In The Bug, there are two instances of music which remain consistent throughout the story. The first is the loud music from Ethan’s neighbors, and the second is the German metal that Ute Weiss listens to.
The music that Ethan repeatedly hears at home reflects the overarching problem in his life: the Jester. Like, the Jester, the music is a “bug” which Ethan can’t find the solution to. Before Ethan decides to talk to his neighbors the first time, he describes the “beating pounding that came from next door, some throbbing heart that expanded when his contracted and sucked the blood out of him” (192). The music that figuratively kills Ethan parallels the Jester, which ultimately kills Ethan. Later, when Ethan becomes drunk and tries to talk to his neighbors again, he realizes “that he was really in some place where he had no power” (253). Similarly, Ethan begins to feel like he has no power against the Jester as he gives up on one aspect of his life after another. The night he commits suicide, the narrator relays Ethan’s thoughts: “Was that his neighbors’ music? Yes, he could hear everything now, the maddening thumping beat, in the bones of the house, in the bones of his face, no difference, no boundaries, the whole world just one big bag of vibrating molecules” (320). This beat is described often through the story, almost every time Ethan is home. The neighbor’s music in this way acts like the Jester, taking over Ethan’s daily thoughts and accumulating up to Ethan’s tragic suicide.
The second music Ullman introduces is Ute’s German metal songs. The first time Ethan visits Ute, he describes the music as “a hammer beating on metal, then something like gunshots, and some shouting that couldn’t exactly be described as singing” (108). Ute’s music is reflective of Ute herself, indiscernible and unfamiliar to Ethan. Ute, bending the binary line between man and woman, confuses Ethan’s digitally programmed mind, and her music does the same. Later, after their affair, Ethan instantly grows angry at the sound of Ute’s music. “I can’t think with that shit going on. Look, I can’t. Let’s stop now” (268). Ethan insists on ending his coding lessons with Roberta every time the music comes on, just like how he refuses to see Ute Weiss after his shameful affair with her.
Music can play a large role on emotion and action. This theme from the original Pokemon games is rumored to have caused a spike in suicide in Japanese children ages 7-12 following the release of the games. While this hasn’t been proven, research has shown that suicides coincided with players reaching the point in the game where this music played. If nothing else, it’s quite a creepy tune. Similarly, the music in The Bug affects Ethan strongly; the neighbor’s music reflective of the Jester and Ute’s German music reflective of Ute herself.