A musical mind map that is actually music

Today on reddit I read a comment by a cognitive scientist about why we have dreams, and what they’re for. According to him/her, we’ve been able to make a super vague connection to memory storage, but the truth is that we still really don’t know why people dream.

I mean, memory storage? Isn’t that sort of a loaded phrase? What kind of memory? Visual, imaginative, emotional? So I whipped out my Google fu and started doing searches like “subconscious memory” and “subconscious emotion” and, of course, as seems to be a growing theme with this blog, many of the results were new agey spirit stuff. So I started tacking the word “god” or “spirituality” to my searches, which only resulted in more vagaries, bitterness, and proselytizing, when for no reason at all I got the idea to look up “musical map of the subconscious”.

Extremely disappointingly, nothing came up, so I switched it to “musical map of the mind“. Bingo, son! Lots of interesting articles here, mostly talking about how much uncharted territory there is in this field. People who still think there’s nothing new to be discovered clearly just aren’t being tenacious enough with their online search queries. That must be it.

So I came across a nifty little article at An Overgrown Path, in which the author had been inspired by a comment on his blog of the concept of a literal musical mind map. Now, apparently, mind map is the term for a specific type of brainstorming, in which you put a sort of central brain-concept-thing in the middle and draw lines branching out from it of conversely proportional thickness and number. You’re supposed to use colors to designate similar groupings and draw pictures and whatnot.

So I immediately drew a quick one about my compositional process, which is all well and good, but a point I keep harping on is that any time you try to represent music in a way that isn’t music, it immediately becomes stale. It’s like making a “mind map” of your favorite positions versus actually having sex. Sliiightly inferior, and not all that entirely useful during the act.

“Oooh, yeah, right there.”
“Wait, wait, cramp!”
“It’s cool, sugar bumpkins, we’ll just switch positions. Hang on, let’s refer to the map.”

Actually that does sound kind of fun. Maybe instead of a musical score, we should all give the instrumentalists a mind map, and tell them to follow the path of how they’re feeling today. If they get a cramp, they can flip over.

The problem comes from music being so subjective. Images are far less so, especially when labelled. However, wouldn’t it be interesting to expose someone to all at once? Imagine program music, based on a self-drawn mind map of your own compositional process! You could then display the images and text while the piece was being performed, thus drawing the audience into the piece right along with the composer and performers. Done well, I feel this could be quite engaging.

Here’s the thing I just scribbled which doesn’t follow any of the rules I just laid out. Seriously, imagine an animation of this alongside musical ideas that mirror the text. How much fun would that be?

Kraftwerk’s Radioaktivit├Ąt

This is an excellent example of how a simple structure combined with a highly advanced musicality (in this case using excellent phrasing and wonderful harmonies) can contribute to achieving emotionality, hence folkiness, hence quality and accessibility in electronic music. The below version comes from The Mix, the 1991 remix album.