Sometimes I think I shouldn’t bother googling these things. I think it was better when I was picturing a burrowing space weevil, possibly from erehwon. Not that I’ve read erehwon, so potentially that would’ve run into problems.
Anyway, that’s not an Ohrwurm, and wonderfully, the wikipedia article warns us they aren’t to be confused with the creatures from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. So we’re to steer totally clear of space faring eels, weevils and other annelids.
Sorry. I realise this is a disappointment for many of you.
Because where we’re actually venturing is music theory. Something about which I know nothing, but think I know plenty. After all, I do listen to a lot of music.
So ohr means ear in German. Wurm is pretty obvious. So I think we’re all on the same page. We’re talking about those little riffs and hooks and melodies that can get implanted from the slightest listen, or even not. You just have to hear it in your mind for have an instant, and you’ve got something burrowed into your brain, swimming around, emitting hums and drum hits as you go about your day.
Sometimes it drives you mad. Sometimes it cheers you up.
I personally, love them, if only because I rarely stick with one for a sustained period of time. My brain is quite good at playing an internal form of musical consequences, leaping from one melody to the next, blending disaparate riffs and hooks and lyrics into new and monstrous pieces of music.
I take my ohrwurms and build chimerical frankenstein’s monsters out of them.
But where do they come from?
Well. To be honest, they come from good song writing. They come from repetition and strikingness. Something being either particularly unique or similar enough to something familiar to be uncanny.
Music is kind of inexplicable, but when it comes down to it, it’s largely a system of pattern recognition and surprise. We understand intuitively (wherever it comes from) concepts of pitch and tonality, harmony and rhythm. We spend our lives surrounded by it, we’ve spent out lives drowning in music. We know, on some level, what’s supposed to happen next, and it gets thwarted and surprised by good song writing. The right thing happens, but perhaps a slightly different right thing to expectation or awareness.
Or perhaps it’s just perfectly right, and that’s enough.
The real magic of music of course, is that it isn’t really explicable on a conscious level. It is abstract enough that it slides straight into our unconscious mind. Affects us and touches us in ways we can’t quite relate to.
We could figure out the theory. Talk about the effect of certain intervals or chord changes. We could learn the dynamics intimately, but still, the way it interacts with our brain is underneath that level.
And that’s where the worms dig around.
Underneath the brain, swimming around the bottom of the iceberg.
And sometimes they drift upwards and gnaw.
I love it.
Illustration by Jaime