A case for a "phonographic" memory? You tell me...

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posted on Jul, 20 2013 @ 08:23 PM
I have just been having one of those days. It's hot. I had to run out and buy a new fan to replace the one that I "smoke checked" this morning. Only had a half pot of coffee... so, I decided to just kick back and start going through my music collection...

Now, I do have an excellent memory... not eidetic, but really damned close to it. I was used as a ringer in bar trivia contests and have won more than my fair share of money, prizes and free drinks... often while quite intoxicated. The only thing keeping me from trying out for Jeopardy? I would be the one to get all the obscure categories like "16th century music of India"... I digress...

But, where my memory truly excels, is my hearing. I remember EVERYTHING I hear... used to drive my ex wife crazy... she knew that trying to twist my words never ever worked, because I remembered every single word of every single conversation. I remember words my mother spoke to me when I was 3, just as clearly as if it were yesterday. Now, it isn't 100% retention. Past about 2 years or so some of the auditory memories are lost, but just the banal stuff like idle shopping line chatter... important conversations stick with me much longer... often for many years. The most important things such as my children's first words I never forget... and it seems like the way that I recall them is different as well because I literally hear them every bit as clearly in my head as if they were just spoken.

But where it gets a little spooky... (and I have heard that term quite a few times) is how I recall music. The only place I have ever heard this sort of thing referenced is The Hunt For Red October... the sonar guy. His was explained as very discrete hearing... mine is more of a discreet auditory memory.

So, to my point. I have been like this my whole life, so to me it is really no big deal... and sadly, something I have always just taken for granted. Frankly, at times, it is really damned inconvenient... because it often works both ways...

To explain: While going through our CDs, I found an old Genesis CD... threw in in my player, and started listening to the song Taking It All Too Hard... classic song. It immediately sounded wrong. One cymbal was a little thin, bass drum was a bit flat, and the base guitar sounded... like the strings were a bit old and lost some of their brightness... and I was disappointed. It was a remaster. Ugh...

So, I went outside to have a cigarette and my wife joined me a few minutes after. She looks at me and immediately asks "what's wrong"? After the normal round of matrimonial banter I finally relented and told her exactly what I related above. She looks at me and says "I have heard you say stuff like that hundreds of times and every time I have to ask how the hell do you do that?". I looked at her and it was like no one had ever asked me that before
and said... "I'm just weird that way"... the thing is, I have never really given it that much thought.

I remember every song I have ever heard. Every symphony, sonata, opera (captive audience
), soundtrack, background music, theme song, every piece of God-awful "muzac" I have ever heard... it is all in there. If I focus a bit I can tell you exactly where I was the first time I heard it... what radio station I heard it on, what the weather was like, and what mood I was in at the time. The 1980 "Miracle on Ice"... I still hear it like it was yesterday. I wasn't allowed to stay up to watch the game (grounded)... I remember the smell of the shag carpet I had my face pressed my face against trying to hear the game under the door to my room. Like it was yesterday.

It is also somewhat selective. Curiously enough, I am nearly tone deaf... if I hear a note, I have no idea what that note is unless it's a middle C. It is I think, a product of how I recall it... I literally "rehear" it. I often don't hear the actual words being sung because my brain focuses on the fine details of the sound... My memory seems to work on tonal relationships stressed on the under and overtones, the tonal quality, harmonics, etc... Lyrics take me a few times to pick up completely, but, if the voice I hear is the ever the tiniest bit off, I immediately catch it. Guitar harmonics? I can immediately tell you exactly which order of harmonic (1st, 2nd, 3rd etc..) and whether it is a natural or artificial harmonic. I can tell you immediately if it was a straight, wound or bare string etc... haven't a clue as to which chord or note is being played. Those are just two examples... I pick up those details on every instrument being played. So, a music prodigy I am not... which is quite OK by me. If I am listening to a song on headphones I actually recall what I heard before and replay it a few seconds ahead of what I am listening to now. I can harmonize perfectly with what I am hearing and sing along, even if I can't recall the lyrics one bit. I hope that makes some sense...

