Walking down the sidewalk, I sometimes fasten on a phrase from a classical piece in my mind’s ear. I make it into a loop. Over and over I hear it, hum it, sing it, effectively turning the bit of music by Beethoven, or Mozart, Gershwin, Schoenberg, or Radiohead into minimalism. I go through the phrase dozens of times. I’m stuck on it and in it — an obsessive, vastly-extendable run-on sentence, an earworm.
Did people used to do this? Strolling in Paris in the 1840s? Or sauntering through Vienna in 1784? I doubt it.
Before mass production pervaded life, before repeatable sound recordings, I imagine that the impulse, the motivation to make musical loops was much weaker.
Of course, there have been wheels for a long time. Turning around and around. And horses. The rhythmic patterns of a lot of classical music show the instincts of the rider, and the sensations of the passenger in a coach.
The horse’s galloping or the turning of the coach wheel was repetitive, but it was repetition in the service of moving from one place to another. Travelling.
Even though my musical loops often occur when I’m walking, I have the impression that their repetitiousness is not about moving forward linearly. On the contrary, it’s about not being able to.