Long ago, I wrote a two-chord song for a girl in a window in Angers, France, & I called it Window. The two chords have since remained my favorite combination of sounds on a guitar. Windows have since remained at the center of my poetic inquiries. The woman & I shared a story for many years after; it’s a story I am continually trying to tell, & that the standard & multifarious approaches to communicating it always seem to come up short has been a frustrating & joyous catalyst for endless creative endeavor. Here is one:
I wish to combine the performative forces of the creative spontaneities I have practiced to date, the persistent symbols that drag me from one medium to the next, a philosophy of process—based somely in actual theory and mostly in my lazy ear (I will call it the un-naming of the birds)—into a film. Film, of course, combines all the arts & so, so far as combinatory efforts go, it is the formally fittingest one.
I begin in the felt sense. I hate the term felt sense. What other kind of sense is there? But it’s a term. A name. I love names. I love to imagine things without names & so I give the animals whose names I have learned a new name—there was a white feathery beast near a dock on a river in Tequila, Texas, whose name I could pronounce, Heron. But this seemed wrong. I like the word Heron & it goes well with the bird, but it seemed wrong. I felt like Heron stole the creature’s little heartbeat, made a guilded frame in a hall of portraits in a mausoleum of all the many wild & mysterious things that need no longer be understood or considered. In a very real sense, the naming of a thing does something to its vital & dynamic nature that can be beautiful, communicative, haunting, liberating in a lot of ways, but it’s hard to ignore the manner in which a name seems also to steal a thing’s essence… more accurately, probably, is that gaining a name steals this essence in me: obscures my capacity in ever-increasing layers to perceive a oneness in all things (while simultaneously increasing my mental map of how to conceptualize this ecliptical phenomenon (it’s confusing; regardless, I want to understand the creature, & the method of understanding it which has me calling it “Heron” is not the kind of understanding I want)—not the everybody word, but a momentary feeling, unique & unrepeatable, I might notice where I am standing, how the thing is moving; I love to hear animals breathe, I love to notice the sound of breath, when the sun is bright & I am breathing & the animal is breathing & I am lazy & she is lazy & it’s morning. This is the kind of thing I mean. Observation less taken as a naturalist for the purposes of categorizing, cataloguing for future study along the two-name grounds, although I must admit to loving this way of looking at creatures & plants also, but in an attempt at some universal empathy between myself & bird-thing, me-thing, water-thing, air-thing, thing-being-thinking-thing-breathe-thing-me-you-me-thing thing. Here we are. Here I am. This is the moment of the birdthingmething I think. It becomes sort of regressive & simple to talk about. Talking about it isn’t the thing that really makes it. Talking about it is something like the second or third or 29th or 29-thousanth thing I do, it’s pretty far removed from the experience, the perception of the experience, the reflection, the feeling of the reflection. Talking about it is another kind of animal; it’s also an animal I can breathe with, just not the animal I’m breathing with by the water. Talking about it can give an idea of the texture & the value of having the experience; maybe I learn something else, explaining it, but mainly I think it has the force of proverb, or, worse yet, just plain obviousness. “It’s nice to be near a bird & the water,” can seem pretty unworthy saying as a thing with any kind of having added to understanding. But it IS nice to be near a bird & the water. So go do that. Maybe…
Mainly I am excusing myself for not learning the names of my two chords—not filling my head with jargon about windows, not calling a woman from a window in France “wife” or “ex,” nor attempting to fill a grief & a joy surrounding my experience of her experiences with easily compartmentalized clinical terms, not naming a state of being “depression” so as to see myself as a malady, not internalizing rules of thirds & acts & dialogue & such, so as to formulate. Formulae are helpful. My formula is not this formula. It’s more of a dream. More of a breath by the water in the sun & a creature breathing there too. I defend.
Let I now defenestrate the defense.
Applicable theory for this exists, not least of which Kerouac’s spontaneous prose & Chogyam Trungpa’s Dharma Art & uncontaminated first glimpse & Ginsberg’s notice-what-you-notice/ first-thought-best-thought, but I want to talk about process at the moment.
