Friday, March 6, 2009 | Categories: Episodes |
When I make improvisational music, I don't know what the other musicians will play. We start and it's a discord of sound created in the moment. I listen for patterns to give form to the chaos. I look down at my instruments: a PVC tube, a duck call, a transistor radio, a bullhorn and scissors. I grab the scissors and snip in syncopation to a sputtering saxophone and erratic drums. I'm listening, listening hard. In the pitch-blackness of my mind, I have to be decisive and open and not think too much, because thinking makes me second-guess myself and by then, the moment is gone.
Black is the colour I see when I squeeze my eyes shut and concentrate too hard. When I can get beyond the chatter of my critical inner-monologue, the blackness lifts to clarity and I’m finally free to play.
As a radio-and-television broadcaster by day, my job is to listen to music and interview the artists who create it. Here, too, music is crystal clear. It's the never-ending supply of clear plastic CD cases that protect the music people send me. Each week I receive at least a dozen of them--everything from the latest major-label-manufactured pop star to the struggling diehard artist living in his parents' basement.
Some music is so soul-wrenchingly beautiful; the little hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Other music comes across like an audio assault that has me reaching for the mute button. A random rotation of songs yields an array of sounds: roadhouse rockabilly from Alberta's heartland, a 30-second blast of amphetamine-induced hardcore, a Japanese girl locked in her apartment sings an out-of-tune melody to her cats, the clear righteous voice of Patti Smith cutting to my core.
When I sit down to interview a musician, the window that separates us from the studio technician twiddling knobs behind the soundboard is clear. So is the water in the Styrofoam cup on the table between our microphones.
When the musician is stumped by a question, she fidgets, because sometimes it’s impossible to describe the experience of music with words. She nervously picks bits of Styrofoam from the cup, and then takes a gulp of water to soothe her parched throat that's hoarse from singing ten concerts in a row.
Clear is the quality of the afternoon, many years ago, when my best friend, Julie, and I pretended to be French showgirls (even though we didn't speak French). We took turns singing gibberish songs that got louder and louder until the neighbours complained. Still, we sang our guts out, in the childlike spirit of joyous improvisation that becomes harder to access when you grow up and step onto the stage.
To me, music is as clear as the creative impulse. It's as transparent as the CD case that becomes a door to a musician's psyche. It's as clear as a cloudless afternoon in childhood, when I believed anything could happen.
Like glass, music lets the light in, offering a window to all colours.
(Originally published in Chatelaine Magazine, March 2005, as part of the series, "The Colour of…")