There are two reasons for writing this post. One is to write about how I experience the sensations of listening to music, and this is a bit autism-related. The other is to delve a little bit into why I like the genres of music that I like, and this is connected to the reason above but also things to do with wanting distance from the stereotype that I perceive to be attached to my age and cultural roots. The reasons for wanting that distance are a bit nebulous currently and might be the subject of another blog post soon. And I think, from conversations that I’ve had, this might be common amongst autistic people.
How it feels
When I listen to music, just like most other people I guess, I hear the instruments and voices in the mix. But the experience is more than that, both in a physical way and – more importantly – in my mind.
As I write this, I’m listening, quite at random, to a bit of Electronic Dance Music called “Vulnerable – Denis Kenzo Edit” by Ana Criado and Denis Kenzo. Here is how I experience listening to it:
There is a thumping bass drum underneath an electronic bass that is going along with it rhythmically and supplying the bottom note of the chords in the mix. The bass feels powerful and stirring, like a strong heartbeat, and makes me appreciate the powerful capacity of the ten inch subwoofer speaker producing it. That’s an engineering nerd buzz. Inside my mind, these two sounds have a very smooth undulating shape. Like rolling hills in the dark, and they are dark brown (the electronic bass) and deep blue (the kick drum sound).
There is a female vocal that sounds fresh and has a thin and silvery edge splashing through the treble range. Her voice has some reverb, and she seems to be singing in a smallish physical space with hard walls that are causing the echoes. Her voice provides a sense of freshness like a cool breeze and a kind of “joy of life” that you only get when standing on a windy hillside on an autumn day.
Around the female voice, electronic piano type notes flit around like fireflies in the dark. There is an odd sound that reminds me of a 1980s “trimphone” ringing, and cymbal notes splash around like white fireworks in a black sky.
The pulsing rhythm engages with my nervous system and lifts my mood. And the coherence of it all slides easily into my ears without any sense of overexcitedness that I would get from the rhythms in 1950s swing / rock music.How I hear “Vulnerable – Denis Kenzo Edit” by Ana Criado and Denis Kenzo
Hopefully you can get a sense of how listening to music is both a whole body and whole mind experience for me. The last part of my explanation touches on something that is important for me and might sound negative but is simply a fact about how certain types of music affect me. Some 1950s and 1960s music has a kind of overexcited urgency to it that overwhelms my senses in a way that I can’t quite describe, except to say that it makes me want to say “Calm the fuck down would you?”
So, the timbre of instruments is important to me. I prefer music with pure tones. Electronic music, piano, woodwind, and sweetly played violins. I don’t really like brass sounds, overdriven guitars and the like. And I like music with a strong pulse if I feel the need to be uplifted.
The Music I Like Because of How it Feels
Based purely on the feelings I’ve described above, I like Electronic Dance Music from the 1980s, 1990s (maybe), 2000s, 2010s and 2020s. Pure electropop from these eras is also often very pleasing. I also like Baroque Strings and both Baroque and Romantic period piano solo music. So, to mention a few names, in roughly chronological order:
Kate Bush, The Human League, Depeche Mode, Prince, Supertramp, Chic, Bronski Beat, OMD, Princess, Sister Sledge, Kraftwerk, Roxette, T’Pau, Jean Michelle Jarre, Mike Oldfield, Belinda Carlisle, Asia, Clannad, Enya, Sheryl Crow, Shania Twain, Kylie Minogue, The Pet Shop Boys, Charli XCX, ROZES, Foxes, The Aces, Paperwhite, 3LAU, Kim Petras, Aly & AJ, Allie X, Zara Larson, Hailee Steinfeld, Kyla La Grange, Cheat Codes, Clean Bandit, Jonas Blue, Kygo, Mike Perry, Seeb, Sigala, The Chainsmokers, Robin Schulz.Some of the artists I can listen to on repeat
The Cultural Aspects
There’s another “sorting hat” that I need to apply to music as well as the way that its instrumentation and vocals makes me feel, and that’s how it makes me feel relative to the cultural space that I want to identify with.
I was born male and white in the late 1960s in the North of England, and my demographic stereotype tells me that I should listen with reverence to a range of music spread from 1960s to 1980s and be disdainful of anything later than that. I “should” listen to Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, The Smiths, The Cure and I might be excused for listening to The Human League and Depeche Mode. I “should” also drink only beer and tea, and favour fish & chips with tomato sauce over anything more “fancy”.
Unfortunately, for me, music that is slow paced, overly sincere, and based around a handful of acoustic instruments jazzed up a bit by attaching electronics to them, sounds boring, and feels internally like a dark brown mudslide. Like an unenthusiastic explosion of Daddies HP Brown Sauce mooching across a sticky Wetherspoon’s carpet & becoming lost amongst the dark brown furniture.How I experience the music that I’m “supposed to” love, as a 1960s child.
A great deal of the thinking I have done since my autistic burnout has been about how I don’t (and never did) fit this stereotype. When I started to use noise cancelling earbuds at work (when I was forced into a large open plan office a couple of years before burnout) I discovered Spotify and a whole genre of music that sounded fresh and invigorating, and I secretly revelled in how (in my private space between my earbuds) my love of this music marked me out as different to the staid and boring default boomer generation and generation X men by whom I was surrounded.
Of course that was only my perception – they might have been nothing like that, but I suspect that my perception was pretty accurate and, more importantly, they wouldn’t like the music that I was overjoyed to have found. What I mean by that is not meant as a put-down of them, but a statement of joy about myself; I had discovered a new part of “me” who was proud and happy to be different to them, and the music somehow helped me to feel and define that individuation and make it more real. It helped me to define myself as distinct from that crowd.
And the culture that I do want to identify with, or at least the culture where I see most beauty and people I’d like to hang out with, is a demographic maybe 20 years younger than me who are more progressive and open to discovering, sharing and being proud about their gender expression and challenging stereotypes there. I feel like I’m learning a lot from hearing and watching people in that demographic share their feelings and insights on social media, and my taste in music somehow independently corroborates my feeling that this is home for me.
So here we are at the “repeat to fade” part. The music I love is based on how it makes me feel (somatically and cognitively rather than emotionally) and on how I feel about myself culturally.
Music that ticks both boxes – both how it drives my inner mental landscape and how I feel about its cultural associations – is simply “chef’s kiss”.Why I love music
2 Replies to “Why I Love Music”
I also enjoy Roxette, Belinda Carlisle, and Enya is a special love. I like some of the songs by other artists you have in your list too.
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