"Thank You Music" (2021)
Zabby asked me to write an article for this issue just hours after I went for a hearing test with an audiologist. The universe is funny like that. I had started to develop persistent tinnitus, which is the perception of sound that originates inside ones head involuntarily. The outcome of the test was that my hearing was fine and there were some areas of my hearing that were actually above average, which was a relief. The audiologist's advice to remedy the symptoms of tinnitus was to choke myself of silence and stress, in order to counteract some cortisol with endorphins. He went on to explain in layman's terms that I need to do more of the things in life that I enjoy...and also listen to more music.
This was all in order to start the process of habituation, whereby the brain filters out sounds that it doesn't feel are important to hear. An example of this is a clock ticking in a room. Generally if you are busy and engaged in that room you won't hear the clock, but the clock itself is not making any more or less noise. Another example being when there is a fan on in a room. Over time you'll stop hearing the fan because your brain feels it's not an important sound to hear, but when that fan turns off, suddenly the silence is very loud. So if I follow the audiologist's guidance, one day my brain will filter out the ringing in my ears or not deem it so important and I won't hear it anymore.
My brain is perceiving sounds inside my head as important, which it previously did not. These sounds can be triggered by multiple factors including neurophysiological and psychological influences, which is utterly fascinating to me. This was the first time in my life that I had to consider sound in a very physical way, as it relates to the organs that ensure I can receive and interpret it.
I was anxious in the months leading up to the appointment because sound saved my life in a very real and tangible way. The ringing in my ears made me think I could be beginning to lose sound as I knew it. I became an artist through sound, my relationship to giving and receiving creativity all started with (and continues to flow through) music. I took for granted the physical aspects of hearing because the emotional elements were (and remain) a foundation to my wellbeing and survival in this world.
As the years have gone on I have realised, as with most people, that the music you first connect to (generally in your adolescence to early adulthood), continues to have a real strong attachment to you throughout your life. For me this is not just through a form of nostalgia, where sounds become Polaroid pictures of past times. I too have this, but what 1 1 m talking about are the songs and albums that acted as best friends and direct forms of therapy as a child.
As I became an artist myself I thought about what meaning others discover from the art you create. An artist's intention behind a creation, and the meaning ascertained by the receiver are two things that don't have to necessarily align directly. I’m a believer that both the receiver and the creator are right in whatever meaning they feel. What's interesting to me is when you add a time dimension to this. There are songs that were very vital and important to me at 17 years old, that I listen to now, in my 30s, and derive entirely different meanings from. Maybe I had to have a certain amount of life experience to fall into these meanings that the 17-year-old me would not be able to fully grasp. Maybe it was just because I was listening to music mostly made by people much older than me? Is it this simple linear thing? Where as you grow closer to the age and experience of the writer when they wrote it then you get closer to their intention? Yes to an extent, but I don't think it's that simple, I think it's the area outside that margin that forms part of the beauty of music.
The 17-year-old me, the person in his 30s, and the artist themselves who may have a third meaning are all correct. In addition, there's a fourth meaning - what the universe intended when originally using the artist as a vessel to express itself. Maybe that fourth meaning is not separate, it's actually the energy that surrounds meanings one, two and three, giving them the ability to all exist together somewhere in the universe under a big warm coat. Music that leaves enough space for you to insert yourself and move around inside of it is the music that holds me forever and changes alongside my growth and development as a human.
The irony is that these foundational early musical attachments are the songs I would listen to the least in my everyday life. As your music collection grows and grows you forget how much you love certain things or how they help you. You almost take them for granted or think it is too obvious of a choice when you reach for something to listen to. Just as we can take for granted the people in our lives we love the most. There were albums and pieces of music that meant too much to me to listen to casually. I felt there had to be the time and space to fully embrace the sound in a space.
But lately, since acting on the audiologist's advice to listen to more music, I have been revisiting and sitting with those old sound friends and holding their hands more regularly, more casually, on walks, whilst working, whilst just sitting around, whilst crying, whilst laughing. There has been an enormous benefit to that, alongside writing more music and putting together an album to express and document the process of my psychological and emotional voyage in the last year.
Thank you music. I will try to never take you for granted again. Thank you for sending sounds to my brain via tinnitus to remind me, and to point me further down a path opened up by psychotherapy, art, and the loves of my life. The loud ticking clock of trauma will always be there, but you can do something about its sound when its expression is destructive. Thank you music for supplying me with lifelong sound friends that grow as I grow. Thank you music for inspiring me in times of pain and equally in times of gratitude, beauty, and play.
