Columns - Features

Music Matters: Living Through Sound


In my humble opinion, one of life’s greatest pleasures is when you see an utterly fantastic film for the first time – and the soundtrack fits. Not only does it fit; it enhances the viewing experience by adding an aural dimension to the atmosphere, an extra quality that engages your attention above and beyond the cinematography. Conversely, I find it intensely frustrating when my mind chooses to dub over the score or soundtrack with something else…and it fits better. This could come down to some latent talent that would be best employed in film production, or it could boil down to the fact that I can be something of a supremacist when it comes to my musical taste.

Nevertheless, when it comes to our own soundtracks, can’t we all afford to be as supremacist as we see fit? These are the songs which make our finest moments even more glorious, our most melancholy more poignant, our memories ever more vivid when coupled with a musical counterpart.

As someone with an intense love for music, I tend to associate it with, well…absolutely everything. A person, a memory, a situation, an occasion, or indeed, a scene in a film. For me, everything is translated into music. When I first saw The Wicker Man, my subconscious immediately edited the burning scene to be played out alongside ‘Witch Hunt’ by Rush. I have entire back catalogues dedicated to particular periods of my youth, stowed away under references such as, “Frank Zappa: Fresher’s Week, First Whitey.”

There are other inexplicable associations that were dealt out by the fates – for example, the random selection of Belle and Sebastian in the hospital room where I gave birth to my daughter, or the fact that Athlete’s Vehicles and Animals just happened to be playing during a sangria-soaked bake-off, resulting in a sponge cake that tasted like a Sunday roast.

For the most part, the soundtrack to my life is an eclectic affair that encompasses a range so vast, even I struggle to fully grasp where it begins and where it ends; rather, it is mapped, accessed and interlinked according to what age I was, who I was with, where I was and the experiences I had. Personally, I find it impossible to look at a particular album and see it as just that: an album, created and produced by individuals that usually have no relevance to me whatsoever. There is always some form of association woven within the fabric of every single melody, riff and lyric.

For so many of us, music is intrinsic to our identity, even to the extent of dictating whom we bind ourselves to and share our time with – take for example Sam Dunn’s 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, which explains this phenomenon flawlessly within the context of just one genre.

It is the very same phenomenon which led me here to The Thin Air as a new columnist, not to mention my pursuits in music journalism. There are music lovers, and then there are those who love music; it is their driving force, their modus operandi, their motivation and, above all else, their companion through everything. It is an inseverable bond, one which is certainly prolific here in Northern Ireland. We are lucky enough to have individuals who don’t stop at letting a soundtrack find them; they go out there, guitar in one hand, harmonica in the other, and they create their own, right there on the streets of Belfast City Centre in the hopes that someday soon, they can take a step closer to standing in front of a rapt audience in Voodoo and beyond.

That, my friends, is where the real magic is. There’s the joy of sitting alone in a room, starfished on the floor, speakers either side of your head as you digest a recording of someone else’s soul – but then, there’s having someone dare to literally put that soul on display right in front of you, lapping at your feet like a tide, poetry in sound and motion, a live soundtrack in the making, propelled not by profit or large scale success, but by genuine heart – and there is no price to be placed on that.

You are eating, breathing, working and sleeping amidst the finest of talent; the Van Morrisons, the Stiff Little Fingers and even the Jeff Buckleys of our time; magicians of their art, seeking only to find ears to listen and maybe a pint or two for their trouble. We have a living soundtrack immediately on our doorsteps, for those willing to open the door and step out. Seanin Hughes