Music is an important part of my life. It helped me through some of the worst times, in fact. And it was in so many different parts of my life that it has become an all encompassing thing. I almost always have a song in my head, and I get wisdom from the songs. Oliver Sacks, the famous neuroscientist, actually wrote about a man who had musicophilia, which I think is essentially what I have. I was a neuroscientist, which is different than a neurologist, so my experience of this information is different; it is more conceptual and personal than it is clinical. Anyway, musicophilia is an important inner guide for me! I do not view musicophilia the same way Oliver Sacks did, since I experience it myself and have been able to correlate the phenomena with other experiences in my life. I think people with musicophilia hear The Akashic Radio. To figure this out, I had to take the time to slow down and listen, and that is what helped it go from being a distraction to a superpower.
There are actually many other people like me. I am extremely interested in what causes this and the other psychic phenomena I experience. I think this is important to understand because music has well researched and documented benefits for health. For me it has been an important part of addressing trauma and also expressing moods that I cannot capture with words. Other artists are sometimes able to unlock something I cannot with their expressions, and the magic record player in my head and on the airwaves seems to know what I need to hear, and guide me through those times.
In addition to musicophilia, I struggle with alexithymia, which means I often don’t know how I feel, and music helps. Not knowing how I feel is really a hindrance when I am having to deal with other people who like to make decisions through group work and discussions or who need answers right away. This has been a struggle for me off and on, especially in certain contexts. I can be easily overwhelmed by crosstalk and background noise, so I don’t do well in large groups for that reason, either. I would really like to work better with others, and to do that I need to be able to express the troubles I sometimes have which I have to accommodate and not just ignore in order to function my best and not disappoint others. Not knowing how I feel makes it hard for me to make decisions on the spot, so if I am forced to make decisions due to group behaviors, I tend to make decisions out of anxiety rather than desire. That just never seems to work out very well for me or my relationships.
Some of my problems with this are probably related to repeated cycles of dieting doing damage to my nervous system, so in that vein I am trying to heal my relationship with my body. The vagus nerve is important in regulating somatosensory awareness through the anterior cingulate cortex, and when it is damaged it can cause autonomic nervous system excitability, which can predispose a person to panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, hypervigilance, and other phenomena which can be troubling not just to the sufferer, but to the people who love them and have to work with them. The symptoms I have, both physical and mental, are similar to those suffered by people with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and I carry genetics for two of the top three heritable conditions which are associated with the development of eating disorders. Those conditions are porphyria, cystic fibrosis (CF) and diabetes. When I figured this out, it was a big relief, because these are all conditions in which digestive symptoms are affected by dietary factors, so it makes sense that suffers would intuitively become sort of picky about food. On the outside, without knowing that I carry porphyria and CF, my fixation on food might look like orthorexia, but it really was an attempt to try to improve my health, not starve myself for vanity’s sake. One of the symptoms I get from stressors is upset stomach, but also up until very recently my body had shut off its hunger signals which are controlled by the vagus nerve. So that meant that I could easily not feel like eating or forget to eat and then suddenly experience cognitive and sensory effects like an inability to stay present, anxiety, confusion and moodiness. It is like extreme “hanger,” but more like “hanxiety” - and when I noticed the cognitive symptoms it always felt like I only had seconds to eat before I might need to pass out. Note that these symptoms are almost identical to what people with diabetes feel, but my blood sugars aren’t involved like a diabetic’s would be.
For the last couple of years, being forced to be concerned with so many things outside myself presented a real struggle for this reason. In 2019, when I initially recognized that I was having serious health issues, I found that having a friend over for just a few hours was too much, because keeping on top of my metabolic health took so much focus and it was so easy to “lay down my motorcycle” so to speak if I did not have quiet time. It was a bit like being a preschooler in a way, that I needed regular naps and snacks or I became kind of a trainwreck. Since I was spending so much time trying to keep myself from falling down the mountain, I really didn’t have the focus necessary to be able to hold intellectual conversations in real time. These problems have all improved greatly since we had our backdrafting water heater removed from our home and improved the air quality in it by making our own detergents, and also since I have figured out specific nutritional needs I have that may be greater due to my specific genetics.
