Music and Mood

I’ve always loved listening to music: I find it very soothing which is important as it helps me deal with the stresses that lead to shutdown or meltdown. My tastes run right through the spectrum from heavy and fast to light and slow and include such styles as heavy metal, blues, classical, folk and even some chart pop. In short, I’ll listen to almost anything as long as it has a structure to its rhythm and melody and it fits my current mood.

When I’m in certain frames of mind I get the urge to listen to a particular track or album. For instance if I’m agitated and I want to relax I might want to listen to a slower piece such as Echoes by Pink Floyd. Now this particular track is over 20 minutes long and once I start listening to it I can’t be interrupted or there’s a risk of a meltdown. I put my headphones on, cue the track, make sure I’m sitting or lying comfortably and press play. I tune out my surroundings and immerse myself in the music, experiencing the sensations it evokes. These are primarily physical sensations with any emotional sensations being a result of these rather than directly from the music.

Listening to Echoes the primary sensation is of floating with a wave-like ebb and flow that varies in intensity with the music. I also get visual impressions: shapes, colours, textures, movement. The high-pitched pings that start the track are bright white pulses in the middle of my field of vision that expand and fade like ripples from a raindrop falling on a still pool of water. Sudden loud instrumental sounds that burst in on the underlying melody are broad, bright oblique lines like a cross between lightning and bold strokes with a paintbrush. Other parts of the track call up pictures akin to waves breaking on a shore. It’s difficult to put the sensations into words accurately because of their complexity.

I never pay much conscious attention to the lyrics. I (mostly) hear the words but don’t think about the meaning at all: I’m too busy feeling the music and would have to disconnect to some degree to think about the semantic content. This would interfere with my enjoyment. In effect I treat any vocals as just another instrument. In this I differ significantly from my neurotypical [NT] wife. She will always listen to the words and this will have an emotional effect on her that I just don’t experience.

The way I lose myself in music has a similar effect to stimming. I find both to be calming and comforting: the fact that they occupy my conscious mind with rhythmic physical sensations is a definite parallel. This is how I can relax to a thrash metal album like Sound of White Noise by Anthrax just as well as I can to a “mellow” song like Albatross by Fleetwood Mac. I know from experience that this confuses a lot of NT folks who can have very different reactions to different kinds of music.

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