Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Earworm Torture

Perhaps the United Nations when, in 1997, they sanctioned relentless exposition to loud music as torture method, thought it too complicated to brand the exposition to bad and catchy music as torture too. For a fatal effect, a nasty melody does not need to be repeated particularly often, let alone loud. It entrenches itself easily into the lamentable victim's head and eats along all by itself. Probably the venerable organisation would find itself in a permanent lawsuit with pop song producers whose achievements were ostracised by the respective UN committee as potential torture music. Probably this very committee would have to give up at the task of identifying which music would be suitable for agonising which men, regarding the enormous differences in reception preconditions, and to proscribe it accordingly. Probably this top-class committee would give way commenting that, just like a knife is not only a suitable means to cube onions but also to kill somebody, virtually any music can be misused to torture somebody until his "will is broken" (see link list below).

Inhabiting an island of of carelessness which, to this extent, rarely occurs both historically, geographically, and socially (German in Germany, financially and socially situated, no risky profession as, e.g., soldier) I have of course never encountered real torture. In every day language, however, "torture" is used as hyperbole for arbitrary unpleasant situations which one cannot escape in the short run, in particular if someone has imposed such situation on oneself exactly because of that: "Please stop torturing me and tell me what we will have for dessert!". The torment caused by a, say, involuntary imagination of music conceived as bad has been of such a big impact on my life that, for myself, I would rank "earworm torture" somewhere in the middle between the rhetoric and the literal meaning of "torture".

When I was at school I gained money by playing in show bands, rather than wait at table or find a holiday job. Friends I used to play with in classical music ensembles and jazz bands were also sitting in, and we developed sort of an ambition at the challenge of covering song classics. The repertoire reached from songs I liked quite a bit down to the lowlands of schlager, with some of the most penetrant earworms following me to sleep. After a gig where the bandleader - a high school teacher, i.e. an authority for me then - in an unbearable act of anticipatory obedience, enforced "Adelita" again, it happens: completely exhausted by the show going on until long after midnight, packing up our stuff, heaving it into our bandleader's house, leaden way home, I am finally lying in my bed at dawn. Eyes wide open. Adelita doesn't stop playing. The feigned gaiety of the song pushes me on the edge of despair. I get up, go to bed again, read something, listen to some Miles Davis - nothing helps. My sweet Adelita. I wait until 10 am, I am no brute. Then I call the bandleader and cancel the band.

I do no ballroom dance since, no matter how nice or harmless the context, no matter how short, no matter how rudely threatened with the party killer verdict, even though, when I was sixteen, I did the advanced level dancing course and even won a silver medal at the end-of-course dance. Yet my schlager trauma is of more import for my work as band and theatre musician: whenever and why ever schlager, kitsch, trash, bad taste, "bad but funny" or the like remotely comes up, sunny me all of a sudden becomes unexpectedly complicated. The showband leader has not remained the only one I have cancelled for this kind of reason, and my dearest musical friends do not even ask me for projects suspicious of kitsch anymore.

On music as torture instrument (without earworm aspect):

+ Bad Vibrations
+ A History of Music Torture in the "War on Terror"
+ Music As Torture: War Is Loud
+ Music As Torture / Music As Weapon
+ Statement against the use of music as torture

On earworms:

+ Can't Get It Out Of My Head (without torture aspect)
+ Wenn einmal der Wurm drin ist (with torture aspect)
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