The audiologist gave me a booklet as I left the appointment and at the bottom of the front cover it read "Making Life Sound Better". My dyslexia just poked its head around the door and added; "Making sound makes life better too".
This essay was featured in the Procrastination Paper in Issue 29 (Music and Sound). This was a
monthly publication run Zabby Allen . Zabby also edited this piece in preparation for print.
Marley Starskey Butler | NooNoo | (029) (2019)
Directed, Photographed and Edited by Marley Starskey Butler featuring his brother Keanu. Thoughts written in February 2018 depicting autumn 2017
"I don’t even want to have children anyway".
Sometimes a sentence shoots in to your mind that seemingly has nothing to do with your thoughts. Some say that this is the difference between loud thoughts, and voices in your head. For something to be defined as a voice in your head, often it is a voice that the listener does not want to occur, surprises them, and or does not understand its origins. In this case, the voice shot in to my head because the universe was trying to give me subtle signs, but in the end, became tired of me not listening. One of these signs was my obsession with the song Landslide by Fleetwood Mac. I would listen to it all the time, spread the lyrics to this song with friends, and make colleagues at work listen to it. I am fully aware that there is always a reason I am drawn to songs, there is an energy that I hear and feel, and the meaning will present itself to me at some point. Sometimes this will be right away, sometimes in a few weeks, sometimes after many years, waiting for me to experience the things in life I needed in order to hear the song for the specific reason I was drawn to it.
I had been feeling the kind of sadness that I had not felt before. For the first time in a long time, part of the sadness had elements of family within. I could not identify specifically how, as it was ambiguous and confusing at the time. All historic sadness that had explicit elements of family in its nature before now, was obvious to me in its connection with my childhood experiences. This time though, I could not pinpoint its derivation. There was a specific moment which occurred, where a simple reason for my sadness could be found, but I knew it was not that. My little brother Keanu had just had his first day at university, moving out of the family home. Me and his grandmother/my mother/nan/auntie/foster carer Ena had helped unpack his things on his first day there. I knew that my sadness could be defined as me missing him, not being able to see him as much, or him growing up and flying the nest which I had flew from a decade prior, but I knew this was not the case. That day of him flying was one of the happiest days of my life, I was proud, and full of love for him and his grandmother, despite this, the sadness within me began the following day.
A week later, during a train journey, came the voice in my head; "I don’t even want to have children anyway". Now anybody that has had a conversation with me since I was a teenager knows this sentence makes no sense, because one of my most repeated sentences is; "I have been broody since I was a kid" This voice stunned me because of its integral lie, therefore it forced me to seriously consider why I heard it. I knew that it was voicing an extreme binary point of view, so I looked at the opposite, which was the notion of heightened, almost unreasonable broodiness. I had in fact been residing within that notion, and it had recently become unreasonable. My broodiness had rose and rose, and in the last year had got to the point where every family set up I witnessed would stir this incredible yearning feeling inside of me. Every father and daughter combination, the sight of babies, young siblings, anything that involved fatherhood or family. This rose and rose until it hit a peak and plateaued in to a deep sadness; the day Keanu moved to university.
The ambiguous family elements to this sadness opened itself up to in front of me. In my early twenties I had the realisation that the the reason my childhood had not fostered serious attachment issues, and destroyed my ability to love, was my attachments to Keanu. The unconditional love I had towards him as a baby when he joined the family home was the reason I was able to love as an adult. Without the experience of him I would not have been able to love. I owe him. Why this is the case is a whole other story.
What I learned from the voice in my head was that when Keanu moved out of the family home, it was symbolic, and then somewhere in my subconscious I was scared that I could no longer love. It was not wrapped in Keanu becoming an adult, he was already an adult a year prior, it was the symbol of him moving out of the family home which me and him lived. There was a parallel process taking place in my subconscious, the closer Keanu got to moving, the broodier I got year by year. My subconscious was preparing me for Keanu’s flight, and wanting me to have my own family in preparation so I could continue to have the ability to love. So when this preparation failed and I had no family of my own, I fell in to deep sadness thinking I could not love.
luckily, all it took was the realisation of what my subconscious was doing all these years to centre me. I was still able to love. This then became a new beginning. It became the first year in my life without the subconscious crutch of Keanu being the only reason I have the ability to love another human being. Yes, he was the foundation, but I have that foundation to keep forever and mould in to new experiences and knowledge. I was no longer unreasonably broody, so I developed a healthy relationship with the creation of a family. My thoughts around fatherhood was no longer wrapped up in a subconscious game of cards. It felt like the first year of my life.