An audio installation by Shannon Pawliw.

Earworms is a project that explores the phenomenon of the earworm, a song that gets stuck in your head and won’t go away. We’ve all experienced it at some point: a melody that lingers, a chorus that repeats itself over and over. Earworm takes this experience and brings it to the public sphere by playing the song I have stuck in my head on repeat in a way that’s audible to the public outside.

The project seeks to create a shared experience, a moment of connection between strangers who may have different tastes in music but can relate to the feeling of having a song stuck in their head. By making the earworm audible to anyone who is standing close enough, the project blurs the boundary between private and public, individual and collective.

Earworm also raises questions about the power of music and the role it plays in our lives. Why do some songs get stuck in our heads more than others? What is the relationship between repetition and memory? How does the context in which we hear a song affect our perception of it? These are some of the questions that the project invites viewers/listeners to consider.

In sum, Earworm is an experiment in creating a sonic space that invites reflection and engagement. It is a playful yet thought-provoking project that aims to spark conversations about music, memory, and the nature of human experience.

The song played will change regularly to reflect the song that is currently stuck in the artist’s head.

“Some research suggests that people who have difficulty with working memory, like those suffering from attention-deficit disorder, may experience earworms less, while people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, where there are these loops that play over involuntarily in their heads, may be more prone to earworms.”

As told to Colleen Walsh, Harvard Staff Writer

Some surveys have found that 90 percent of people experience this phenomenon, and for about a third of them, it’s annoying. It’s known as an earworm, and it comes from the German Ohrwurm, meaning a musical itch. It was coined in 1979 by the psychiatrist Cornelius Eckert, and basically, it’s a looped segment of music that’s usually about 20 seconds long and automatically comes into your awareness and keeps playing on repeat.

The phonological loop has been implicated — the process of holding something in your mind, like a mental scratchpad, for a certain number of seconds. So there are networks in the brain that support these functions of music — and memory, and attention, and keeping something in your head, and working memory.


Shannon Pawliw makes art, but she is also a graphic designer. To see some of her design work visit mightysparrow.ca

For inquiries regarding the purchase or rental of any of the works shown, please email hello@shannonpawliw.com

Shannon's work is available through the THIS Gallery online store.

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