On Immersion: Programming myself via music

Well, I got an ego boost after yesterday’s post, so any hope I had of doing anything today other than continuing the train of thought was completely fucking squashed.

So I got down the hill here today, pulled out my laptop and set K. Flay’s “So Fast, So Maybe” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6jJp2_GgHY ] to looping and just started grooving, soaking in it for a dozen loops. I even opened up emacs and started fiddling, but I can’t stop singing to myself (in my head, it would be QUITE out loud if I were at home. Plus there’s someone else in the back room here at Smokey.) It’s a near reverie of absorption and immersion. When I’m set up right for it, the word “catchy” doesn’t even BEGIN to touch it.

It’s actually gotten to the point where it’s frustrating because I’m so absorbed in it that writing feels like the distraction.

So what is that? What is there to be learned from the way our (my?) mind can occasionally be so surely and completely programmed by an external stimulus?

It’s in some way I can’t quite put my finger on, analagous to the Flow state that was so en vogue to obsess about in the mid 2000s.

So here’s something fun about this… I…don’t want to let go of the loop. I’ve been listening to this song on repeat for the better part of an hour. It has intimations of the descriptions I see about neurodivergent obsessiveness. While I love it and am absorbed in it, there’s this strange sense of the negative connotations of being captivated by it.

I know that if I switch tracks I’ll be free of it.

Alright, let’s try an experiment. Switching to my (current) favorite 3 hour coding/thinking sonic wallpaper track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGIW2fDb0jg


See, it’s almost instant. I can feel the residual grooving to K. Flay. But within a couple minutes my head is almost completely changed over.

Aaannnd within ten more minutes I have no idea what I was going to write about and, because it’s a coding soundtrack my brain is being pulled into the world of software projects.

It’s absolutely amazing to me how surely that works.

Sound and music are particularly powerful in their ability to drag me into an immersive mental state. Add to them the associations I make (even/especially if I’ve made a concerted effort to do so) and I can almost always get myself to snap from one frame of thinking to another.

But it’s not always true. See that’s where the problem is. Understanding how and when it works and understanding how and when it doesn’t work involves a level of metacognitive self-examination that’ll give you fucking whiplash from trying to turn around fast enough to catch yourself at the point of a mood change.

So now I’m listening to the above track, about 25 minutes in to it and I might as well have a churchwarden pipe to puff and a long white beard to stroke in contemplation.

But this shit only works when it works. If I’m caught up in an emotional state where I’m running myself down, where the colors just kind of leech out of everything and the world turns to grey I either can’t or won’t will myself into or out of state by cueing something up on youtube.

I don’t know. Maybe I don’t have nearly as much to write about this as I’d thought.

A distracted interlude:

Yeah this isn’t going to end up being a post. Not like this. My brain is too fragmented about the topic. That’s not bad in and of itself. But without cohesion, it’s an unreadable mess. Definitely a write-only affair, even for me.

I’m not quite sure where to take this all next. I’ve switched to my writing playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2i9TCymUG4&list=PL0ZRRHtP0OY8uflv18iIOLguRWCpjp_VM to see if that gets the juices flowing. But I also shot out a text to see if anyone wanted to come hang out at Smokey way to hang out.

So, maybe another topic? Hell why not. Let’s pull up the ideas list and see what I can see.

Self: See, you’re immersed in the idea of what it is you are or aren’t immersed in, which is exactly the kind of thing you’re trying to explore. So by being off topic you’re not really off topic.
Me: Dude you have GOT to knock that shit off.
Self: Why? That’s how you sound most of the time.
Me: I know, doesn’t make me wrong though.
Self: …
Me: Oh fuck you.
Self: Checkmate, jackass.
Me: Yeah yeah. The problem still exists.
Self: So keep writing, dumbass.

It’s the “what would you write about if you weren’t stalled on this topic?” problem. I refuse to call it “writer’s block” because that’s just a horseshit term created by writers to justify their own lack of focus, laziness, or understanding of their own topic. In fact I’m plagued by at least two of those things, if not the middle one; though perhaps even that.

Gonna reread yesterday’s post and see if there’s something else I can derive off of it. I was so sure yesterday after I hit publish that there was a well full of information in my head on the topic that I’d just have to tap.

Back on track:

The difference between the kind of immersion headspace I find myself in as a result of consuming genre-specific…material and music (in general) is that when I’m listening to music my immersion is a function of mood and mental state, rather than a flood of associated ideas… generally. In that regard I expect my experience is what I’ll call “the normal one” for the most part. The idea of looping things for a near fucking eternity might strike me apart a bit. But this is the kind of immersion I suspect most people can relate with.

My writing playlist just hit Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High).” It’s a bitterly tragic song. But I love the sound of it. Her vocals are emotive without being overbearing, there’s a choral backing track that a real musician would have a name for, I’m sure. Is it High Art when it comes to music? Probably not. In 30 years it’s going to be gone.

