Consider what it is we apes are doing when we listen to music, and when we make it.
Structuring the very air, tuning it, to reflect what — is it learned? Innate? Some level of innateness, of course, the beauty of it, the transcendental beauty of it says it registers with us on some deep prehuman hardware level — but reflecting what — pleasantness, balance, mathematical relationships, difference and feeling, time and heart —
It makes the obscured apparent — makes the inner an outer to be gathered by other gatherers and made into a new inner —
My uncle playing piano. Present tense. The present tense is false. He is not playing piano, he played piano. (Even writing — what is the soothing euphony of beautiful sounds — are they all metaphors of shapes and touches — or what the Drs.’ asked – synthesia — )
My uncle, who played piano. Taught me piano. I was in a smaller body then, pre-transformed. Sitting on his wood bench, while the man still breathed. Playing Five Little Ducks. Went out to play. Over the hills and far away. Mother duck said quack quack quack quack. But only four little ducks came back.
That song is still that song. That song is certain sounds standing together in a temporal matrix. A four-dimensional sculpture. Art that decays. And is yet reproducible.
The score on the piano. The machine in tune. And the man who plays it. Where is the song? Where does the song go when the man goes? What happens to the music in the absence of a machine. The score remains. But the score is not the song.
To think of a man who once played; to think of the ghost-song in the age of mechanical reproduction; to think of the new song – a wail – that comes from Caliban hearing his dead father’s voice in the Victrola – to think of Walter Benjamin sitting in a room like I sit in a room in this very moment and to him, it seemed even as this moment seems to me, the ever and unfolding and infinite Now, and thinking all was lost and all was doomed, puts an object in his mouth that takes the mastery of his body away from him, yanks away his consciousness and his control, the fearsome pull of gravity, inevitable, exploding, plastic, down, down, down –
Consider my uncle playing piano. Teaching me piano. Not teaching me piano. He continued to play, and it was a joy to him, and it was a joy to any who heard him. He would say visualize your playing before you play it, but I cannot visualize, and I could not, and I did not;
And my sister after me, always my sister after me, and she was a better player than I, but played with that same fierceness, that same impreciseness that comes from uncontrollable passion – and she quit too apparently, with much guilt, and some point, and went and lived her own life, and started kissing boys and went off to Israel a happy smiling girl and came back in January to be told her uncle was dying, soon, and then he did, even as I myself disintegrated in a corner of West Philadelphia, eight floors up, and I received a phone call, and came home to bury the man, to carry his body, to carry his very body, that was too too light to be a man, and before that, before that,
Playing his song, playing songs, over and over, structuring air, creating the art that decays, making the obscured apparent.