Ah, memories. They are the essence of our concert experiences. And long after the show is over, our memories allow us to live in the glory of the moment forever. But what does it look like when we actually use a concert memory to experiment with our brain’s process of memory recall? Let’s find out!
One of my most vivid memories of SXSW 2011 was TV on The Radio’s set during the MOG party at the Mohawk.
The sun was shinning. The crowd was buzzing as we all waited for the show to start. We made our way through the crowd politely wedging ourselves through the dense throng of fans on the main floor at the outdoor patio.
Before the music started, I looked up into the bright blue sky and was blinded by the radiant sun that shone brilliantly down and warmed us all creating a thin layer of glistening perspiration on several foreheads around me.
An amp buzzed. A kick drum beat and rumbled my chest. A gentle whistle of harmony was breathed into the mic.
Then gradually, note by note, the magnificent melodic mix of palpable post-punk, electro-rock and jazz began to rush forth from the speakers until it was a surging sonic river of red hot liquid lava.
From that point on, the crowd was swept into a frenzy as TV on the Radio primed us with the righteous harmonic swelling and goose bump-inducing “Young Liars.” Then they hurled themselves in to the rest of the set unleashing tracks from their new album Nine Types of Light (iTunes), an album that I’ve grown more attached to and inspired by with each listen.
While Colleen was up at the front of the stage snapping pictures, I split my time between getting lost in the music and trying to record a snippet of the set with my Blue Microphone Mikey that I’ve been testing out Hip Hop Block Parties and other shows recently.
When I began to record, and much to my surprise, a fellow fan tapped me on the shoulder and asked what type of contraption I was using to record the song.
As the glorious roar of music engulfed us, I did my best to mouth to him info about the Mikey, but it was super hard to explain. So I smiled, and excitedly gave the fan a Live Fix card, like I usually do in those situations, and invited him to email me after the show.
I haven’t heard from my new TV on the Radio concert buddy yet, but if you’re out there somewhere and you’re reading this, it was a blast sharing the show with you and I hope you do share you concert story with us very soon. And here’s the Mikey info I promised to share with you.
Now, the reason I’m telling you all this is because this particular post and our SXSW concert experience was a “no notes memory recall experiment.”
I call it that because I wanted to revisit and continue our previous concert memory experiments with David Guetta and Recreate My Night.
So, for this experiment, I wanted to put my own memory to the test.
Knowing what I know about how our brains work, I wanted to see how exactly our neurons, memory storage and long-term recall help us remember our favorite concert experiences.
How Did I Do It? Why Did I Do It?
When I usually write concert reviews, or go to write a Live Fix post, I have written notes that I reference.
But in this case, this post was written entirely without referencing any written notes or my usual Moleskine notes. It was conducted using pure memory and a few other emotional triggers.
Basically, I waited awhile, about three weeks, to see what specific moments from the TV on the Radio concert would stick.
I wanted to put my long-term memory to the test to see which memories my mind would recall on its own, and I wanted to see what memories would be recalled when I used only visual (Colleen’s photos) and audio (my Mikey recordings) cues.
The Elements Of the Experiment: Concert Fans Loving “Young Liars”
You’ve already seen the photos that I used for this experiment above and below. And now here’s the recording I took with the Blue Microphone Mikey that helped me complete my experiment.
The recording is completely uncut in all it’s glory as TV on the Radio builds us up and sends us surging in to the stratosphere during “Young Liars.”
I should tell you that I’m a big fan of rough and raw live concert footage and that’s why I love this recording. It’s not polished or edited. And I especially enjoyed it because it’s got fan voices and screams mixed in painting a powerful emotional audio image in your mind of what it was like to experience the show. And, as you’ll see in a moment, those are the things long-term memories are made of.
And what I didn’t realize when I originally recorded it was that as I was recording when my curious concert buddy tapped me on the shoulder.
And every time I listen to it I can’t help but think about my concert buddy and what happened to him and his girlfriend after the show.
I’ll never forget that moment because as I’ve learned a great show is all about the memories. Again, a long-term memory that played a big part in making this show a personal favorite.
