Wednesday, August 31, 2005


It's always a source of wonder, no matter how commonly witnessed, how memories are locked up in the caskets of our brain, but even more perplexing and amazing how even the tiniest audio, visual, olfactory, gustatory, or somatic (somatosensory as anonymous rightly cued) clue can unlock those caskets in an instant. Even more remarkably, many times, one type of clue unlocks memories associated with another type.

A case in point was experienced by me today. Many years ago, I had compulsively listened to a marvelous miscellaneous collection of pieces conducted by Arthur Fiedler for the Boston Pops Orchestra. The collection was one of those rare ones, where not just a few, but all of the pieces are superb abd worth listening to again and again. It had charmers like Anderson's 'The Syncopated Clock', Sousa's 'The Stars and Stripes Forever', Rossini's 'William Tell Overture', and Rimsky's 'Flight of the Bumblebee'. I used to listen to the CD with abandon, and used to play many of its tunes on my keyboard.
For some reason, I forgot to bring that CD here, and because musical treasures are so variegated and widespread, forgot about it for some time, even though it was fondly ensconced in some corner of my mind. A few weeks ago, out of the blue, I started recalling a tune from the CD, but only as a snippet. I hummed the tune day in and night out, but could not remember it in its entirety. More importantly, I could not identify the name of the composer no matter what, so that I could have downloaded it. I hummed the tune in front of supposed classical music buffs to no avail (but I do have to say I didn't hum it to some of the experts). Nobody could recognise it. I finally resigned recognition of the tune to some future time, or perhaps to no time at all.

Today, quite casually, I was browsing profiles of composers on the web. The moment was part of that post-dinner ennui, when you can really let your mind wander. I came across one of the French composer Georges Bizet, whose work Carmen had singly immortalized him in the hearts of music lovers. I scrolled through a list of his works, and one word caught my eye- Farandole. From Bizet's music for the play L' Arl├ęsienne (The Woman in the Arles). The Farandole is a southern French dance, and one of the two themes heard in the play. It's a somewhat sweeping and lively theme.

Suddenly, it came back in a flash. The tune I was humming to no consequence, was Farandole. Not just that, but the entire piece came back to me. When I went home, I could surprisingly play it as easily as I had played it almost two years ago! The interesting conclusion this event led me to, is that aspects of the arts or sciences, or motor abilities, can be completely enshrined in our selves as entire themes, akin to the kind of programs that would 'load' into the characters in the Matrix (like the helicopter flying ability). The slightest visual stimulus, the merest glance at a word, and not only did the tune come back to me, but the 'apparatus' necessary for me to play the tune also was instantly 'activated', so to say. Of course, this tune is pretty easy to play, and it may not be so simple for other pieces, but the general picture endures, and in fact, now I can remember it having happened more than once.

Today, I spent much of the evening performing for the Woman from the Arles.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This common experience is modeled by a class of artificial neural networks, called association memory networks, where presentation of a part of the memory can cause the whole memory to be retrieved. However, your experience tells us more: you could not recollect it from a part of the tune that you were humming. That is indeed curious. This means that not all parts of the memory, certainly not at all times, are capable of generating the sequence that leads to recall of the entire memory. On a minor technical note, "even the tiniest audio, visual, olfactory, or sensory clue": the last sense is called somatosensory and all these together, with gustatory sense, constitute the sensory apparatus.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I didn't know about the kamien music site . It's a good source for score snippets, so thanks!

You may find these interesting:

10:44 AM  

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