Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

Stephen-Paul Martin


The Possibility of Music
by Stephen-Paul Martin

Quality Paper
2007
Price: $16.95

E Book
2007
Price: $13.56

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About the author:


Stephen-Paul Martin is a widely published writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. From 1980-1996 he edited Central Park magazine in New York City. The Gothic Twilight, a collection of his fiction, was nominated for the National Critics Circle Book Award in 1992. He now lives in the House of Seven Mammals.


About The Possibility of Music:


Wildly funny, Stephen-Paul Martin's The Possibility of Music is an imaginative reconstruction of America in the early twenty-first century. What would our post-9/11 society look like if it were viewed through a series of funhouse mirrors? Each of Martin's stories is a response to this question, a prose exploration that redefines what it means to write fiction in a world in which the Sistine Chapel has become the Mall of America. Nightmarish at times, playfully amusing at others, Martin's prose is relentlessly inventive and challenging, relocating the experimental tradition of Joyce, Kafka, Borges, and Marquez in a contemporary context in which intelligent communication has become both impossible and increasingly necessary.


" 'Language, of course, was the only way I could tell myself what I knew. Yet once I told myself what I knew, I was trapped in a verbal reduction, a grammatical picture of something that was not the thing itself, something like the difference between a fishbowl and the sea.'


These words, from a brilliant story called "A New Kind of Happiness," pinpoint the very special quality of Stephen-Paul Martin's fiction. On the one hand, there is, as Wittgenstein put it, nothing outside of language; on the other, even language, this author knows, is never enough. So,"between a fishbowl and the sea," Martin spins his arresting tales, tales full of surprises and yet reassuringly "normal." The Possibility of Music is a joy to read." —Marjorie Perloff


"Stephen-Paul Martin has, for many years, brilliantly wrestled with the problems posed by his own chosen material/experience. Entering his witty contemporary monologues, the reader unravels the great questions: does a person anticipate his or her own actions, as one word in a sentence anticipates the next? Or is an event an explosion of contingencies that arrive fully integrated? "I didn't expect to become a composer," he begins one story and this one statement articulates the magnificent and entertaining wrestling match he performs with time and act in each of his beautifully crafted stories." —Fanny Howe


Excerpt


I didn't expect to become a composer. If anything, when I moved to San Diego from New York three years ago, I expected my interest in music to diminish. After all, I was leaving the jazz capital of world for a place addicted to recreation: swimming, boating, water skiing, scuba diving, hiking, cycling, and especially surfing. True, San Diego had a great jazz radio station, but its transmission signal was so weak that even within the city itself it was hard to get good reception. Driving from one neighborhood to another, I often became enraged when a great saxophone solo got slaughtered by static, or by the intrusion of a top-forty station with a more powerful signal.


Two years later, when the station bought a stronger signal, this kind of interference became less frequent. But the station began compromising itself, selling advertising space to pay for its new transmission power. It never sold out completely. It still played great jazz. The ads it accepted were more dignified, less obnoxious, than what you would hear on a top-forty station. But I could feel the mainstream closing in.


I didn't blame San Diego. The same thing was happening everywhere. Even in New York, a full decade before, the only jazz station in the city had turned into a top-forty station overnight, despite a bitter protest campaign that lasted months. At the time I told myself that I was glad I wasn't a composer, that I wasn't becoming obsolete in a country dominated by stupid music. Over the next ten years things kept getting worse, turning intelligent behavior-aesthetic or otherwise-into an even more marginal phenomenon than it already was. By the time I came to the West Coast in the year 2000, I was amazed that a station financially supported by jazz lovers still existed, especially in a military town like San Diego.