Not knowing the name of the chord makes it mine in some way like a dream belongs only really to its dreamer. I can feel guilty about not knowing it as well; this limits my exploration of like sounds. Well, there are limitations. So be it. & this may explain what took me so long to learn anything about my two chords, or help to explain why what I am now learning about them is something I feel uniquely suited to. Why I want to express about them: my personal/universal/breathing/vital connection to their expressive qualities in me.
Recently I had been playing that old song again to see if I could remember it. I know I might sit & flog my mind in recollecting each word, but for the time was-ing, I wanted to see what I recalled without too much straining. “It was here. Now it’s gone away,” rests as the final, melodic line, & was somewhat mysterious to me at the time of composition. I was writing not to my sense of loss, but to my hopes, & yet there was this line at the end: “I want to be there, but I don’t want to be there. It was here. Now it’s gone away.” It haunted me, irked me. Well. I recalled the song mostly, but it was gone. After a few days peppered between other sorts of days where I would strum the song & feel like I understood this final sentiment… finally… I took an afternoon & taught myself a scale in the octave containing the two chords of the song. So now I know where my hand can go on the neck of the guitar to enclose & expand the two sounds. They are a bright series of chords. Daylight in its best hours. Quiet. Listless. Full. Outside. But I don’t know the name of what my hand, here, is. Someone will eventually tell me, I imagine. Maybe not.
I practiced within this octave exclusively for close to a month, hopefully gaining an intuitive relationship with the instrument, the sound, my body, the textures of feeling & sense that accompany me in the exploration, some agility, some wordless, un-named bird about a window (in front of which I play, when I have played). & now I have begun to record & expand still further. Here is the project:
Utilizing only the sounds (tones, notes, chords, vocalities) available to the Window Octave, I record my spontaneous explorations (but sometimes directed: as in, “this time I will play only one note at a time for 5 minutes” or “this time I will play three chords I like together, one at a time, for five minutes each,” & I hope to find myself playing one note for an hour or an afternoon, or devoting an entire day to it, but the expression is spontaneous—not previously rehearsed, per se), afterward placing the sounds on editing software &, maintaining the tone of each sound, I manipulate according to an exploratory process, just whatever feels right: paul-stretch, tempo-shift, reverb, bass reduction-amplification, clipping, reversing, all hell loose, I think, for now. Perhaps something akin to the one-note method will find itself in use at some point, but for now I find variety helps. Sometimes I will then listen in meditation & feel a vocalizing potential. If so I will do the same with the vocals as I do with the notes. I find deep natural connectivity in the expression/exploration.
Each track moves very little in the linear sense, and perhaps rather than a song, what I have is a sound-scape. I’m still getting comfortable in the process & I don’t want to tell it what to be.
My aim is to end up with several hours of sound that can be then the basis for compositional sessions, conducted also in spontaneously directed method (i.e. “window”…”go”) sometimes writing, sometimes sketching, following the dreamwriting form of spontaneous prose I developed for my project, The Red King, while living in Boulder, Colorado. I’ve written much toward this process & perhaps I’ll bring that into this process write at some point. Seems unnecessary at the moment, but worth noting it follows generally the un-naming principle I’ve named here-above. Here-upon I will compose a film. From sound-scape to dreamwrite to photograph to film, I do not plan to follow a purely linear progression. That is, dreamwrite requires sound-scape, film-composition requires dreamwrite, etc., but I don’t plan to wait for the full soundtrack to start writing, nor the full collection of dreamwrites in order to write or storyboard or even film the film. I will go as it seems necessary, recognizing one is not the other, recognizing one is strongly integrated in the other, recognizing that this integral nature is not binding.
What I am doing is many things. I am doing one thing at a time. I am doing things together, one at a time, together. Finding. Having the dream & telling it as a function of having it.
This serves to integrate several activities I see as my artistic skill-set, thereby giving me a singular focus for them all—keeping me, hopefully, engaged, rather than scattered, about (at least several of) my creative debts.