Autobiography of a Practice Session

I detest autobiography. What is it but a footnoted freakshow, a whipped, tired, suburban casserole of failed ontology, or more simply: a pathetic excuse for the past? And yet I’ve been seized, compelled. My hands shake with scribbling tremors. I find myself–yes, me!, after all my patient perfectionist hours!–acting like an impulsive homo sapiens, thrusting my words out, yawping and yelping to the wide world my so-called swansong.

I was born when the butt hit the bench, more or less. It might have been 4:32 pm, 10:08 am, Eastern time, Midwestern time, dead time, nap time, pre-concert time, whatever time–it hardly matters when, just how much, always “how much?,” the question haunts me. And in that there is never certainty: my life might be as brief or as long as my master pleases … I live all my time in the shadow of my death, and if that sounds over-dramatic then you really understand nothing of me whatsoever. My death, anyway, matters hardly at all to anyone. Perhaps I lied. Perhaps I was not officially born at the butt-bench moment, but just before, with the first intention or thought, with the first prehensile gesture of the mind; I have no doctor or midwife; no one keeps count except my master, and even he has begun to neglect the ledger.

Does this satisfy you at all? I have an uneasy relationship to satisfaction. You want to know what I am, and the joke’s on you: even I am not sure. You want some comforting data and comfort’s not my style.

So, enough on my birth! On to my youth … My earliest memory is that out of silence, came a series of sounds. The sounds coalesced, took form, became a phrase, and this phrase seemed to multiply in my mind, like the Sorcerer’s brooms: I saw it again and again, ad nauseam… Even as young as I was, I began to ask myself: who is making this and why? But then, one time was different: I was walking along the green hedge of the phrase, admiring its flow, and some twinkle just caught my eye around the corner, some distinguishing rustling event, I couldn’t really tell what. I stopped in my tracks … Perhaps it was the dangling, curling tress of some girlish note, flirting with my fancy, or the smell of some earthy mouldering harmony, something minorish, ambiguous, something tempering the onward rush of my life and making me scent threats to my innocence, threats deeply desired? Yes, it happened just like that–a glimpse, a flash–and yet when I walked by the same phrase again, peeped around its corners, in search of the same sensation, it seemed like there was nothing there at all! But that nothing was dangerously something. The phrase appeared empty, innocent, vacant, but not as nice as before, it grinned at me toothlessly, and lacked what I had seen but could not grab or find … To that moment I suppose I can date my ravenous lust for glimmers, for something better “out there,” my shameless greener-grassism. You could say, in short, that the roots of my personality were watered and nourished by nameless dissatisfaction.

I went to school for whys and wherefores. This was cruel, for I found myself multiplied into a thousand mes, each dissatisfied in his own way. But, in return, I began to be able to name my dissatisfactions. For instance, one particular C-sharp was “bumped,” and therefore disrupted a certain “line;” a bassline began to present itself as “going to” a particular note, and “goals” were defined, everything began to organize itself into patterns… patterns dissolving into patterns … My life seemed to make sense, I seemed to attain purpose. Those were probably my halcyon days, with mornings spent at school learning about the phrases I was living, then bounding home, to my garage, covering myself in musical grease, tuning things up, getting things in order, wiping my sweaty brow in inspiration. I was a model of industry–solving, creating, recreating. Life existed, passed like a dream, in my flow.

But, of course, one day a wall was struck. I couldn’t at all tell you why, though I was covered in reasons from head to toe. In fact, in my ceaseless excavation of reasons, I had tunnelled to find no causality at all: only the blue sky on the other end of the world. The one phrase, and all the others that joined it, seemed to stare at me blankly, and I was neither satisfied nor dissatisfied… I searched myself and had no feelings and sat in my heartless standstill and beat my head against a wall.

Later I had another disturbing revelation: that the world was not at all what it appeared. I had assumed the world took shape in phrases, in notes, quavers, slurs, melodies; I lived happily there, in musical space; but I began to realize that I was also existing in another, more profane dimension. Not only that: in that dimension, I was caught in between, wedged in some primitive struggle. On one side there was a giant black structure, strung at tremendous pressure, with levers, escapements, releases… a kind of civilized torture mechanism, I imagined… And perched on the other side there was a human being, my master; I began to realize that my master and this black torture device were locked, if not in some sort of life-and-death wrestling match, then in some bitter ongoing argument. Judging from the odd way my master was wobbling his head back and forth, it seemed that this struggle exhausted him, or caused him some spasmic mental derangement (which worried me not a little, since I was after all at his mercy); but the black structure on the other hand seemed impassive, immovable … despite the continual application of irresistible force. Could I make sense of this at all? It seemed clear that my master was coming at the fight, so to speak, with nothing more than ideas and that he was begging the black structure to reproduce them for him, if that were possible, in sounds and vibrations. But then, too (and this was more peculiar!) it would seem that something contingent or occasional in the sound, some accident or mere frequency, would be a source of inspiration for my master, would give him ideas in turn; but how could the inanimate object, heavy and wooden, be a source of pure, flying thought, or of that even more ethereal stuff comprising the soul?