Unfortunately, there is a darker side to this... it's why I have never discussed it before and why so few people even know that I can do this. My hearing seems very strongly attached to my emotions, to the point where my recall of what I have heard is tied very closely to my emotional memory... most people have felt this... for example, if you hear the song that was playing at an emotional moment in your life, such as your first kiss, you hear that song years later and it kinda makes you feel that experience all over again. Mine is more extreme... I have that reaction to everything I hear, if I have ever heard it before... sometimes without even realizing it. It may have been a song playing on the radio in the background that I wasn't even aware of, but if it is tied to any emotional happening in my life, even if 20 years have passed since it happened and I never heard the song again until now... when I hear it I will recall that exact moment all over again... it has taken years to tame down that response to where it is now mostly just annoying. I also learned to control it through re-association... if I hear something that generates a strong negative emotion, I try to re-listen to it during one of the better times... with varying success. At times, it can still even get to me if I allow myself to lose focus. If I am listening to music myself (which I prefer) I can let my guard down a bit, but beyond that I have to be really vigilant.

It is the only of my senses that is intrinsically tied to my emotions like that. Show me a horrible picture? Whatever. Bad smell? I'll puke maybe. If I hear the song on the radio that was playing when I heard my grandmother had died... I'm probably gonna cry no matter how hard I try not to. Sometimes it really sucks as much as it is a blessing.

The reason I throw this out there, is because I tried to look up "phonographic memory" and the only reference I can find is on "Urban dictionary". Likewise, I wonder if anyone else out there has a memory that "hears" like mine does or retains everything the same way. I also wonder if the emotional tie is because my hearing is so acute, or if my hearing recall is empathic? I know this can't be completely unique... I'm pretty damned uninteresting otherwise.

ATS seemed like the best place to ask about this... lots of open minds.

And no, I am not programmed to kill on hearing a certain song... that I am aware of

posted on Jul, 20 2013 @ 08:43 PM
Lots of people have phonographic memory.


Not just you.

posted on Jul, 20 2013 @ 08:46 PM
reply to post by Miracula

I have just never heard of the term so I have no real frame of reference... is there a support group?

posted on Jul, 20 2013 @ 09:08 PM
reply to post by madmac5150

Its called Eidetic memory.
edit on 20-7-2013 by sylent6 because: (no reason given)

posted on Jul, 20 2013 @ 09:10 PM

Originally posted by sylent6
reply to post by madmac5150

Its called Eidetic memory.
edit on 20-7-2013 by sylent6 because: (no reason given)

Good info.

Question is why do we have it?

I imagine many people have eidetic memory.

My next question is why would one person assume that this is abnormal and particular to one person. Themselves.

edit on 20-7-2013 by Miracula because: (no reason given)

posted on Jul, 20 2013 @ 09:14 PM
I have a photogenic memory
Seriously though, it's not unusual at all to have a sort of perfect pitch ability. Don't think of perfect pitch as one thing, but a continuum of things from singing, to playing by ear, to remembering finite details of music.
Your post reminded me of when I was a kid I had Bob Marley's Legend on vinyl and then some time in my teens, it broke and I had to get a cassette and it was different! I hated it and to this day can't stand the horn section in Buffalo Soldier because it wasn't part of the original song. For that matter, No Woman No Cry wasn't a live recording either (but that didn't bother me because live is always a little different). I always thought I'd come across an original Legend record and maybe one day I will.
edit on 20-7-2013 by TruthSeekerMike because: (no reason given)

posted on Jul, 20 2013 @ 09:15 PM
reply to post by sylent6

My understanding was that an eidetic memory was a photographic memory. Not a skill that I possess or at least that I can control. I can't look at a piece of text and generate a photographic image of it in my mind. Wish I could... mine is only auditory.

Honestly sometimes it feels like the best Christmas present ever... except you randomly get punished for playing with it from time to time.

Maybe I am hearing my life's soundtrack from an alternate (albeit somewhat twisted) dimension?

edit on 20-7-2013 by madmac5150 because: Can't sleep, the clowns will eat me

posted on Jul, 20 2013 @ 09:56 PM
I will admit it does indeed have its upside... especially now that Mrs. Madmac has comes to term with it...