Eventually, I would like to sing with my music, and I have been practicing over the pandemic. That was mostly due to having gone to a karaoke bar before the pandemic and wanting to reacquaint myself with singing. Singing ended up being important for my health over the pandemic and while I was recovering as it provided a way for me to concentrate on my breath. So whether or not the quality was good, I did not know. I did learn a lot about myself by singing; I learned what factors influence my mucus production and my ability to generate full sound, and I learned that when I am feeling well, I generally have a fuller sound to my voice. I learned that this changes over the course of my menstrual cycle, too. So music for me has had some unforeseen benefits in terms of understanding myself and how my mind and body work.
In some ways, the communication issues I was having were helpful because through observation I realized there is a definite strength in being able to recuse oneself from the duress of having to respond in the moment to things that probably deserve more consideration, anyway. I began to see how much chaos was generated in the world from people’s overconfidence in their ability to have civil discourse, communicate clearly, and remember what was said, too. I think it is possible to infer a political candidate’s cognitive flexibility and social intelligence from their ability to have a conversation which does not devolve into sardonic language, personal attacks, logical fallacies, and psychological manipulation. Not being able to do these things increases the chances that the candidate will resort to less transparent and more coercive forms of leadership. Perhaps if the population were educated about this, we might glean more useful information from televised political debates regarding the character and intelligence of the candidates and make better choices in who we elect and nominate for important positions. We should not be electing people with the self regulation skills of an angry toddler or jealous adolescent to political office, unless we want to live with angry toddler and jealous adolescent politics on a global scale. Unfortunately, I think throughout history a lot of very successful men (and some women) have gained unwarranted levels of power by getting the people around them to fear their tantrums and covert efforts at manipulation that they learned as children with itinerant parents and overly judgmental and manipulative mentors and peers in general. When not aware of their underlying emotions because of not being encouraged to name and address them as children, and being forced to have shame for those same emotions, people subconsciously learn to use those emotions in ways that are destructive to themselves and the people around them. It is unfortunately exceedingly difficult to recognize this behavior in oneself or others when the environment is so full of it. We simply have not figured out effective ways to criticize, and much of the criticism we give is unfair.
Imagine how the world might be different if people were allowed to take a step back from social interactions to check in with themselves and realize they are feeling lust, anger, boredom, shame, hunger, and process that emotion safely alone. Imagine what would happen if people were encouraged to slow down and recognize that their actions were being driven by mania, rather than need.
The music I have created helps me process emotion. It is easier to not be present when I feel the weight of the world on me, so when I am stressed, sometimes my mind wanders, or in other words I mildly dissociate. Sometimes the demands of spoken language are too much for me, so purposefully, the music on Sundae Busk does not have words. It is meant to be a break for the mind, which is something I regularly need. This is part of my neurodiversity. I sometimes experience expressive and receptive aphasia, especially when I am stressed out, but I have found treatments that work well enough that my ability to have conversations for which there won’t be significant ramifications if I say the wrong thing has significantly improved. I have really grown to dislike in person chit-chat as I have post-traumatic stress disorder and my psyche is chock-full of imperialist landmines around a struggle for perfection I witnessed and constantly heard echoed in my communities. These were beliefs others felt about how bodies need to look and be and also how the material world should be curated that were influenced greatly by white colonialist thought and the corporate, religious, medical and educational establishments. So this music is supposed to be an escape from that, to transport the listener into the moment. I feel like as a mother and a parent I was constantly expected to be the a superhero, with only the radio in my head, the sensations in my body, and the signs in nature to guide me, while being attacked by imperialist hornets which actively worked to keep me and anyone else around them from accessing their body’s wisdom.
I felt that kindness was fleeting, and that if you spoke to someone long enough, their inner bully eventually revealed itself, sometimes in scary ways that are still stuck in my head and which play on a loop if I am not careful. I am trying to remove toxic productivity, consumerism, repetitive fad dieting, and obsession with thinness from my psychological influences, because these things have important negative psychological implications for the people who practice them and anyone untrained in recognizing them as negative who enable those behaviors in the people they support. So my music is meant to take a person away from those negative influences to a safe space where it is okay to get in touch with what it means to be a sensory and even sensual being.
