Individual Differences and Ambivalence When Evoking Memories


As concerns memories 74 user comments show that, while music enjoys a special status regarding its relation to and ability to evoke memories when compared to other kinds of sounds, the sounds of winter winds also appear to function similarly. It seems clear that these sounds also evoke memories, leading users to subjective (and mostly pleasant) memories of places they have visited or lived in for a shorter or longer period of time. 


Reminds of a winters day in the mountains when I was young! delightful! (comment by Mo Dolaghan, Video 1)


I am retiring in the Philippines. Taking this just to remind me of many lonely nites on the Trans Canada. (comment by Peter Young,  Video 1)


Thanks for uploading this. It reminds me of Patagonia. Good night. (comment by Daniel Santana, Video 2)


We detect a certain nostalgia in these as well as other comments that share memories of locations and lived life. By listening to recorded geophony, listeners recall situations and places to which they are no longer affiliated, triggering memories and mental images of past times and places. 


Individual memories of sounds and acoustic environments have been described and treated as central topics in the discourses around soundscapes. Schafer’s discussions around “soundmarks” and “earwitness” are two primary examples where traditional terminology is connected to sonic memories. Soundmarks, sounds that are directly connected to specific geographical locations, are the sonic equivalents of landmarks. Earwitness is the sonic equivalent of an eyewitness and involves someone to identify various sounds – often soundmarks – and how they are linked to prior experiences of the same – or similar – sounds at specific location(s) and specific time(s) (Schafer 1994: 8). 


“Sound romance,” another term coined by Schafer and later discussed by Barry Truax and others, has been used to describe the positive feelings that can arise when listening to a sound that one has heard before and is familiar with. According to Truax (2001: 29), sound romance refers particularly to the nostalgia around sounds that have been experienced in the past and have since disappeared.


Together with sound romance, the term “sound souvenirs” (Bijsterveld and van Dijck 2009) is relevant with respect towards how the memories of winter winds are described. Keeping in mind that music is much more precisely remembered than other sounds and that most of us have a higher involvement towards music, Bijsterveld and van Dijck (2009: 13) point out that people use recorded music more often than recordings of everyday sounds as a way of evoking memories. Recognizing this, we still argue that all kinds of sounds can function as sound souvenirs. The sounds experienced in life carry the potential to be individually (or collectively) connected to an event, time, and/or a specific location. The recorded geophonies function as sound souvenirs to some users, from the Arctic region for example. While a soundmark points to sounds that are very specific for a place, sound souvenirs are more general, in the sense that they may represent a larger area, a state of mind, a specific time of the day or year, or a specific period in the life of the listener. At the same time, memories evoked by sounds are varied, and some users associate the winter winds with prior experiences of dramatic scenes in fiction films (found in 32 comments). This is not surprising, as howling cold winter winds form a central sonic element in many fiction and documentary films. It enhances the experience of solitude and often amplifies the presentation of inhospitable and dangerous environments. For audiences who have not experienced the Arctic region in real life, these kinds of film productions may be the most important references when experiencing winter sounds on YouTube. 


At this point we suggest that you test what kind of memories are evoked, if any, by listening to another one of the seven videos. The 32 posts that refer to films center around rather old productions, and all of them describe the experience of recorded geophony as evoking a “scary” or “creepy” atmosphere. The Thing (Carpenter 1982), The Shining (Kubrick 1980), and the first three Alien movies (Ridley 1979; Cameron 1986; Fincher 1992) are all mentioned. So even if the recollection of sounds from the referred fiction films are inexact or only partially precise, these memories clearly contribute toward making the sound of the howling winds even more dramatic and perhaps scary to some users, a result of having been directly linked to their prior experiences of similar sonic environments in films. 


It is interesting to note that sounds can have the same function as a certain smell or a special (visual) object in their capacity to evoke a memory. Truax points to this ability of sounds to “remind one of pleasant or unpleasant memories and therefore evoke a conditioned response” (Truax 2001: 28). He emphasizes that sound memories will often have connections to the other senses: “Sounds and their original context are stored in memory as patterns. Recalling the context may revive a memory of the sound, and the sound, if heard again, usually brings the entire context back to life” (Truax 2001: 29). 


The same mechanism is also discussed when it comes to situations of experiencing music, as in the description of “evaluative conditioning,” regarded as one of the seven underlying mechanisms of how emotion can be induced (Juslin et al. 2010: 1170f). The same kind of multisensorial connections are also described within cinema studies, as when film scholar Laura Marks notes: “Since memory functions multisensorially, a work of cinema, though it only directly engages two senses, activates a memory that necessarily involves all the senses” (Marks 2000: 22). This also speaks to how the users respond to the “powers” of the listening experience as a multisensorial experience.

Video 4, published by Richard Arsenault, 12.17.2014,