Okay, so far I’ve given you all the raw elements of my experience and now it’s time to share a bit of hard research that puts all this stuff in perspective and explains what exactly happened in my brain and memory to make this experiment possible. Then I’ll tell you what I learned when I put all this together.
In her USA Today article, April Holiday explains that:
Recalling memories re-fires many of the same neural paths we originally used to sense the experience and, therefore, almost re-creates the event. Memories of concepts and ideas are related to sensed experiences because we extract the essence from sensed experiences to form generalized concepts.
Then later in her article she goes on to explain that “…long-term memory involves three processes: encoding, storage and retrieval.
Now, what really amazed me was learning the micro details and thinking through how my TV on the Radio experience traveled through a very specific process. A, process by the way, that happens within a matter of seconds but gets stored in my long-term memory when certain things happen.
To that point Holiday says:
The information follows a path (called the Papez circuit), starting at the hippocampus, circulating through more of the limbic system (to pick up any emotional associations like “happy fall day,” and spatial associations like “apple orchard”), then on to various parts of the cortex, and back to the hippocampus. Making the information flow around the circuit many times strengthens the links enough that they “stabilize,” and no longer need the hippocampus to bring the data together, says neuroscientist Bruno Dubuc of the Canadian Institutes of Neuroscience, Mental Health, and Addiction. The strengthened memory paths, enhanced with environment connections, become a part of long-term memory.
Then as April Holiday explains in her follow up article on how neurons and memories work she says:
Special neuron networks exist that are pre-wired to link cortical neurons into a new network memory. One such network is the Papez circuit in the hippocampus we discussed earlier. The Delicious apple example illustrates how the Papez circuit entrenches temporary connections existing between visual (RED), hearing (BITE-SOUND) and limbic neurons (a HAPPY fall day) to form a new lasting memory: Delicious apple.
What Did I Discover?
And I learned that it’s not just a great performance that makes our minds remember a particular show.
Our brains are beautiful and complex machines that do some truly amazing things without us even realizing it.
And our brains not only take in and process information during the show, but our brains also send that information to specific sub-parts of our brain that access our emotions — and then send that info to the rest of our body!
And it’s that split-second and then long-term memory storage process that makes the live concert experience such a live-changing experience.
I also discovered that what makes us remember a show, and what sends a concert into long-term memory, is the emotional history we bring to the show and the people we connect with during the show.
And when those two elements converge in our brains something truly magical happens. We never just come to or leave a show with an empty cerebral or emotional slate.
All of us, enter the venue with something emotional unique and leave with something even more emotionally unique that we didn’t have before.
That said, I saw several great shows at SXSW, but the TV on the Radio show was one of my favorites because of that physical and verbal connection I made with my fellow concert buddy, and unseen but nonetheless fully felt emotional connection I made with the hundreds of other fans around me.
And when I think back to that moment during the TVOTR show, I can’t help but remember how surprised I was to find myself so quickly immersed in such a communal, emotionally engaged and electric atmosphere at the Mohawk.
It was as if we were all one massive pulsing brain of memory energy as each individual concert fan played the part of a neuron firing and then all us neurons feed on the music and ultimately were gloriously connected together!
I would love to be able to get all those fans at the Mohawk back together in a room to see what everyone else’s long-term memory look likes. That would be something very special and equally amazing to discover.
So there you have it! Another Live Fix experiment that shows that all it takes to unlock our concert memories is a single drum beat and a crowd roar from a live recording, or a quick glance at a concert photo and it all comes rushing back to the surface. Pretty rad, isn’t it?
How have you recalled your favorite concerts? What shows do you want to voyage back to right now?
If you want to grab a listen of TV on the Radio’s Nine Types Of Light, our sponsors MOG music offer a 14-day trial where you can test our their music subscription service and download any albums for free. Read our review for more info on why I think MOG is rad place for music fans.
Check out more of Colleen’s pictures from the MOG party and more of SXSW 2011.
In light of the recent and unfortunate passing of TVOTR’s bassist Gerard Smith, we also wanted to extend our sympathies to the band and family. We’ve payed tribute to other artists and fans who’ve passed on and experienced loss, and we do the same with this post.