The songs on the album Sundae Busk were composed using loops from Garageband Loop Library, and were a therapy for me over the Winter 2022 holiday season, when I struggle most with toxic productivity, consumerism, fad dieting and body acceptance. I am so thankful I found Garageband, which helped me find the joy in music making that I once experienced by myself as a kid with my synthesizer. I do not know how copyright stuff works, but would like to do covers someday. It is often imperialist concerns of this nature which keep me from taking my balls to the end zone instead of being more free with my creations, and I often wonder how our cultural dialogue has been negatively impacted by copyright and trademark issues. All I know is that some people make covers and others use samples, and sometimes people who already have a lot of money feel threatened rather than honored by imitation and use their financial power to bully others. These people believe they have some divine right to reign over the human narrative and also profit from it, while not acknowledging that they were also influenced by other artists, or that we are all connected. That being said, I think it is important to give people credit when credit is due, because we still live under capitalism and we all still need to eat, but before capitalism, perhaps it was easier to see imitation as a healthy part of our cultural dialogue and also as a record of the human psyche (which it still is). Capitalism is still the best solution we have to being interdependent in some but not all contexts, even though it hasn’t been particularly fair to me or most other people freedom-wise, especially with the imperialist expectations of the wealthy and wannabe wealthy placed upon us. In any case, I have so many influences, it would be impossible to list them all.
I wouldn’t have been able to make the music I did over the holiday without the help of my husband, Erick, with whom I enjoy stargazing. I am so glad we have been able to slow down life and make music together. It is one of our favorite things to do, now, and it is kind of a celebration of all the time we spent connecting through music over the past 29 years. The pandemic gave us time to slow down and see how musicophilia connects us to each other and the world around us, too. What a wonderful thing for us to experience in the middle of a tumultuous time.
The generous loan of his iPad gave me a musical creative freedom for which I have been longing for a long time. I was trying to get into music synthesis on the PC, but the learning curve is steeper and I get frustrated by UI stuff rather easily. My son has done music mixing as a hobby, but he is especially gifted with computers, so he uses applications with Linux that sometimes involve writing computer code, which is just beyond my bandwidth right now. (Haha! Bandwidth!) So Apple’s intuitive setup was a big help. Now, it’s not always intuitive... I do have some complaints, but the ones about the UI are picayune compared to what I know about how the manufacturers of Apple products treat their manufacturing staff, which is a big reason I have avoided investing in those products. I really don’t like being part of the system which exploits other human beings, and especially not in the way I understand these particular Chinese workers are being treated. As my husband pointed out to me, there are all sorts of human rights violations in the electronics manufacturing industry beyond what we know about Apple. Still, for that to be going on when the cost of their products new is prohibitive for most people is ridiculous. Furthermore, the end user of Apple products is hamstrung with respect to being able to do their own repairs and get their products to last longer. While I’m not keen on coding things, I am capable of doing basic hardware fixes on computers, and have been using a cost and performance optimized system I designed myself for my computing needs for many years.
That being said, GarageBand got me up and running rather quickly, helping me tap into a part of myself I thought to be lost long ago. Despite all the rigorous training I had in music, until recently I was not able to find within myself the desire to make music. That’s because I never got to choose the music myself. I never got to *play* the things I vibed with! And I very rarely got to do things on my own timeline, due to the driving ambition of mentors and groups and being overcommitted myself.
A few years ago, I got out of the house and hung with another couple who took me to the Beats Antique and March Fourth concerts in Fort Collins, and I felt like I had found my heaven. Beats Antique has kind of a southern Mediterranean and Arabic vibe, and March Fourth, I’d say, is what happens when band nerds dance naked around a bonfire. Since then our family has really been following music more closely, even though it was always an important part of experiences we shared. My son does mixing and is an audio engineer and my daughter is a DJ for her college radio station. They pursued those interests without any involvement from me, which I find so fascinating. My husband Erick plays the bass and we are actively collaborating on some covers to release as an album, if we can figure out how to get permission. I have been wanting to make music that can help transport a person to euphoria since my youth, and I felt these bands did this in new ways that were inspiring to me particularly. Life can be painful, and much of “winning” at life is knowing how to help oneself and others out of that pain. I try my best to share what I’ve learned. I had the privilege of going to a gong bath and a singing bowl concert, as well as studying Reiki, too.
