The Carpenters figure prominently among the pop neural pathways forged at this point of my life, which isn't surprising as they were the #1 selling American music act of the 1970s. They were a veritable earworm factory, churning out soothing pop sacharine ear candy hits for the masses terrified of the dark, terrified the Arabs were going to turn off the oil spigot, terrified civil order was going to break down, terrified the Ruskies were poisoning our precious bodily fluids, terrified of everything. Come to think of it a similar act could probably make a fortune these days.
So I've been doing some reading on the phemonenon referred to as earworms. Not surprisingly there is some evidence that susceptibility to earworm infections is corrolated with neuroticism, at least according to the research of James Kellaris Phd, university of Cincinnati.
"Earworms seem to be an interaction between properties of music (catchy songs are simple and repetitive), characteristics of individuals (levels of neuroticism) and properties of the context or situation (first thing in the morning, last thing at night or when people are under stress)," says Kellaris.
Earworm, a loan translation of the German Ohrwurm, is a portion of a song or other music that repeats compulsively within one's mind, put colloquially as "music being stuck in one's head." Use of the English translation was popularized by James Kellaris, a marketing researcher at the University of Cincinnati, and Daniel Levitin. Kellaris' studies demonstrated that different people have varying susceptibilities to earworms, but that almost everybody has been afflicted with one at some time or another. According to research by James Kellaris, 98% of individuals experience earworms. Women and men experience the phenomenon equally often, but earworms are more likely to last longer for women and to irritate them more than men. The psychoanalyst Theodor Reik used the term haunting melody to describe the psychodynamic features of the phenomenon. The term Musical Imagery Repetition (MIR) was suggested by neuroscientist and pianist Sean Bennett in 2003 in a scientifically researched profile of the phenomenon. Another scientific term for the phenomenon, involuntary musical imagery, or INMI, was suggested by the neurologist Oliver Sacks in 2007.
The Official Earworm Synonym List includes alternative terms such as "music meme", "humsickness" , "repetunitis", "obsessive musical thought" and "tune wedgy."
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are more likely to report being troubled by ear worms - in some cases, medications for OCD can minimize the effects.
The World of INMI Research webpage is a valuable resource with lots of links to interesting articles and research on the subject:
http://i.org.helsinki.fi/lassial/articl ... I_research
I found the following an interesting read:
The Perpetual Music Track
The Phenomenon of Constant Musical Imagery
Abstract: The perpetual music track is a new concept that describes a
condition of constant or near-constant musical imagery. This condition
appears to be very rare even among composers and musicians. I
present here a detailed self-analysis of musical imagery for the purpose
of defining the psychological features of a perpetual music track.
I have music running through my head almost constantly during waking
hours, consisting of a combination of recently-heard pieces and
distant pieces that spontaneously pop into the head. Imagery consists
mainly of short musical fragments that get looped repeatedly upon
themselves. Corporeal manifestations of imagery occur in the form of
unconscious finger movements whose patterns correspond to the
melodic contour of the imagined piece. Musical dreams occur every
week or two, and contain a combination of familiar and originallycomposed
music. These results are discussed in light of theories of
imagery, consciousness, hallucination, obsessive cognition, and most
especially the notion that acoustic consciousness can be split into
multiple parallel streams.
The entire paper can be read at:
This section on musical dreams and Ravel interests me as I find myself composing melodies in my head all the time. This serves to shut up my inner voice as I seem to be unable to talk in my head and compose at the same time.
4. The intense creativity of my musical dreams, complete with original
compositions and richly-orchestrated scores, highlights an important
contrast between what one can create in one’s mind and what one
can actually create and externalize in the world. A good case in point
is the composerMaurice Ravel who, as a result of a stroke at the end of
his life, developed expressive amusic symptoms, including an inability
to sing, play or notate new pieces (Alajouanine, 1948; Sergent,
As it turns out it has been suggested that Ravel's Bolero, composed toward the end of his life, may have been symptomatic of the composer's changing musical cognition as evidenced by the composition's repetitiveness.
Illness and death
During 1932, Ravel suffered a major blow to the head in a taxi accident. This injury was not considered serious at the time. However, afterwards he began to experience aphasia-like symptoms and was frequently absent-minded. He had begun work on music for a film, Adventures of Don Quixote (1933) from Miguel de Cervantes's celebrated novel, featuring the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin and directed by G. W. Pabst. When Ravel became unable to compose, and could not write down the musical ideas he heard in his mind, Pabst hired Jacques Ibert. However, three songs for baritone and orchestra that Ravel composed for the film were later published under the title Don Quichotte a Dulcinée, and have been performed and recorded.
On April 8, 2008, the New York Times published an article suggesting Ravel may have been in the early stages of frontotemporal dementia during 1928, and this might account for the repetitive nature of Boléro. This accords with an earlier article, published in a journal of neurology, that closely examines Ravel's clinical history and argues that his works Boléro and Piano Concerto for the Left Hand both indicate the impacts of neurological disease. This is contradicted somewhat, however, by the earlier cited comments by Ravel about how he created the deliberately repetitious theme for Boléro.
During late 1937, Ravel consented to experimental brain surgery. One hemisphere of his brain was re-inflated with serous fluid. He awoke from the surgery, called for his brother Édouard, lapsed into a coma and died shortly afterwards at the age of 62. Ravel probably died as a result of a brain injury caused by the automobile accident and not from a brain tumor as some believe. This confusion may arise because his friend George Gershwin had died from a brain tumor only five months earlier. Ravel was buried with his parents in a granite tomb at the cemetery at Levallois-Perret, a suburb of northwest Paris.
Which put me in mind of Phillip Glass who has forged an entire career out of composing loopy/repetitive pieces that you either hate or love.
Personally I love Glass. His arrangements and constructions resonate with my inner neurotic/perpetual music track, which seems to jive with kellaris' theory about simplicity being a property of earwormy music. Not surprisingly I'm somewhat fond of George Winston as well.
But to get back to my 70's easy listening/soft rock childhood soundtrack I offer you the following selections that may not be my favorite pieces by these artists but never fail to get stuck in my head, sometimes for days. Beware, here be earworms: