A friend called t’other day and asked if I wanted to work with him refinishing a hardwood floor. I told him I’d never done that kind of work, but I’d show up and learn as fast as possible. As it turned out, he’d never done that kind of work either, so we were even. I’m fortunate to have a number of friends who approach work with this kind of fearlessness. So what if I don’t know how to do the job I’m committing to do? I’ll figure it out and if I need any help I’ll hire a guy who also doesn’t know what he’s doing.
We did the big sanding and then the other guy went to get us more coffee, leaving me to the detail work on the stairs with this little power sander. I was hunched down over the thing, buzzing away on the risers when I realized that beneath the electric motor drone I could hear a high-pitched “deity-deet-deet”*, which was definitely coming from the sander. It was a pleasant little sound, rhythmically similar to a dot-matrix printer and tantalizingly reminiscent of something I couldn’t place, though I think it was from a movie – radar or sonar sound effect, or a computer on a space ship, or something. Or maybe the sound that accompanies the printer when a hot news flash comes in over the wire. Whatever. I really enjoyed listening to it, barely audible over the hum and not unlike the melodies buried in the scree on Lou Reeds’ Metal Machine Music, definitely the best thing Blue Lou ever did after White Light/White Heat and the only thing he did post-VU that I can stand.
Music is everywhere. Well, sound is everywhere and it is possible to listen to any sound as music. I really became consciously aware of this in ’03 or so. I was living in a little house that was gradually crumbling into its own basement as a result of shoddy construction and the vibrations in the ground from the rock quarry at the end of the road. At that point, I still had music blasting most of the time. I went outside to smoke a cigarette on the porch one sunny day and as I sat there, I became increasingly captivated by the sounds around me: low rumble of trucks and bulldozers to the right, medium-range car traffic to the left, high-end birds in the trees above. Occasionally, a door would slam somewhere in the sound-field, or a dog would bark. I had been experimenting with making music for a year or so at that point – had gotten used to thinking of my own compositions from a technical angle, separating the various components and arranging them in the two-speaker stereo arena. That day on the porch I realized that any and all sounds can be heard the same way. I started trying it out in different places and found it to be pretty easy and pleasurable in most situations.
I was reading a lot about Zen at that time. And I was becoming much more active in seeking out weird and challenging music. My drunk’n’cranked twenties, when I had some kind of aggressive artpunknoiserock blasting 24/7 were a few years gone and I was primed and ready for what Pauline Olivernos called “Deep Listening”. I began to deeply listen to all of the sounds in my environment. The hardest thing to overcome is actual music, most of which is popular and therefore utterly banal and grating. Traffic noise, industrial machinery, gunshots, trucks backing up, espresso machines, all these and more can be incorporated into a symphony of sounds which is pleasing; Eminem cannot.
Some friends and I went up to NYC for the Boredoms 7/7/07 show in Brooklyn Park – the Boredoms plus seventy-seven drummers. We got there a few hours before the show, but there were several thousand people in line ahead of us. Somebody official eventually came down the line informing people that the park was full, no more getting in, but that we could sit on the bank of the East River and hear the show. My friends were only sort of interested in the Boredoms, so they went back to Manhattan to I don’t know what they did, but I stayed. The Boredoms + 77 were clearly audible – and so was the river, the traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, the seagulls, the tugboats, the taxi horns and all the other sounds of the city, which I would not have been able to hear if I had been standing in front of a mammoth wall of speakers. Not being able to get in to the park caused me to sit in one place for three hours and listen, which allowed me to hear the Boredoms and New York City. Sure, I’d’ve liked to’ve gotten in for the visual experience, but I had a better listening adventure than I could’ve asked for. Random noises certainly suit the Boredoms.
In one of my earlier bands, a free improv power trio, the other two people were the editors of all recorded material. As far as I was concerned, every single duffed note, feedback scree and drummer tantrum was solid gold and should be kept. They were much more selective about cutting out things that didn’t “sound good”, which caused me to shout “Shit! None of it sounds ‘good’!” on multiple occasions. I did soak up some of their arguments – I do edit out the most heinously offensive and annoying boring bits of BDSR jams – but free improv is free improv. Sometimes it doesn’t flow like molten chocolate – but then when it does, it’s all the sweeter for the bumbling mass of mess that the good stuff came out of.
Horace Walpole (1717-1797) invented the word “serendipity”, which means “a happy accident” or “a pleasant discovery”. He got the idea from a Persian fairytale, “The Three Princes Of Serendip”, the title characters of which were constantly happening upon wonderful discoveries when they were not looking for them. I would suggest that, while they were not looking for specific things, they were looking – they had their eyes and minds open, ready to receive. Frequent shoppers at thrift stores know that you don’t go thrifting with a goal in mind; you go looking for what’s there. This is a delightful and very profitable way of addressing reality. Everywhere I go, I know there are countless wonderful things for me to see, hear, touch, taste, smell and otherwise be aware of. I have shelves filled with amazing and weird trinkets and artifacts, very few of which have any value in a monetary sense, all of which are interesting and unique. I have spent untold hours sitting around in the woods with my daughter, identifying for her all the sounds around us and had the pleasure of having her return the favor – “You hear that sound, Daddy? That’s a sick-ay-duh.” It’s a hell of a lot of fun.
The world is a wonderful place, filled with sound for our listening pleasure – as long as nobody is playing Eminem.
* I typed “deety-deet-deet”, auto-correct made it “deity-deet-deet”, and I decided that was fine and dandy.
**Sometimes she likes it loud. She is a big Acid Mothers Temple fan but doesn’t like the No-Neck Blues Band at all. Go figure.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.