not only hath charms to soothe the savage beast, but also bring real, tangible relief to those in pain.
Anticipation of the emotional peaks during music triggers Dopamine release - this is what is responsible for the shivers of pleasure you feel when the Beatles hit their head-waggling, “ah-ahhh-ahhhhhhh-AHHHHHHHH” stride. But it’s possibly also useful for people with depression who need repeated mood lifts, or those who have diseases that result in low dopamine levels, like Parkinson’s.
It’s not a wonder-cure, but if listening to a playlist of especially-selected songs that are proven to boost dopamine alleviated even a small percentage of suffering, how can it be a bad thing?
Of course, this research was spun with inevitable hyperbole into “10 Songs That Will Get You High, According to Science”: but only you can be the judge of whether the above playlist, which features erm, Infected Mushroom and Tiesto, makes you feel violently happy or merely violent.
Meanwhile, other research has possibly found the reason that famously M.O.R. saxophonist Kenny G is so endlessly happy: playing an instrument and making music is, apparently, the equivalent of “a full-body workout for the brain.”
My hands are for one thing only: playing sax pic.twitter.com/ncuJJUBBAg— Kenny G (@kennyg) November 26, 2016
So, much like the recent realisation that MDMA may not just help you dance all night and tell your friends that, no-no-no-I-really-really-LOVE-you-mate, but also help loosen the mental chains around traumatic events; music may be able to help with the healing of this trauma.
Hmm, music that induces euphoria coupled with MDMA… maybe all those old ravers were onto something all along.
The Sound of Music
If the idea that “music makes you feel better” make you ¯\(ツ)/¯ IRL at the and-are-you-going-to-tell-me-the-Pope-is-a-Catholic-ness of it all, please curb your cynicism.
Yes, of course: it’s not surprise that music can make you feel things. But we now have the tech and the personal data to make it really useful.
By mixing up the bio-feedback from your Apple Watch with your sleep patterns from your Fitbit and blending them with the glut of data that your music streaming platform has on you, you could find your life is not just soundtracked to make everything nicer, but more happy, calm, and forgiving.
And because it’ll be medicine, maybe you can charge your Spotify subscription to your health insurance too. Now that’s a future I can live in.