Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I Give Up: or, Subliminal Draftsmanship

In the mid-80s on a desolate highway in the far reaches of some nameless western state I, driving, watched the l.e.d. on the radio scan through dead waves in search of signal purchase for the better part of an hour. My car mate had fallen asleep while a station somewhere in the past was fading behind us, probably playing a song by Creedence, and his body had lurched forward in the seat as far forward as his seatbelt would allow. I looked at him; he was leaning to the side, as if he'd been shot. The air-conditioner was broken and whichever state we were in--New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada--was very hot. Beads of sweat rolled off my carmate's nose as the radio scrolled. A hot wind blew in the window. Meanwhile the blue numbers ticked by.

We had recently crossed highway 666 and noted with interest that our odometer read 666 at the exact moment we crossed it.

After an hour of the radio spinning it stopped dead in its tracks. It was a low band on the FM frequency, in the 80s. I saw that the numbers had stopped scrolling but couldn't hear anything; I turned the volume up. What the radio found was nothing but a single distant-sounding monotone. (The in-dash cassette player was broken; batteries to keep the boombox in the backseat fed had already eaten into our meager savings; we'd driven from Atlanta). I thought it funny that after all that time of looking for a station the radio had finally found one that happened to be broadcasting one of those shrill emergency broadcast network noises. Any minute it would end. And while I waited for it to end I noticed--or did I? I turned my ear towards the speaker and turned the volume knob a couple more clicks--I thought I heard a slight phasing of the tone that sounded like a conscious manipulation, as if a hand had twiddled a dial.

Minutes passed with no discernible change in the noise; soon I realized it was no EBS alarum; there were no interruptions whatever in this steady, possibly slightly phasing tone. It did not sound like an organic instrument or, more accurately, an acoustic instrument. The sound was not made by a hollow box with either strings or a stretched head that you either strum or beat on. It was, I decided, an electronic tone. But what, I asked myself, listening more closely to the whispering undulating sound, was the difference between electronic and electrical? That is, was this a sound produced by an electronic instrument like an analog synthesiser or a primitive oscillator, or just some static electrical byproduct of the weird world we were driving through? As far as manipulation went...what was conscious? Was what I was hearing, or listening to--as by now I was as inside of this noise as any great and interesting song--a sound made by an intelligent human animal purposefully? Was there a consciousness behind the now one key-higher-in-tone sound, and that phase shifting, I wondered, was that an auditory illusion or was it instead a circular phasing measurable over the course of approximately five minutes? Or had I run across some kind of electrical aeolian harp , a weird frequency of feedback spit out by one of those glowering buttes we were passing at a clip?

Before long the monotone was speaking to me in magical womb-tones. The flat desert surrounding us became a vast plain of organic and infinite interest, dust the same as me, the same as my car-mate, still slunk against the seatbelt. No question: the sound was a part of this world, and I was a part of this world as well. There were no other cars on this road. The sun was beginning to rest against the orange ground. Something in my lizard brain was feeding on the sound. Or the sound was pulling things from the drawers of my lizard brain, scattering them like muslin garments across a hardwood floor on which was spread a thin layer of dust. The dust had a phantom-scent of talcum. Drapes hung heavy across panes of glass that I could see were rain-streaked. Or was the dust on the floor crushed oysters, not unlike the salted dustclouds tossed up by cars coming down my grandmother's driveway , a house our family sold in 1978? The semester in Tennessee had ended well after three straight semesters of awfullness; anxious as hell, I had called my parents from a pay phone earlier to find out that my grades were pretty good. Earlier I'd gotten a D in Shakespeare ; it wasn't necessarily the result of too much partying but instead in an increased interest in the world that did not include attending class...But this was hard to explain to anyone; and of course my increased interest in the world, an alchemical change in my body, lead eventually to an increased re-interest in Shakespeare, in what my professors had to tell me about certain things, making that D seem even more a knife in the gut of my conscience. I was supposed to be an English major, after all, and Richardson had been defiant when I challenged him about the nearly failing grade, a defiance that made me want to kill him for months afterwards. This sound settled the poison in my soul. Here I was: Red globes balanced on dun outcroppings of soft rock. The sun's edges flared while the middle of the ball quivered like a yolk in a giant bowl. Hot wind in the wide open window. Ninety miles an hour dialed in on the cruise control. It was easy to picture the imagination as an infinite space filled by randomly ordered artifacts, but ones with emotional heft. They meant something, if only to provide a kind of backwards-looking map through what felt subjectively like a collective consciousness. I cannot be assured that this makes any more sense to me now than it did then. Something in me disconnected; in his disconnection I found a new connection to something else entirely. I picked through more of the images the sound on the radio was scattering. Too many to list here. I looked at the clock. I'd been listening to this noise for over an hour. I turned it up as loud as it would go.

My carmate jerked awake, his eyes crossed and unfocused. He was soaked with sweat; his hair stood up straight, the result of two straight days of bathing in harshly chlorinated motel pools. A look of fear, then anger passed over his face. "What in the fuck is this?" he hissed, reaching for the dial.

I intercepted his hand, quickly and without menace, and held it suspended in the hot air in front of the radio. He didn't move.

"I like it," I said.

Later, he claimed I'd slapped his hand away. I remember differently.

* * *

MALI MUSIC is moving quickly. Get the cdrs now. An assortment of things I recorded and others that I bought while there. Send emails to: ikakenewa@yahoo.com. I will send you more info.

1 comment:

  1. "I like it," I say, as well!

    Because I have been there.