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John Fallas / Simon Howard
 

triptych

quixotic

Are you ready? Are you listening? This extraordinary trumpeter would like to play for you. Like a wandering minstrel or – as in the title of one of the pieces here – a knight errant, this modern virtuoso undertakes a journey to entertain you and a voyage to prove himself. Sometimes, it seems, he is merely showing off, in pure display with no other object (tilting at windmills, to adopt knightly parlance). At other times the obstacles he has to overcome are real, and substantial. At several points he is joined by a companion on the road, to lend assistance or perhaps just to fill in the scenery. Sometimes he is alone, but rarely for long: he is a past master at dreaming up company for himself, and even when he doesn’t … well, after all, you are there. Listening. Watching, even, with your mind’s eye. Answering back? That’s up to you.

How does a composer make music out of a single line of notes, a sequence of sounds to be performed on an instrument which (unlike, say, a piano) can only play one note at a time? More often than one might expect, the answer has to do with counterpoint: with the simultaneity of different lines. At its simplest, counterpoint suggests two melodies sung or played in harmonious combination. Composers from the fourteenth century to the eighteenth were much occupied with the art of combining such lines, and when Baroque composers such as Bach and Telemann began to write music for solo flute, violin or cello the distribution of high and low notes often produced the illusion of distinct but intertwining strands in music played by a single instrument. Today, with its vastly expanded range and flexibility, a solo trumpet can do something similar. Today, too, the more familiar patterns and gestures of Baroque trumpet music may be just one of the elements which a new piece evokes. Music can be a polyphony of so many different things, and counterpoint is music’s third dimension, opening it up to the past as well as to other presents. You are not alone, it says. In life, as in music, someone is talking or singing and someone else is listening …

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trumpet

Someone beats at the door, persistently, there is snow on the lake but no door. Because: are you listened? Are you a wilderness? Typing mistaken. So they wandered, at home. The train grazed some trees, a nuclear installation, windmills solemnly turning in a breezeless unworld. It’s not like they exist, it’s not as if they didn’t exist. As when a pretty child carefully packs a blanket, some cigarettes, & a trumpet made of the tears of snails. It wasn’t a high wall, yet equally impassable. At that angle to the strengthening wind. & so far from land. So the child imitated the birds, roaring in the snow, roaring beneath the snow & dirtied clothes & a wound to the tongue. The bus arrives here, the child struggles with its luggage. Disaster. “!”. The blanket is lost. Only the trumpet to be found. Can you hear it?

The next day came early as extinction; McGuire’s hiking boots on the bedside table, an invisible hand brushing Isabel’s hair. Sparks from a fish’s flanks. McGuire is listening to music, watching the beginning of the universe on a TV. Isabel feeds the fish with apples from the garden. McGuire puts the trumpet to his eyes, & listens to a sighing – deep throughthe bodyoftheinstrument – of obsolete communication devices. Isabel watches a beginning of a universe on the TV. McGuire feeds apples from a garden with a fish. Language, torn into wholeness, hums a few anti-words, anti-worlds. Dissects a few tentative dancers, steps, & with extraordinary slowness the film ends again. They look awkward in costume. They stare, solemn as lions, into the trumpet’s void. Instructed to sing, instinctively they curse. & the seasons shuffled their fingers & slept. She numbered the absence between clouds, no; she numbered the absent sky. Presence, blanket. Folklore. A ghost set fire to a bus. Try sleeping in the corridor if “you are afraid of the cradle”.

those went so strangely (Tom Raworth), & then returned slick with feathers & cracked their beaks against blown out windows. Impersonating impersonation. Modified technologies transform hands into lungs, heads into cities of lungs. He smokes for an hour or, like everything else is zigzag & cold, waits outside a hotel with amnesia in her every thought. The throat colours, navy-blue, with each greatest hits compilation. Come in from the country, a stranger’s music self-denying. Tradition & vowel sounds. Stale water in a plastic beak. Errancy. The child has found some companions, they were vagrants at home, they deny music ever happens. They play upon those instruments against instinct, without tuition, & their ancestors, their children, dance & dance until we are out in the country the city gone pale & skinny, & the instruments are numb & the children imitate the instruments dumbly, a parade of cinematic images hurrying across a deleting screen.

It was the fourteenth century. A single line of birds mourned the death of Telemann, intoning a single note over & over until it was the eighteenth century & extraordinary ingenuities diverted the stream & cut through the forest & she sat down to play the trumpet, she continued to play the cello, •this dusk will never vanish•, he says. He stands along a busy street, breathing the flute high & low, down among the clouds, up into the pavement slabs. The 3 of them were alone, with only the 2nd of them for company. Someone set food upon a table & the birds began to eat. In that quiet place, with the noise of traffic & war & the end of time, we listened to birdsong & Bach played on a primitive piano. She opens the curtains. There are dawn shadows of pink & dark grey stretched in sleepless dream across the rooftops. Then there was no one left. Is the machine broken, they asked. No, it has never been invented, they answered.

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Sequenza V

It’s winter again now, Simon. No snow yet, but the world’s a bit quiet. The word’s a bit …

Ghosts crawling up out of books and papers, the snow has no voice but the lake sings. Are you listening? Emotionally I think I function by trying to narrow time down as much as possible (or I only look so far out of the window). You wandered at home. Some trees, a trumpet, cigarettes in the breeze. Words for unworld.

A musical instrument, some trees, a high wall. (u–a–) A stranger singing country music comes to your house, you give him money, you go into the garden, it’s night, you sing songs to a pretty child. The universe ends while you’re watching TV. You go into the garden, it’s not night, it’s never night, you hold hands and the child sings or the stranger talks about Bach and the fourteenth century, you’re alone, a stranger comes, he asks to see the garden and you refuse him. You were always alone. Do you go to the cinema often?

Exact repetition is almost impossible to achieve. For we, and those that preceded us, and those that came with us and pledged loyalty to a man they had not met before, and walked with him, and when he was no longer able to lead us continued to accompany us on the path he had instructed us to follow … (fade almost to nothing) For we, and our companions on the road … (fade) For the way up and the way down … (u–a–i) … the children with him … (almost to nothing) Kapitalistisch irrealisme. Birdsong. Voices.

Exact repetition is almost impossible to achieve. Did you hear that? He said something else but I was already talking to myself. On the beach the tide rose, while inland music spread like wildfire through centuries of noise. Even when I weep you look blankly at me. Perspex separation of those who were close, a private or governmental interdiction against dancing •for it encourageth the sick, the lame, the more than unfortunate•. And so he came again, and as the tangle of melodies faded a single thread remained, a low flute modulating the dusk with tones of golden blue, a stranger’s music keeping no one company. Kapitalistisch et seq. ||WHY?*||

It was now and it is always. It was time and it was world. Here we go again, Simon, wearing repetition like buttered time. I’m not sure either of us is too good at winter.

 

 

* (bewildered)

 

 

 

Copyright © John Fallas, 2007 and 2014 / Simon Howard, 2010 (for 'trumpet').