Voices overheard through a wall scoff at and belittle; members of a circle seduce one another with words. Why do I continue to lean in? Do I sense among these voices a proud knowing? Do I think that by listening in, I might learn? Experimenting with that possibility, I place on my turntable a gift from my father — a copy of Sun Ra’s The Magic City. My father trained as a jazz percussionist, and told me a story a few nights ago — the night prior to the record’s appearance in the bins, in fact — of a show he played in the early 1970s. A band of his shared the stage with African percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. Several tracks on The Magic City were recorded live at Olatunji’s loft in New York in Spring 1965. Let us learn of this remarkable happening, part of what critic Paul Youngquist calls “the Arkestra’s wonder years,” 1965 and 1966. Youngquist calls The Magic City “a miracle of musical invention” (A Pure Solar World, p. 182). Let us lie on a couch with our heads in the sun as we listen. Timpani, ride cymbal, bass, and piano: together with horns, these ride “Cosmic Eye,” the first song on the album’s B-side. Cacophony clears the way. Music of this kind helps us breathe, airs us out like laundry on a line.
I select my materials by responding to local happenings, spontaneous sense-impressions. I perform acts of listening, openly and receptively, with few preconceptions and little to no prejudgment. Signs when received are taken lightly, but still granted due reverence, as befits things of wonder and mystery. Let us reply our way into an economy of giving. “In mythology, medieval literature, and occultism,” say texts of yore, “the language of the birds is postulated as a mystical, perfect divine language, green language, Adamic language, Enochian, angelic language.” Listen and learn. Track down 12th century Persian poet Attar of Nishapur’s The Conference of the Birds.
I sit listening as a neighbor in an adjoining yard plays an accordion. Hey Mr. Accordion Man, help me remember my dreams. I meditate upon a finely detailed ancient wooden eye staring up into my third eye from my back deck. I appraise it from several scales. Sounds come buzzing, whistling, bowling, crackling: conversations, motors, animals rustling in an underbrush, signal-pulses of birdsong. Seven to ten minutes and then I’m off for an evening of fun with my fellow thirsty nuns and monks.
“Space is the Place” plays at a low volume, at the back (as opposed to front and center) of my thoughts, though in fact it’s one of the most bracing performances I’ve ever heard, while I reflect on my mixed feelings toward my discipline’s fondness for jargon.
Don’t get me wrong: I like it when my colleagues gather and talk texts. But I prefer birds whistling from treetops. Along with assists from the other elements of human and nonhuman nature, the evening orchestra performs its polyphonic improvisation — with me there to observe and to listen in surround sound in the hollow of a glade. Through these acts we teach each other. As we pull together, we expand each other’s capacity to sympathize and finally to love. I am describing an effort to bring about a fundamental change in “reality” itself, which is to say, in ideology.
Time to get back into the habit of a public/private split, so as to juggle in each hand like Shiva the Destroyer the activities of mind and body, line and syllable, metaphor and metonymy, head and heart. I’m not sure what I mean by that, other than, “I wish for reconciliation, evening sound a grand symphony. Cars, dogs, voices: by these, evening in the neighborhood is heard, and all is well.” Evenings are weird, and it’s hard to know how to word a wish. We hear ourselves wondering, “Where are we?” and “What did Freud and Jung and Sartre believe, what powers did they ascribe to the event in the life of the spirit known as the Wish?” My foremost wish is that Sarah and I grow into enlightenment by raising a child together. Let our worlds fill with loving kindness.
Mind stills to receive and, for however short a time, mimetically fuse into identity with, worldly vibrations. This means locally a combination of Slows’s Enormous Pause and the calming hiss of a running faucet.
The percussion of a wooden stick tapped against the edge of a sink. Fingers run through a beard. To apply words, however, complicates matters, interferes with active listening. Better to allow the surface of the inner ear time to fractalize and flow like a screensaver imprinted with abstract data. This info settles into and activates the emotions of the “heart” chakra. Mind fills with neon lines of energy.