Sunday, June 28, 2009

Along the river

I've long imagined that music had two origins.  The first as a extension or heightened form of speech, essentially and immediately communicative in function, and the second, more absolute and aesthetic in nature, an articulation of time passing, as relief from boredom, accompaniment to work, travel, falling into sleep (and dreams).   These two causes have long been comingled in music, but I'm not altogether sure that that is a good thing.

I was reminded yesterday that not only does music articulate passing time, but it can also articulate space. It has a physical presence with a center which it fills and thresholds into which it dis- and reappears.  I went cycling with the family alongside the Nidda, a small river near our house which empties south of us into the Main.  A lightly clouded Saturday in June was a perfect day for festivals, and as we passed over the bridge in Praunheim, a cover band on could be heard from a stage some hundred metres away in the center of the village.  As we drove on, that sound steadily evaporated with distance and barriers both natural and human-made.   Further on up the river, as we approached Heddernheim, small fragments of low brass intercut with bits of snare drum begun to cross our path, eventually revealing themselves as whole swathes of tunes and countermelodies and bass lines played by the local Fanfarenzug.    With a weakness for brass bands, I swerved off the path into a churchyard to hear the wind band more closely, especially enjoying the way in which the percussion was used to provide a continuous bed of sound for the winds,  and the gradual addition of the more higher pitched (and consequently more highly attentuated by physical distance) instruments to the total mix.  Cycling onward, the process was reversed and Heddernheim receded both as a civic and acoustical location.  The next villlage up the river soon spoke for itself in quite a different way, through a peal of church bells, announcing the hour, or — for it seemed to go on longer than usual — perhaps a special event, maybe a Saturday wedding in June.   As we went further upriver,  the gently creaking sounds of the river and the whirr of other bicycles, sometimes the steps of joggers (some of whom put their iPods or mp3 players up loud enough to "share")  were only interrupted by a pair of bridges underpasses with their ignorable traffic,  a family of insistant swans at the edge of the water, and a pair of soccer matches.  Each physical space we approached, passed by or through, or departed, was as recognizeable from its acoustic signature as from its physical shapes and forms.  Having ears means time — and space — passing need never be dull.       

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