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A Rush Of Music To The Head

Monday, December 05, 2011 - 05:43 PM

It doesn’t surprise me that people get chills or goosebumps when listening to certain pieces of music.  It does surprise me that there are a) people who never had that experience and b) people who claim to have it regularly.  The whole reason we get that tingle in the spine or feel the hairs on the back our necks stand up is that something exceptional is happening – at least between our ears – and if it’s exceptional, then it is by definition not something that happens regularly. 

I have certainly had my share of moments where a song has raised goosebumps or sent a chill down my spine.  But while it’s sometimes the song, sometimes it’s the context of the song.  For example, The Cinematic Orchestra’s song “That Home” is a lovely, melancholy song which sees the band’s composer Jason Swinscoe out-Coldplaying Coldplay.  But I got chills when it was used in the trailer for the 2011 indie film Another Earth.  I had a similar reaction to the use of “Der Leiermann,” from Franz Schubert’s bleak and beautiful song cycle Winterreise, in the film In Bruges a couple of years back.

The end of Einstein On The Beach, the landmark experimental opera by composer Philip Glass and dramatist Robert Wilson, and the famed “Liebstod,” the finale of Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan Und Isolde, both do it for me; but a good part of the frisson I get from these pieces comes from the very different ways they wrap up long (5-hours plus, in both cases), immersive sensory experiences.  

Still, there are plenty of songs that have provoked this kind of physical response on their own.  What’s interesting is that it doesn’t seem to be a direct, consistent thing: hear a song often enough and whatever it was – an unexpected change, a momentary coming-together of different musical lines, etc – that made the effect so strong the first time you hear it begins to either fade away or at least to happen only sporadically.  (Which strikes me as a good reason to not listen to the same things over and over again.) 

What music has given you the shivers? Was it just once, or is it consistent?  Leave a comment. 

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