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Thursday, September 17, 2015

GUEST POST: Earworms and You: Memory, Laws, and Singing by Fran Wilde

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. “Mandelbrot Set” by Johnathan Coulton. That Taylor Swift Song. They stick in your head, don’t they?

In Updraft, my first novel from Tor (September 2015), when a flying culture that can’t carry heavy records needs a way to preserve its cultural memory and dedicate itself regularly to its society’s mores, song is the answer. Because songs stick with us. We remember things better when we sing them, because we are marking things down not only tonally and wordwise, but also through the structure of music. Passing information on in this way allows us to share patterns as well as rules or stories.

Think of that song you heard last night that you can’t get out of your head. ... You’re welcome.

Now remember “Schoolhouse Rock,” “Wonderpets” (if you ever babysat in the U.S. from 2008 onwards), “The Electric Slide,” or “Macarena.” If you know Schoolhouse Rock, you can probably rattle off the Preamble to the US Constitution, but only if you pause between/draw out “For the” and “United States of America.” If your wheelhouse is Wonderpets, you know What’s Gonna Work. (answer: Teamwork). And as far as the “Electric Slide” goes, you may not know all the words, but you know what to do with your hands and feet.

(Darnit. Now I’m earwormed with the preamble to the Constitution AND the Electric Slide at the same time. This is bad.)

Science can tell us why. In 1994, researchers found that “Words presented by song were remembered significantly better than when presented by speech.” - an effect borne up by previous research in the field. (Wallace W. T.; Siddiqua, N.; Harun-ar-Rashid, A. K. M. (1994). "Memory for Music: Effects of Melody on Recall of Text". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 20 (6): 1471–1485.)

In 2009, cognitive neuroscientists at University of California, Davis discovered where in the brain memory and music connected: the medial prefrontal cortex.

The brain region responded quickly to music signature and timescale, but also reacted overall when a tune was autobiographically relevant. Furthermore, music tracking activity in the brain was stronger during more powerful autobiographical memories.” from Live Science & The Neural Architecture of Music-Evoked Autobiographical Memories (Petr Janata, 2009)

For Updraft, the citizens of the towers need to know certain laws to understand right of way and other social agreements in the air. And the Singers need them to remember their history. They chant Laws in their flight classes, and sing a song about their history, called The Rise. They make up other songs to honor their heroes, but the chanting of Laws is done regularly as a reinforcement, and those favored childhood songs, like The Rise, still comfort all ages.

Singing is private and communal. It can be both at the same time. It is something we do while aware of those around us, or the emptiness around us. It is evocative of both space and time, and it contains structures and rules designed to fit within our culture.

When we sing, endorphins and oxytocins are released into our bloodstream, relaxing us. It appears singing as a group ups the feelings of togetherness, relaxation, and most importantly, memory.

In Updraft, singing is intrinsic to that culture, whether done separately or together, and the impact on that culture is to provide a mesh of memory that helps unify the city.

What do you sing? When and why? What does it help you remember?


Official Author Website
Order Updraft HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Fran Wilde’s first novel, Updraft, debuted from Tor Books on September 1, 2015. Her short stories have appeared at, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny Magazine, and in Asimov’s andNature. Fran also interviews authors about food in fiction at Cooking the Books, and blogs for GeekMom and SFSignal. You can find Fran at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.


Rhea said...

I just read a differently catchy view of singing. I'm glad you posted this. Thank you


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