Sunday, 1 May 2011

Simon Turner - Heard Melodies Are Sweet: scraps from an abandoned work

The greatest piece of music I ever heard was a recording of a ball bearing falling down what sounded like a metal chute. The sample was first of all played in its singular state, then doubled, then the doubling was doubled and so on, until what remained was a liquid wash of noise, all traces of the metallic element of the ball bearing falling having been eradicated in the process of repetition. I only ever heard this piece once, on the radio, and never learned its name, or the name of its composer. It is unlikely I will ever hear it again, but it is more firmly lodged in my mind as an idea - indeed, as an ideal, something to strive towards - than any number of pieces of music I can instantly lay my hands on, either in my record collection or in my memory. It is the greatest piece of music I have ever heard precisely because I cannot recall it, except in the vaguest of terms. Language, after all, is what we fall back on when music fails us, and any attempt I might make to replicate the music in words will be a failure before the venture has even begun.

On a similar note, on a Christmas shopping trip last year, my girlfriend and I found an amazing marble run in a toyshop in Warwick. Its design was simple: a wooden pillar on a wooden stand set with, at regular intervals, wooded discs placed at an angle, and diminishing in size as they neared the pillar's top. When a marble was dropped, it would chime a series of notes in its falling, like a kind of interractive arpeggio engine. We kept telling ourselves that we would go back for this toy at some point in the future. Not today, obviously, as it's raining; and next week's a bitch because we're heading down to London or some other nowhere place. We'll got the week after that, maybe? Last week, we finally went back: the toyshop had closed.

Sometimes, when I'm not writing a great deal in my waking life, my dreams tend to create alternative modes of artistic expression as a gesture towards compensation, and, more often than not, these dreams take the form of musical composition. Over the years - I can neither read nor notate music, and I cannot play a musical instrument any more sophisticated than a tambourine or a kazoo - I must have lost hundreds upon hundreds of these compositions at the moment of waking. Light oozes in through the curtains, soft but insistent, and the dull unimpressive thoughts of the day clamour for attention, and gradually drown my musical dreams out in a welter of semi-lucid messages, silencing them forever. Maybe get a coffee, put on the washing, write this letter, pay that bill. Of course, if I could remember the music, even a fragment, the everyday clamour would still be there, but it would take on a different significance if interepersed with the symphonic ghosts of those dreams. Even a fragment, half a bar at the most, rescued from the wreckage would make the loss of the dreams at least partway bearable.

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