Listen to the Birds
I read from Jeremiah, Chapter 9, Verse 10.
"Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle."
Yesterday, as I got out of my car at The District – you know, the shopping center next to the Tustin blimp hangers — my ears tingled evil at the sound of Bruce Springsteen. It was “Glory Days” squawking out of the parking lot sound system. Prerecorded. Demographied. Presumptuous.
What I’m saying is, I’m 100 yards from the box store and already The District corporate think tank consultant has chosen my musical theme — “Glory Days” — in hopes that my experience will be positively conditioned and I’ll buy shit.
Why “Glory Days”? It’s an odd choice. The singer sitting in a bar drinking away his nostalgic pity parade depression. Maybe he’s depressed because he shopped too much. Who knows? I suppose it was the tempo and key that marketing data reflected positive for lab rat behavior, so it’s bound to work for the clientle of Target and Whole Foods.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to gather my thoughts. I’ve got some practical things to buy and I’d rather have my acoustic reality be genuine, grounded, based in reality — even if it is the sound of SUV tires crackling over the speed bumps, keys jingling in my pocket and sea gulls circling overhead. They sound graceful — the lot of them. The thought that I need a prerecorded soundtrack in order to walk to the automatic doors ticks me off. So I start talking to the parking lot loudspeakers, hoping the seagulls understand.
“Turn it off,” I say. “Turn off the Bruce.”
Then, as if to mock, I start signing along. You know the words:
Something bluecollar about going down to the well and drinking till you get my fill.
Speaking of getting my fill, I once saw John Cage at UCI. What a guy. Cage was an American composer and champion of chance music, prepared piano and just plain thoughtful art. He’s best known for his 1952 composition 4′33″, three movements of silence. That’s right, a performance of nothing but dead air. In other words, with 4’33”, Cage was telling us to take the time to listen to what’s around us in real time — not the composer’s or consultant’s prerecorded brand).
So anyway, Cage was in Humanities 100 at UCI. I was close enough to smell his breathe. It was obvious he had been to the well.
For some reason, he asked us all to be silent. “Listen to the air conditioner,” he said.
We were quiet. We listened.
“Can you hear that? I believe there’s music in there,” he said.
He was right. There was.
Today, Acute Schizophonia is the fastest growing disease in the US. The condition is caused by a dislocation between what you hear and what you see. Think of a dog barking at a pair of speakers amplifying cat sounds. That’s a minor case of Schizophnia.
Now, you might say, so what? I listen to pumped in sounds all day. iPod Musack TV soundtrack, birds. It’s all sound. What’s the difference?
The difference is that sound not only inhabits your acoustic space, but your mind as well. Pumped in sound influences your freedom of thought. Simply put, it’s mind control. A little bit of mind control is fine. But Acute Schizophonia 24/7 mind control is fucked up. It allows us to ignore our living conditions. We become adept at turning off the tangible world. We become terminally Schizophonic. In fact, I am now creating a schizophonic condition in your very own acoustic environment as I speak.
For our own well-being, we need to react to real sound in the real world. Bruce Springsteen in The District parking lot is just plain dysfunctional. Nathan Callahan on air at your descretion, slightly less so.
Now, of course, The District itself may be dysfunctional, but we can at least listen (and marvel) to what it sounds like. The rattle of the plastic shopping carts. The Spanish, Farsi, Korean, English language mix. The children squeeling. The plastic wrap crinkling. The incoming John Wayne Airport air traffic. What a symphony.
And that goes for everywhere. The sound of the road. Our breathe and the rhythm of our foorsteps. Dishing are being washed — what a wonderful sound. You can even listen to the birds. I’ve done it. Really. Birds are what Captain Beefheart advised his guitar players to listen to for instruction. It’s free to download. Listening to the birds — “That's where all the music comes from,” Beefheart said. “Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from.”
Thank you, Captain.
I don’t expect everyone to digress back to the woods, chew on roots and beat on animal skins. I’m not expecting us to disconnect with the wifi modern world. Just save some time to listen to whatever is outside of the prerecorded and detached. Pull out the earplugs. Turn off the soundtrack and listen.
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Broadcasting Fridays at 8:50 am from KUCI 88.9 fm Orange County, California