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January 27, 2012 / C. J. Sperling

I Have A Worm In My Ear

Now I thought I’d have to explain that the German word “Ohrwurm” is just a word for a tune that goes around in your head, and found out that its literal translation “earworm” has found entry into the English language, because previously there was no handy (grin) English expression for this phenomenon. Funny.


Earworms are fascinating.

Why is a certain piece of music spinning round and round in my head?

I possibly didn’t listen to it for a long time. I might hate that piece. I might not even know what piece exactly it is. The piece might be utterly inappropriate in this very moment.

But – here we go.

In the moment, I’m lucky. I know the piece, and I love it. Schubert, string quartet d minor / “Der Tod und das Mädchen”, the last ca. 20 seconds of the third movement. Where the whole landscape changes in an instant, without warning. What a change of groove! (Although the word’s origins are in a very different time and style, here it is used with full right.)

Sometimes, the succession of earworms is interesting as well.

Currently (This Is A Live Report), I’m shifting to the beginning of Schubert’s G major quartet. An 1970s radio transmission kept on MC, including the announcer and the somewhat tinny sound of the even older recording that was broadcasted.

Recently, I went to a punk rock concert hearing first Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, then some Goldberg Variations in my inner radio. Huh? Can’t have been from what I heard before (Brahms 1st, Rocko Schamoni).

Some other earworms from the past I found quite interesting to have got: some street scenes from Heiner Goebbels “Landscape With Argonauts”. A middle voice from a Beethoven symphony. A quite embarassing disgusting, kitschy, cheap-made Roland Kaiser song from the 1970s. Some sonata expositions that never let me find the way out of the repeat. A kurdish song in 7/8 I had to study. The last of Messiaen’s (Thème et) variations for violin and piano. Wayne Shorter’s sax solo piece from some Weather Report live concert in full length.

My sister and me play “setting earworms” sometimes. It’s a mean game without formal opening or formal end: try to create an earworm in your opponent. E.g. whistle a melody you know he/she likes; maybe when he/she is unsuspecting, or quite openly and grinning. When your opponent is whistling that melody, too, or admits that he/she is “infected”, you get a point. It’s best to play it over several days.

Getting rid of an earworm is not as easy as planting itAs I currently (remember: Live Coverage!) have a somewhat difficult work in music to do, and don’t want my concentration to be affected by Schubert, I just tried a new method to free my perception. It worked fine, but I can’t do that too often: write a blog post on earworms.

Thanks for bearing with me.


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