Each day when he wakes up he wants to fill the bedroom with a tone
Each day when he wakes up he wants to fill the bedroom with a tone. He imagines the tone before he gets out of bed. A tone that feels full. That resonates his small body. That seems to gain intensity from its surroundings. A tone that seems endless. But instead of playing the tone he usually goes to the kitchen to make coffee. The tone stays in mind even as the radio comes on announcing things that have nothing to do with the tone. That are in fact anti-tone because they are closer to noise. Can become background. Can transmit thoughts but cannot fill a room with an endless well of sound. A tone that becomes content. That becomes inhabitable space.
Certain experiences exist only in writing. They are composed of the sound and weight of words. They are related to an irredeemable loneliness. When you know that no one else is there and maybe no one ever will be. For him it is hard to read when someone is watching. The tone of the book cannot take over because the tone in the room is too strong. There is life in the words and there is life outside of the words but both are dependent on a certain relationship with silence.
You cannot read when your house is burning down. Nor can you write. Writing and reading have their own tones. The tone cannot be played in a book. The tone is composed of more than words. And yet when the tone happens. When it emerges like a fragrance in a bedroom. When it rears its pony head. In these moments it is best recorded in the sound of thoughts meeting silence and turning into words. This morning he announces in the silent room that he is writing the tone into words.
Because it is true that the tone is also an experience of writing. Like an experience of moving. Like when he arrived in a basement venue and walked closer to the music and the sound became a room within a room with only a bare red lightbulb around which all the musicians were arranged. They were tightly wound around the center of a tone that seemed also lodged in the intestines of each of them. The tone had a throb that came both too quickly and too slowly.
Everyone swayed with the tone and some people shouted phrases over it. They shouted these phrases because if they didn’t they would be forced to move the tone out of their bodies through a different orifice or through the destruction of something around them which was the opposite of the tone. They would have to possess something or be possessed. And maybe this is why everyone is smoking too. He thinks. Smoking has to happen around this throbbing tone. In order to be possessed by the tone we have to burn things and put the burning ashes in our bodies like food.
This morning he tries to play the tone in his bedroom:
A tone emerges. He tries to hear it. It has different parts that almost coalesce into a tone of depth. But they don’t. He has to take another breath. The pause is insurmountable. He cannot play another tone yet. He must wait until the tone in the room is audible and he can play a tone that mixes with that other tone. He waits looking out the window at the rain and the dead leaves. He watches someone walk by with an umbrella. He begins to hear something. The tone emerges but it is not the right one and no one walking by notices it. He tries to see it but he only notices the white walls and a soft hunger in his stomach. Instead he plays a variety of tones that he hopes will become the tone as they accumulate. They have weight and depth. They are composed of air and thought. His body follows the regular accumulation of tones that seem to say something in the room about the tone but aren’t exactly the tone. One tone should be enough. But it rarely is. As soon as a tone is followed by another tone then we already have the story that takes over from the tone. A story like a key that lets you into a door which is the home you return to. But with the tone you can leave and it follows you. There is a silence in the room that is pleasant and reminds him of the tone. He leaves for he is hungry and the tone that will not come is not food.
At night he goes to a basement where someone is playing a variety of tones and someone else is turning them on and off. Louder here and softer there. Someone is typing on a computer and then speaking on a phone. Someone is fidgeting with their hands. Someone is asking how he is doing. Someone is alone sitting horribly upright in anticipation. Later another person comes and sits across from the upright person. He imagines that they are meeting to speak about the tone. Perhaps they—like he—had come to the basement to hear the tone.
The man playing tones is bent over in concentration. He presses different buttons and tones come out. It seems that they are never the right tone. Sometimes high tones emerge. Sometimes lower tones. Sometimes the man playing looks around to see if he can judge the looks on people’s faces. The man would say under his breath: “There.” “Ah.” “Okay.” And he would wince sometimes. One person drinks a beer and nods. As if he knows that the tone would soon come that would allow all the other tones to stop. Eventually the man stops pressing buttons and the tones subside. He stands up and says “I’m going to stop.” Everyone seems surprised. The other man keeps nodding.