But this was just one weak signal in a blizzard of noise. Everywhere I turned, I saw the triumph of Radio George Bush, otherwise known as Clear Channel. I remember listening to one of my favorite jazz compositions in my apartment, then hearing a muzak version of it five minutes later in the supermarket. Of course I'd been hating muzak for a long time. But the sudden juxtaposition of great art with commercial bullshit sent me over the edge. I went to the store's owner and told him exactly how I felt. He sympathized with my rage, telling me that he hated muzak too. But higher-ups he'd never met had made the decision to play Clear Channel stations in all their stores, and there was nothing he could do about it. No doubt if I'd gone to these higher-ups, they would have said the same thing.


Everyone feels rage when they can't directly confront the people responsible for fucking up their lives. For the most part, this frustration is repressed, expressing itself indirectly, symbolically. But at some point internal pressures explode, and symbolic truth becomes literal truth. Ten years ago, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I was listening to John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, when I looked out my tenth-floor window at the Twin Towers in distance. I'd always loved this view, even though the Towers themselves were an obvious symbol of American commerce and its economic domination of the world. Lightning darted from a low cloud, and for maybe five seconds I thought the Towers had been assaulted by the heavens, that the gods had again grown weary of human arrogance. I imagined both Towers burning, then collapsing, while the music made my small apartment seem as large as the city outside. It occurred to me that Trane's long saxophone solo, flashing over the furious drumming of Elvin Jones, was an apocalyptic signal heralding the collapse of media capitalism, ushering in a more compassionate, more intelligent society.


When the Twin Towers actually burned and collapsed a few years ago, I was deeply disturbed. I knew it would not mean the collapse of media capitalism. I knew it would not mean a more compassionate, more intelligent society. I knew the rich would still own the means of image production and the poor would still be stuffed with offensive ads and stupid music. I knew that lots of innocent Americans had been killed and that many innocent non-Americans would soon be killed in retribution. I knew that an already violent paranoid nation would become even more violent and paranoid. And I knew that jazz would remain a marginal phenomenon.


It may seem absurd to think about jazz in connection with 9/11. After all, the terrorist attacks were a tragic moment in American history, while the ongoing assault on art and intelligence by the mainstream media is so much a part of everyday life in this country that most people don't even notice it. I myself was guilty of this ignorance at times. Since I could generally find the music I wanted in stores or through the Internet, and since no one stopped me from listening to it, for the most part I was content to enjoy what I enjoyed and let others enjoy what they enjoyed. But whenever I thought about the political implications of media capitalism, the way music was used to manufacture a nation of obedient consumers, I got angry. I couldn't sit still. I would have to get out and walk. I almost always ended up at The Pequod, a seaside café I liked because it was a media-free zone (no TVs or Clear Channel stations polluting the atmosphere) and because people I knew regularly met there and talked about music.


On September 12, 2001, I was feeling especially grim about the future of serious music, or of any intelligent form of human expression, for that matter. I felt guilty about living my life as if nothing horrendous had happened the day before, but because of that guilt I felt the need to get out and live my life as if nothing horrendous had happened. The Pequod was the perfect escape. Many of the people I typically met there were jazz musicians and avant-garde composers. I knew they would be too absorbed with their aesthetic concerns to care about Osama bin Ladin.


The last sentence may sound contemptuous. If so, this is not my intention. Or not my sole intention. Yes, we were turning our backs on a national disaster. But in truth there was nothing we could do to make the situation better. And at least the subjects we focused on were harmless, and would no doubt lead some of us to clarify our thinking about confusing artistic issues. Since I wasn't a composer at the time, I didn't go to the cafe to promote my own ideas. But I loved the atmosphere, the fiercely serious conversations, and I generally left the café with something to think about.


As I walked onto the covered patio that day, noting with pleasure the vast view of the ocean it commanded, I saw that the usual group had already launched into a heated discussion of an issue that had come up many times in the year I'd been going there: What is music, and what should composers be offering their listeners? These seemed like important concerns for individual musicians to contend with, but the assumption that there were general answers to these questions baffled me.


