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Igms issue 4, p.6

IGMS Issue 4, page 6

 

IGMS Issue 4
 


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  They were different.

  The song seemed to live in the very rattle and hum of the ocean itself.

  What the hell had he found? And could he sell it?

  Watery light dawned behind Jimmy in the east. He'd spent all night listening, recording, filling three hard drives of the unique tonal aberration. Life stirred around him, folks walking pets, a few morning runners. Still no one carrying a CD player or child's musical toy. And certainly no one with an instrument, let alone a Gillespie model.

  If nothing more, he wanted to know where the music originated. Through the night he'd listened, trying to make sense of the melodies and rhythms. Despite the enchantment of it -- or maybe because of it -- any form or structure eluded him.

  But the thrill that he might have captured something previously unheard raced through his blood. Sound men lived for such discoveries, and extracting it from a remote beach in a sleepy seaside town only made the mystery and improbability greater.

  Then sun struck the water, rays of light spearing the thick Pacific mist . . . and the music ended.

  The abrupt departure seemed as much a mystery as the sound to begin with. It didn't matter; he had it on file.

  Jimmy packed up his equipment, and in the space of moments had left behind the endless turn of waves and dunes of sand for the tarmac of Highway 101.

  A mile north he braked hard to a stop beside a yellow marquee announcing the sale of harmonica's, two for ten dollars. Max's Music Maven was a converted home with two music rooms and an adjoining apartment. Jimmy had met Vincent, the proprietor, just yesterday. His store hours written on a paper plate taped inside the window told him Vince opened at ten a.m. This couldn't wait three hours, so he rounded the side and found a door decorated with an endorsement sticker that read, "If it ain't Gibson, it ain't nothing."

  This was the place.

  Jimmy began knocking, and didn't stop.

  Moments later, the door swung inward. Vincent stood in boxers, his pale skin stretched impossibly tight over ribs and shoulders. Thin, scraggly hair hung down in eyes that squinted in the strengthening light.

  "We ain't open, man. Come back later."

  "It can't wait," Jimmy said. "I need to ask you a few questions."

  "Ah, crap, you're that new age ocean guy. Man, I'm not having this conversation at seven a.m. I told you yesterday, I'm not going to carry mood music in my place. Try the Dirty Lap Dog or something. I got a rep."

  Jimmy would have smiled to hear it if he didn't have important questions to ask. "Never mind that. Listen, I've got something I want you to hear. It's not the same as yesterday."

  "You're some piece of work. I don't let my lady in this early, and you think I'm letting you in?"

  Unable to hold it back any longer, Jimmy blurted. "I just recorded your little beach at the end of the D River." He waited until the aging hippie looked him straight. "And I captured the sound of a trumpet playing a tune."

  If the hippie had shown Jimmy any other response, he might have gotten back in his VW Beetle and drove away. What he saw instead was a suspicious eye peering from between kinky strands of hair.

  That was all he needed to see. "You know about it? What the hell is it?"

  The hippie left the door standing wide and retreated into the shadows of his one-room apartment. Taking it as an invite, Jimmy gladly followed.

  Vincent poured some coffee from a pot still bearing the 7-Eleven insignia, which made perfect sense since the stainless steel coffee maker it sat in bore the same logo. To the left in the corner, a mattress lay flat on the ground; sheets and blankets balled up on one side. A Stratocaster lay beside the bed, a litter of picks strewn around it. The scent of mildew and cat litter mingled in the air with yesterday's cigarettes. Vince lifted his coffee mug in the direction of a door at the back of the room, and led Jimmy in to the music shop.

  The main showroom -- nothing more than a fifteen by fifteen deal with a small selection of guitars and amplifiers -- stood in shadow. It was here yesterday that Jimmy had met Vince, this holdover from the sixties telling him that he didn't carry digital media for Jimmy's hard disk recorder. Vince had added that electronic gadgets weren't real music anyway. The flower child hadn't bothered to show Jimmy the second music room.

