Saturday, February 21, 2009

Halloween in February

In an effort to buffer some of the stressful politics-oriented reading I've been doing lately, I decided to start making my way through Oliver Sacks's Musicophilia today. Bad idea:

Dwight Mamlok was a cultivated man of seventy-five with mild high-frequency deafness who came to see me in 1999. He told me how he had first started to "hear music" -- very loud and in minute detail -- ten years earlier, on a flight from New York to California. It seemed to have been stimulated by the drone of the plane engine [...] and, indeed, the music ceased when he got off the plane. [...] The pattern changed when he flew to California in the summer of 1999, for this time the music continued when he got off the plane. It had been going on almost nonstop for three months when he first came to see me. [...]

When I asked Mr. Mamlok what his internal music was like, he exclaimed, angrily, that it was "tonal" and "corny." I found this choice of adjectives intriguing and asked him why he used them. His wife, he explained, was a composer of atonal music, and his own tastes were for Schoenberg and other atonal masters, though he was fond of classical and, especially, chamber music, too. But the music he hallucinated was nothing like this. It started, he said, with a German Christmas song (he immediately hummed this) and then other Christmas songs and lullabies; these were followed by marches, especially the Nazi marching songs he had heard growing up in Hamburg in the 1930s. These songs were particularly distressing to him, for he was Jewish and had lived in the terror of the Hitlerjugend, the belligerent gangs who had roamed the streets looking for Jews [pp. 60-62]


Certainly not the first time I've ever heard of the weird things the mind's ear can do as it ages (or responds to injury) -- but it spooked me all the same.

This is actually a fascinating book -- if I get my shit together at some point I'll write a more detailed commentary.

3 comments:

Matthew Wengerd said...

What a great book! After a short hiatus, I'm revving up to finish the last few chapters.

Anticipating your *detailed commentary*.

Anonymous said...

dude, check this out.

funny and interesting.

http://blog.wired.com/business/2009/02/ted-qa-neurol-1.html

ian

Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks, guys!

Matthew -- yeah, I'm getting more into it the more I read. Chance of eventual commentary: 90%.

Ian -- wow. Wow.