There are songs that can make you recall very specifics moments of your life. You can, through the music, experience the smells and colors that represent that moment as if it were a slide being projected on a screen. Very few things (perhaps scents) can replicate the same experience in such a spontaneous way.
Music seems to flick a switch in the brain. It is able to access dormant memories and pleasant emotions that had been forgotten. It is fascinating to see the reaction of someone who, through sound, evades the suffering of the present moment and is instead transported to a happier place. How does music generate this kind of automatic recollection in the brain? The truth is that we don't know...yet.
I love music, but images, and specifically color, seem to work best for me. The glimpse of a muted grayish blue, no matter how fleeting, can immediately bring a vivid memory of my grandma's apron. This initial spark is soon followed by the texture of the cloth, the smell of her cooking on a Sunday afternoon and the sound of the tin can she used to water her potted geraniums. The floodgates open and there I am, eleven again, standing barefoot on the sunbaked tiles of her terrace surrounded by fragrant geraniums. The present fades for a moment.
I have no doubt that these parentheses, these moments of respite are important for the brain. Particularly a brain that is plagued by a self-destructive tendency towards anxiety and depression. If we were to understand how to prolong that momentary state of suspended happiness, we could engineer ways to counteract mental illness in a side-effect free way. Wouldn't that be wonderful?
Read more and watch below to learn about the science of music and art therapy, and the effect these disciplines can have on the brain.