But if you listen to the music and her vocals during verses (and I don’t mean the lyrics) it rolls really well. It’s got a nice calm intensity to it that helps me think. I don’t fucking know why. Though I’ll bet that if I understood music theory better, I’d be able to figure out exactly what it is that does it.

If I tweak my attention to listening to the lyrics I have a completely different experience. It drags me straight the hell down into a near depression, in much the same way listening to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” or “Dark Side of The Moon” did back in college. I couldn’t fucking MOVE when I’d listen to them. As such I’ve got no taste for those albums anymore. I can’t listen to them for fear of what it will do to my head. The associations are just too fucking strong.

And now, that I’m here at this point in my playlist, having clicked “loop” on Tove Lo, I’ve found a sense of focus. My head has settled in to “you think and write when you hear this.” (The question becomes: Do I leave in the above flailing around as an example of the process at work or do I just shitcan it now that I’ve got some idea of what’s going on in my head. I guess you’ll find out.)

Applying the knowledge intentionally:

So, having established that different music establishes, optimistically, different moods, where do I go from there? I’ve already gotten myself to a point where I have different soundtracks for different kinds of tasks.

Writing (journaling): Writing Playlist
Coding/Thinking (including fiction writing): Programming Soundtracks
Working in the shop: The Amazon Alexa “90s alternative playlist”
Cleaning the house: Alexa’s “My Likes” playlist (an absolute chaotic mash of everything from Ella Fitzgerald to Peter Murphy to Jethro Tull to Five Finger Death Punch)
Working out: I’ve got a workout playlist that I haven’t listened to in a year and a half. Lots of Pitbull and…well I forget what.

Most of my day becomes a matter of programming myself through one of these routes. Interestingly there really aren’t any others.

If I DON’T cue up one of these, my brain floats around, untethered. I get soaked up in distractions and simple dopamine hit chasing. I snack endlessly. I dick around on twitter or reddit, bouncing back and forth with the occasional delve into facebook, lobbing softballs then checking obsessively for responses, likes, retweets, and upvotes.

How best to use this as a tool?

Well, one thing that really sticks out is the fact that in order to get something like this going, I have to push the button. I’ve got to willfully break the distractive habit obsession, decide what I’m going to do, then start “the program” which will either work or it won’t.

And that’s one of the reasons I will frequently default into game playing. Granted I’m way back down to a couple hours at the end of the day. And, as much as I enjoy them, I do really spend quite a lot of energy justifying playing, which speaks to my real feelings about their value.

It’s hard to face the fact that I could conceivably just “program my brain” in the way I’m suggesting. It has this weird suggestion that I have a particular lack of self-control, which stings because it’s true. But that’s an emotional reaction to a simple fact. It doesn’t deserve the primacy it’s trying to demand.

I could, probably pretty easily, set timers and alarms to take the need for Executive Function out of my hands. Such a strange notion. But I think it would work.

Set an alarm song or playlist. Pretty sure I could do that with an Amazon Echo. Once I’m sitting at a powered on computer I could pretty easily kick things off on an event driven basis, whether that’s a timer or something else.

Plus, there are more things I could probably employ music to induce. It’s easy enough to map those associations by repeated exposure that I’d be a fool not to take advantage of the ability. Working out for instance. There was a time when I was doing 150 push ups a day and had a soundtrack. Well, one went with the other. I haven’t heard International Love or Fireball since the last time I did a push up.

What would happen if I had these things triggered at various points during the day?

Well, I know what would happen: It would annoy the everloving fuck out of me. I’d spend “the time between” dreading what was coming and eventually shutting it off. You know “just this once.” I kinda doubt I’d be able to stick with it past the annoyance. So I’d have to baby step it.

But that kind of “write it off because I’m no good at it” is just the kind of thing I’ve let wreck my life.

So what’s the “baby steps” of this?

  • A wake-up song or soundtrack would be great, and really easy to manage. It would be low impact and I think very low frustration.

That one is so simple that it’s almost not an achievement.

Self: Careful dude. Don’t make promises when you’re happy.
Me: Yeah man I know. But this really seems like a gimme.
Self: If you say so. Just don’t get crazy.
Me: Dude.
Self: Don’t be a dick, you know exactly what I mean.

The trick would be to start the day right. If I opened the day with something like this it would, if you’ll excuse the pun, “set the tone” for at least half the day. Something to get me going in the mood of productivity, of one kind of another.

So there. I’ll do that: A wake-up song when my alarm goes off (7:30.) Then one of the above playlists soon after. The easiest thing to do on the front end I think would be to use one of the Amazon Alexa playlists.

Okay yeah.

7:30: The Calling by Santana (such a great morning song.)

8:30: “My Likes” to get to cleaning up for a half hour or more in the morning.

Then I can dick around with triggering youtube playlists on time from the computer, once I get rolling and all.

Yeah. I like it.

There will be more.

Just…so much more.