From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, an ongoing series of letters written by composer/multi-instrumentalist N., founding member of a band formerly known as the Mystic Horn Society. Volumes One through Three are Bedouin Hornbook, Djbot Baghostus’s Run and Atet A.D., respectively. Volume Four is not yet titled.
Dear Angel of Dust,
There are stretches of time that seem outside of time. This is one of them. It has to do with seasonality, countered expectations of seasonality, the not only normal departure of L.A. weather from the wintry scenes associated with Christmas but the more than normal departure we’ve been experiencing the past two days. It’s been unseasonably sunny and unseasonably hot even by local standards: temperatures in the nineties, the sky all but without smog, there having been enough wind, if that’s what it takes (or enough, if not, of whatever it takes), to blow most of what there was of it away. Now, though, there’s no longer wind or even an inkling of wind, the air eerily, ominously unmoving. It’s what, especially farther north, they call earthquake weather. The air and the sky have a burning, bright but oddly muted intensity to them, as though their apparent forthrightness were no more than apparent, deceptively clear. This makes for an even greater sense of displacement or dislocation, of things being out of joint, multiply out of joint. It’s as though we were not only out of step with the season, our own as well as the holiday season, but had migrated north if not stepped outside of time, seasonality, altogether. In the latter respect, it’s as though we’d migrated south or been visited by a region farther south, unexpectedly hosted a mesoamerican visitation. It’s as though, that is, the five leftover days at the end of the Mayan year, the five dangling or dateless or stray, orphaned or unlucky, rogue days at the end of the year that are not really, in a sense, a part of the year, a part of time, had arrived early, ahead of themselves, ahead of time, landing us outside of time. Everything’s odd, a bit off, curiously shadowed by syncopations not of time so much as of brightness, light, as though brightness or light turned its head or turned around to inspect itself, turned to catch a glimpse of itself, catch itself offguard. Brightness or light, possessed of a darkling wish, wants not only to enable sight but to see itself so enabled, more than simply conditioning sight. In so doing or, short of doing, wishing, it induces a waver, a wrinkle, a fold in the accoutrements of sight which, even so induced, shears or shades over into undoing.
Spinning my wheels? Maybe. But that’s what what I’m talking about makes one do. It makes what appear to be waves mount like rungs of a ladder, a ribbed, etheric lake at what appears to be asphalt’s end. At rehearsal today it crept into our music. We trudged up a hill beyond which to walk was to accept that light fell unequally on the world. Chiming rungs which were synthesizer strings bore us over. Our acceptance of light’s inequality implied prismatic recompense, insisted on it, made it our own. The earth was unequal light’s jagged consort, a course cut in haggard pursuit. From somewhere beyond or in back, that is, a synthesized aura sought instrumental extension, sought more to be played than to preside it seemed, eight or eight hundred years into the future, eight or eight hundred years after the fact. We were trying to make it home or to heaven, hoping to make them one and the same. We were trying at the very least to make something happen. A synthesizer keyboard lay before and in back of us, each key a chromatic step we took.
Then, too, there was the extent to which the "we" was in question albeit as close as our very breath. Lambert’s audible exhalation etched an aspirate sigh. In so doing it exacted of each of us an answering susurration it was all we could do to not be whisked away by, borne thru the wall he thereby embroidered. "We" was the churchical wall he not so much wailed at as blew the dust from, a particulate cloud and a kind of clemency, the grit of what we knew would pass. His aspirate sigh, which we made ours as well, was meant not to conceive an alternative, however much it did or may seem to have done, but to extenuate the cause that gave it rise. A wall of glass it was of sorts or in certain parts, a window occluded or colored by aspirate wind’s unwieldy arrest, maculate print one may have taken for stain but, even so, could not but be moved by the light it let thru. All this was abetted by Aunt Nancy’s totemic bass, its intimation of an arachno-erotic web, eight-limbed embrace, a "we" pressed well beyond erotic-elegiac snag, as though capture, perhaps, arose only to be obscured if not outrun. No one could not be moved by her uptempo "walk."
So, as well, there was the fact that it was, in many ways, a chthonic window, notwithstanding the light and the color it let in. It sat within a wall only recently evolved out of mud, across from an alcove whose cave ancestry was abundantly clear. Bass Cathedral Djamilaa’s synthesizer keyboard called it, a handle she proffered cautiously given the fall of Hotel Didjeridoo. Even so, color and light were now undeniably synthetic aura, sympathetic trap, a magico-mimetic snare cave stain or cave painting introduced us to. A piece or a pocket of time had torn loose we now knew, a before-the-fact catch or a prepossessed capture Bass Cathedral built on as well as wanted to enshrine. Yes, we readily agreed, Bass Cathedral, no sooner ratifying than naming it anew, Bass Calendar, temple and temporality rolled into one, we saw, insisted, possessed of southerly color’s reckoning spin.
PS: "We," it almost went without saying, was an eroding wall Penguin’s oboe assailed, wanting to ascend. To one side of Aunt Nancy’s "walk" and from an angle of address Lambert’s churchical stain imposed on the eye, one watched him serenading Drennette. Drennette ostensibly stood on the balcony under which he played but she was visibly on the ground right in back of him, seated at her drumset, playing along. Penguin pointed his oboe up toward the balcony, eyes closed, head back, blowing as though each breath were his last, playing his heart out. What came out of the horn were not balloons but a bouquet of milkweed, sourgrass, dandelions and such. One was led to hear not only would in the horn’s "high wood" root but weed as well, leaf given rise to by root. It wanted one to recall the vacant lot among whose weeds Drennette turned a cartwheel, the vacant lot the balloons apprised us of in Seattle. It invited one to hear not only would and weed but would and we, we’d, as well, albeit we’d was as much we had as we would one immediately saw. Either way, past or past perfect or conditional, it bespoke a deprived present, a "we" that was yet to act as one or that once had but was now done with doing so. Launch or lament, we’d was high wood’s wager, wed apostrophized. A leaf Penguin put in his pipe, it addressed a union otherwise not there, lost or never had but hoped for, would-be union gone up in smoke or induced by smoke.
An abraded wall born of would-be union, blown smoke, it unveiled an eclipse one could otherwise not have witnessed, an opera staining the glass one, protected, held up to one’s eye, salting one’s ecclessial surmise. One saw Drennette lean back as far as she could on the drum stool, her back at a sharp angle to the floor, looking as though she’d fall over backwards. Arms extended, locked at the elbow, she let the sticks mark time on the snare’s head as though biding her time, equating we’d with infiltration, having none of it. She kept her distance, eyebrows raised, increased her distance, insisting on the equation of we’d with rank profusion, insisting on its homophony with weed, unwanted growth, insisting wed wasn’t even to be considered. What one saw one called "Entropic Duet (Penguin and Drennette Virgin)," a cracked or a creaking aria one could elicit only an excerpt from.
Nathaniel Mackey edits the literary journal Hambone. His third book of poems, Whatsaid Serif, appeared in 1998 from City Lights Books. And Atet A.D. is forthcoming next year from City Lights.E-mail comments to [email protected]