Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sounds in the Night


You were seated on a bench under the afternoon shade—five o’clock shadow—of the university campus when the carillon bells tolled the hour.

Before the toll had ended, you were yanked back in time—way back in time—to a campus a hundred miles south and a place when you were in many of your ways of the same sensitivities and demeanor as the students you’d meet in room 143 of the College of Creative Studies.

In the duration of a quick audio cue, you accomplished time travel, being sent back to what you were, given the opportunity to see yourself as what you were, then have the chance to compare that self with approximate equivalents.  You have some sense of what you have become, a good portion of that sense arriving from the fact of you listening for clues ever so much more than you did back then, when the carillon at Royce Hall, UCLA, tolled the hours.

Sound has become an important sensual trigger.  As you sat on the bench just off Ucen (for university center) Road, UCSB, 93106, you also had the pleasant snore of Sally, asleep on the lawn beside you, evoking the nostalgia of the give and take of a man and his canine companion over a span of fifteen years.

Sally is not the only dog companion who snores, a sound that conflates some late nights and precariously early mornings with another canine companion who, you must note, also had a double-l in her name.  Sally was not, at least in any deliberate sense, named to remind you of Molly, but this intent lacks some cohesion in the late, dark hours, similar to the logic of you being yanked from 93106 to 90024 at the sound of campus bells.  Senses do convey you on auditory journeys.

The senses speak their own language.  Although she did not have Molly’s near on to twenty years, nor Sally’s reach for sixteen, there was yet another companion between them.  What odds favoring the double-l in her name?  You might guess a considerable likelihood.  You’d be correct.  You were every bit as comfortable with the presence of Nell in your life.  Had she lived longer, she may have added snoring to the mysteries of how the equation of sounds of snoring plus love equals nostalgia and companionability rather than irritation.

For the longest time after your move from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, you were aware of the sounds of the hurry and bustle of trains as they pass through, their nasal horns honking interruptions into the night to the point where you were aware of these noises, waited for them, became as used to them as the mysterious rushes and movements within your own body.

Sometimes, when you are not in Santa Barbara, you are awakened by the absence of train sounds.  The years of you being here, with trains, have left a mark.  Sometimes you awaken to the unlikely counterpoint of Sally and a freight train or passenger train.  The awareness of either is a comfort, the awareness of the two becomes a validation that you have, in some degree, learned to listen to the universe of which you are a part, simultaneously taking comfort and making distinctive connections.

The small moment of sense defines the small moment of reality with aching clarity.  A conventional observation holds the devil being in the details.  The better observation is of the essence of reality being in the details.  If the details are of sound, the essence of reality is evoked with sharp clarity when some of the details are sounds of music:  the music of a remarkable animal companion snoring nearby, the clink of your drinking glass against the glass of a dear companion, the here-I-come; there-I-go sound of a train moving through, a neighbor’s awful taste in music coming across an alleyway, the bluesy breath of your own excellent taste in slow blues or Maurice Ravel or the Bach Inventions you must take great care never to play when you are attempting to work because of their absolute power to pull your interest from the feelings you are trying to get down on the page and into sounds first heard and noted down hundreds of years ago.

Sounds can enhance, distract, disrupt, divert; they add some unanticipated dimension to a narrative you are in literally or as a writer trying to bumble your way along to some point of safety after having indulged yourself into a cosmic tangle from which you now attempt to provide some resolution.  You knew there was a here-I-come; there-I-go effect here, too, as there was with the train and its flirtation with the Doppler effect.  You also know there is no such safety net with story, and so you cast about for sounds to make the drama appear all the more real.  You begin with the sounds of failure, which are always real enough.

You remember with one form of nostalgia or another the sounds of voices so dear to you, and if you think the matter through, you hear the sounds of men and women dead long before you appeared on this scene, speaking to you through their written words which, you come to realize, are channeled through you to produce that even closer sense of communication than the mere reading of the words.


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