My top 5 magical music moments
Our brain’s right hemisphere
In her talk, Jill Bolte Taylor describes how the two hemispheres of our brains function differently. Our analytical left hemisphere thinks in language; processes sequentially and methodically; divides, categorises and organises information; separates out details and associates things in the present with our past and projects into the future; and sees ourself as a single, separate individual. In contrast,
Our right hemisphere is all about ‘right here, right now’, our right hemisphere thinks in pictures, it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our senses, and then it explodes into an enormous collage of what this present moment looks like, what this present moment smells like and tastes like, what it feels like, what it sounds like.”
Jill Bolte Taylor had a stroke, which damaged the left-hemisphere of her brain leaving her to rely on her right-hemisphere. and she describes the experience like this:
“I was captivated by the magnificence of the energy around me. I felt expansive and at one with all the energy there was, and it was beautiful. I felt euphoria. I found nirvana, I was at one with all that is.”
As I lay on the table in my acupuncture session, looking like a pin cushion, I was listening to the background ambient music, and — without searching for them — various memories of previous experiences of listening to music unexpectedly came back to me. I was struck by how these experiences had some of the right-hemisphere qualities I had watched Jill Bolte Taylor describe just an hour before.
This year I’ve been reading Proust’s masterful novel In Search of Lost Time. One of the main themes of the novel is memory. Proust is famous for describing the concept and the power of involuntary memory, which is a memory that contains the “essence of the past”. It occurs when a sensation in the present unexpectedly and without any conscious intent or purpose “reveals” memories.
As I lay on the table, I was transported back to different places where music had touched me — to a campsite in France, to clubs and to concert venues.
I want to capture and record something of those moments. This is going to be a wholly inadequate post. I’m not a writer anything like Proust, capable of extraordinary lyricism. I know I’m not going to be able to convey my experiences of these magical moments. I can’t possibly, and I’m not really even going to try.
How do you choose just five moments from a lifetime of listening to music? These are involuntary memories that have often come back to my mind and revealed themselves unprompted, not just during that acupuncture session. They are moments that when I recall them, it’s almost as though I’m reliving the moment. They are multi-sensory memories with an amazing clarity— I can hear the music, I can see the scene, feel sensations. In other words, they encapsulate some of the qualities of how the right-hemisphere experiences the world described by Jill Bolte Taylor . And because I know words aren’t enough, I made a Spotify playlist to go with what I’ve written.
1. Paul Oakenfold’s Goa mix
It was the summer of 1996, the summer after my second year at university in Sheffield and just before my year abroad in France. I was working at a campsite in the south of France. One day there was nowhere that I had to be, there was nothing that I had to do. I was enjoying the space, the freedom, the warmth of the sun. I lay on the grass, stared up at the blue sky, watched clouds pass by above my head and listened to this seminal mix on a tape on my walkman. It blew me away. Something about the music, being outside where I was, and the feeling I had has always stayed with me.
2. Prince playing at a club in London
I’ve been a massive Prince fan for a long time. My first memory of enjoying his music was dancing in front of my bathroom mirror having just watched the video for his single U Got the Look in 1987. I watched a live show from his 1988 Lovesexy tour countless times. I loved the 1989 Batman film and his soundtrack. I went into bought his Graffiti Bridge album on the day of its release in 1990.
I first saw him live on his Diamonds and Peals tour in 1992 — my brother drove us to Manchester to see him at Maine Road stadium. I saw him again in Birmingham the following year and then in London the year after that for the Gold Experience tour. Each of these concerts — in large venues, in front of 1000s of fans — was amazing. But what I longed to see was one of his legendary aftershow gigs, intimate shows which he did in small clubs in the small hours of the morning.
I had listened to several bootleg recordings of these shows, particularly a double CD I had of one of his aftershow parties in 1988. Ten years after that I managed to get tickets through his fan club for his show at the Cafe de Paris club in London on 28 August 1998.
The show was everything I hoped and dreamt it would be — and more: Larry Graham, the bass player from Sly and the Family Stone, was part of the band; Chaka Khan and Doug E Fresh both made guest appearances; Prince played a mix of new songs and cover versions (of songs by Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Sly and the Family Stone and more); he sang, rapped, danced, played guitar and keyboards, and even stage dived. It was a dream come true.
(An hour-long edit of the show was released on video and shown on Channel 4 in 1999 and is now available as a playlist on YouTube.)
3. Pink Floyd, Dark side of the Moon
One evening in London (probably about 2007), Rebecca and I listened to Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the Moon. It’s not like I’m a massive fan of the group or the album. It’s not a style of music I often turn to, and I don’t think I’ve ever listened to the whole album through in a single sitting either before or after. But listening to it that night was expansive and like nothing else.
4. Masters At Work at the Ministry of Sound
I was a big fan of house music producers and DJ duo Masters at Work and I saw them play both separately and together several times.
