Arrived home from work, I go for a short walk around my neighborhood and stare up at trees full of red-chested robins. More than a dozen robins at varying heights above my head. They talk: I listen. Rustles of leaves and feathers, cheery tweets, blissful songs. Beatitudes performed for me, or at least tolerant of my listening. Performed first by the birds and then afterwards electronically, by a car that pulls up beside a park, bass sounds reverberating outward even with the car’s windows rolled up. That’s what I like, something suburbs often lack: neighborhoods with music (especially when the latter is of a spontaneous or locally improvised sort). When I return home, I sit and hold her, marveling and rejoicing, struck with a sense of beatitude as I behold my daughter. One day I wish to read Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954. “I promise I shall never give up, and that I’ll die yelling and laughing,” Kerouac wrote in an entry in the book from 1949. “And that until then I’ll rush around this world I insist is holy and pull at everyone’s lapel and make them confess to me and to all.” Always and forever I’m filled with the awareness of countless books unread. From Kerouac to Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov to Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe.
We’re ready for a new one. Little one on the way. I feel like leaning back and releasing wild exclamations, loud laughter, cries of animation and joy. Birds fill the air with song. After a walk through our neighborhood, Sarah and I sit at the counter at our favorite fried chicken joint, dining on breasts and sides. The owner recommends that we play music to entice the little one to rotate. I start thinking song possibilities: Yo La Tengo’s “Big Day Coming,” Fairport Convention’s “Come All Ye,” Apollo 100’s “Joy.”
Perhaps, as Maria Montessori might say, those sounds are too loud, “displeasing to the ear of one who has known the pleasure of silence, and has discovered the world of delicate sounds” (121). Perhaps we should try at a variety of volumes a variety of timbres and tones.
Crows and helicopters fly overhead on a sunny but chilly afternoon. Squirrels scramble along branches of trees, pausing, waving their tails in greeting. I sit with them for a while, the neighborhood’s lawnmowers and leafblowers heard in the distance. Afterwards I join Sarah for a walk, the two of us visiting a colleague along the way. We talk again about names and the weeks ahead, pausing now and then beside piles of leaves.
Birdsong midafternoon rich, dense, populated by conversation among many beings. We arrive as sounds, resonances, sense-data in worlds populated by all the others, the traveling companions, fellow players in what Nathaniel Mackey calls the Mystic Horn Society. We sit close to one another, each with a head buried in a book, reading, breathing, being. We shake, we stretch, in our own way, on our own time: birds, squirrels, humans. Mackey’s project is to operate language as an “eroding witness” while still living in a universe of sound, language used to allow sound once again to be heard. On an evening prior to discussing his poems for the first time with students, I catch a performance by Chick Corea in a chapel. Mackey himself is set to perform with the Our True Day Begun Soon Come Qu’ahttet early next week. Somewhere in the midst of these doings, I find my way to Larry Coryell’s Spaces (1970), on which Chick Corea played electric piano. In all honesty, not a great record. A hummingbird speeds past the window as I listen. Afterwards I turn to Return to Forever’s “Crystal Silence.” What I really like, though, are tracks that lead elsewhere like “Spain.”
My dad listened to a lot of “smooth jazz” on his car stereo when I was a kid. At the time, my feelings about the genre were mixed at best. Often I would beg him to change the station. Sometimes I changed it myself, with or without his permission.
Several factors converge: a remediation team to treat mold in our basement, the sound of a lawnmower, a Hearts of Space recording, Ariel Kalma’s Osmose.
Sounds are everywhere in quick succession. The air vents, the refrigerator; somewhere in the distance, a clock. Sarah’s pen moves across a page as she grades. I sit at points during the experience, feeling what Hearts of Space co-founder Anna Turner, using the on-air pseudonym Annamystyq, called “wind sung sounds.” These sounds, she said, “are heard, experienced, on the skin delicately,” like the peeling of a potato, but “with exquisite softness.” This wind, she adds, brings healing, reminding us that we are “starflower beings,” conversing with those close to us. Beside me sits a purple flower, a Sweet William. Sarah prepares mashed potatoes for dinner with friends. I spend a few more moments wandering about in Osmose, contemplating the shape of the whole. Before I know it, I’m elsewhere.
“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.
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.
Drums played aloud outdoors in a land officiated by bells and chimes becomes for the allegorical imagination shorthand for assertion of religious difference, assertion of an alternative path to ekstasis or peak-experience. Language is already present in nature’s abstraction of itself through song. Rhythm and bass evoke embodiment, as melody and tone evoke transcendence. Neon flashes hover as after-images against the backs of my eyelids. Overhead I spy a woodpecker — a Northern Flicker, perhaps. Moments later, a plane with red wings. The Deep Listening Band adds to, overlays atop the experience a work recorded in Oregon’s Fort Warden Cistern called “The Ready Made Boomerang.”
The sound’s vastness inevitably suggests mystery. Remind others of this. Echo it. Alter aural perspective. Induce awe through cavernous resonance.
Compose mildly, humbly, yells a voice from ahead on the line. We of the chain gang. Every breath a guess, a near fumble. Conversations, dialogues, words assembled from channel-surfing, dial-turning snippets of televisions and talking radios. It’s as if the larynx, a highly sensitive vibrational surface, were suddenly set aquiver, collaboratively operated by self and other, floating among oceans of sound. Songs for breakfast, songs for lunch. Rapid montage sequences flit past. Like horseshoe crabs, we possess receptors useful for sensing changes in moonlight. I imagine a fictional universe, perhaps I’m programmed to do so, I’m not going to delve into agency, will, all that David Copperfield kind of crap. Rice Krispies crackle loudly as the childhood self leans his ear to a bowl of cereal. The inner voice speeds up, acquires greater proficiency. “My environment,” I tell myself, “has been carefully designed to draw me to this state of mind.”
I’m galloping along, clearing error code 4s, reminiscing about the past, contemplating workload, when out of nowhere bursts the opening notes to Lloyd Clifton Miller’s “Gol-e Gandom,” followed by a sequence of environmental sound: dog, blender, bird, down the block a team working at a downed tree with a chainsaw. “Jump to, take action!” And I’m up and about, anticipating future events. A muting occurs. Unscripted passage of time. In a moment of calm, I lose myself in flight between subjectively distinct galaxies. I advance in brief increments through Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, savoring each moment. The psychological establishment, like any establishment, corrupted by the Judeo-Christian Capitalist West’s False-Enlightenment Prometheanism, collapses into the state evoked by Sun Ra & His Arkestra’s “Lanquidity.”
Relax, drift free of the value-form, I tell myself. The reverb on my voice leads me into a trance. My face struggles to match my mood.