Music for Digging

Thoughts on getting down with it.

Here’s an invitation to stomp through the track-lit hallways of an administration building and sing in a waiting room, wailing exhalations of various shapes.

Consider this a reminder not to chase the light too hard, to balance those ethereal divinities with the ever-present nuisances of daily demons.

Against the weight of daggered baggage, here’s the forgiveness of emptiness. Over the round hoop of the ancient zero like an open mouth, weave a nest for the unborn and make it big enough for the recently departed. 

A body will reveal its resilience in rest, holding until only spirit is left, leaving calligraphic marks on the skins it brushed.

Song is a mother. She is working in the dirt and it is everywhere.

***

Inspired by, and with borrowed images from  Spencer Kornhaber‘s recent Atlantic article, How to Listen to Björk, According to Björk, regarding the artist’s latest album, Fossora. The title comes from the Latin word for digger.

What Lives

A still, small voice.

My grandmother used to say something about the darkness of hope. How it bears fruit in the light of wisdom. By watching her when she was living and listening after her death, I knew Grace. This was her name.

Revolt against death, she would say, by remembering the dead; the next breath a reminder that it was their breath before a final exhalation. Knowing this, breathe full and long. To forget is to die a little.

There were pages and pages behind these reminders. I read them as survival manuals for creatures of flesh. They said, be poor. Go down. Be despised, love anyway. Serve instead of demanding service. 

There were maps too, but no territories. They said only: Look––in hunger and thirst, through long nights and vast deserts. There you will find company with the soul of all souls. You will hear the heartbeat and what follows will be the first song of the world. 

You will know it, child. Go down.

Altitude

And the ones who come down.

In another world, everyone lives in the mountains where time falls more slowly. To boast in this world is to speak of the heights you knew, have known, will soon attain. The elites put their houses on stilts. 

Only the careless leave the peaks for the valleys, to feel the soft grasses and the waters of the streams and lakes. The people of the heights watch them and scoff at the waste, but sound is denser in the lowlands, so the swimmers cannot hear them––not with the all of the birds and the crickets and the lowland creatures in the grasses and not with the water in their ears. It took them by surprise at first, the noises spilling out of these lowlands.

What’s that? They wondered at first. Later, they knew it was time. The creatures released it. The visitors caught what they could and threw it back. They began to make their own and it was music.

***

Inspired by one of the worlds described in Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams, (“26 April 1905”).

Music to Wake the Dead

Orpheus to Eurydice, overheard.

You were tired of tired imitation, wanted something real. Only the unreasonable would do. Okay, I said, and tuned the strings at the joint in the forked paths, from which one would lead home and the other to a forever road. Let me play you a burning thornbush. Your mother floats halfway between the bed and the ceiling in your sleep. We love a riddle, and the ones we can’t solve tend to linger, like the notes of the last dance, like the earth ringing now in my ears.

***

Inspired by a comment that director Andrey Tarkovsky makes in Sculpting in Time. Paraphrasing Paul Valéry, he notes how “the real is expressed most immanently through the absurd.” The last line is adapted from images in Arseny Tarkovsky’s poem “Eurydice.”

The Missing Magpies

Redefining collaborative research.

Today, there are magpies singing.  Loud, proud, and magnificent, you can hear them if they are near you. But there are some who prefer to get away, and I wanted to tell you about these magpies. We wanted to hear them. We were compelled by their song. You can’t hear the complexity of those notes––over three hundred, we estimated–– without wondering about the brains of the creatures that hold them in place.

It is said that these birds can remember up to thirty specific faces. They remember well whomever has caused them trouble in the past, and only attack these one or two people in their region. If the number of people in their vicinity surpasses thirty, they start stereotyping. For example, they are known to be biased against preadolescent boys. They are also known to hold funerals for their dead. Who wouldn’t want to follow? We could no longer settle for mere appreciation at a distance. We wanted the bird’s-eye view. We wanted bird’s ears, too. We meant to track them, record their private exchanges, and publish our findings to international acclaim.

It was a simple device, but it took countless trials to get the right fit. We didn’t want to hurt them. It was tiny enough that they wouldn’t even feel it. It was also impossible for a bird to remove one from their body once it was on. It took our team of experts six months to get these fitted.

It took the birds three days to get them off. They helped each other. It took one twenty minutes of feeling around to find the weak spot, a single clasp at the back, barely a millimeter in length. One clip with a beak and it was off.  

So now we can’t hear them. At first, this made us very depressed. What a colossal failure, we thought. But then we began to think that the magpies were making an interesting point, and that we almost missed it, stuck as we were on the lost data. Proud creatures, they wanted nothing to do with being data, but this is not to say that they were unwilling collaborators.

With pitch-perfect humor, they alerted us to an obvious flaw in the design of our study. We were asking the wrong questions, and the worst among these was about how much of their music we might capture. 

***

Inspired by this article in the New York Times, “Australia’s Clever Birds Did Not Consent to This Science Experiment,” by Anthony Ham.