  Just three steps up to a second door, they passed into an elevated space smelling of dusty wood.

  Filled with pianos.

  At one time, it might have been a living room, maybe even a dining room. Now it had been stripped of everything but the floor planks. Even the walls were little more than studs and framing. This space wasn't about anything put the piano-forte, the clavier, and one irreparable harpsichord.

  Dust lay in blankets a quarter inch deep over the tops of everything. As Jimmy and Vince stirred the air in their passage, it hardly moved the dust; the weight of time made a fabric of the accumulated motes.

  The room smelled of antique wood, of metal casings and broken strings. It was like a graveyard of pianos packed so tight that only two aisles could be walked from one end of the space to the other.

  "You only sell guitars and pianos?" Jimmy asked.

  "And harmonicas," Vince replied.

  Jimmy reached one end of the room. "I came here to ask . . ."

  The words died in his throat. To the left, sitting on a piano bench facing a windowless wall was a trumpet case propped open. Inside, a silver horn bearing the dents and scrapes of use lay cloaked in the same fall of dust that coated everything.

  A Gillespie model.

  Vince came up beside him. "Been here since I bought the place in '69. Old Doc Thurber told me just to leave it be. Didn't much matter to me, I don't care for brass."

  Jimmy looked up at the man. "This isn't the instrument I heard. Can't be. I just finished recording it less than ten minutes ago. This thing hasn't been played in years." He ran a finger along the tubing, clearing a path across the dull finish.

  "You'll need to keep an open mind about that," Vince said. "Things are different on the Pacific. Stuff has a way of being less and more than you make of it. That's no lie."

  "I'd like to buy it," Jimmy blurted. "How much?"

  "Ain't for sale," the hippie said. "Not to you. I can see the money in your eyes. Saw it yesterday when you came through talking about selling us the ocean on a CD." He laughed. "You realize I just need to step outside to get that for free."

  "I'm not going to argue with you. What about five hundred for the horn?"

  Vincent's eyebrows lifted, but Jimmy soon realized it had nothing to do with interest in the five hundred. "I won't take your money," the guy began, scratching his nipple. "But since you seem sincere, I'll steer you one port more. There's a small theater up Nelscott way, the West End Theater. Judd Jensen is always around. Oldest guy in town. He was here when this was still getting some lip." He pointed at the Gillespie horn. "Tell Judd I showed you the trumpet. He'll know what to say."

  Jimmy spent several moments looking at the instrument in its stiffened velvet case, then strode the boards back toward his car. The very thought of the sounds in the waves caused him to quicken his pace.

  Something about those songs.

  The West End Theater was closed until 6:00 p.m.

  Jimmy spent the day trying to duplicate his findings at the beach, annoyed at the bystanders asking him a lot of stupid questions. He actually threw a bit of sand at a few pesky kids to shoo them away.

  But the trumpet didn't seem to accompany the waves in the daylight.

  When dusk fell, Jimmy went to the theater, bought a ticket to a delightful rendition of You Can't Take it with You, then lingered in his seat while the other three patrons wandered out.

  When the rumblings of stage props ceased, a man with thick white hair stepped out onto the stage beneath the single bulb which burned above it.

  "You waiting for me?" the man asked.

  "If you're Mr. Jensen."

  "I am."

  "My name is Jimmy Nesbitt. Vincent said I could talk to you about the trump
et," Jimmy replied.

  The old man stared out on the small theater, deep set eyes hiding whatever thoughts they might have betrayed. "That so?" He titled his head back, staring into the weak glare of the light. "You know what that is?"

  "No, sir."

  "Ghost light," the man said. "Every theater leaves the one bulb burning on the boards to keep the wrong kinds of spirits away."

  "You think I'm a spirit?"

  "Are you?" The head lowered again, leveling an uncomfortable stare at Jimmy.

  "Not the last time I checked," Jimmy joked. The humor fell flat on the empty theater.

  The old fellow didn't laugh, but came to the edge of the stage and out of the immediate glare. Now he was nothing more than a silhouette. "Then tell me what business you have with the trumpet, and I'll tell you if I can help."