I'd always told myself that if I ever wrote my own music, every composition would become its own distinct struggle with aesthetic questions that emerged as the process unfolded, yielding answers that might or might not be consistent with what I'd come up with in the past. Since I would never know in advance how my own scores would turn out, I didn't see how anyone else could tell me what my goals and aesthetic procedures should be. But I wasn't making my own music at the time, so I never openly objected when my friends at The Pequod talked as if they knew exactly what all authentic composers ought to be doing. Besides, they were fun to listen to, and there was something inspiring about the urgency of their discussions.


Peter, a tall slender man who always looked like he was about to sneeze, insisted that any music that sounded like music wasn't really music, but an imitation of the past. We can't escape the past, he contended, if we condition listeners to expect sound to be organized in traditional ways. Sheldon, a tall slender man who always looked like he was about to fart, got all worked up about Peter's uncritical use of the word sound, since music, Sheldon insisted, need not include sound. In fact, his favorite modern composers had defined music as any interval of structured activity, which might or might not involve the use of sound. When Maureen, a tall slender woman who always looked like she was about to cry, objected that Sheldon was being too inclusive, that too many things that had no aesthetic value, like a baseball game or a presidential debate, would qualify as music under Sheldon's definition, Elizabeth, a tall slender woman who always looked like she was about to laugh, cheerfully interrupted with the claim that if a baseball game could be seen as a piece of music, it would be much more interesting, and if fans attended games with aesthetic instead of athletic expectations, it would force the coaches and players to redefine their strategies and performances, a crucial first step toward changing the very nature of competitive activity.


Though I'd heard these arguments before, I always enjoyed the various ways that my companions presented themselves, the weird things they did with their hands when they talked, placing emphasis on selected words and phrases, manipulating their facial expressions. But on September 12, 2001, I could only follow what they were saying with extreme effort, and I thought my time would be better spent if I took a long walk by the sea. The sun was going down, and the colors splashed over the clouds by the fading light had never been more magnificent. But the darkness that followed seemed impatient, unwilling to respect the colors and forms it was dissolving, and the night was filled with the half-seen shapes and motions of a cryptic language meant to be read by no one.


I followed a path up the side of a cliff and paused, amazed by stars that seemed much closer than usual, filling the waves with points of throbbing light. I thought about the well-known celestial paradox, that some of the stars I was looking at weren't there anymore, that their light might have been reaching me from a time before the earth even existed. Then I saw, maybe two hundred yards off shore, the graceful neck and reptilian head of what could only be the Loch Ness monster. The starlight gave its towering shape such clarity that I knew I wasn't making an incorrect identification. I'd seen photographs and even a short film of the Loch Ness monster, and I knew beyond question what I was looking at--a dinosaur that somehow never died.


Of course I was afraid. But if the monster saw me, it was unconcerned, and after five minutes of scanning the cliffs and oceanfront houses, it slipped back into the sea. I stood on the cliff in shock for almost an hour, afraid that if I moved I would fall and kill myself on the rocks below. I kept scanning the waves for the monster, but saw nothing but reflected starlight rising and falling. Only later did it occur to me that I hadn't been in any serious danger, remembering that dinosaurs of the Loch Ness monster type were vegetarians.


I hope I don't have to explain that I'm not a tabloid person. I've never been visited by unidentified flying objects, I've never seen Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman, and I've never had an out of the body experience. Nor can I explain what a Scottish dinosaur was doing off the California coast. I'd always assumed that "Nessie" was a fresh-water creature. It occurred to me, of course, that there was some connection between the terrorist attacks and the monster. And indeed if these events had happened in a work of fiction, readers might be expected to see a symbolic relationship between the two. But there was nothing literary about either occurrence. My first impulse was to notify the authorities. After all, in fifties monster movies, the main character always tells the police or the army about the monster as soon as he can. But invariably, everyone thinks he's crazy, and since I didn't want to face the skeptical faces, I decided not to make a police report.


