Leo Brouwer is a Cuban composer of international repute. In a conversational interview with Welsh composer Stephen Goss and classical guitarist John Williams, Brouwer touches on a key element in his music that he refers to as an 'aural moment.' The ear percieves a sound and an association is formed. His example was that of a man studying a piece of music and suddenly 'remembers' that he must call his lover.
The link between these aural moments or impressions and similar visual moments when viewing a painting seems compelling. Likewise, reading or hearing language evokes similar moments. And it is not the paragraph or sentence or even word that provides that moment; but rather it is the syllable or morpheme, the smallest bit of language, which reaches us and moves us.
Popular music often glosses over these elemental sounds with harmonies and melodic phrasing. Brouwer suggests that those behind mass media have money as their prime motivator. This seems equally true of the written word. Popular fiction such as the detective story or romance novel often simplifies the language much as journalism does. 'Literature' does not sell (and if it does, is not read).
Brouwer's contention is that the culture of a people is contained in these elemental moments. His pieces are larded with bits and pieces from all the various influences of Latin American music from African folk ritual to Catholicism. Literature does exactly the same. Shakespeare's language resonates with the cultural detritus from the long history of evolving and devolving European languages.
We live in a discontinous world, says Brouwer. So difficult to discriminate between the beautiful and the ugly. Our brains are bombarded by 'shit', says Brouwer, and soon we are humming commercial jingles with great enjoyment. The antidote? Strive to keep that marvelous organism, our brain, always 'clean'. So says, Leo Brouwer.
THE BLIND GEISHA
I - 5
Death And Dust Motes, Seagull Squawk
The fire from the Imperial palace blazed, and ash diffused and fell over the southern reach of the city. Ikkyu and Mori hurried down the grand boulevard jostled by crowds of scurrying people, acrid smoke stinging eyes, noise of men's screams and the clash of katana, Ikkyu resigned, taking Mori's arm, leading her as she lent him support, turning west before the shrine, the woman suddenly dismayed to hear in the tumult the floating, poignant notes from a shakuhachi, hurrying on, the couple wading the Kamo, corpses littering the shoreline, mud clinging to their geta, making for the low distant hills in the east.
They had thought to go to Daitoku temple to the north, but the fighting around the Imperial Palace and Nijo castle was too fierce. The fools were destroying the city, burning the palaces and temples, killing each other and for what? Their minds go no futher than the blades of their katana, Ikkyu thought. Vainglorious.
The woman took her glasses from her face, closed her eyes and sighed. So much she didn't know. Couldn't know. The 'pillow book'---if that is what it was---that Grace had discovered helped considerably. Yet the details of a life so long ago remained all too elusive. Wading the Kamo? Even possible? Tradesmen and daimyo, samurai and farmers, all who traveled the rural roads between the burgeoning cities were required to wade rivers. The local towns provided carriers and for a price you needn't get your hakama wet. But Kyoto during that 15th century war?
She chewed on the curved temple piece of her glasses, ruminating, the word bringing a smile and the vision of cows mooing and the green grass and the blue sky. A shake of her head, then Elizabeth slipped the glasses back on. A note for Grace. We'll find out more about Kyoto and the war. Fiction is fine; but one mustn't ask the reader to make herculean efforts to suspend their beliefs.
She had spent the morning on the beach. Someone had partied up by North Point, and their fire still smoldered. Wine bottles and beer cans, cigarette butts and pizza crusts, melon rinds littered the camp. A charred remnant of a wool blanket. And the trampled path through salal to the road. The gulls had drawn her there.
Glaucus gulls. Eat anything, they will. How aggressive they get. Over what? And that little fellow. Perched up on the log. Waiting. One legged, how odd. He sounds like a little terrier. That injury must teach patience. Not from around here, are you, young man. She took her phone from a pocket, fumbled with the settings and snapped an image.
"We'll put a name to you soon enough."
Names call, she thought. Bit of hocus-pocus. From what? Read it somewhere or other. Allusion a mystery. Micki's step-mother, she with her hennaed hair and the dog in a pouch hung from her neck. The dog yipped like the little bird. How Michelle loathed that woman. Lucille was her name, but everybody called her Lu.
"I had just met her. Sweet 16," Elizabeth said. "More hocus-pocus. Nothing sweet about it."
The one-legged bird squawked louder and hopped to the end of its log.
It was 1953, bird. The year Hank Williams died. We had that in common. New Year's day. And the boy with the guitar. He used to sing those odd lyrics to 'Whistle While You Work', Disney's bit of brainwash from 'Snow White'. He just strummed the strings. Didn't know any chords. Whistle while you work, Hitler was a jerk, Mussolini bit his weinie and now it doesn't work.
