Why can’t we remember the names of our favorite songs anymore? Nicholas Henderson considers memory loss through new music platforms.
I was 24 and living in my parent’s computer room. My hometown sits in a river valley between a ridge of sandstone bluffs and the Mississippi river. On a typical day, I drove around in my family’s Mazda hatchback, Bluetooth-equipped, with my iPhone synced to the stereo. My standard route went from a park next to the river to a lookout point atop the highest bluff and then back down to the river again. I did this for hours, every day, speaking to no one, compulsively sucking weed from my handheld vaporizer. I often listened Fredo Santana’s song “Stay Da Same” on level “63,” the highest volume setting.
Nothing ever stay the same
Nothing ever stay the same”
Today, Uber envisions their future fleet of self-driving taxis as an ‘endless ride,’ a phrase that aptly describes how I remember my drives. I cannot tell days from weeks, nor weeks from months. The cyclical gravity of the ride, aided by the blunted synergy of sedative hypnotics and loud bass frequencies, produced a kind of hole in memory that absorbs and implodes any attempts at chronology. When I linger too long in the memory, trying to parse something like a ‘day’ that ‘happened,’ I feel as though I am being pulled into the hole and if I let myself go, I might not return.
Whenever I visit home, my phone is still synced to the car and will begin to play music through the stereo without prompting.
I went to high school from 2005 to 2009. Before I got my first iPod in 2006, I carried a portable CD player around the halls with four or five discs to change out. I remember feeling secure with my over-ear headphones on during study hall or in between classes. It was like a signal to my peers that I was experiencing moments of emotional authenticity with the music.
Making playlists was an important ritual for me then. I made them by rearranging tracks from CDs I’d purchased, songs downloaded from iTunes, and MP3s I pirated or from uncompressed .ZIP files off sites like MediaFire or Megaupload.
In iTunes, it was simple to make playlists, and encouraged by the branding of the software: Apple products allowed for personal creativity and intimate emotion to flourish. I used to spend hours perfecting the sequencing, listening to various sutures that formed as I rearranged the tracks or changed the delay time between them. I’d burn the finished lists to CD-Rs and give them to friends as tokens to cultivate a new, unspoken layer of intimacy. Sometimes I would slip in my own nascent compositions, recorded and produced in Garageband. The transitions between songs became so familiar that I still bear the imprints of some of the sequences and will anticipate the beginning of songs I can no longer name when I hear the loose ends of others.
In 2013, my final year of college, I started a Tumblr about 160 bpm dance music. Specifically, I was inspired by footwork music, a fast and sampladelic style of house music originating from Chicago, because I’d come to perceive it as a kind of future vanguard. I had ceased to experience music relating specifically to the experience of myself and those I held close, I became convinced that more important than intimacy was correctly perceiving the shape of emerging aesthetic trends. Probably intuiting that I lacked the ability to perceive everything, I doubled down on my drive to specialize, to claim an authoritative perspective, and sought to calibrate my awareness perfectly with the frequency of what was about to happen.
But the rise of online platforms like SoundCloud spawned a seemingly endless wave of faceless artists and trying to witness everything that fell within that narrow parameter soon became overwhelming. I was constantly scrambling to publish analyses of tracks that had posted an hour ago. I failed utterly. The project made me crazy and obsessive, myopic and deluded in my sense of the direction that culture was moving.
It didn’t help that my MacBook died that spring. Being short on funds, I purchased my first Chromebook, which lacks a hard drive and the ability to run programs to easily manipulate large media files. However pathologically, I adapted: as I began to lose my libraries, I started relying on the Cloud. I streamed music from SoundCloud and wrote blurbs in Google Docs. No longer owning the space where my memories were stored, I sought to stake territory within the perpetually eroding artifice of ‘now.’