The following day he finds himself standing and listening. Waiting for the tone to come. He is swaying in the almost-silence facing a wall. His weight moves from one foot to the other. His hips tilt. His shoulders sway. His arm rotates. It occurs to him that he is dancing. He is dancing but there is no tone and no rhythm. He is swaying in homage to the tone. It’s a summons. And an invitation. With his whole body. His hands are in lose fists—elbows out. He closes his eyes. Before he can hear the tone he can see it. It looks like guitar strings. He imagines the sound of a major third. But rather than hearing it he sees it which means that he sees the strings and knows they are resonating as a major third. Soon he can hear it. As usual the major third is complex. It is just-barely-in-tune. It wants to change into a perfect fourth. He thinks maybe this is the tone he has wanted to fill the room with. He feels his back muscles loosen. Now his body is swaying and the sway itself is providing the momentum. He is not doing anything but his body is moving. The tone that he sees in his mind is making him sway. If he were to stop the tone would disappear. Some minutes pass. His eyes open and he is facing a different direction. He listens. There is no tone. Only the almost-silence of the room. Only the diffuse light coming through the window.
That evening he goes to a basement where someone has suggested that he may hear the tone. It has to do with the moon and the tides. The volume of water in the river. The correct proportion of cloud cover. A crowd has gathered to hear the tone presumably. They walk into a large room that is a basement but doesn’t feel like a basement. There are bright lights. Everyone sits. Someone tells him he must remove his shoes if he is to hear the tone. He waits while people talk. The anticipation mounts. The lights go down and there is a tone. It is opaque. It wavers. It seems to come from high up in the room. It weighs on him and feels cool on his skin. It is like a buzz. But it is lower in pitch. It begins to fill the room. It reminds him of being at the dentist. But it is artistic. There are people moving towards the front. The lights change and the cool feeling on his skin becomes more intense. He can’t see what the people who are moving are doing and he can’t discern why. The tone is becoming less audible but the lights are getting brighter and they keep changing. What do the lights have to do with the tone? They seem to be related. And yet their relation is fabulated. He begins to think that the tone would be more full if the lights stopped changing. Unless the lights are the source of the tone.
Afterwards someone is explaining what happened in the basement. They are standing in another room. There are lights and some soft music that someone is trying to hide in the background. The man is explaining that the lights were the source of the tone. But also there were other tones. Other sources. The people moving were not the tone. The lights were important. The man seems to be teaching him about the tone. He is trying to learn what he is supposed to learn about the tone. The man says: The tone is an apparition. The man says: The source is unknown. The man says: The tone is always there just like the moon. The man says: Did you hear it? The man says: I heard it. I want to sit down. He says.
A few days later he wakes up thinking about the tone. He thinks that maybe the tone he had considered the previous evening in yet another basement was not the right tone. Or that it wasn’t really a tone at all. Worry presses into his abdomen creating a pang of something. In a state between dream and wakefulness he begins to consider that maybe the tone has been an illusion the whole time. What he had thought was the tone was in reality nothing more than a base desire. A fool’s errand. His experiences with the tone seem unverifiable now. (While it’s true that he remembers seeing the tone – seeing it light up and dance in the night – this experience feels no longer relevant.) Few other people in the world seem as concerned with the tone as he is. There are men who have militantly shaven faces and wear stripped suits and seem to extract something
from the tone. And there are others who talk about the tone with wide eyes and language that is jumbled. There are some that bob their heads while drinking beers and smiling ambiently. But he has never related to these people. This morning it is clear: he hasn’t really produced the tone. He has never seen the tone. It remains as elusive as ever. No matter how many basements he finds himself in he doesn’t usually find the tone or even something that you could say resembles the tone. Aspects of the tone perhaps. Or certain layers of it. But he has yet to encounter the tone in its richness. Like a saucepan of gravy that you dip some bread into. Like a pound of butter that you pass a warm knife through. Like a cool foggy night that envelopes you when you leave a dusty basement. Like having enough money for a little while. Like the unsayable becoming audible.
Nevermind all that. This morning he is sure that the tone has never been real. And the feeling leaves him with a hole in his center.