Sometime I get the smarta$$ remark from her as well... when she calls me Mr. Hearditallbefore. I haven't heard it all... yet

When she tries to bring up past conversations, she knows she can't challenge what I have "recorded"... and she has tried, trust me... but, we rarely argue

I don't need a portable mp3 player... as long as I can stay focused I always have one... with a pretty good library

Of course there was that time I got a bad Korean rap song stuck in my head for 2 days... sort of like a personal "dark age"... oh great... now its back...

posted on Jul, 20 2013 @ 11:49 PM
After a little further research it gets a bit more perplex. And more interesting... turns out there is a condition called Hyperthymesia:


Hyperthymesia, also known as piking,[1] hyperthymestic syndrome[2] or highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM),[3] is a condition in which an individual possesses a superior autobiographical memory, meaning he or she can recall the vast majority of personal experiences and events in his or her life. The term “hyperthymesia" is derived from the Greek words hyper meaning "excessive" and thymesis meaning "remembering".


Individuals with hyperthymesia can recall almost every day of their lives in near perfect detail, as well as public events that hold some personal significance to them. Those affected describe their memories as uncontrollable associations, when they encounter a date, they "see" a vivid depiction of that day in their heads.[4] Recollection occurs without hesitation or conscious effort. It is important to draw a distinction between those with hyperthymesia and those with other forms of exceptional memory, who generally use mnemonic or similar rehearsal strategies to memorise long strings of subjective information. Memories recalled by hyperthymestic individuals tend to be personal, autobiographical accounts of both significant and mundane events in their lives. This extensive and highly unusual memory does not derive from the use of mnemonic strategies; it is encoded involuntarily and retrieved automatically.[5] Despite being able to remember the day of the week on which a particular date fell, hyperthymestics are not calendrical calculators like some people with autism or savant syndrome. Rather, hyperthymestic recall tends to be constrained to a person’s lifetime and is believed to be an unconscious process.

Yet, my specific date recall is not that accurate. For instance, right now I am listening to a song by Dave Matthews Band; The Best of What's Around... I know I last listened to it Monday morning with my second cup of coffee... before that? It was playing at the music section in Wal Mart on the afternoon of the 6th. Live in Central Park concert... beyond about 2 years or so I start recalling by "weekday" or "weekend" of a specific week. Anything beyond about 10 years and I am pretty accurate within about a 10-20 day range... if I really focus sometimes I can remember some other small sound as a clue and get even closer.

The article mentioned sufferers being "fixated" on dates, and I never really have been... but, there are many specific dates I recall just on happenstance, weird coincidence, or emotional tie in... everything else is somewhat relative. The above mentioned song... I first heard it Feb 3/4th 1997... east of Dallas Texas just past 8 or 830 AM while driving my 1996 Chevy Lumina minivan... the morning sky was broken and the sun was just coming up... was driving eastbound and it had just rained... blah blah blah... but I may be off a day or two either way... I remember it in relation to where I was and what I was doing, but not exact date or time. I can tell you about every time I have heard that song from that day until now with about 90 percent accuracy... which in itself is a little bit remarkable if you think about it.

That is where the autobiographical part fits though. I remember in relation to where I was and what I was doing in the manner of an autobiography. And, with a little focus, I can often get scary close. I have never seen it as eidetic memory, because in my mind it was not "image" based as I had always heard it described. I have been memorizing my own soundtrack, in a way. Autobiographical? It makes more sense in the way that I recall things long term. Some things I still recall when I least expect to, though... like they had just been archived for awhile. The empathic attachment to each of those time periods seems to get stored away as well... not sure why.

With the cases they mention there is a constant compulsion to fixate on dates... overwhelming at times... to the point of being debilitating. Mine has never been that bad. I haven't let it overwhelm me but its taken years to keep it from getting control of me. I do remember my mom dropping me on my head when I was a toddler... there could be some correlation. It was around age 4... I had a battery operated record player that was playing Kermit the Frog singing "It's not easy being green"... right after bath time... yes, I do actually remember that. It's kinda funny at the same time. I will leave the obvious replies open on that one...

I have honestly never really given all that much thought. I thought I was just adopted or something. I really wish someone could relate... especially if you have ever heard that Korean rap song eesh...

edit on 21-7-2013 by madmac5150 because: My cat does not control me

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