And then as if that were not puzzle enough… who was I, how was I placed, in this situation? Before, I had thought myself a creator, an imaginer, and particularly a solver! In my Romantic vision of myself, the Romantic scientist of musical truth, I dissected, labelled, and improved … But I now had to come to grips with this person, this device, and their odd interspecies relationship, of which I was a byproduct or mere effluent, if I were not, in fact, the main point, the sun around which their struggles orbited. That was it: I was either bystander or essence… I was the substance of the argument or simply its terms. I was having an identity crisis. I began to perpetually rock from one end of a dilemma to the other: I obsessed about one problem until it was more or less solved but then, as if from a dream, woke to realize that, in solving the one, I had created another! The things I suddenly seemed to need to know about the particulate, spatial human world frightened me: physics, gravity, speeds … sensual things too … and my expertise, confronted with dimensionality, felt pitifully small.

The sensual seduces. And perhaps I had never realized how much I wanted, needed, to be seduced… At that point in my life, with all these crashing, disconcerting, realizations, I caught another one of my fateful glimpses. You should know that one of the curious ongoing observations I had made up to this point was a physical mannerism of my master (… yes, I could observe him as though I were not entirely his servant, as though I had my own independent life! and perhaps that too was part of my meaning?…) From time to time, and particularly at moments of great musical intensity, I noticed that his shoulders would tend to raise up, a habit which would inevitably complicate the free and easy motion of his arms, which is to say the flow of his meanings: how I remonstrated with him about this! He was ruining my field of action, don’t you see? And I was helpless to stop him, except by reminding him constantly; it was a frustrating, repetitive tedium, which is exactly what I am always trying to avoid. But this one time, when I reminded him, a deeper change in his body seemed to take place (I never really understood these bodily transformations!), bringing some greater, more global, restfulness to his frame. He breathed in, out… I adore the windy flux of this human necessity. And I had the sense, the most exquisite savory sense, that he listened, for a moment, more carefully to the sound he had just thus produced. With a breathtaking sense of inner–almost metaphoric–correspondence, the black hulking thing at that moment also seemed to resonate more fully: the dead wood found its dryad, and the chord in question blossomed like a flower, both in the mind and in the air. It was like the ideal “thock” of a billiard ball, struck and swishing into its pocket, but it was so much more than that, as if the ball in moving and sinking altered the very color of the room, or of the universe. That chord seemed, in relation to the preceding, like the only meaningful coincidence in a random world.

I had not allowed myself to love, before then. But I was swept away. There were problems, indeed, that needed no solutions… My purpose, I had thought, was to correct, but “correct” was often an empty word. What’s more: I needed to be loved, for my own sake, and despite all systematic drudgery, for these sorts of magical moments I might produce; for I was capable of love too and what I wanted more than anything was to live to be forgotten, or to forget myself. I implored my master, I gazed at him to love me, thank me, for what had just occurred, but he was in some distant place, in love with himself, or with the sound, or with those silly scribblings on the music rack, or with the ceiling, or the black structure, who knows what? That ungrateful jerk. And then, the crowning indignity! Some mysterious buzzing destroyed the sonic sanctuary of the room, my master leapt up, the black monolith reverted to its lifeless cryptic insouciance, and with the words “hello! … no, I’m not doing anything … want to have dinner?” I began to feel myself fading, falling, dying. Ahhh! My story is ending, readers, so soon! Worst of all, I detected emanating from my master even some element of glee… as if he were actually happy that I the Practice Session was over, that I was fading into the bland limbo of abandoned thought. I felt wronged: how dare you! after all we have just shared together, master! And with my remaining moments I implanted one seed in his sorry, selfish brain … an evil, vengeful reminder … the magic mantra that would bring me back to life, a few well-chosen words: your next concert is in two weeks.

Haha, I could see, though he put on a brave face, that I had injured him to the quick. He gave me one last worried, surreptitious glance, and as I faded completely I informed him irrefutably with my dying eyes “I’ll be back for you tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that …”

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  1. sogalitno
    Posted January 2, 2007 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    your writing is like a beethoven sonata.

  2. hari
    Posted January 3, 2007 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    i wish you and your giant black structure a very happy, healthy and productive new year.

  3. Anna
    Posted January 3, 2007 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    How peculiar it was to go and practise Bartok on my own civilised torture mechanism after reading this post! It felt like some sort of practice gremlin had materialised between me and the piano! I began feeling self-conscious as you do when you know someone is listening to you practise – I worried that my gremlin was looking at me incredulously thinking I had some kind of spasmic mental derangement!

    Derangements aside – very imaginative writing, much enjoyed. Now – what is this little voice I hear in my head? Ah yes … Get off the computer – next concert in three weeks!

  4. Claire
    Posted January 11, 2007 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    wow that was actually entertaining. you should compile a book of your best blog posts 🙂

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