Jack Tame: Play that music again!

Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Saturday, 13 April 2019, 10:00AM
Photo / Getty Images

There is this moment in Beethoven’s 6th Symphony that just gets me.

The strings cross down and up. The trumpets move in response, the horns sit and pedal, the woodwind goes high, and ten minutes of tension and pacing blooms into this magnificent passage.

Duhhh duh duh duuuh, daaah dah dah duuuuh.

I’m not doing Ludwig justice. But if you listen to the Ken Nagano and Montreal Symphony Orchestra recording, you can even fast forward to 10 minutes 32 if you want to be cheeky and enjoy the glory of that passage without all the build-up.  I know this because my Spotify tells me I’ve listened to nothing but Beethoven’s 6th symphony for about the last month.

As you’re probably aware, music streaming services are the way most people my age listen to music these days. It’s just so easy. You can access any artist you want, any recording you want, without the need to fiddle around with a CD or a disk, or dare I mention it a vinyl record and a needle.

Sure, the digital age might suck the romance out of playing your favourite album. There’s no tactile connection. No sleeve to read. No shelves of music for your friends to peruse. But for me, it’s a small cost for the freedom to explore the entire planet of music for 10 bucks a month.

I have friends who leave it all to the algorithm. Spotify works out what they like, and compiles playlists of music that it figures will excite them or challenge them, or entertain them in some way. Imagine all the artists who might never be discovered otherwise. 

But if I’m totally honest, I don’t do that. I have this weird thing where I get one song in my head and I can’t play anything else for weeks on end. Am I a music snob? Not at all. For some reason, I’ve been kind of obsessed over the last few weeks with Romantic era classical composers. But before that I was thrashing System of a Down, the Armenian-American heavy metal band who write political songs about drug policy and Iraq. Before that it was the Mint Chicks, Crazy Yes Dumb No? Before that… a Spanish pop artist called Rosalia. Before that, Jamie XX, Rebel Rebel by Bowie. For some reason I play these songs many hundreds of times. I put Spotify on repeat. The tracks buzz through me before I go to sleep, as soon as I wake up. They’re the theme music to my day.

Duhhh duh duh duuuh, daaah dah dah duuuuh.

And as it turns out, I’m not the only one. Psychologists have recently studied why we listen to music on repeat. Obviously human beings are wired to appreciate familiarity. Radio stations have always known that. The Kiwi DJ Zane Lowe would even play songs twice in a row on air, sometimes. And be honest… when you go to see your favourite band in concert, would you rather they played their greatest hits, or their new experimental music?

What’s interesting about the study though, is just how extreme we can be with our favourites. Even in this digital age, where you can choose from almost every piece of music on earth, 60 percent of the study participants admitted that if they really like a song at any one moment, they’ll listen to it at least 4 times on repeat.

It follows something called the Wundt curve. It’s a bell curve. So the more you enjoy a song, the more you listen to it, the more you enjoy it, the more you listen to it, until you reach peak saturation,

Duh duh duh duuuuuh duh duh duuuuh duh duh.

And just as quickly as you become obsessed, you drop it.

You move on from Ludwig van to Frank Ocean, and then Muse. The best three piece alternative rockers on Earth. Oh how Matt Bellamy’s falsetto sores, lingers, and haunts. Play it again! Play it again.

Honestly it wouldn’t surprise me if after this month, I don’t listen to Beethoven’s 6th symphony for a decade.

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