“Music as a catalyst for artistic creation: Connections between sound and memory”
By Julieta Vergara
This article is accompanied by a musical proposal of the author's choice. We invite you to enjoy it while reading or at the end of the reading.
When you finish reading and listening to the song, close your eyes and ask yourself: What does this melody make you feel? What images come to your mind when you listen to it? Does it remind you of something in particular? As you begin to explore the scenarios in your mind that are born from the music, you will be contacting parts of your visual and sound memory.
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Julieta Vergara has a master’s degree in psychoanalytic psychotherapy of children and adolescents by the Mexican Psychoanalytic Association. She has a specialization in hospital psychology from the Universidad Iberoamericana and in art psychotherapy from the Mexican Institute of Art Psychotherapy. She studied psychology at the Universidad Iberoamericana.
She has participated as a speaker in several symposiums on the therapeutic function of art and psychoanalysis, in venues such as the Children's Psychiatric Hospital "Dr. Juan Navarro" and the Universidad Iberoamericana.
She is currently dedicated to private practice as well as to the study and dissemination of the relationship between psychoanalysis and art, due to her passion for the human unconscious and artistic manifestations.
Music is one of the creative expressions par excellence of human beings. Rhythms, tones, melodies, and songs have been part of an act that has accompanied humanity since its beginnings. Unlike other arts, where its creation is mostly subject to artists and/or scholars of the area, musical production is within the reach of anyone; the strike of the palms of the hands in a rhythmic way is enough to give rise to a melody.
This ease in its creation and transmission, renders it inseparable from the history of man: it appears in rituals, festivities, masses and ceremonies, where it manages to transmit belonging and union among the members of a community. It is also possible to experience it in the privacy of a room, where its ability to accommodate and express thoughts and affections makes it one of the most common means of emotional discharge. The scope and presence of music in human life is such that it has become a language for the masses, carrying a hymn of social and political struggle. Therefore, music and its symbolic function is a form of inscription of human history.
Fig. 1.- Representation of music in medieval times.
However, music goes beyond being a social or artistic testimony of the human being, it contains what dwells in the depths of the human soul: thoughts, fantasies, experiences, regrets, pain, and hope.
As Carrera (2012) mentions, music is one of the arts that mostly acts from the realm of fantasy and feelings, moving away from the rational and the realm of intelligence. Perhaps for this reason, music maintains such an essential role in earthly life, dispensing of the connection and influence of the intellectual mind. Thanks to its presence we can connect with an inner world, with the most emotional and primitive part inside each of us.
In this connection, between the musical chords and our emotional world, a phenomenon can silently emerge. Through this link, artistic inspiration finds a way to make itself present. Since centuries ago, human beings already knew of the invocation spell that music has on creativity.
The question then goes further: What exists in this path between music and our inner self? How was this path constituted to achieve such a connection between the outside and the inside? I propose the answer can be found in our body and our memory.
Inspiration through the muses
First, let's try to understand the concept of creativity. To give rise to artistic creation, a dose of inspiration and sensitivity is necessary. In Greek and Roman mythology, this artistic inspiration had its representatives: the nine muses, daughters of gods.
Garcia (2010) mentions the muses as deities that stimulated the artist's mind during the time of creation; their presence made inspiration manifest itself to give rise to artistic expression. Without them, artists felt lost and unable to create something divine, this creation had to be a production outside the mundane plane.
Within this group of muses was Euterpe, the muse of music, which was represented by a single or double flute (García, 2010). The origin of the word music seems to be born from this representation, which derives from Greek and means: "art of the muses".
In this play of words and meanings, of history and mythology, music becomes the purest art, being considered as the direct creation of the goddesses that generate in humans the artistic inspiration par excellence. Music is the language and the most direct way to the creative plane.
Fig. 2.- Euterpe, the muse of music.
So, does artistic creation originate solely from the muses, from the presence of an external figure? As we mentioned, the external stimulus is connected to an intrinsic universe, which possesses its own vestiges: memory and its remembrances.
Memories and sound memory
When we think of memory, we commonly associate it with images; visual fragments of a specific moment in our lives; scenes that appear when we close our eyes. We can clearly identify some elements captured in that instant, such as the clothes that wrapped our body or the color of the cup of coffee that rested in our hands. It seems simple to bring into the present, from a past that remains engraved somewhere in our mind, a series of vivid photographs of colors, shapes, and lights.
But where are the sounds that accompany these photographs? It is undeniable that the human experience is provided not only by what passes through our eyes, but also by the sounds that surround each living moment. Sounds, rhythms, and melodies that create a soundtrack that dates from the beginning of our life, building the memories that shape our yesterday and therefore, our life.
In this line of thought, we would speak of memory as an immensity of stored sounds and images, since at no time is life absolute silence. Even if there wasn’t any perceptible sound from the outside world, there is always some echo, even in the body itself. If the human organism generates sounds, it is evidence of the presence of life.
Therefore, every perceived sound is part of a sonorous memory lodged in our mind. Thus music, perceived externally, connects with the memory of every human being. Listening to rhythms, creating harmonies, and singing melodies results in a way of reliving the sounds of our existence and thus, accessing our memories. Steinberg (2017) expresses how Plato affirmed that music generated different states of mind, which is why he categorized music as positive if it related to joy and happiness, or as negative, if it induced melancholy and fear. Isn’t art an expression of the most human, the most primitive of our memories?
Sound as a catalyst for creativity
With this analysis, we begin to unveil what happens in the presence of music in terms of creativity. Not only does music lead us to a state of deep inspiration that disconnects us from the present, but it also links us to a much more primitive and hidden inner part of our being, far from the conscious spectrum, unlike visual memory. Music establishes a map of sound routes, of paths traced back and forth, where the communication between past and present is more direct.
Any sound could travel on a journey where it would reach a world populated by experiences, and experiences transformed into memories, full of images and sounds, where art could provide the possibility of hosting such fragments of memories. This act of containing memories allows art to be able to elaborate and integrate what lives divided in us. Therefore, what sustains the human experience is art. Artistic expression provides testimonies of what has been felt and thought, from what has been seen and heard by the creator. Thanks to music and the faithful connection to our sound memories, artistic creativity manages to be the means by which shapes, and colors are endowed to what has long remained in the darkness of memory.
Carrera, L. (2012). Historia de la música universal y contemporánea. Pontifica universidad católica del Ecuador. Recovered from: ftp://ftp.puce.edu.ec/Facultades/CienciasEducacion/ModalidadSemipresencial/Historia%20de%20la%20Música%20Universal-Luciano%20Carrera.pdf
García, A. (2010). Las 9 musas, la inspiración. Activarte. Revista independiente de arte, (3), 11-17
Steinberg, D. (2017) Euterpe, la musa de la música. Recovered from: https://biblioteca.acropolis.org/euterpe-musa-musica/
[Fig. 1] Música Antigua (2014). Representation of music in medieval times. Recovered from: http://www.musicaantigua.com/la-musica-de-la-edad-media/
[Fig. 2] Steinberg, D. (2017) Euterpe, the muse of music. Recovered from: https://biblioteca.acropolis.org/euterpe-musa-musica/