The composer’s apprentice

“The wrong of unshapely things is a wrong too great to be told” –W.B. Yeats

The quiet rattle of the hotel air conditioner. A groaning squeak of the bed. A dialogue I can’t make out. The wail of poorly adjusted brakes. The two stupid drunks yelling at each other outside my window at 3 in the morning. The birds which start chirping not long after. A leaf blower, stopping its hateful thrum just often enough to hurt anew with every irregular restart. The crush of broken glass in the recycling bin. All of that is not music. You can make music out of it by rearranging it, chopping it up and changing it beyond recognition, maybe. But by itself, it is not music and no amount of imagining can penetrate that. There is a scene in “Dancer in the Dark” – Björk is in a factory, the machines are clanging along with dull precision, and then Björk’s voice soars above the noise and you realize it’s a beat, and it was a beat all this time. That’s how it is in the movies maybe. But this gap, which takes mere seconds to break on the screen, is in reality vast. Something that seemed ephemeral when you saw the gap breached, is in fact almost unbreachable. Just try it. The high pitched hum of the light bulb. The troubled-sounding hum of the refrigerator. Steps down the street. Heartbeats. Take it together, and what do you get? Noise. Music is everywhere, goes the cliché. But music isn’t everywhere, what’s everywhere is noise. No, music is a rare thing. One that you seek out hopelessly like an explorer and build painstakingly like a watchmaker. Music is not noise. No matter how industrial and dissonant and, well, noisy, the music is. Instead, the dirtier the sound, the more humble is the entreaty to the great world of noise. Let us survive, here, unnoticed, as if we, too, were just everyday sounds. Let us hide a token of beauty in the great ugly sound-world. Pass us over in your wrath. But no, noise crackles and thrashes and revels in its destructive power. It drives over music’s spine like a heavy bulldozer, its caterpillars gnashing and its alarm beeps resonating in the air. To destroy music is as easy as putting a teaspoon of tar in a jar of honey. Even another piece of music will do it, sounds mingling without intention and jumping out every which way like frightened cats. Noise is unstoppable. Might as well show courage in the face of this destruction and let only the clearest, most precise and luminous music pour out to its death.

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