There’s a misconception out there that music is something that should be listened to. Sure, music is sound and thus is heard, and I bet most people out there do only listen to music. However, I am strongly convinced that music is meant not just to be heard, but to be felt, and to be understood.
I have found a deep connection with music, or perhaps more accurately music has found a deep connection with me. I don’t listen to music just because the melody is catchy, or because it “sounds cool,” or even simply as a form of entertainment. I listen to music because it connects on a foundational level to my world.
I’ve read as many of my fellow autistic writers have talked about the things music does for them. It helps us understand and process emotions. It helps us stay grounded or even under better control. It helps us alleviate anxiety. A few have even described music as their native language. And I fully understand what all of these people, my friends, are describing.
The anticipation and build up getting ready to turn on a favorite song is electrifying. And then when the music hits and it flows over you, it’s an amazing feeling. I like complex and grandiose music, music that has different movements in the same song to take you on an emotional adventure. I love heavy and driving music. I like music with multiple layers and many different variations. I love bass. Low bass frequencies are unique in that they push enough air to physically move objects. You can feel the bass, and feeling that brilliant rumble at the very core of your being feels so good. I like long songs, long enough that there’s enough time to use many different concepts to take the listener on a journey to many places. I don’t mind instrumental music, because music is much more than just words to me. Lyrics are fine, and indeed can be very beautiful and powerful, but the voice is just another instrument. When I listen to the right song it’s wonderful because I don’t have to process anything, I just have to feel. Feel it wash over me emotionally and physically. Music is capable of expressing and articulating things that words never could. I’m a synesthete, which means my brain interprets some senses as other senses. I physically feel sound. And I love the feeling of music. I like to play music and dance to it. Not dance in the sense of with choreographed moves, but just move my body to the music.
Everyone can experience music in this way if they could find the right music for them and lose themselves in it. Music is a very human thing that can touch everybody. However, my anecdotal experience reports that autistic people seem to have a special connection to music. It has probably something to do with the quite amazing (but frequently difficult) way our brains are wired and hyper-connected. For many autistic people, music seems to simply constantly flow through the very core of our being.
When I was little my grandpa used to call me the “whirling Dervish” because I was always spinning around in circles. Even now I don’t always just walk through the hall, I skip through the hall. I pace around and jump up and down. I spin in swivel chairs and jump against the mattress propped up against the wall in the basement. I probably burn like 7,000 calories a day just because I’m always moving. This is stimming of course, and stimming does have practical uses for the autistic brain, such as for re-regulation, grounding in the world, and processing. But beyond that I move so much because that’s just the nature of me. It’s like there’s some universal rhythm that just flows through me and I can’t help but move to it. Music taps into this rhythm.
Unfortunately I didn’t really embrace music in the very early part of my life. When I was little for some reason I had developed this idea that I didn’t like music. But it wasn’t that I didn’t like music, it’s that I didn’t like music class at school. Having to sit in a circle and sing songs I didn’t want to sing and tap rhythms I didn’t want to tap didn’t really appeal to me.
That changed initially when I discovered metal music. It was very powerful and all encompassing and did a great job of expressing negative emotions, many of which I was internalizing. Metallica introduced me to how powerful music can be. Since then I’ve continued to love and experience music. As far as metal music goes, I’ve found a taste for the complexity of progressive metal, and I’m finding myself moving to Dream Theater and Tool. I like more music than just metal though. I also really like the independent band Psapp that makes music out of toy instruments, ambient sounds, and odd noises, and it’s awesome to just let all the different layers reveal themselves and play together in perfect harmony and contradiction even if it isn’t very heavy music. Classical music and jazz music also bring good feelings and complexity.
Since then I’ve been pushing my musicality further. Bass guitar is my primary instrument, which has been amazing because I love those low frequencies. Plus it’s a lot of fun, and by playing an instrument you can understand compositions a lot better. I also play guitar, ukulele, and to a lesser degree can pick up just about any fretted string instrument because the skills are very transferable. I hope to learn how to start composing music as a means of expression.
There’s so much more I want to write but I don’t know really how to express it. For now, this is my “ode” to music. At last, I shall leave you with lyrics from the song “Lateralus” by the band Tool, a song that I’ve been obsessing over lately trying to deconstruct it, understand it, and play it. Though probably a bit out of context, this stanza pretty well sums up what I’m generally feeling regarding experiencing music.
“With my feet upon the ground I lose myself between the sounds / And open wide to suck it in I feel it move across my skin / I’m reaching up and reaching out I’m reaching for the random or whatever will bewilder me / Whatever will bewilder me/ And following our will and wind we may just go where no one’s been / We’ll ride the spiral to the end / And may just go where no one’s been” – Lyrics from “Lateralus”