Instead I went home and searched the Internet for pictures of dinosaurs, and for the latest theories explaining their extinction. I wish I could say that this investigation led me to become so concerned with human extinction that I became an environmental activist, a dedicated member of an organization that blew up factories if they refused to comply with pollution regulations. Or I wish I could say that I woke up the next morning and began a speculative essay about gaps in the fabric of space-time, black holes that allowed ancient creatures to move accidentally from the distant past to the present and even the future, the implication being that time, like space, exists in three dimensions, that the past and future are just as tangibly real as the present, though of course they're not as present, just as width and length are not as tall as height. But I wasn't interested in joining an organized group or putting words on paper. I'd done both many times in the past, back in New York City, and had always come away feeling stupid, like I'd made a fool of myself, though most people were polite enough to pretend they hadn't noticed. Still, as I kept clicking the mouse and staring at the glowing screen, it occurred to me that I could become an activist or a writer without ever dealing with anyone face to face. There were so many web sites, so many links between sites, a network of Babel that might some day be destroyed for daring to simulate the complexity of the human mind and the vastness of the universe, reminding me of something a friend once told me, that the number of possible neural connections in the brain exceeds the number of stars in the universe, a concept I still find entertaining, even if it sounds impossible.


But as I kept pointing and clicking, flashing from site to site, I was slowly overtaken by a familiar online feeling, a blurred and slightly exhausted sense of not knowing where I was or what I was looking for. The Net began to seem shallow and dull, especially when I came to a site that claimed to be about extinction but focused instead on the Devil, who apparently was not to be regarded as the source of all evil, nor even as a tragic hero, but as a delusional being struggling through a protracted identity crisis, losing track of himself in a labyrinth of increasingly blurred possibilities, finally redefining himself as a character called God, whose deep insecurities soon drove him to create a place he called the world, and everything went quite well until the creator became unstable again, losing himself once more in a labyrinth of increasingly blurred possibilities, redefining himself as an ape that walked erect and spoke, blurring the meanings of words like devil and god and world and human. My sleep that night was a blur of language, which didn't mean that my dreams were filled with people who couldn't stop talking. In fact, I didn't dream at all. In the space where dream-like images might have surfaced, words were eating and spitting out other words, an activity that was possible because the words had been stripped of their meanings, like a person having his insides emptied out and replaced by heated stones, the final preparation for a trip to another dimension.


The next day my friend Bob and I went to the movies. Bob wasn't part of the Pequod crowd. He avoided them because he thought they were all pretentious jerks. Certainly Bob had strong ideas of his own, but he also had good conversational skills and didn't make people feel stupid if he didn't agree with them. He didn't like jazz, but we shared an interest in avant-garde science fiction, so we went to see a new film deliberately made in black and white, a simulation of a fifties outer space movie, but with a major twist. In your typical fifties UFO movie, the aliens arrive on purpose and plan to conquer the human race, or in the case of The Day the Earth Stood Still, to terrorize the U.S.A. and Russia into giving up the atomic bomb. But in this new film, Impossible, the aliens have crashed on earth by mistake, and want only to get away from the human race as quickly as possible.


Bob thought it was funny. I thought the humor was too cynical. I could see why beings advanced enough to reach the earth from a distant planet would be disgusted by people. But I didn't like the director's obvious lack of compassion for human stupidity, his dismissive attitude, his refusal to see himself as just another person, driven by the same arrogance that has led our species to the brink of extinction. It seemed to me that the director thought he was too good for the human race, and I found it interesting when Bob later told me that Frank Acid, the novice actor who played the movie's main character, committed suicide soon after the film was made.


