Belief Quartet

Posted by @ 2:04 pm on August 19th, 2010


This morning I was listening to Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” on my headphones sitting outside drinking coffee, a 56-minute commitment to listen to in its entirety. The score is recorded live in one take; the instruments played so uncharacteristically that they sound put through a sequencer. Much of Reich’s music is about timbre, acoustic capacities, and the melodic “negative space” between syncopated notes. When some bass clarinets came in pulsing thick and strong, I felt deep droning reverberations in my chest cavity, so visceral it was, so moved by the spiritual score  — until I realized a large truck approaching behind me, shaking the ground, its driver the 19th musician.


Once in college, flipping through an Agnes Martin monograph, I noticed the faintest “blur” emitting from within a painting; so subtle, its boundaries unperceptible, only felt. Martin, in my mind, is a mathematical abstract expressionist, her work evoking the palpable presence of the forms through a system of grids made by either monochrome tonal shifts or by a methodical invented syntax of tiny marks. Her work is about harmony through human imperfection, of things seen vs. felt.  The blur — or, more great, the evocation of a blur — was a complete success, an epiphany, until I flipped to the next page and realized that the blur was simply a darker painting on the other side of the page.


Those of you born before ~c. 1980 will remember the Walkman/cassette tape, and how the latter plays when the former is running low on batteries. One night in 1988, so excited to have just bought Van Halen’s “OU812”, I listened to the first half of Side A at around ~20% normal speed, convinced that the ponderous incomprehensible drones caused by the weakening barely moving spindles were the band’s brave venture into the avante-garde. I thought “Jesus, these guys are really pushing the envelope,” slightly annoyed, yet impressed, by the pretentiousness. It occurred to me, about 20 minutes into this avante s l o w n e s s, that my batteries were running out.


When I was 15 or so, I had a weird growth, the size and feel of a milk dud, in my left nipple. Fearing it was a cancer tumor, my mom took me to the doctor, who simply attributed the growth to puberty. Around two weeks later, my dad, a neurotic who can’t stand traffic jams and pretty much anything else, drove past the jam on the shoulder of the road for half a mile until we were pulled over by a cop. (We were going to Macy’s or something.) My dad, a semi-quick thinker, told the cop he was rushing me to the hospital because I had nipple cancer — placing the entire verity of his case on the growth in my nipple, and invited the cop to see for himself. The cop (looking back, I feel molested), removed his leather gloves, came around to the passenger’s window (which I was instructed to roll down), and leaned over to inspect my nipple using a series of  surprisingly thoughtful pinches. His diagnosis was that I had cancer, and we were set free.

Faith is not possible without doubt, however dumb that faith is. I’m glad these things happened, that they continue to happen. I used to wipe my ass pulling the toilet paper and residual fecal matter forward over my balls; until circa 1985 I had “brown balls,” literally. Confusion is the spice of life, ignorance is a muse. Smear your shit everywhere, and best of luck.

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