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Music’s capacity to elicit echoes of personal memory in listeners has received attention from writers in recent years. Unless one has personally experienced a “Proustian moment” in sound, a cynical reader might dismiss such writings as woolly meanderings. The phenomenon is, of course, real, but finding concrete, universally acceptable examples is problematic because the subjective effect varies from person-to-person.
In 1876, a child in Connecticut named George Starr White played with a tin-cans-and-string telephone. It had drum skins for bases, and he tried to sensitize it further by experimenting with moistening the string. On a whim, he asked his friend several yards away to put a cat near one end, but instead of hearing its purr he intuited what he called a “breeze” through the can.