Accidental Themes: The Song of the World(s)
Come sing me a bawdy song, make me merry.
If the edge of the woods were a song, a list of its instruments would outnumber the trees that compose it. Then there is the song of the city, guitars plugged-in and layered with power chords and a multiverse of solos, skyscrapers that look like music frozen in time, Bonham-beating drums that pound the heart-rendering reminder that the primal permeates everything. Everyone in the city thinks themself a lead singer, even if they pass over the gift in defiant silence. Broadway tunes are no more theatrical than the banjo echoing throughout the subway platform, the plucky sound of a buried past that never died. The song of the sea is wind and water, the roar of white-caps and whimper of gulls drifting on thermals, with an occasional blare of a passing ship, spectral voices dancing across the surface of the drowned medium. Looking does not entail seeing, just as listening isn’t necessarily hearing. There is something specifically beautiful about passing through such songs and just listening, looking within, as feet follow a song of their own. But sometimes the metaphorical headphones need to be taken off. In this case, even the roar of silence can thrust the hearer into focus.
Often the first event which fixes your attention is more obvious than the subsequent ones.
— John Berger
Caw of the osprey…soprano voice in the cold rain…chatter of the gray squirrel…tinnitus…sea, city, woods, silence. Accidents that took all the time in the world to happen — since everything that happens took all the preceding events to result — are often the seemingly singular event that summons a theme. Swimming across the glassy bay, looking along the zenith, I see a sky tracing contrail in the void of mineral blue, a fine line in the infinitude, a sky-rail for the unknown. Through the whipping hood of my coat, I hear a woman singing a bright song through the biting cold, perhaps a fallen passenger from that sky-rail. Deep in the woods, I detect the same song through the chatter of an unseen squirrel, cloaked in brown leaves and revealing the libretto. The song remains in my head while I walk home, a silent return, accompanied only by the ringing in my ears. Through seeing and hearing, a singular theme points to something outside of itself, in all directions, on its way to a kind of destiny, a confession of that event in its being a part of every other, all that was before and what follows. The Song never remains the same, only the ‘stickiness’ of everyone and everything composing it.
If you saw a person cry out and fall down, the implications of the event would immediately break the self-sufficiency of the field. You would run into it from the ‘outside’.
— John Berger
The luxury of time allows themes to rise and take shape, even if that time is often stolen, biscuits of minutes and pies of hours. Whether the cry in the street comes from without or within, such instances shatter any sense of ‘this’ and ‘that’, only the narrowing event. The heart races as other senses pique and pine, but this is not the Song. This is the bolt of lightning striking the tree where the squirrel once was, the sudden gale that obliterates the sight of the sky-rail with waves, the taxi that skids water onto the singer, the ambulance sirens just behind you that take over for the tinnitus. This is not the Song, but the Song remains.