David Lynch Soundtrack to My Life - Am I Going Mental?
March 21, 2010 8:12 AM   Subscribe

Sometimes when I listen to music, it all sounds slightly off-key and a few rpm's slower. I mean, it all begins to sound rather disturbing. Happy, upbeat tunes like Mr. Blue Sky or the Go! Team sound lifeless, dreary. Anybody else ever experience this?

When I say the music sounds like it is being played slower and off-key, I mean it literally. I desperately switch songs, trying to find something that can I can tolerate, but the only songs that I can stomach are ones that are already kind of off-sounding (this is hard to quantify). For instance, If I Can Dream by Elvis is tolerable, as is Ohio by Crosby Stills & Nash, but Michael Jackson tunes and ELO's Mr. Blue Sky sound like renditions from a 1970's horror film. Or a David Lynch movie. People Are Strange by the Doors is downright terrifying.

This is not an electronics glitch, as it makes no difference what music player I am listening to.

During these times, there is a good chance that I'm feeling either depressed and/or emotionally numb. I'm just not used to these feelings translating to something as tangible as how music literally sounds to me. This only happens on occasion, as noted when I am feeling emotionally numb, depressed or lost (once a month or so).

A few years ago, I was prescribed anti-anxiety meds, although I can't say I was really diagnosed as depressed or with any other chemical imbalance. I weaned off of them after about six months, and haven't used them for about 2 years, and have been relatively fine ever since. Otherwise, I don't do any sort of drugs at all, and I'm not drunk. Except for this music problem, my every-so-often depressed moods have been just emotional, never physically manifested.

Is this a condition that anybody's ever heard of? Experienced? What level of nuts am I going? Does depression make music sound messed up? Or am I just having weird hearing problems? Do I need to see a psychiatrist or an ear doctor or is this otherwise normal?

I mean, when it happens, it literally makes about 95% of all music I own sound disturbing and intolerable to me.

posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Audio hallucinations are a common symptom of many different psychological disorders. You should speak with a psychologist.
posted by ged at 9:14 AM on March 21, 2010

This kind of audio distortion is known to happen when your blood pressure gets out of whack, as during a bout of heavy exertion.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:08 AM on March 21, 2010

Sometimes head congestion can distort the pitch of music. I'm getting over a head cold now, and tried yesterday to do some music mixing for the first time in a week. It all sounded weird... actually too trebly.

I've also experienced something closer to what you're talking about -- music being pitched down. It seems to happen when I'm lying down, bending over or otherwise in a position that causes an unusual amount of blood to flow to my head. This seems to track what ludwig_van says. Maybe you should get your blood pressure checked out.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:22 AM on March 21, 2010

I know what you're talking about. This used to happen to me every so often until about six years ago. Most of the time it was an indicator that I'd have a really bad migraine about to come on.

It can be very discomfiting to find out the amount of power our mind has over our perception, but don't worry to much. I know thats trite, but... try anyway. When I had this type of thing before it was very hard to find anything to do at all to kill time because light sensitivity would kick in soon after. I'd lay still in the dark and the feeling of just being creeped out stayed with me.

I can't remember things sounding off ever lasting for more than an hour or two.

It wouldn't hurt at all to speak to someone about how your feeling if it may be starting to manifest itself in ways that disturb you.
posted by metsauce at 10:36 AM on March 21, 2010

Depression can lead to tinnitus (or some say vice versa). Is it possible that is interfering with your enjoyment of music?
posted by DetonatedManiac at 10:39 AM on March 21, 2010

I might have a lighter but related version of what you're experiencing, although only few tunes trigger the Lynchian reaction. Whenever this happens, it's almost always connected to my mental state, and it feels like what I imagine the beginning of a panic attack might feel like, sweating, feeling cold and an odd body perception. Generally it's just anxiety and a sense of "somethings wrong."

Radio #1 by Air has a profound effect on me if I'm depressed or generally fragile, and Grass by Aphex Twin — which is mostly atonal droning, so perhaps the reaction isn't totally unexpected — changes the world into an oppressive goo of evil. (Love the rest of the album though!)

I'd never heard Mr Blue Sky before but there's something funky going on there. Is there a tone interval that amounts to a mental brown note or something?
posted by monocultured at 11:06 AM on March 21, 2010

I've experienced the same exact thing. Prior to it happening, I had gone jogging, then taken a much higher dosage of vitamin A than recommended. I had a slight headache afterwards, and after it had subdued, everything sounded off-key and slow, made especially apparent in the music I was listening to. Even the sound of my own voice was in a different pitch. Not sure if this is in any way related, but I am partially deaf in my left ear. I'm also very susceptible to depression, however I can't recall if I was actually depressed at the time. Luckily, this strange incident only lasted through the night, and I've never experienced it since.
posted by colorproof at 11:31 AM on March 21, 2010

I've heard that some kinds of hearing loss or damage can cause pitches to sound off or wrong.
posted by 6550 at 2:30 PM on March 21, 2010

I experience this, but it's very slight -- music isn't intolerable when it happens, it's just that it doesn't sound normal. It usually happens when I am feeling blue. It is like no music sounds "happy" or fast enough. It is difficult to explain.

However, I am not that bothered by it, and I don't think it's that serious for me -- perhaps mine is not as pronounced as yours? It never occurred to me to ask a doctor about it, or to be concerned -- I always thought it was because music is so connected to emotion. I just assumed this was normal.

On a more specific note, People are Strange is a creepy and terrifying song to me. It always sounds really warped; I don't know if that is real or not, though. I imagine that it's supposed to sound warped though, if you listen to the lyrics.
posted by k8lin at 6:38 PM on March 21, 2010

Just a data point, but when I first started taking anti-depressant meds years back, this very same phenomena manifested itself for me. It gradually disappeared, but every so often, if I forget to take a bed-time dosage, I'll experience the "weird-sounding music" the next day.
posted by jrchaplin at 7:29 AM on March 22, 2010

Similar experiences and other odd neurological phenomena related to music are discussed in Olive Sack's Musicophilia. A fascinating read.
posted by razzman at 12:41 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

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