"Bit vulgar, that, bird." Must have been younger. We were at the bus stop. Third grade? Something like. The Japanese have a much healthier attitude towards nudity and sex and bodily functions. Why is that, do you suppose?
"I'll ask Grace."
Mori's education had began truly when she was taken to Kyoto after the fire. Her okiya was on Shijō Dori and just to the east and across the river was the Yasaka Shrine. Gion it was called in Mori's time. The little girl saw it every morning, walking to the tea house and back.
Step, step, step, said the okaa-san. Clumsy child, listen how your heels slap the ground. Slide your foot, skim the ground. Small steps make much grace. Suriashi. They slowly moved up the narrow street with all the bustle of early morning around them, the clumsy, bumptious girls urging customers into the tea shop, the old fellow with the stained hands mixing his dyes and singing nonsense songs as he worked, the solemn rice merchant with his curt nods and hissing salutations. Ahead in the distance was the Gion Shrine with its imposing red lacquered walls, the upturned, sweeping lines of its roof, the green trees.
Look behind now. Ten steps and look behind. The older woman sighed. No no, child, she said. You crane around like a fishmonger looking for the rude little urchins with the quick hands. Slowly, turning first the foot, slowly, then ... like so. Turn now. Better. That way the river. The Kamo? Mori asked. Hai. Right you are. And that way? The Shirakawa? The little river with the white sand? Good. Now we walk. Suriashi. Step, step, step.
A carpenter, wielding his wooden mallet, grunted with each blow. Whack. Whomp. Whack. Mori wrinkled her nose, covered her ears, turned away. The noise of the city oppressed her. Tears welled. The okaa-san placed a hand on her shoulder. Make a small rice ball, you see, like so. And the woman mimicked wadding a handful of cooked rice into a ball. Not too big now. Then, plop the little ball into your hungry mouth. Chew chew chew. Swallow. All gone. Wakarimasu ka. Understand? Yes? And just then the burly carpenter shouted out, oide onna, oide. Okaa-san put her hands over Mori's ears. Walk on, child. Walk on. Step, step, step.
The helicopter, flying low enough so that even Elizabeth with her dim vision could make out the orange striping on the white machine, rounded the point, and clattered south. The patch of black meant the side door was open. A search on?
"My God, they are noisy beasts."
Three more gulls circled overhead, fluttered wings and landed. They walked like roosters on the prowl, Elizabeth thought. So proud. Step, step, step. She shook her head.
Suriashi. Footwork. Over and over. When Michelle first started with dance it was baby steps. Her words. Baby steps. She practiced in the hallway of their house. Down and back. Down and back. The girl's got the loose screw, Lucille said, twirling a finger at her temple.
But her mother's opinion mattered not at all to Micki. Down and back. Baby steps. Again and again. Obsessive. Like a boxer without the bloody nose, she said. It's all about footwork. Her diary ended with so much doubt. Typical for a teen-age girl. Atypical for Micki. She had come to doubt her ability. She had decided on Oregon State, and a career as a teacher. For the last entry in the diary, she had written:
dance requires not just faith in yourself, but also some talent. I lack the talent. I think I lack the talent. Everyone wants to play for the Yankees, but ... compromise, compromise, compromise
And wrote no more.
She had left behind two cardboard boxes and a crate of books when she had gone off to New York. Left them with Lucille. Ten days after her death, Lucille had called.
"You want 'em you can have 'em. Cluttering the closet," the woman had said.
Clutter. There would be no memorial service. No closure. I took the boxes and the crate. Clothes and text books. And a few items I kept. Reality sends us in search of explication, analogy. The substantive argues for reality. Professor Sherwood. She had put the oddments of her friend's life in a shoebox; had made an inventory. Her diary, unlocked, without the key. A tea caddy---where had that come from? There was a story attached to the little dish, but she couldn't remember. Mallarmé's book. The picture they'd taken of themselves in the backyard of the beach house, embracing, silly grins, BFF on the back and how quickly forever fades, those two in the picture now no more, Micki to dust returned and she become just this tattered sack of bones and flesh but resolved, assured, her pound of flesh duly paid, and life, O fractious life, and death certainly a continuum, dust motes in the whirlwind, neither one nor the other any better than an eyelids flutter ...
A small silken pouch contained the gold band on a fine strand of linked gold chain that she had given her friend on her departure to New York.
Elizabeth pushed herself to her feet to a chorus of bird squawk. She reached inside her blouse and took the ring between thumb and forefinger. Held it to the light. The one-legged bird squawked and hiphopped down its log towards the woman. The gulls strutted away picking at bits of kelp and broken shells. She sighed, Shook her head.
"Micki," she said.