  "Just want to buy it."

  "Why?"

  Jimmy suddenly felt wary of sharing his story. Perhaps he was afraid people would laugh, perhaps he was afraid they wouldn't. "It's an unusual item," he said. "Is it yours?"

  The man smiled then. At least Jimmy thought it looked like a smile; in the dark it was hard to tell. "What's it sound like to you?" Jensen asked.

  "What do you mean?"

  "Never mind then." The old man pivoted and had almost exited stage left when he stopped and turned to look back at Jimmy. "You a musician?" he asked.

  "Used to be. Now I work on the other side of the board." Jimmy began to get irritated. "Since when does anybody need to know how to play an instrument in order to buy one? No one would ever learn how that way."

  The guy nodded, but not, Jimmy thought, in agreement to what he'd said. "It's been a long time," the man answered cryptically. "Maybe this time we'll get it right."

  "Get what right? What are you talking about?" Jimmy got out of his seat and began moving toward the aisle.

  "It was 1938!" the man yelled. The boom of his voice shattered the theater quiet, freezing Jimmy mid-stride. "Vaudeville lost its luster, and talented acts were starving in the streets of New York. Some died, believing movies were a passing fancy, wasting away in tenements waiting for venues to reopen at a nickel a seat. Others went upstate, taking their acts to resorts, working for room and board and lying in the beds of the rich for a little extra on the side."

  The old man's hair began to shift with the trembling of his own impassioned words. "A few got out. A few went south, touring night clubs and bars along the eastern seaboard. Some came west." He stopped.

  Jimmy stood at the edge of the aisle, ready to either rush the man, feeling that he knew more than he admitted, or run from the theater, sure the coot was crazy as a loon. He did neither.

  The old man continued. "George Henry found this place when his trumpet lost its appeal to both Vaudeville and the New York uptown jazz community. But no one cared to listen to a horn out here, not for money. So George set to music of a different kind, learning the sounds of the earth, the sounds of nature, writing it down, learning the patterns." Something entered the old man's voice then. Fear, maybe. He whispered, the sound of it carrying in the empty hall. "There's power in that, my friend. The power to undo. George learned it sure enough."

  The man held his arm toward Jimmy, pointing a finger. From the shadow at the edge of the stage, it appeared ominous, like the specter of Christmas future pointing toward Scrooge's grave. "Anything you've heard is a gift to you, young man. Leave it be. Music isn't to be trifled with. You're either a musician or you're not. You either do it for a life, or you mock it by making it a hobby."

  "I didn't say -- "

  "Didn't have to," Jensen cut in. "Listen if you will. No harm there. But let the music rest. For heaven's sake, just let it rest."

  Then the man stepped behind the curtain, and Jimmy was alone with the ghost light.

  As night closed in, a glorious sunset erupted over the western horizon. Crimson skies lit across the water, turning the ocean a thousand shades of red. Some few tourists and locals trod the beach, heading for their cars or home, and Jimmy, headphones firmly in place, sat watching it all, listening to his recordings from the night before.

  Something strange in them.

  The melodies were beautiful, haunting, but oddly never repeated. It was as though the trumpeter had no song in mind, but simply played on and on, forever defining a new phrase, a new melody.

  Some of them fast.

  Others languorous, creeping slowly and marking out a passage of aching beauty.

  Jimmy tried to chart it at first, replaying sections over and over. His theory was rusty, but he managed to define a few note progressions before combinations of complexity went beyond him.

  The sun disappeared, and almost immediately the wind came in, cold; whispering across the sands.

  The longer he listened, the less Jimmy thought he understood the music. At times, he wasn't sure it was music at all. Among other things, he couldn't find any definite rhythm. The time signature eluded him, so that he could never identify individual phrases.

  Finally, he stopped, putting his headphones aside and dropping to his elbows to watch the light go completely out of the sky. For a moment, he lost himself in the reassuring sound of waves upon the sand -- something he hadn't done once in all the time he'd been tracking the movements of the great ocean.

