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Time Traveler Recognition Music

Because every secret society needs lodge signs .
  [vote for,

A useful tool for real time travelers, or plot device for fiction writers: For some missions, time travelers may need a way to recognize each other discreetly, without alerting the contemps. Passphrases might be awkward to drop into conversation. But humming or whistling a tune (as many people are wont to do) would work well. It would be ignored by most people, but those who were briefed to listen for a specific melody could recognize each other right away. It would have to be from their origin time and not known in the time they were visiting

That's the whole idea as succinctly as I can write it. Here's the much longer exposition of how it occurred to me:

I was listening to a random playlist today and Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini" came up. Immediately reminded me of the film "Somewhere in Time" where it was an important plot point. The romantic lead (a time traveler) is humming it not quite to himself. His love interest (a contemp) asks what it is. He mentions it's by Rachmaninoff; she says she loves his work but she isn't familiar with this piece. If she didn't realize he was a time traveler when he vanished before her eyes, she probably figured it out some years later when Rachmaninoff finally did write it. In a similar vein, in "From Time to Time," a time traveler has "gone native" and decided to stay in the past - but he sometimes sings "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" as a bath time song and lullaby for his infant son. That's when his contemp wife wonders if he misses his origin time.

And finally - or firstly, as sequence and causation are academic in a time traveler's stream of consciousness - in "To Say Nothing of the Dog," a stressed-out history student is sent back to the 19th century for a much needed rest. But in his time-lagged, befuddled state he mistakes a contemp for the 21st century colleague he was supposed to meet. Hilarity ensues - but that's okay because the book is *supposed* to be a comedy. Even so, as Connie Willis often weaves music into plot details, I'm surprised she didn't throw in a musical anachronism there. Maybe she did and I missed it.

Thanks for reading this far along. I'd welcome any pointers to where this idea may have already been used explicitly or hinted at in other stories.

kdf, Aug 01 2020

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini https://en.wikipedi...a_Theme_of_Paganini
Composed in 1934 [kdf, Aug 05 2020]

Somehere in time (film) https://en.wikipedi...here_in_Time_(film)
Intentional anachronism in this film's 1912 setting [kdf, Aug 05 2020]

Bid Time Return https://en.wikipedi...iki/Bid_Time_Return
The novel was better than the movie, of course. But it's set in 1896 instead of 1912, and music trivia doesn't play into it. [kdf, Aug 05 2020]

To Say Nothing of the Dog https://en.wikipedi..._Nothing_of_the_Dog
Connie Willis, part of her "Oxford Time Travel" series. The funniest one. [kdf, Aug 05 2020]

You Made Me Love You https://en.wikipedi...film_and_television
1913, music by James V. Monaco lyrics by Joseph McCarthy ... [kdf, Aug 05 2020]


       I've linked some information about works mentioned in my original write-up. I didn't bother to link Finney's "From Time to Time" because it was such a disappointing sequel to "Time and Again." I only mentioned his throw away bit about "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" because it fit my theme here.
kdf, Aug 05 2020

       Not exactly related, but an interesting time travel read, at least the first third of it maybe, was 'The Man in the Empty Suit.' The middle and end was a bit off, but the premise is interesting at least.
RayfordSteele, Aug 05 2020

       Thanks much, grabbing it from the library now.
kdf, Aug 05 2020

       For some odd reason the theme music of Jeopardy! seems to make sense.
RayfordSteele, Aug 05 2020

       As a discreet signaling device, this only works for time travelers working outside of the time when the musical piece is known. For the Jeopardy theme, that would be before 1964. For Never Gonna Give You Up, before 1987.   

       Fortunately, Thorne & Hawking's chronology protection conjecture suggests that even if you DO rickroll someone before 1987, it won't catch on.   

       Other mentions in fiction:   

       - I recall an episode of Quantum Leap where Sam helps a young Buddy Holly write the lyrics to "Peggy Sue."   

       - There's at least one other musical anachronism in the movie Somewhere in Time. A background character is singing to herself as she gets dressed - "You Made Me Love You." The scene takes place in 1912 but the song wasn't released until 1913.
kdf, Aug 05 2020

       That was the only niggling detail about Heinlein's astonishing short story/film: the character couldn't recognize himself.
4and20, Aug 05 2020

       Marty plays Johnny B. Goode in "Back to the Future" - and bandleader Marvin Berry calls his cousin Chuck to listen.
tatterdemalion, Aug 05 2020

       4and20 - you mean "Predestination," based on "All You Zombies"? Amazingly good for a film adaptation - I might go as far as to say it was better than the book (very rare!), as they expanded the original idea and closed a loop.   

       But to your niggle - I reckon if you went back as you look NOW to visit yourself as a youngster - your young self wouldn’t recognize you. For some people the lack of recognition might go both ways. I never looked like my mug shots. And Heinlein's time traveler character went through a LOT more changes in his/her very convoluted timeline than I have in mine.
kdf, Aug 05 2020

       Humming the "Dr. Who" theme is the obvious choice, shirley ?   

       There could be a specific countersign, to indicate that the listener understands the implication of the humming, like tracing the outline of a police box on any convenient flat surface.
8th of 7, Aug 05 2020

       "Dr. Who" theme ... I don't know how well that would work without a Theremin.
kdf, Aug 06 2020

       Surely you never leave home without a theremin?
hippo, Aug 06 2020

       //leave home// sounds a bit scary, you might have to interact with a human.
pocmloc, Aug 06 2020


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