The Soundtrack Syndrome

(because art goes beyond the visual)


Do you ever find yourself in a particularly dramatic moment and realize that there’s this song playing in your head, and it fits perfectly with what’s happening, and if only everyone could hear it, the moment would be perfect?

Well, I decided that it’s about time we had a phrase for this feeling. So I coined one. Ladies and gentlemen, it is called “The Soundtrack Syndrome”.

Sometimes we get really bored with our mundane, banal, existential, pointless lives and decide to spend time, time that we could be spending running in slow motion through sunflower fields, placed in front of an artificially lit screen of moving pixels until our eyes water and we’re deaf to the world. We watch movies. And sometimes these movies suck so bad you wish you hadn’t watched them – here’s looking at you (not so) Epic Movie. But sometimes, just sometimes, they stir something deep inside of you; feelings you didn’t know you had, things you didn’t know you ever wanted, memories you had almost let slip away. And, let me preach to you, the reason for these feelings is probably a carefully chosen soundtrack.

Let’s take, for example, the most obvious of them all – the kiss. Your romantic interest is looking at you all dewy eyed in a low light setting and you lean in to kiss them – and ever so subtly you hear the words “I know who I want to take me home” and suddenly Semisonic’s got you feeling all kinds of feels that you weren’t feeling before “Closing Time” spontaneously played from the heavens. These fantastical moments reveal an idealization so heavily present in cinematic culture.  

The important question here, is – is this idealization healthy? Or are we using visuals and music to create impossible scenarios, Arcadias of a sort, that consumers can only dream of experiencing? Is this culture of ‘the perfect moment’ actually taking away from our real life events?

According to James Kellaris, an expert on influences of music on consumers, there is such a thing as an “earworm” which is a song that gets stuck in your head because of a “cognitive itch” triggered by repetitive patterns and rhythms. Researchers still don’t have a complete understanding of why this happens; the human psyche is just too complex to fully explain! Movies, specifically, are the perfect situation to get a song stuck in your head. They build up the perfect mood for the “earworm” to sink its hook into you. Think of yourself watching a movie as a primed canvas – painters, this is probably pretty easy considering you’re currently smothered in what seems to be the entire contents of your paint tubes. The music just sticks easier, and holds faster.

So, The Soundtrack Syndrome doesn’t seem all that farfetched when you think of it in these terms. Go back to “The Perks of Being A Wallflower”, to the last scene when they’re racing down a highway with wind in their perfectly styled faces, and Charlie has just delivered the most incredible quote. “We Are Infinite”. And then David Bowie’s “Heroes” rises up and begins to play, and that moment and that song – neither has ever felt so epic. Behold the power of using visuals and sounds to support each other, the power of The Soundtrack Syndrome.