  . . . learning the sounds of the earth, the sounds of nature, writing it down, learning the patterns . . . There's power in that, my friend. The power to undo.

  Jimmy's gift had always been a very good ear. Any sound man worth his salt had one. Consumers rarely heard the difference, which explained the popularity of digital song downloads, in which compression technology had removed so much of the acoustic information.

  Jimmy hated those. Not because they were free. Because they sounded thin.

  Not like this.

  The almost laughing sound of water rolling toward the beach came full-bellied, rich and strident every time. If the earth had a voice, this was surely it. And no place more certainly than this strip of sand on the Oregon coast.

  But still something in it evaded him. If he could just understand.

  Stories of Vaudevillians, old instruments, and warnings about his own musical incompetence only made him more eager to understand what it was he heard in his recordings. They may not want to see him profiting on the music of their beach here, but they wouldn't run him off with creepy stories. The thought of it made him laugh.

  Hell, he'd lived in Los Angeles for eight years, nothing was creepier than that.

  Then it happened.

  Just reclining there on the beach, he began to count.

  Simple eighth notes.

  Seven of them.

  Then again.

  Jimmy sat up straight, staring at the water as if he expected it to talk. With alarming regularity, the water tumbled and fell to a beat of seven. The time signature carried its own power, but could scarcely be handled by most musicians. Standard time, swing time, the 3 count of a waltz, each of them could be danced to, internalized without training. Even phrases of two and five and nine fell more frequently in the music pantheon, adopted often by classical composers, used in songs with regularity.

  But seven.

  Jimmy counted, and counted.

  When night had descended in full, something occurred to him. He quickly got his recording equipment from the car and set it up. This time, he dialed the frequency only half way in, and listened.

  There it was.

  The languished melody of the horn came in musical phrases to the beat of the surf. Jimmy now heard them together as he hadn't before, and in a flurry, he began to scribble out bars of seven, transcribing the song as it wafted and sang across the great time keeper.

  So busy was he at his transcription, that he did not hear the rumblings deep in the earth. He exulted at the possibility that he might put definition to something that had never been written down.

  He owed it all to the bugling of a horn. He owed it to George Henry.

  The sk
y suddenly darkened and crackled with lightning. The waves swelled, a flurry of wind swept down upon the dunes.

  All in perfect seven time.

  Jimmy madly went on, oblivious to the changes around him.

  Soon the tumult of thunder and pounding surf and shrieking wind became a chorus he might never have imagined. His papers riffled in his hand, but he held them tight, penning the sound in his ears, marking a great melody in bars of seven.

  He knew instinctively that he'd become a conductor, and his orchestra was nothing less than the elements themselves.

  He held the key.

  He was unlocking the sounds of heaven.

  Just like a Vaudevillian with a Gillespie horn.

  In a fury, he put his pen back to the paper, marking out notes with haste, his hand flying across the page. The maelstrom whipped and churned, but all he heard were sevens, beautiful, indecipherable sevens.

  Then he came to the end of his sheet, a single phrase yet to write, and paused as at the climax of a symphony, holding a great note before the finale.

  And again he heard the old man, the minor thespian. There's power in that, my friend. The power to undo.

  With a single beat of his heart, he knew to decipher the song would make him forever a part of it.

  Like a horn joined forever in the waves.

  Jimmy shook with the feverish desire to unlock the mystery, to see his finding through its conclusion.

  As the wind lashed and the water churned, he listened to another measure of seven.

  And dropped his pen.

  In moments the sea and air calmed.

  Jimmy loosened his grip on his opus, the pages scattering about him, carried on mild breezes to the water's edge. He fell back and grabbed fists full of sand, imagining the difference between heaven and earth.

  In the moments that followed, he could no longer count the rhythms of the ocean, its voice become again a mystery to him. But gentle it came, and it lulled his senses, like any good jazz music should.

  Approaching Zero

  by Kelly Parks

  Artwork by Thorsten Grambow

 
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