The day was cold and rainy, rare for San Diego, but perfect for triggering idealized memories of New York City, so I went home and played A Love Supreme, curling up under a blanket next to an open window. I love the feeling of just barely not being cold, just barely being sheltered from severe weather conditions. Cold rain gusted in through the window, tossing the blue silk drapes, making me feel slightly chilly. I followed each Coltrane riff, the sheets of sound that made him famous, a technique that took him two decades to perfect, each phrase becoming a snake eating its tail, splitting into several different versions of itself, like something that looks like a mountain in the sunrise, but looks more like a valley when the shades of evening fall, or something that looks like a city street from a distance, but looks more like a hot dog when it's only three feet away, or something that sounds like a logical treatise when it's being discussed in a classroom, but sounds more like a sermon on predestination when students try to read it on their own, or something that feels like warm breeze when it floats across a flagstone patio, but feels more like a toothache when it shapes a dune a hundred miles from anything like an oasis, and as long as the music played nothing else mattered. Each moment formed itself in place of a billion alternate possibilities, but the music kept them from dissolving, holding them in suspension, like pictures in a dark room tray that haven't yet been developed, as if the multiplication of images that occurs in facing mirrors were taking place without mirrors, without images. Saxophone melodies dipped and fluttered up and veered like butterflies, while the drumming sounded like a madman trapped in my speakers, trying desperately to break out. It occurred to me that melodies exist only because the mind momentarily rises above the turbulence of the body, the biochemical transformations that somehow become consciousness and language, and Coltrane's horn was conquering temporal sequence only because it was wild and graceful enough to survive the savagery of Elvin Jones's drum kit.


But I was sure if I shared my thoughts with my friends in the café, they would shoot them down right away, first because Coltrane wasn't avant-garde enough anymore, and second because my ideas didn't reveal a full awareness of musical technique and terminology. No doubt their aesthetic sophistication exceeded mine. But I often wondered about their manners, why they felt so free to hurt my feelings, trashing ideas I cared about. To a certain extent, I kept quiet in the cafe because I didn't want to feel stupid and I knew my friends didn't care if I did. There was more than a little resentment in my silence. But I always felt better when I stopped clinging to my own thinking so tightly, letting myself enjoy the rhetorical strategies, facial expressions and bizarre gestures that came with fierce confrontations between people who never seemed to doubt themselves.


Coltrane himself was filled with doubts, torment that led him to become addicted to smack in the mid fifties. But in 1957 he had what he called a spiritual awakening, which gave him the strength to kick his habit. I'm skeptical about spiritual awakenings, and the music I expect from people following an encounter with God is the half-assed folk rock that musicians of the Woodstock generation began to make after they became Jesus freaks in the early seventies. But the music of Coltrane's last ten years became increasingly unconventional, as if his divine experience had expanded his powers of aesthetic expression. He began to read books on sub-atomic physics, connecting the insights of quantum mechanics to his compositional practice. Whatever Coltrane meant by a spiritual awakening, it didn't include the banal pieties most people start spouting when they become religious. Just compare the sublime turbulence of Coltrane's later music to the violent idiocies of George W. Bush, who also uses the term spiritual awakening to describe a turning point in his life.


I wasn't a Coltrane fanatic. In fact, I had contempt for the widespread process of turning individual artists into celebrities. It seemed to me that when people like Coltrane became icons, the power of their music was partially replaced by the glamour of an image. Coltrane was only one of many compelling jazz musicians to emerge in the fifties and sixties, and I saw no point in turning any of these people into aesthetic legends. This would have been focusing on the wrong thing, missing the importance of the informal communities that formed around the musicians and their listeners. In the Age of Radio George Bush, these communities might have been the last pockets of artistic resistance, the last alternatives to a bullshit culture that was only getting worse.


In some ways, the Pequod crowd was one of these communities. They refused to let corporate America set the agenda for them. They put their own ideas, listening interests, and compositional practices ahead of the daily shit served up on the mainstream menu. If any of them had seen an issue of Time, Newsweek, or The New York Times in the past ten years, their conversation didn't show it. At times I thought this was insular and escapist, irresponsible. After all, I told myself, citizens of a country ought to pay close attention to current events and trends, especially in a democracy, which was based in theory on the informed consent of the governed. But I never raised this issue because I knew in advance what the answer would be, that the dominant information system in America was owned by the ruling class and functioned as disguised propaganda, transmitting not so much a message as a mood, an environment of images that encouraged people to get and spend as much as possible. I had heard this line of reasoning many times, at The Pequod and elsewhere, and though I felt it was basically true, I was tired of it. I just wanted to enjoy the music and books of my favorite composers and writers.


