The mentioning of that word conjures up images. Horizontal lines studded with ovals and sticks. It’s not to unreasonable to assume that you’re probably thinking about pianos. They’re ubiquitous. They’re archetypal. It seems almost impossible to conceive of a music without them. But the piano as we know it is a very recent addition to our world. They were created in Italy at the start of the 18th century; an evolution and improvement upon the designs and ideas of the harpsichord and clavichord. These in turn descendants of the hammered dulcimer. But even these were late arrivals to the world of music.
The singing bowls of Tibet can be traced back 3000 years; all the way to the bronze age. The rock gongs that are scattered throughout Europe and sub-Saharan Africa; relics of the neolithic world of 5000 BC. Old. So very old. But they can barely hold a candle to the flutes of the Geißenklösterle caves. For they are almost unfathomable old. Paleolithic things from some 43,000 years distant.
Humanity has had music since before it had anything you could even call civilisation. We had music before you could even arguably call us human. Back in the grey mists of time when we were still just shambling and grunting brutes who were barely clinging on to life in a world that was trying so very, very hard to kill us.
Music is just there, floating in the background of our lives, largely unnoticed. On radios and stereos, overheard through walls or whistled unknowingly as people walk. It’s just there, filling the white, empty vacuum of silence. We take it for granted. It is just another one of the uncountable threads of life. But despite its ubiquity and commonality, music has power.
Music births ideas into the mind; it carries stories and wisdom. Music possesses a unique resonance, speaking to something deep inside us. It makes our very being thrum like harp strings, it stirs the blood, and sends shivers down your spines. Music is a way to tap into a world within but distinct to our own. It is a key to unlocking what lies beyond this vale of tears; what lies beyond the fragile vessels within which we plough the waves of life; what lies beyond being human.
Or so was the belief of one Namir Reyes. It was a belief he held very dearly and entirely to his detriment. It was a belief that had led him from the rarefied heights of academia down the grey road to the plains of Ostracisment, where even the crack-pots do not go, and finally it led him to a disused sub-basement. A place full of wires and refuse and the rusting shells of abandoned meat-packing gear. And it was here that now he dwelt with his assistant. Though the term assistant might be too kind. “Pink Charlie” as he styled himself was in the politest terms a coke-addled transient, a fundamentally debased and ruined agglomeration of societal mistakes and effluvium. Charlie used to live in a dumpster in the alley outside but had been tempted into Namir’s parlour by the promise of not so much a roof (which the dumpster had) or the absence of filth (which the sub-basement also had) but by the promise of slightly more of both of these things.
Namir sat in the only clean and clear space of his realm, a grey swathed cubicle, flat and featureless, lined with acoustic dampening foam. It was to be the site of his test. The last-ditch effort to prove that he was not in fact mad. At the room’s centre sat the helmet he had spent a decade designing, building and tweaking. A truncated icosahedron of white tiles, studded by magnet and coil housings, and by the flat black discs of his bespoke resonators. Things of such bewildering complexity and artifice as to border on the arcane.
“Charlie?” Namir called out. He received a noise in reply, somewhere between a grunt and a snuffle, lost in the cluttered graveyard of machinery.
“It’s time we started. Get over to the control panel.”
Another grunt. Namir took this to be a yes.
He carefully raised the helmet from the ground, holding it with a care somewhere between reverence and fear. Namir eased his head into its dark innards. Thick white padding cushioned his shoulders against the weight and a thick, white power cable snaked its way down from the nape of his neck, down the back of his orange jump suit and then became lost in the jumble of flotsam, jetsam and assorted junk.
Sweat beaded on Namir’s forehead. Within the cramped confines of the helmet his breath alone was forcing the temperature and humidity up to uncomfortable levels. Namir knew he couldn’t waste much time, cooking his brain within the belly of his masterpiece was not how he wanted his quest to end.
He fumbled for the microphone switch on the neck-plate. It depressed with a solid click that echoed through the black nothingness that surrounded his head.
“Charlie? Pull the big, red lever.”
At first nothing happened and Namir feared that Charlie had either lost interest or slumped into one of his drug addled fugues. But then Namir felt it: A rising crescendo of sound. Not of one single note, not even a melody, not just a fragment of the sound scale, but all of it, a wave, building and building. As it swelled and rose it Namir began to feel as if his head was being crushed and squeezed. Then the uniform omni-note began to fracture and diverge, become an undulating sea of passing melodies and tonal scapes. The sound, the music, it forced itself down on Namir. As it it were trying to break him, to overpower him, to obliterate him. He fumbled once again for the microphone switch. Over the roar he shouted into the reciever before his mouth.
“Drop the bass! Maximum wub!”
Then the world changed around him
“It’s full of sound…”
May 31st, 2013 at 2:35 pm
[…] and I wanted to produce something that celebrated aural love and imaginative escapism as well. John Steele’s piece does that and I direct you over to his site where you can find details about the monthly Pictonaut […]