Week 173: “Rainbo Conversation” by Stereolab


At a fair a couple weeks ago, I saw a display of “hypnotism”, in which a sleazy-looking guy in an Ed Hardy t-shirt made people spontaneously fall asleep thanks to the power of his suggestions, or perhaps the boring nature of his performance. I only watched for a few moments, before the lure of the zipper became too hard to deny, but it got me thinking about hypnotism. And that got me scanning Wikipedia entries for various people throughout history who have practiced it in one form or another.

My scanning was abruptly stopped when I came across the entry for the 18th-century German physician Franz Mesmer, who, according to Wikipedia, was “known for: animal magnetism”. I figured I could learn a thing or two from someone known for his animal magnetism, so I decided to read on.

Mesmer believed that an unseen force existed in all things, living and inanimate. He called it “animal magnetism”, and the uninterrupted flow of this force through the body, he thought, was key to good health. So patients suffering from, say, migraines, would come to Mesmer to have their energy flow put right. This usually involved lots of concentrating and hand-holding, and sometimes (unsurprisingly) magnets.

Pretty kooky, but the thing is…it often worked. He treated people individually, and sometimes in groups, and got some results, too. Famously, he cured the blindness of celebrity musician Maria Theresia von Paradis. Well, partially cured it. And when he stopped treating her, her blindness returned in full.

He died without official recognition from the scientific community. But following his death, many others have built upon his research, not because they believe in a Star Wars-ish force that connects us all and can be channeled to cure headaches…but because his results might be a testament to the power of suggestion, mind over matter, or whatever you’d like to call it when a brain convinces itself that a cure is happening.

I have no real way to segue from this to Stereolab, other than that I find this song to be mesmerizing, and yes, that word is named after my new favourite eighteenth-century researcher into animal magnetism.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. It’s hard not to love a good triangle.

2. It’s hard not to be wonderfully surprised by the sudden harmony blast at 3:48.

3. It’s hard not to get hypnotized by 5/4 time.

Recommended listening activity:

Staring at a rotating lawn sprinkler until it starts to spin the wrong way.

Buy it here.