I wish I could say that the people at the café were among my favorite musicians. Certainly their dialogues intrigued me. But it troubled me that they never seemed to write or play any music. In fact, I got the impression that they felt it was more important to talk about music than to compose, perform, and listen to it. Perhaps they were turning aesthetic discourse into an art form, turning intelligent conversation into a form of civil disobedience, a refusal to become media zombies and compulsive consumers. Would there come a time when people could be arrested for refusing to watch TV and shop, choosing to talk about music instead?


When I pictured the police bursting in and closing the Pequod, pushing us out the door with guns and handcuffs, allowing the café to re-open only after TVs had been installed in every corner, I got a perverse thrill, a sense of being part of something larger than myself, even if the feeling was drenched in the pathos of a nation committing artistic suicide. Yes, I wanted to hear Coltrane and not just sit around talking about him. Yes, I had rejected the assumption that discourse on the universe could be replaced by a universe of discourse. But I also wanted to believe in the communities of conversational resistance that existed in small cafes all over the world. Would such communities prevent the President from declaring war on Afghanistan, Iraq, or other supposedly terrorist countries? Clearly not. But I thought at the time that they might be the only way to prevent the President from completing the work of his predecessors, totally reducing the nation to a state of terminal stupidity.


Was the pleasure I was getting from sitting by my window with a blanket--balanced between Coltrane and cold rain--also a form of resistance? I liked the idea quite a bit, since it meant I was being subversive without doing anything, simply by insisting on my own definition of pleasure, rather than subscribing to the mainstream's version of personal enjoyment. According to the mainstream, having fun would mean drinking beer and playing volleyball on the beach, laughing and smiling with well-built men and women. Or wearing a cowboy hat and riding a horse, looking tough and smoking a cigarette with mountains and a spectacular sunset in the background. Or beaming in a bar with beer foaming over the edge of a tall glass, a bear's head mounted above a mantelpiece in the background. Or driving a sports car through a redwood forest, hair blown back by wind and the ocean visible in the background.


Just thinking about these images made it hard to feel the power of Coltrane's music. I felt like a radio station slaughtered by sudden bursts of static. I wanted to smash my TV set. But since I didn't have one, I got up and walked out into the rain, which wasn't quite so nice when I was really getting wet. I walked for miles. I wasn't sure where I was going but I knew I had to get there. I passed through an old industrial neighborhood filled with abandoned factories and brick warehouses. Suddenly someone stepped out of one of the few residential buildings in the area, a decrepit three-story brownstone. He told me to come inside because he had something important to show me. I told myself not to follow him, that the situation might be dangerous, but I found myself going up the stairs with him anyway, all the way to a small room on the third floor. He offered me a cup of coffee, and we sat down at a small table by a window looking out over gabled housetops and water towers toward the blinking red lights of an oil refinery, and beyond that, toward the gliding lights of small boats in the harbor. We sat for two minutes without saying anything.


The silence made me uneasy. But even more unsettling was the distinct feeling that I wasn't in San Diego any longer. I knew that if I went outside it would still be San Diego, but what I saw from the window was clearly another time, another place. It looked like the early seventies in Baltimore, where I'd lived for about six months right after I graduated from college. I looked up into the face of my companion, hoping he would notice my confusion and tell me what was going on. But his face was blank, like a page right before it gets covered with words, or like a procession of somnambulists in long white gowns, moving along the edge of a cliff by the sea at four in the morning. I thought of a ladder made of wine, a chimpanzee with a book of crossword puzzles, a smooth piano solo forming a footbridge over a chasm. Then he pointed outside. About a hundred feet above the harbor, a light blue cube of light popped into the sky. It hovered for twenty-five seconds, then disappeared, taking a small chunk of spacetime with it. I felt like the night was a camera taking my picture. Then it was two hours later. I was back on the street walking home.


