Monday, June 13, 2011

Sittin' In: "The Falling Trees" by Samuel Snoek-Brown, as based on the song "Get Back" by Laibach

If a rough first draft that is halfway compiled into a single MSWord document constitutes as done, then the Our Band Could Be Your Lit book is done. I wrote the last three stories this past week: an 865 word story based on "Snow & Lights" by Explosions In the Sky, a 585 word story based on "Bostons" by Have Heart, and a 636 word story based on "This Charming Man" by The Smiths. I also went through and re-edited the original 33 stories in the project itself. In the meantime, I'm just waiting for comments back from Sam and Alice, my two man readers/unpaid editors, on the 22 supplementary stories, compiling a mock table of contents for the manuscript, and writing an introduction. I'm on the home stretch, though, and by mid-July, it should be done as it's going to be on my part.

For his last hurrah, I sent Sam the songs "Prince of the Rodeo" by Turbonegro, "Get Back" by Laibach, and "What's Up Doc? (Can We Rock?)" by Fu-Schnickens f/ Shaq. He enjoyed the Turbonegro song, but couldn't figure out how to write a story about rodeo as a metaphor for gay sex that wouldn't wind up sounding offensive. "I try not to write things that'll piss people off without some deeper purpose. (I don't mind pissing people off — I just need a good reason to do it.)" I was really hoping "What's Up Doc?" would have been the one, but I guess not. "And the other song featured Shaq rapping. Screw you for that one."

I should have known he'd go for Laibach. "I'm actually kind of a sucker for weird German industrial metal, and I love bizarre cover songs. You know I love Tori Amos's cover of Slayer's "Reign in Blood." This felt like doing the reverse. So it was fun." The story, too, is fun. I've known my fair share of guys obsessed with pure sound, so it hit close to home. I described it as John Cage's 4'33'' meets The Twilight Zone, a description I'll stand by.

Sam's done a great job babysitting OBCBYL, in addition to helping me edit all of the stories that appear with the OBCBYL tag. I'd feel bad making him do so much work for me, but he's a full-time writer, and for that luxury, he must be punished. Thanks, and play it again, Sam.


The Falling Trees

While others were making clever overlays and mashups,
he went in the opposite direction and extracted, subtracted. He said he was searching for the essence of the song, trying to strip it down to its heartbeat. He broke down all the frequencies in “Sympathy for the Devil” until he had just the bongos, and then he played them over and over. Listen to that, man, he’d say. There’s so much hope in that sound.

He started following people around with a digital recorder, stooped low with the mic to the ground, recording people’s footsteps. This is what life sounds like, he said. We’ve stepped away from ourselves and this is the sound of us returning.

But then the rhythms became too forceful, too periodic. For the true nature of sound, he would tell people, he needed the sound to be constant. Movement, yes, but movement without breaks, and so he turned all his radios and televisions to static and stared at them for hours, his ear against the speaker. Shhh, he’d say when people came into the room, and at first people thought he was silencing them even though they hadn’t spoken, but then they realized he was simply repeating what he heard.

Eventually he constructed a waterproof microphone case, from scratch, and he would walk to the river early in the morning to submerge it. If it had rained upstream he stayed home—there was too much noise in a hurried current, he’d say—but in dry periods he was down on the bank every day, squatting till his knees gave out with his arm held over the water, the microphone cord drifting like a fishing line.

He announced he had reached a discovery and would perform for the city. He wanted to share the pure nature of sound, the true music of the world itself. He took out full page ads in all the newspapers and magazines, he posted flyers on every telephone pole, slapped stickers on garbage bins and fire hydrants all over the city. Few people even knew what he’d been working on, that he even existed, and among those who did, most ignored him. But he had accrued a few dozen acolytes over the months, computer geeks and philosophy students and underground musicians, even one former Hare Krishna, and they helped him rent a small community theater and set up a stage. It would be him and nothing else. He said equipment would ruin the effect, that the truth of sound required only its own acoustics. They arranged the few dozen chairs in concentric semicircles so everyone could see.

On the ascribed night he stood on stage for four hours and did nothing. Someone coughed and was ushered hurriedly out of the room. Two people nodded off but did not snore. Several people looked at each other nervously but said nothing, worried they would miss it. And at the end of the four hours, he died on the stage.

They argued for weeks afterward about what the true nature of sound had been. Some said it was the silence of standing there. Others swore they’d been able to make out his breathing and it was his breath they’d come to hear. A small cluster of people insisted that it was the sound of his body hitting the stage that was the intended performance. Those who disagreed argued that he could have slumped on stage at the beginning, but the die-hards maintained that only his dead body could have produced the correct timbre.

But these were all just theories, and no one ever agreed to only one of them. Today, if you were to ask anyone present at the performance what the ultimate nature of sound was like, they would only stare at you. Some might move their lips as though trying to find words, but none of them would say a thing.


Laibach is a band of Slovenians who look like the evil parts of American history books.

Samuel Snoek-Brown is Dutch or Scottish or something. His Beginner's Mind looks like the evil parts of American chemistry books.

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Next week: I'm back, with nothing in mind. So look for that.

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