A strange invitation

This post isn’t about cycling, but it starts with a trip to a bike race.

It’s more about the odd and interesting ways that our brains work, with a bit of obsession thrown in (which of course is always bring things around to bike racing).

While driving to the Mid-Ohio race, I was listening to Studio 360 on PRI. Between stories they played a short music clip — maybe 5 seconds at most. No vocals, just a shimmering keyboard line that caught my attention. I knew that song, and knew it was a cool song, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

I needed to know that song.

The keyboard had a 60’s sound to it. In my head I started going through possibilities, discarding what didn’t seem to fit. Bob Dylan. It sounded like something on a mid-60’s Dylan album. But none of the songs I could think of seemed to fit. How about Van Morrison? I mentally went through every song and album I had listened to.

I got to the race, raced, drove home and still was thinking about the song. It was like a weird combination of Name That Tune and detective work.

I went to Grooveshark and started clicking through Dylan songs. Maybe it wasn’t Dylan after all.

Playing that little clip over in my head, it occurred to me: wait … maybe it was a sample that was incorporated into a song.

The astute music fan (more astute than me) may now have enough clues.

I thought “sample”. Hmm … “Beck”? Yes, I think that’s it. Back to Grooveshark. The song was Beck’s “Jack-Ass”. Which as it turns out samples the keyboard from “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” (a Dylan song), but not the Dylan version. The version performed by Them, whose singer was Van Morrison.

Now … I never knew that. I only knew that I had heard this before, and that it sounded like Dylan or Van Morrison. Somehow my brain made those connections from the 5 second snippet of a keyboard line that was sampled from another song.

When I think about all that had to happen for my brain to make the connections — mostly unconscious — and figure this out, I can believe those who say we have a supercomputer between our ears.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “A strange invitation

  1. Gustia

    You’re right! It’s a miracle when you think about it. Years ago, CBC radio had a segment on one of their radio programmes called, “The Hum Line.” When you heard a song, but for the life of you couldn’t remember its name or who the heck wrote it, you’d call the Hum Line and hum as much of the song as you could remember. They had a music expert named Danny Marks interpret your humming and tell you the name of the song. The programme isn’t on any more but boy, that guy was good!

    • Brian

      I’m sure that at some point brain researchers will have this all broken down into particular neurons firing, chemical reactions and all that. But in the meantime, I’m sticking to the supercomputer metaphor.

      The “Hum Line” is a great idea. I could use that for a lot of stuff these days.

      I’m doing some stuff at work that’s making me have to remember a few things about probability — stuff I learned in great detail twenty-some years ago. I look now in amazement that it all made sense to me, and that without too much effort I could give you a proof of some theorem or solve some probability problem.

      Now … I would have a better chance of understanding German.

      But just like with the little song snippet, bits and pieces start to come back and then trigger further memories and understanding stored away somewhere. It’s quite frustrating and fascinating at the same time.

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