"Oh, do you already know this song?" "No! :D [continues singing along]"

This memory is maybe 25 years old. Some adults were teaching a sunday school class a new song, leading us in the melody with the lyrics hand-written out on poster board. In fairness, most of those songs were I-IV-V-I in 4:4 time, and once you've heard the first couple lines of the melody the rest suggests itself. Maybe not to the other 10yro kids arrayed on the floor, but to me, yes.

Abe and I were just in the wine section of Whole Foods, stocking up for an early Friendsgiving, grocery store pop playing overhead, when I kinda ground to a halt as my brain tried to place the specific song it was experiencing. It sounded sonically familiar, but it didn't feel familiar. I'd absolutely heard it before, but it felt physically alien to me.

(I've come up empty trying to find anyone else in the world who's experienced this; maybe now that I'm writing this, we'll find each other. That would be cool!)

My body understands music profoundly. Not just the beat, on the X axis; not just the melody, on the Y axis; not just the lyrics, annotating the line. The whole of me merges with the whole fabric of the song, and in a very real way the substrate of Isaac plays along. It's like I rebuild the song inside of me as I hear it, one perceptual layer at a time, and whatever stuff I'm made of explores and interpolates and riffs on the song in realtime. I wander between all of the instruments and rhythms and effects, spending time with each voice, feeling out what it's up to and jumping in to play along for a bit. (I don't do this so much with the lyrics, now that I'm thinking about it. I'm hyper-aware of them, but it's just to parse them -- I don't join in.)

All told, it's essentially just tapping one's toes to the beat, but dialed way way way up. I think most people do some version of this themselves, whether it's just toe-tapping or something further out on the scale. And if you've got a couple people who all hang out at the same place on that complexity scale, voila! A jam band appears! Or, further out, Hiatus Kaiyote.

Anyway! Whatever internal mechanisms I have that get into this stuff, they're always on. If I'm hearing simpler music, it happens without me noticing. I'll physically lean into the tilts of the song, or I'll start murmoring a harmony line that wanders around the melody. For more complex stuff, I might pause what I'm doing to pleasurably lose myself in it for a minute. (This isn't super unusual, but I really want to know if this next part is.)

And then there's musically simple stuff that happens to catch me at an odd angle and just baffles me, until I manage to expunge my body's first attempt at rebuilding and inhabiting the song. It is a literal struggle to flush that construction out, so my system can start over and properly build a match for thing it's hearing. I haven't been able to find a properly effective analogy for this, but it's sorta like starting a season premier of a show and realizing you'd accidentally skipped ahead a season. It all looks familiar, but not all of it, and you know it should all be familiar, but it might take you a couple minutes to realize that your context is incomplete -- that you've got most of the background, but the background you have doesn't give you a working model for what's happening.

Back to the grocery store. I picked up the melody (and the beat, and the backing chords, etc) halfway through some random measure of Run-Around, by Blues Traveler. Which was fine, except that if you slide all the music to a song half a measure to the side, and just skip the first two notes so as to just jump into the third, it's a very different song. It's unrecognizable. The patterns are alien. Even as my brain is like "okay yeah I know these sounds", I couldn't place it in my memory as a song. I imagine it's what dementia feels like -- something's telling you it should be familiar, but you can't find any connecting paths.

For a solid minute there in Whole Foods, I sat there with the radio in one ear (figuratively) and my body's mirrored performance of the song in the other (still figuratively) while some other part of my brain was saying "wait hang on this is certainly a song we've heard but it feels like musical pig latin and I can't resolve the original musical idea at all".

So that's one thing.

I think this thing I have is why I'm able to "listen" to systems, in general, and "hear" the direction that they "want" to go to in. I think that the information I glean from this sense lines up with reality, and I think that's why the things I build based on that sense reliably prove themselves in the long run.

I also think that I rely so heavily on this sense that it's emotionally disregulating when that sense yields static, noise. This happens most often when I try to parse complex social dynamics. (Autism!) It also happens when I'm trying to work with a badly inconsistent system. It goes beyond the whole "I won't follow rules I don't understand" -- it's "I know that the rules came from somewhere, but I don't know that background, so I can't infer anything about the patterns of the world they're meant to address, so I can't add my knowledge of this pattern to my internal model of the world, which means there is now an unknown element of risk to everything, and I suddenly don't feel safe moving at all".

Don't know how to end this. I'm realizing this stuff as I write it. An ending doesn't exist yet, then. Interesting interesting interesting. Thank you for reading? :)

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