Interlude for assembling the instrument
He is assembling the instrument while the sun is going down. He lies the case on the floor in front of the chair. He unclasps the metal pieces that keep it closed. He opens the lid. The smell is strong. He knows this but he can’t smell it anymore. This makes him think that the instrument is like his home which he also can’t smell anymore. He lifts the body of the instrument. He feels the cool metal. His fingers curl over the finger parts. He depresses the keys and they spring back. They feel oiled and smooth. They move silently but forcefully. His fingers know the grooves and they produce pleasant clacks. He rests the body of the instrument on his lap vertically so that his face is close to the keys. He looks at them all. He depresses each finger part and each one springs back. It feels good. This close to his face the smell is faint but he knows for others it would be very strong. He rests the body of the instrument on his lap. He pulls the long curved part out of its velvet pouch. The dull metal of the curved part fits into the top of the body of the instrument. He reaches into the case by bending forward over the instrument and feels it pressing into his abdomen. He pulls the grease out. He applies the grease like a lip stick to the cork. He rubs it in
with his index finger and his thumb. Then he takes the mouth part out. He puts some of it in his mouth to cover it in saliva. It tastes sweet and old in his mouth. He feels his mouth fill with saliva. He moves it around in his mouth. He puts the whole thing in his mouth so it is all wet now. He used to be afraid to do that because he thought maybe he would swallow it by accident. But now he does it each time. And the gentle pressure on the top of the throat is how he knows that it is completely wet. He takes it out of his mouth. Using the screw he screws it onto the mouth part making sure all the lines are lining up and the pressure is just right so the screw makes an indent into his skin. He looks again at the attunement of the various mouth parts. He makes an adjustment. He twists the mouth part over the greasy cork. With the instrument on his lap he bends over to get the strap. He unfolds the strap and puts it around his head. It hangs down like a necklace. He lifts the instrument to affix it to the strap. Now the instrument falls into his two hands. The fingers move into place unthinkingly. He brings the instrument to his mouth. Some of it goes into his mouth. His tongue touches part of it. He stops here and begins thinking about the tone. His eyes are closed. There is the time before any tone has been produced when the tone is still silent and he imagines how the air in the room will be disrupted and will vibrate with the tone. He thinks about how all the space in the room is inside of the instrument that he holds with his fingers and his mouth.
The next day he is standing in his bedroom and the sun has fallen so a cool black night stares back at him from outside the window. He is holding the instrument and he is preparing to play it. He is considering the beginning of the tone. There is the time before any tone has been produced when the tone is still silent and he imagines how the air in the room will be disrupted and will vibrate with the tone. And then there is the time after the tone begins. Once the tone begins everything has changed and you cannot go back to the time before. The tone orders the world when it comes into being. It has a moment of impact. The beginning of the tone sets up the conditions of its life. A tone that begins in the middle of the instrument with a plaintive and incisive call will not seduce with an invitation to warmth. It will cut the room in half. It will enter the stomach and move up to the throat. It is marked by its pressure. Like a strong tap that you turn on and it sprays you accidently. A tone that begins in the bottom part of the instrument will come out twisted on itself looking like rumpled velvet and will seduce into its folds. It enters the stomach and moves down through the pelvis. It opens space rather than cutting it. It is a bucket of warm water you put your feet into. A tone that begins high up on the instrument can go unnoticed. It can be shy. It can miss the body altogether. But if it starts out right then it can leak down like water pouring over your head. The moment before you are able to perceive if it is very cold or very hot. The high tone has the closest relationship to silence of all the tones. It is woven with silence. Silence is its engine and its friction.
The most important thing is that before the tone is played anything is possible. You can walk to into the corner of the bedroom. You can walk onto a stage with a thousand tired faces looking at you. You can sit in your chair facing out the window at the damp night. You can stand in the middle of a circle. And before you begin everything is possible. The tone could be a flood or a bright light. It could be a machine that has many different parts that all start moving in unison creating a great noise. It could be a bomb or a fire that rips through the room. Before it has begun it is all of these things. People sometimes ask him about improvisation. They ask if the tone is like improvisation. And he replies that the tone only has a beginning. Once it has begun it begins to dance and yell. It chooses its own directions and inclinations. Its eyes roll into the back of its head. There is no improvising or composing. The tone lives in a possessed state. And yet the terms of that possession are what is important. If the tone doesn’t start right then it can become a mere posture. It can go through the motions hitting all the important moves but in the wrong order and with the wrong temperature. Many people mistake the life of the tone for some kind of destiny or else some wet dream of freedom. But in fact there is only the impact. Sure you still have to listen to where the tone is going. Sure you still have to have your feet square to your hips in case of surprises. But the important thing is to get the tone right in the beginning and this has everything to do with being in the silence and picking the tone out of the silence.
Today the tone has not yet come. He is scanning the silence waiting for a layer to open up where he can fit the tone in. He begins to create silence that becomes breath and soon he slides a tone into the room it looks like a lopsided ball of green mass with hair on one side. He holds it. It moves. Another part of it falls off and rolls away up the wall that he is now facing. The tone is two and he is struggling to understand their relationship. But as sometimes happens the tones get larger and start trembling until he is no longer in the room. They are trembling and expanding and pushing him out of the room. They begin touching all the surfaces and getting under the bed. They wait there shining lights and trembling softly in the silence that is now completely rearranged.