But the moment that stays with me most strongly, most clearly and comes back to me unbidden most frequently is when one night they broke out of their set and changed gears for an interlude of three famous disco tracks, each with a female vocal: Love Hangover by Diana Ross, I Believe in Miracles by the Jackson Sisters, and Any Love by Rufus and Chaka Khan (this was the first time I’d heard this track, it could have been the Dimitri from Paris version — I bought that 12").
5. Danny Krivit plays Chaka Khan
My brother was one of the organisers of a series of parties called Whistlebump. At the end of an awesome party in London, Danny Krivit played his edit of I know you, I live you” by Chaka Khan as his last track of the night. This was the first time I’d ever heard this track, the house lights came on, and everything seemed perfect.
The B sides
As I’ve been writing this post, many more musical memories have been coming back to me, one memory sparking another, slightly random retrievals from my mental archive. Although they’re all great musical memories of amazing times, they don’t capture the right-hemisphere experience as described above. Nonetheless, I wanted to write them down to help them to live on:
- The time when I couldn’t quite believe my eyes or my ears as Jazzy Jeff scratched old hip hop records and mixed them with soul classics in a short (half-hour) set at the Ministry of Sound in the middle of Masters at Work all-night party.
- Dancing with my brother at Egg in London, listening to Danny Krivit playing Donald Byrne’s ‘Lansana’s Princess’ at a Whistlebump party and as the trumpet came in believing there was possibly no better music in the world to dance to at 5 am than that song.
- Goldie roaming around the dancefloor during his set at the Octagon in Sheffield in 1994/5.
- Raul Midon playing live at Fabric, playing acoustic guitar, singing and making amazing sounds with his mouth
- Sasha playing for 4 hours under the Arches in Sheffield on New years eve and playing a track with a sample of the piano line from Bruce Hornsby’s The Way It Is
- Amp Fiddler ‘fiddling his amps’ at the Jazz Cafe in London (twice) and at the Montreux Jazz Festival
- Roy Ayers playing the vibraphone with four mallets in a concert at Dingwells in London
- Erik Truffaz looping sounds and creating an entire solo soundscape at the Gent Jazz festival
- Hearing Moloko’s The Time is Now at Body & Soul in NYC
- Jocelyn Brown singing It’s Alright, I Feel It, live at a Body & Soul party in London
- Having to return to the dancefloor with Mat as the bassline from Someday came on when John Kelly was playing the final set on New Years Eve 1996 at the Adelphi in Sheffield
- Having to return to the dancefloor with Steve as Louie Vega put on When You Touch Me by Taana Gardner at the Ministry of Sound
- John Digweed playing Kim Mazelle’s ‘Was That All It Was?’ to end his set at a Renaissance party in March 1996 at Colwick Hall, a Grade 2 listed country house in Nottinghamshire
- Listening to ‘Whole Lotta Love’ on the crystal clear sound system at a Loft Party in London, surrounded by the sound coming from every angle around the room
- Colleen playing We Got Our Own Thing at the Loft Party’s 10th birthday party in London and feeling there was a message in the music for this group of dancers, as people spun each other around and what felt like everyone on the dancefloor grooved and sang along.
- Hearing David Mancuso play at a Loft Party in London and the guy next to me on the dance floor absolutely losing it and start pogo’ing as the Joobert Singers ‘Stand on the Word’ came on. “That’s how the good Lord works…”
- The Cuban Brothers playing Dimitri from Paris’s edit of I Wanna Be Your Lover at a gig in London after Prince had died
- Dancing with Rebecca when Nicky Siano played Jus a little lovin’ by Irfane at Plan B in Brixton (possibly the first time we’d been clubbing together and definitely the only time I’ve heard this track in a club and the only time I’ve heard Nicky Siano DJ)
- Dancing to Felix da Housecat’s ‘Silver Screen (Shower Scene)’ with Luke in Sheffield (as soon I identified the track, I went and bought the cd single)
- Rebecca and I holding each other, crying, listening to the second Movement of Phillip Glass’s American Four Seasons
- Almost every time I hear Arvo Part’s ‘Spiegel in Spiegel’
- Mike Skinner unexpectedly playing K Klass’s mix of Bobby Brown’s Two Can Play at That Game in the middle of his jungle set at Sheffield
- David Rodigan playing reggae classics, including My Boy Lollipop, Ring the Alarm, Chase The Devil, and A message To You Rudy, in Sheffield
- Hearing Bent play Prince’s ‘Erotic City’ in their ‘Bent tent’ after hours at a Big Chill festival
- Dancing to The Love I Lost by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes in Mr Scruff’s Tea Tent at a Big Chill festival, and the DJ loving it so much (and loving that we were all loving it so much) that he immediately put the 7" back on and played it again
And if these moments mean nothing to you, I’m sorry.
Maybe you had to be there…