A Random Image

Jett Superior laid this on you on || June 18, 2005 || 8:39 pm

Noisy Old World, redux

Music as a common link between otherwise unrelated people, people with no shared characteristics or interests, is something I’ve explored here before. Today, however, I found this

“The harmony of an airliner is one unending chord. It speaks of speed and efficiency but it also speaks of life. The environment outside a plane at cruising altitude is deadly. If any of the three sounds were to stop you’d be in a world of trouble. Heartbreaking pictures on the nightly news kinda trouble.”

and it jogged something in me.

A couple of years ago (or thereabouts) I heard this bit on NPR –and woe is me, I didn’t retain the source so I could show you– about a guy who went around listening to the technology in his home. He honed in on the background hums obsessively, noting how they became so much harmonized white noise. He was baffled: How did this happen? How did all these machines naturally work in concert with one another? How did they not clang against one another, inharmonic and grating to him? Why were they not dissonant?…they’re machines, after all, and cannot control their pitch and whine.

The answer did not come to him. However, he began to listen even closer to his machines and ended up putting them down on paper: He put the hum of their tones into scale and then threaded them together to make the first known musical composition based on the notes independently belted out by modern conveniences. The Appliance Symphony. The Technology Fugue. Hel-loooo, Microchip Boogie-Woogie.

Dear Machines,

Man is not using you now to feed his creations through, he are using you to feed the creation itself.

Still Not Sure What To Think ‘Bout That, But In Awe Nonetheless,


Holy, holy, amazing-uddered cow.

My whole life has been defined by sounds; my mother has told me on more than one occasion that I sang before I spoke. She scrawled in my baby book that I liked to be sung to better than anything (“Turtle Blues” –cleaned-up version, natch– and “Me and Bobby McGee” scoring as dead hits on my wee toddler pleasure center) and I pulled my fat volume of nursery rhymes from my overflowing bookshelves over and over. I loved hearing her warm Delta drawl melt across the words, then buoy them up in its sweetness. The words had a rhythm, my momma’s voice had a rhythm and the two intertwined so gorgeously that I could not help but want to do that thing she did myveryownself. I credit her and her deft tounge-work with a page as the reason I was so insistent on learning to read and write. I wanted to be part of that wonder, that absolute magic of rhythm and sound and pulling something out of nothing.


Where There Once Were Letters, Now There Are Words.

Where There Once Were Words, There Now Sit Sentences.

Where Once There Were Sentences, There Are Ideas Lifting Off The Very Page.

Where Once There Was Blankness On Both Page And In Thought, There Now Are Things Leaping And Singing And


Sparking The Same In Others.

So when I was two I read. I sang at six months, I spoke at nine months, I read at age two and began painstakingly crafting letters of my own accord at age three. By four, I’d written and illustrated a book. At five I had my first record player, which was amazing in its capacity to marry music and spoken word and reading only encumbered by the occasional annoying ding!.

I remember even back then listening for the Song of Surroundings, the gorgeous cresting and waning of the worldnoise that created a beautiful life-symphony. In my world there was the chatter of nannies (a veritable song unto itself), familial laughter, birds cawing, the rustle of crops, crickets humming, my papaw on the porch rocking, the approach-retreat cadence of my parents dancing and murmuring to one another in the den after I lie tucked safely amidst sun-freshened linens and pillows.

(My God, how they loved one another when they loved one another. And how they danced, nuzzling, a world unto themselves. It was a sight to behold, barefooted and wide-eyed from the breezeway.)

I was in every program and pageant I could manage; I loved to speak the pre-scripted missives and opened my mouth until it seemed I had no head because I was so exuberant with song. I started begging at age five for a piano and they finally surprised me with one at age nine, having determined four years’-worth of pleading a sure enough sign of dedication to future craft. I was long-fingered, but not naturally talented. Where my sister’s fingers effortlessly sought out notes languidly and with a lack of true interest, almost savantlike, I had to work fiercely to make my own push and pull at proper intervals; although I could hear flawless, clean silences with a hint of resonation beneath them perfectly in my head, my hands were rebellious and had to be forced, over and over, into compliance.

Later there was school band and an alto saxophone, which I viewed as terribly sleek and, basically, Pure Brass Sex Sporting A Reed. I loved the sound I pushed from it, and my four years beating myself up at the piano had paid off…I was a marvelous horn player with very little effort! This instrument made me JOYFUL to look on it, to touch it, to draw music from it. The saxophone bore my personality from a musical standpoint. To me, it fit my hands like it was made to be there.

There followed, starting with a bad(ass) group comprised only of girls in the seventh grade, a string of bands to which I lent my excellent lyrical and somewhat marginal musical talents. I always heard these exacted, amazing things in my head, but I lacked the innate ability to translate it to the page for some years, and by the time I was taught formally I had learned so many bad habits on my own that it was hard to get around them.

Now I have a house full of children who love music as much as life –the youngest has the hum of song beneath everything he speaks– and a husband who will sit to play and sing with me at a moment’s notice just like waybackwhen we had not much responsibility and no real concerns save for a good beer and gas money for the next gig.

But still, I have that piano, the same piano that I somewhat learned the discipline of music upon, the same piano I played in tandem one night with the love of my life; that was just before I made extremely satisfying love to him right there on the piano bench, keys ringing their surprise at witnessing my arching back. I listen to the sounds around me and sometimes in the deceptive quiet of my surroundings I seat myself on the bench and try to craft a counterpoint to their innate melody at that same piano.

Even considering my own limitations to harmonize with everything around me, the attempt itself makes me feel more free than just about anything else I know.

5 worked it out »

  1. redclay 6.18.2005

    oh, honey.

  2. john 6.19.2005

    I know the NPR show you write of. It was an episode of The America life on the theme, Mapping. It ran on 9/4/98 Here’s a link:

    It was rebroadcast sometime in 2003, which is probably when we heard it. I say this because I wrote about it in a round-a-about way on 2/20/2003. Here’s a link (though there’s not much to read and the best thing is the title “In favor of ethereal emotional generators.”): http://www.linkworthy.com/log8.html#02.20.2003

    I quoted Toby Lester from an article on music he wrote in the Atlantic Monthly (now, sub. only) that covered more of his ideas from the radio segment.

  3. Jettomatika 6.20.2005


    I cannot fathom why I’m so excited that you know the reference and where I could find it, but I am. I could only remember Mister Lester’s first name, and only then because it’s one of the names that I’ve always associated with ‘bad people’ in my life.

    Thanks, Johnno!

  4. Coelecanth 6.20.2005

    Wow, just wow! Beautiful.

  5. Lothregast 6.20.2005


    Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. To hear the deep ringing of music through the door in your soul such as this is a true gift. We who share it oftentimes have trouble expressing it at all, let alone as eloquently as you have. May the chord ring on forever, its tone pure and pitch unsullied.




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