Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Sound of It

Many years ago, I was in the control room of a small recording studio supervising the making of a “demo” record for a song I had written. Seated next to me was a close friend, an arranger who had told the handful of musicians what he wanted them to play rather than given them anything to read. That’s how we did things in those days. (And we thought we were sophisticated!)

In the middle of one take (a play-through of the song), a cumbersome set of metal earphones, “pots,” slipped from a violinist’s head, striking the edge of his violin before hitting the ground. Musicians routinely brought second rate instruments to sessions, so I was stunned by his reaction, which was panic. He raised his violin and started anxiously examining it from every possible angle.

“Why is he so upset?” I asked my friend. “Because it’s a Guarnerius,” he answered. “What the hell is he doing bringing a Guarnerius (a rare, precious instrument) to a recording session?” I asked. My friend answered, “He likes the sound of it.”

Months ago, in anticipation of moving from our apartment, I prepared to dispense with my large collection of LPs. To my surprise, my daughter Lauren expressed interest and began making selections for herself, first for the artwork, then for the sound. “They have more ‘pop,’” I believe she contended. In order to listen to them at her apartment, she had to buy a 33
rpm record player. Now she’s buying more LPs. I held one up and asked why. Her answer was she likes the sound of it.

I started thinking about what I like the sound of. At an impasse as I sat in silence, it struck me how much I enjoyed sitting in silence. I’ve heard some of the most beautiful strings in some of the greatest concert halls in the world. Practically swooned to Pavarotti and Ella, Chet Baker a cappella. Pounding waves and heavy breathing come to mind. The sweet cadences of Robert Frost. The sublime music of “Obama is the winner!” I still have the first cry of a baby and the angelic laughter of two little girls in my ears. But I covet silence.

Our new apartment is on a courtyard. I haven’t heard a car alarm in the five weeks we’ve been here. Like the sound of that? I feel like the dog in the old RCA logo, sitting in front of the gramophone’s horn listening for his master’s voice. I sit in front of an arched window, writing as other windows go dark. I listen for silence.

In truth, I have sounds I irresistibly cotton to—rough voices that for my ears are like the grain of sand in the oyster that produces the pearl. The extravagant seductions of Leonard Cohen and Satchmo. The melodic assault of Kurt Weill. The growling intellect of Barney Frank. The appreciative roar of Yankee fans.

An actor calls his agent’s office. The agent’s assistant says, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your agent is dead.” The actor asks again to speak to his agent. The assistant says, “Look, I know it’s a shock, but your agent is dead.” Once again, the actor asks for his agent. The exasperated assistant says, “Will you it through your head? Your agent is dead!” The actor says, “I know. I just like the sound of it.”


  1. LOL I like the sound of your post! we just moved to place with a courtyard too... enjoy the silence! (depeche mode)

  2. Love your passion for silence. I share it... mostly it's the only way I can hear myself think.

    Years ago I was happy to co-write a script with Karoly, a Hungarian director (& now a film professor at NYU) because of a wonderful short film he had made just before he left Hungary. Without any dialogue, he showed the daily life of the working class - with the clanking of factories, the noises of neighbors - juxtaposed with that of the upper class, and their boating along calm water, the quiet of cavernous homes... his theme, of course, that silence was a privilege of the well-to-do.

  3. Haha!

    This reminds me of how I spent my summer in 2004. My cousin Pino and I were in Chatham, Massachusetts, where he worked as a bartender and I as a dishwasher. It was a thankless job and the pay was pathetic; we just wanted to enjoy a summer on the beach before Pino started law school.

    For the entire summer, I labored over a sink in a second-rate deli with only my reflection in the chrome-surface around me as my co-worker. I had no ipod, no radio, and no CD player, yet in my mind I replayed countless movies, tv shows, and oh... so many of my favorite songs on a continuous loop.

    It truly was music to my ears.

    Needless to say, the first thing I would do once my shift ended was go back to our home, and shake the house with our stereo.