AI: Mood vs. Music

In my Art Inquisition last week I asked you all to weigh in on your music listening habits regarding seasons or time of day. This resulted in a trip to WebMD where I diagnosed myself with Aural Weirding Disorder some interesting and thoughtful comments which got me thinking more about moods and their relation to music.

In the comment thread for that article, coelecanth had this to say:

The thing I wonder about is just how many people use music to change their mood as apposed to choosing music to suit the mood they’re in at the time?

So I ask you, dear readers: Do you use music to try to change your mood? Do you find music to suit your mood? Both? Neither? Something else entirely?

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.

Brian George

Brian George is an illustrator and designer who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. In his spare time he makes videos of Spirograph drawings and complains about doing laundry. Website: Twitter: @brianggeorge Insta: @brianggeorge If you're into what I'm doing, feel free to throw down a bit in my tipjar here: @brianggeorge

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  1. This isn’t exactly a “mood”, but associating music with a current task or project certainly counts. Especially when the job is under a tight deadline, I’m more likely to find myself cycling through a short list of music albums over and over while I work. Writers often talk about little talismans or rituals they use to avoid the dreaded writer’s block, and I think it’s related to listening to the same music repeatedly while working — i.e. I’m reinforcing an association inside my brain between the music and working productively (being “in the groove”). Each day I sit down to work, put on that music, and I’m immediately back in that productive mind state.

    And then when the project is finished, I’ll be sick to death of those albums and avoid them for years afterwards.

  2. There’s definitely a much stronger relationship between how poor a mood I’m in and what I can listen to (the worse I feel, the shorter that list gets). Though in retrospect, maybe my behaviour really is an attempt to improve my mood — on days like that, it’s generally only the artists that I’ve enjoyed for years and have a lasting history with that make the cut.

  3. Both, but either way depends on the mood I’m in when I start listening. I may want to listen to music as a continuation/extension of what I’m feeling at the moment, or I may need the change of mood (obviously most likely if I’m in a bad mood). It’s all context dependent. I do generally prefer to listen actively, rather than passively, so there are very few activities in which I use music as a background. When I do listen, I get the most enjoyment out of it when I can give it my full attention. Most music is just too damn interesting and/or affective to treat it as a background to some other activity (for me personally, anyway – not meant as a prescriptive statement).

  4. Also, somewhat paradoxically, I find that if I’m in a bad mood, I actually prefer to listen to depressing pieces. Somehow, that gives me a much better sense of catharsis than listening to an uplifting piece while I’m in a bad mood. Weird, huh?

  5. I find that if I’m in a certain kind of mood, music that clashes with it makes just WAY too much of a dissonance and I can’t really handle it. But sometimes when I listen to something that’s too appropriate to how I’m feeling I just end up feeling a tad ridiculous. Like, if I’m incredibly bummed out about something, and I put on Pornography or Disintegration by The Cure, I feel kind of like I’m mocking my own sadness and turning into some kind of cliche.

    Except when I was a teenager, of course. Because back then it was all “OH GOD! I’m sooo tortured! Look how dark and moody I am! My pain is the greatest ever felt!”

    I do find that music can effect my mood, though. Not so much in terms of cheering me up or making me sad, but definitely in terms of getting me into reflective, or motivated, or wistful, or energetic kinds of moods, though.

    But I find the connections get strongest in terms of activities! The Stooges or Stereolab for driving, Belle & Sebastian for cleaning up the house, Rachel’s for taking a long walk, Slowdive’s “Souvlaki” for sexy times.

    Still, though: actual qualities to the music or just personal associations? Is it culturally arbitrary and variable, or even personally variable, or do certain kinds of music actually evoke certain psychological or neurological responses?

  6. This is kinda why I think the supposition that “violent music makes you violent” is pretty much BS. When I’m pissed off, I get my rage out via loud, angry music… it’s part of how I try to vent the steam coming out of my ears.

    KMFDM keeps me from punching people in the face with bears.

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