When I was about 10 years old I bought myself a Casio CZ1000 synthesizer and I would just hang out in my room by myself composing things. My parents had started me in private music instruction when I was five years old, and I continued some form of music instruction until I went to graduate school. But actually it started when I was younger than that, when my mother took me to Orff Lessons taught by a lady who reminded me a lot of Mary Poppins.
When I was young, my holidays were more spiritually focused and involved a lot of music. The best parts of the holidays for me were making music with others and the quiet moments found to escape the moving world. So I capitalized on what I learned about what I enjoy about the holidays last year, and now I have 18 songs! That’s a pretty decent selection for an album.
Back when I was a teenager, I spent my money made from the jobs I had on music and music players. I was someone who, apparently like Stephen Spielberg, recorded music off the radio. I also liked to layer tracks using a cassette recorder of my own playing. I enjoyed the possibilities a dual cassette recorder made possible in my spare time. I loved making mix tapes, and I was kind of known in my friend circle for my mixtapes and also for driving them around. I was fortunate in that my parents were really generous and besides paying for my music education, let me use one of their vehicles, even covering the insurance. I just had to pay for the gas. But anyway, my family had a van which I borrowed, and my friends and I called it “The Party Bus.” I listened to my mixtapes when I was driving and not listening to the radio. I loved the radio, too. Once I met a DJ from the radio station at my college and he offered to let me shadow him. I did that and later substituted for him a few times, but I didn’t ever follow up on staying on the radio even though it was an interest of mine.
I have chosen Star Jelly for the name of my band. Star Jelly is a gelatinous substance which is sometimes found in nature, and it is thought maybe to be the remains of poisoned frogs. So it seemed appropriate. Of course after I pulled the trigger on that, going through my old emails I noticed it is close to an old friend’s email address, which was not intentional, but the subconscious does weird things. We are not in touch, but I am sure on some level I was thinking of her when I was getting ready to push out this music. I’m not a person who really enjoys having to market and sell things (even though I had a good track record in my youth), so whenever I make something creative the process of having to peddle it makes me feel a bit like I am for sale, so that’s why this album is called Sundae Busk. The cover art is a hat tip to all the women out there who have been ridiculed for daring to discuss sexuality publicly. I feel like sexuality is an important topic and that exploitation arises from ignorance about it.
I was exposed to a lot of different sounds and music when I was young, so this music is influenced not just by my time as a band or choir nerd, but also by Wendy Carlos, whose album Switched on Bach we used to listen to as a family. We would listen to that album, as well as There Goes Rhymin’ Simon and Bridge Over Troubled Water as my little sister and I would dance barefoot in the wall to wall goldenrod shag around a small glass-topped table my parents had in front of the sofa in our modest living room. If we got too rambunctious, the record would skip! As a youth I was also exposed to Gregorian chant, experimental jazz, planetarium music, Eastern music, World Music, sound therapies, dancing clubs and importantly rap music. It was also inspired by quite a few people I have known and performed with unprofessionally who persisted in the music industry, and who have been incredibly generous with their creative talent. While I was largely an alternative music fan, I was always attracted to music which draws the listener in with unexpected layers, and so I hope I have been able to do that as well.
On that note, this album is dedicated to people with tubas, trombones, trumpets, bassoons, saxophones, clarinets, flutes, stringed instruments, organs, keyboards, banjos, guitars, basses, accordions, synthesizers, Euroracks, drums, ukuleles, harmonicas or kazoos they can’t put down, to Mighty Djinns who shout “Spoon!” out of moving vehicles, and to cement popsicles. It is also dedicated to my husband Erick to thank him for all of his support, for tolerating my need to hear the music “in my soul,” for verifying that with all the windows closed, the neighbors can’t hear it, for making music and raising kids with me, for bitching and moaning to me about the reality of some peoples’ self-imposed drudgeries instead of quietly suffering them, and for joining me in the effort to be a refuge for each other. Thank you, Erick, for letting me be an animal, and for being willing to play, too.
Anyway, I invite everyone to listen to Star Jelly’s first modern psychedelia album, Sundae Busk, available May 22, 2023 at a music streaming service near you, including Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and many more!