When sounds revert to sounds - detachment of sounds from memories

Recently, environmental sounds have started to sound like music to me and I have been trying to figure out why. When we hear the sound of an airplane, the sound automatically tends to evoke a visual image of an airplane (flying through the clouds), and the sound cannot be heard as anything but the sound of an airplane. But if the sound could be heard detached from the common image of an airplane associated with our memories, then it could be something completely new to our ears, free from all of the normal connotations connected to airplanes, and recovering its pure sound as a sound.

I think that memories are attachments that cling to sounds and music. Sounds of the wind evoke particular images of the wind, and sounds of a river evoke particular images of rivers via our memories. Basically, an environmental sound and its image evoked from the sound tend to be established in a one-to-one relationship (although the image may be very different depending on the person's experience/s). Also, some music reminds me of a particular musician associated with the music, or of a certain time of my life and emotions that were deeply associated with my past experience of listening to that music. These associations between music and memories (or the performer's individuality that the listener's brain senses from the music) could be other forms of attachments that may cling to sounds and music. Some people may enjoy listening to music by associating it with various emotions or sentiments that are stirred by the sounds in their own memories. Some people may enjoy listening to music by finding a unique, rare characteristic of a particular musician in the sounds.

Memories and sounds are associated in various ways. For instance, John Coltrane's music may move people in many different ways. Some people may be moved by sympathizing with Coltrane's inner voices, by thinking about his life and the historical background of the New York jazz scene around the time, maybe from what they had read in some biography about him. Or some people, who knew nothing about Coltrane before, may be deeply moved by his seriousness or sincerity (directly conveyed from Coltrane's sounds) as a rare quality, while appreciating the pureness of the saxophone sounds and his extraordinary creativity in his improvising. Or some people may simply love the jazz-ness or the old New York-ness in his performances. However it is approached, I think that it must be difficult to listen to Coltrane's music by detaching his music from his individuality or existence.

There was a time about 15 years ago when I was often listening to the music in similar ways, more or less. In those days, I think that I enjoyed finding the musicians' voices and aspirations coming from their souls through their performances, or the atmospheres of the particular eras that were evoked by their music. Or I may also have enjoyed listening to some songs by reminiscing about the past that was associated with a certain period of my life. Around the time, I used to think that those various attachments evoked from memories were something impossible to separate from the music itself, and just accepted them as important factors that helped to make the music memorable (or not).

However, I gradually started to feel uncomfortable with that sort of way of listening to music at some point. It was around 2007, when it had been three years since I moved to the U.S. from Japan. After the first three years in the U.S. when I had still occasionally become homesick, I noticed that some change was happening inside me. From some point around that time, I found myself not reacting so emotionally anymore when thinking about Japan. I was experiencing a sort of detachment, and I started to see the relation between plural elements that used to be combined in my memories - a past incident, Japan, and me - in a completely different way. It was also enlightening for me to realize that past incidents were nothing but past incidents, Japan was nothing but Japan, and I was nothing but me. Any of them was nothing else and each existed entirely independently, with no physical string between, and the bonds or attachments I used to believe connected these elements were only something I subconsciously formed in my brain without fully realizing over the course of my life.

This realization has led me to a new mindset in which I was not affected so emotionally by my past memories in Japan. This detachment experience could have partly derived from my self-defense mechanism to protect my heart from suffering too much pain with a sense of loss of my home country. But at the same time, I sensed that it was a significant process for me to be free from seemingly inescapable ties that had restricted my whole life before then.

In fact, it was a fantastic feeling to discover that I was completely free from various emotional attachments in my past memories when I revisited Japan. A tree-lined street in my hometown, that used to make me feel down whenever I walked by because of rather unhappy childhood memories, recovered its original beauty and jumped into my eyes as a pure joy. I felt the spring weather as nothing but the spring weather, the evening wind as nothing but the evening wind. The true beauty of each environmental phenomenon seemed to emerge suddenly, no longer affected by my own connections. All the emotional swings that used to stir my mind whenever I was in touch with those environmental phenomena had been cleared away and disappeared. It's important to note that my heart did not stop being moved by these phenomena, just there was no emotional attachment surging from my memories in between the wind and me. Just like some music can move my heart with its absolute pureness of the sounds, the wind can move me simply from the pure touch of the wind.

Since my mind became detached from various emotional reactions that used to be associated with the environmental factors I had experienced before, I started to hear music in different ways, too. Some of the pop songs I used to love to listen when I was in my twenties had lost their brightness from my memory. When all my emotions and sentiments that used to be attached to a song were cleared away, what I found there was just a set of hi-tech sounds composed with nothing but insensitive noises. Meanwhile, when I happened to hear an old familiar song that used to be everywhere and had never grabbed my attention much before, I was strongly moved with the pureness of each sound and the simple beauty in the chord progression as if I was hearing the song for the first time in my life. Perhaps that was because my ears were detached from all the old attachments in my memory associated with the song - the atmosphere of the time, the stale impression as an old familiar song, and my boredom in my childhood when I was originally hearing the song. The familiar song seemed to be born again in my ears, as a new song initialized. It was a fantastic experience.

I had a somewhat similar experience once at Otomo Yoshihide's concert at Pit Inn Shinjuku in December 2007. It was when I was listening to "Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi wo (Look Up at The Stars in The Night)", a hit song from 1963 by a Japanese songwriter Kyu Sakamoto, which Kahimi Karie sang at the end of the concert with other musicians' accompaniment. During the song, I was experiencing something very unusual and fresh - as if each word of Kahimi's singing suddenly appeared in the air of the space and was falling down to my heart one by one, like snowflakes were silently falling on to me. There was no emotional attachment or familiar image occurring in my mind. I felt as if the song were coming from somewhere far distant from where I was or had been - somewhere completely different from Japan or anywhere else in the world. In that performance, the old familiar song was deconstructed into pieces, the various colors and connotations that used to be attached to the song were cleared away, and the song was reborn as a new song with an absolute pureness completely detached from my (or perhaps anyone's at the concert) past memory of the song. Through the process of deconstruction to reconstruction, the song seemed to regain its original pureness to be able to touch a listener's heart again.

After a while, I started to experience this similar detachment between the environmental phenomena and myself at other times as well, even in situations that had nothing to do with my memories in Japan. I gradually started to feel uncomfortable with various attachments I found in the sounds of music - not only my own memories associated with the music, but also the performer's strong individuality or statement. Perhaps I started to subconsciously seek the fantastically liberated feeling that I had gained from this detachment experience in my music listening as well. My reaction of rejection to various attachments in music and sounds started to grow larger and larger, and the sort of music I wanted to hear was dramatically changed in the last couple of years. My encounter with Wandelweiser music around the time, which I resonated deeply with, became a trigger for me to analyze this detachment experience I had gone through to prove that it was an important process for me to become more free.

When a sound or music is liberated (detached) from various emotions associated with the listener's memory as well as from the performer's strong individuality and statement, or from a particular image of environment, the sound or the music could bring back its pure form - that must be the time when sounds revert to sounds. When the environmental sounds are heard as detached from the particular impressions of the sound sources - like a newborn music composed in a complex of various mysterious sounds, I am deeply moved with the fact that there is almost unlimited potential in the range of music human beings could hear. What I would like to listen to now is the music that could potentially bring me this fantastic experience of freedom.