I took my time. I always do my best thinking when I'm walking, and old industrial neighborhoods are perfect vehicles for moody ruminations. But something was preventing me from thinking, as if I could approach but not quite activate the verbal mechanisms that generate and sustain mental activity. If part of spacetime had been removed, then apparently it was no longer possible to approach the world in quite the same way as before. I felt strangely unprotected, but also excited. When I looked at the silhouettes of factory smokestacks pressed against the dark sky, the broken warehouse windows, the garbage gusting in circles on potholed streets filled with shattered glass, they seemed to be parts of a musical score, a three-dimensional system of notation, a composition designed to be listened to so carefully that even when it was over the sound could still be heard, continuing beyond what would sound like silence to those not listening closely, leading its listeners far away from the noise built into their heads, down through smaller and smaller scales of perception, reaching the point beyond which nothing is and nothing isn't.


When I got home I sat in my favorite place by the window. I left the lights off and I didn't play any music. I felt no desire to turn on my computer, check email, type out my impressions of the walk I'd just taken, or point and click my way through the maze of web sites. I wanted nothing more than to sit still and do nothing. I didn't even want a glass of water. It felt like I should have reached some kind of turning point in my life. But I didn't believe in turning points, or dramatic moments of any kind, since they seemed to occur only in movies and popular novels. I told myself that the next day would be the same as any other, that the real question was how to deal with unusual events that change nothing, have no obvious meaning, and don't even make a subtle difference that only becomes apparent years later.


I had no answer. But the next day Bob and I went to see a well-known mystic from Guatemala. Bob had been telling me about him for weeks, and though I'm not big on New Age celebrities, I thought it might be fun to see why Bob was so impressed. Strangely enough, the event was at a high school gym. The audience was arranged in a large semi-circle that filled a basketball court. The mystic walked out from the men's locker room with no introduction, stood at the open end of the semi-circle, smiled and put his hands together and bowed, then sat on a folding chair with his hands on his knees, eyes closed in concentration. We sat there in silence for maybe fifteen minutes. I didn't know what we were waiting for, but I didn't ask Bob for clarification because the silence seemed important, as if by listening to it carefully I would open myself to music arriving from an incomprehensible distance, sounds that would become music only because I was listening carefully, reducing the distance, or rather becoming the distance, containing it, becoming large enough to contain it without keeping it from expanding.


Something was happening. The air in the gym was congealing, like water becoming ice, collapsing into a large transparent sphere in front of the mystic. The sphere was slowly turning opaque and solid, hardening into a blue stone five times the size of a human head. The mystic opened his eyes, put his hands together and bowed to the stone, stood up and bowed to his audience, then turned and disappeared through the locker room door.


We sat there not knowing what to do. Finally a few people got up and touched the stone to make sure it was real. Soon everyone was inspecting it. It felt like any other stone I'd ever touched. What bothered me was the shape. It seemed too perfectly spherical to be real. But unless all of us had been hypnotized by the mystic into imagining the same thing, the stone was as real as anything else.


This was confirmed the next day when the San Diego morning paper reported that high school officials were confused about the appearance of a huge blue stone on their basketball court, and even more confused about how to remove it, since it was too large to fit through the gym doors. I sympathized with their problem. But I wasn't all that concerned about the stone. What mattered more to me was that the possibility of music, the silence I'd heard so distinctly the night before, had now become the reality of music, filling my body with sheets of sound, like light arriving from a distant star.


I didn't know if anyone else would have called it music, but I was more convinced than ever before that I had to keep my channels clear, keep Clear Channel out of my head, preserving the silence the music was emerging from. I wasn't sure how to live without noise in a country whose economic system relied on jingles and big-hit singles. But I knew I would spend the rest of my life developing my own compositional practice, my own system of notation, convinced that if I could find ways to write down what I was hearing, someone would some day figure out how to perform it.