The tone comes up as a melody written by Albert Ayler on this Wednesday evening. He takes the notes and carefully arranges them in order in his bedroom. He wants to suspend them in the room somewhere between the ceiling and the floor. Hanging each tone in the air is complicated. You have to start the tone and work it until it is weightless. You have to make it shiny and smooth like a hard candy. You have to find the place it resonates. When it is resonating the light changes. Then you know that you can go to the next note. When all the tones are hanging you can go back to the beginning and make them spin. Then the light really starts to go. The song is called Ghosts and he sees that each note is a hovering spinning ghost. The ghosts each have stories that are in the notes but are also more than notes. Each note means something terrible and true. Waiting until all the notes are hanging takes a long time and renders the melody unrecognizable. So he wonders at the efficacy of his strategy. When all the notes are there: is that the melody? Or is it the melody only if you play them all in the time they have been allotted? He thinks it is more important to allow the notes to transform into the ghosts they were obviously intended to be. These ghosts are not happy but it is nevertheless a beautiful site to see them hovering there spinning. Reflecting the light. He tries to keep them going. When the notes are all hovering then a tone starts to come above and below the notes. The tone is not the notes. But without the notes the tone would not come. The tone is beautiful and frightening. Hearing it means that he is not working. Hearing it means that he is not writing. The tone is not his job. He shudders to think. The tone is not food. The tone is not the expectations he had. The tone cannot protect him except from silence. Thinking this he stops holding things and they begin to fall away.
Later that night he is in a basement and someone is asking him about the tone. He thinks he doesn’t have much to say but the person is pausing to allow him to speak. So he is speaking. He talks about different strategies for producing the tone. He begins to list them. Waking up. Standing. Thinking. Coffee. Listening. Shaking. Sitting. Spacing. Stopping. Looking. Touching surfaces. Waiting. He starts to wax poetic about the different strategies he has employed in his bedroom. But the person stops him and says: what about the tone? And he says oh yes the tone. The tone is a feeling that you have when you are not hungry. You can write about it in fits and starts. It is not a thing nor even a feeling but rather a fact of life at certain moments. Working is the opposite of it. Sleeping is a close analogy. You cannot dream about the tone but the tone is of the same substance. The tone is defined by direction and intensity. Like a river perhaps. But the tone is not a river nor is it water or even wet in any way. It is dry. Mostly it is air. Often it is warm. If the tone were weather it would be rain on dry pavement. If the tone were a cloud you would be inside it. If the tone were a car it would be rolling down a hill in neutral.
Today a number of people gather in a basement to play the tone. At the agreed upon hour they converge and begin assembling different instruments. They all have coffees in their hands. They have paper too. And little stands to put the paper on. They arrange themselves in the room using chairs and stools. They get closer to some and further from others. Someone is saying how the tone will sound. Someone is saying that the tone will begin and go through a middle section and then it will end profoundly. Everyone is talking about the tone. And also they are talking about airplanes landlords taxes shopping food. The sound of the talking is beautiful because of the room which is big and has high ceilings. There is the tone of the talking and then there is a decrescendo of talking and slowly there is a crescendo of tone as the instruments begin to vibrate. Someone is saying that the tone is not in tune. (How could it be?) Someone is saying that the tone is too fast. Everyone is in a line waiting their turn. Everyone is considering how the tone should be and they are taking turns playing it and listening to it. Soon the tone gets going. It’s like sandpaper. It has grain and it changes the air as it moves. It appears like a solid line in front of them. They rest things on it. Everyone takes valuable things that they have and they rest these things on the tone. The tone is getting weighed down. It begins sagging on one side so someone has to hold the tone. The tone is strong but also feels that it could give way at any moment. There is a tension in the room due to this fact. Everyone is divided between people in charge of holding the tone and people in charge of producing beautiful things to rest on top of it. But these roles keep changing according to a logic that no one fully understands. It seems that there is a balance that everyone is acutely aware of and yet not able to predict.
Then someone begins telling a story about the tone. They are telling the story also in tones that they are resting on the tone and weighing it down. The story is beautiful and sad. They are yelling the story and the tone is full and sandpapery. The story doesn’t so much have a beginning and an end. It doesn’t so much have characters or actions. It doesn’t so much happen over time. It is a tone like all other tones. A tone that means something because of the way it started and hung there. It becomes another solid line in the basement. There are two lines that are vibrating subtly. Everyone is happy about the lines. There are only a few sips of coffee left.
Later on in the cold night he hears someone talking about how bats have a different reality than us. They exist in a world of smell and sound. He stands at the window of his bedroom with the instrument. He sees: His reflection. A stationary car. Someone walking by. He tries to move the car with the tone. He tries to move the car in the darkness. The parked car that is not the tone. A reality of sound. He has yet to raise the instrument to his mouth.