Observing My Perception of Reality Through Nightcore

Our world is made up of an unending stream of stimuli and how we understand the world is largely determined by our perception of these stimuli. Different people can look at the same image and see two completely different things depending on who their brains are wired. Differences in anatomy and brain chemistry can modify how a signal is processed by the body and analyzed in the brain, resulting in different variations of the source material.

Artists have been taking advantage of how individuals can perceive a set “reality” since early impressionist work. The work of Georges-Pierre Seurat is especially notable in this regard. His work Grandcamp, Evening was created solely using points of unmixed color, leaving it to the viewers brain to create all of the shades seen in the final work.

It’s often said that perception is reality, and our understanding of our world is what defines us. This is something that always makes me queasy when I think about it and is one of the reasons I have mixed feelings about impressionist painters. But for a while I also wondered if possible to train our mind to analyze things a certain way, changing our perception of reality? More than that, is it possible to rewrite a lifetime of sensory input in a short period of time? The answer is yes, and it’s surprisingly easy. I did it completely on accident by listening to Nightcore.

Nightcore is a genre of music that involves remixing tracks. The original songs are sped up anywhere from 15% to 40% and the pitch is increased. The name came from a Norwegian DJ duo in 2002 who released an album of Eurobeat and trance songs that were edited to be faster and with a higher pitch as a school project. While there is no further mention of “DJ SOS” and “DJ TNT” the genre itself has exploded over the years with various creators releasing Nightcore edits of all types of songs. With a community on Spotify, YouTube, and Discord, there is a steady flow of new content being created.

I began listening to Nightcore by accident while studying for a final exam. My study playlist had run out and it was an hour before I noticed what had been playing since then. Despite it’s straightforward premise and simple execution, I found Nightcore engaging and enjoyable. The fast paced tempo and voice modulation gave the songs a more upbeat and compelling feeling as I saw it and soon I listened to little else.

But then I started noticing small discrepancies in my day to day life. I was at a department store and something just felt wrong. It took me several minutes before I realized that it was the song that was playing faintly in the background. Owl City’s “Good Time”, which had been popular recently and I was a huge fan of, sounded all wrong. The beat was off, the lines were being delivered slowly, and I had the overall impression of angry cats being dragged across a chalkboard.

Even having been listening to Nightcore for several months now, it had rarely affected how I listened to the original versions. Stranger still, I had only listened to the Nightcore edit of Good Time once or twice at most, while the original had been played hundreds of time over while I had studied for exams. It was shocking to realize that songs I had only ever listened to the original of could be affected by completely unrelated melodies.

Soon I was noticing disparities in every song I listened to outside of my personal playlist. The invigorating life I found in Nightcore was sorely lacking in the original or remixed edits. I was skeptical that this change was caused solely by a change in listening habits, so I ran a series of short tests. I would listen to Nightcore for a week and then switch back to the native tunes for another week. What I discovered was that, along with causing massive headaches, the songs I listened to changed my perception of all music after several days.

But this wasn’t the only perception changes that have occurred. I’ve been passively recording what I’ve noticed over the two years since, and here are just a couple of the ways that my reality has changed: my walking speed and listening comprehension.

I’ll be honest, I don’t do a lot of walking. Most of my day is spent in front of a screen cramming for assignments or nodding off due to lack of sleep. As such, it took awhile for me to detect the gradual shift in my movement patterns. My walk used to be slightly lethargic, lagging just behind whoever I was with. Now, however, I need to constantly check to see if I have outpaced my companion. My gate has sped up in time to the tempo of Nightcored songs and the beat they have. Even more interesting is the drop in my transit time from place to place. With no one to talk to and only a destination in mind, I end up there two to three minutes earlier for every ten minutes the journey used to take me.

I have never been great at understanding speech. Even in casual conversation I generally only pick up on 80% of the words being spoken and have to infer the rest. It has caused problems before and no matter how hard I’ve tried, it just hasn’t gotten better… Until I started listening to Nightcore.

Compared to keeping up with slurred lyrics that have been accelerated beyond reason, a quick chat with friends is nothing. I now hear songs and speeches that would normally be considered fast are no more than moderately paced, making keeping up with them much easier. Even my foreign language comprehension has improved. While my lexicon hasn’t changed, being able to pick up recognizable words from a fast paced conversation makes listening exams significantly easier.

And for those who think I’m making this up, I’d like to propose a quick challenge. Listen to a Nightcored version of Caravan Palace Lone Digger. Even if you’ve heard the song before, chances are that the chorus will sound completely unintelligible. I can keep up with and sing along, but I have yet to find anyone else who can do that first try.

When asked what music I listen to, I often struggle to find an answer that will satisfy the questioner. By explaining what Nightcore is I open myself up to the “why do you listen to that?” line of questions which I have no good answer to. The short answer is that it’s just part of who I am now. As ridiculous as it sounds, Nightcore has changed my life. The way I look at and interact with the world is different because of the music that I listen to. No one change was huge or entirely meaningful on its own, but looking back and seeing how these small things added up was fascinating. It’s enough to make one wonder what other small choices we make shape who we are subconsciously.