Norman Allan
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Art and Fiction



Bookish and I drove up the 400 in the Professor's chauffeur driven Lincoln Continental. There was new snow on the ground and everything looked virgin pure as if from a long time ago. And the tyres sang.

I studied Bookish. The badge, the crossed dollar on the Professor's lapel, teased me. "Are you working for the Company?" I asked.

Beamish was taken aback. "No. Not significantly," he answered quickly. "'Why do you ask?"

"Oh, nothing." I turned away. I had great misgivings about the social and spiritual atrophy which seemed so often to afflict academicians. I myself am a retired bird brain surgeon, having in my youth taken baby chick brains to pieces to see what made them twit. When a baby chick is happy it calls an ascending tone. When it is unhappy it cries a descending note. Dr. Pashanski called this phenomenon the Twitter-Peep Continuum. It upset me that the world had laughed.

I had demonstrated that the chick's vocal system was the expression of three oscillatory effectors. The phase relationship between these oscillators determined whether the animal voiced an ascending or a descending phrase. Nice and nasty, then, was represented in the bird's brain as the phase relationship between two semi-linked oscillations. I shrieked eureka. The pleasure principle is a matter of good and bad vibrations. The academic world turned its back on me with incomprehension. I plotted oscillations and cycles and scientific revolutions through the night.

"What use is it all?" my wife had asked.

"Well... er... it's good to know things," I had answered, but she had failed to recognise me for the genius I was. "Poor little chicks," she said wading through the sea of discarded graphs and draughts that littered the floor, she found the door, and left.

Driving up the 400 in the pink Lincoln, Bookish fumbled with the electricals, the sounds, while I, like an amused child, explored the liquor cabinet. I poured myself some Tequila, scored a big cigar. The circulophonics surround me with living presence. It is a cold spiritual lament played on Chilean harp.

"Ah, Terra del Fuego," I marxed. "I remember it well."

"You've been there. You've heard this actually performed." said Bookish in awe.

I flashed my eyebrows. "Well, not this, but you get the same far away cadences is Tasmanian abo chants, and in old ballads from round about St. Ives, Land's End. People who feel they are near the edge."

"Remarkable," said Bookish.

After some moments a small frown came and puzzled my brow. "What was that you were saying back in the restaurant about the lost chord of Israel?"

The question startled Beamish. He sat bolt upright and, throwing an apprehensive glance at the chauffeur, he answered hesitantly. "Those matters which the Company consults with me upon touch on this, hum, area. I can say no more."

"I thought you said you weren't working for the...?"
"Nothing significant."
"That's all very well," I urged, "but you can hardly expect me to do effective fieldwork if I don't know what theory we're trying to prove."

Beamish scowled. "That's so. I see that's so," he muttered napponishly. "Well, as you know, there are certain associations between themes, a heritance, as it were, like you get with languages, the Indo-European languages all tracing back to the Sanskrit, so with music there is a similar kinship: that is to say, we can run a genealogy of certain elements in the music and find the family connections, and we find a close kinship existing on many obfuse levels between, for instance, Celtic music and European church music. And then we find the same themes, expressed in different modalities, in classical Greek and in African musics. And again we pick up similar themes in other folk music in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, in the apparently most dissimilar of musics, and the incidence of occurrence of these themes correlates with the migrations of the Jewish peoples in the Diaspora. It all seems to focus back on ancient Egypt and..."

"This your turn off?": gruffed the driver. The sign, "Aurora, Nobleton", loomed, flashed past.
"No, no, the next," bumbled Beamish. "Now where were we? Oh yes, Egypt... well, never mind. Now these experiments I was telling you about..."

Professor Bookish was taking me out for a tour of the U of T's Holland Marsh SoundEculture Project, of which Bookish was very proud, for here the pure theory and rhetorics of musical obscura was producing practical results: feeding bellies, earning dollars.

Some time in the 80s it was discovered, or accepted, that plants respond to music, "the Professor explained as we walked amid the fields, the experiments. "Here at the SoundEculture laboratories we have five thousand acres wired for sound. Here spinach grows with Verde, barley's grown on Bach, hops are spiced with a rollickal rollicking reel, and roses are cultured on Botticelli. Here a horde of dedicated scientist, who are ever so good at keeping their figures and their concepts in well ordered columns, delve for the optimum bop to sprout a broccoli, to maximise fruit yield, to inhibit weeds."

Bookish and I walked up the narrow metal grated pathway between the plots. On our right a bed of OM chanting.
"This field, which we are culturing on the holy Sanskrit OM, has the same distribution of species as the control or silent field, only all the plants are much heartier here."
"So the Holy OM is like the sound of the wind and the earth and the ethers," I speculated. "Hey, all this must mean that birds' songs encourage the growth of different plants; the little birds are actually singing for their supper."
"Augh, quite possibly, quite possibly," the Professor coughed dismissively as an aircraft passed drowning them with its thunder.
"How do they respond to that?" I yelled amidst the roar.
"They sort of groan," the Professor shouted in reply. I laughed.

"It's just up here a way. Just here," burbled Beamish. And there it was. Prof. Beamish Bookish's purple cabbage patch. Giant five foot cabbages lullabied by Charles Trendy singing La Mer. "It stops them bolting and running to seed."

Back in the green-house complex walking through the warren of glass cubicles, double glazed: fat gutted wires running back to the central computer control: technicians, white coated, shoed in white sneakers with green felt silent soles, setting up experiments which will then be left to grow untouched by human hands, though riddled with electrodes. A half-dissected apple tree, bark carefully teased away along random meridians, pin cushioned with microelectrodes and canniculi, needles sucking phlow and zylem: they are studying its habituation to the noise of tractors.

"I should think," I ventured, "that it would make a great difference what sort of ambience you grow your plants in; whether you play them live or recorded, or synthetic music, for instance. It's a question of sincerity. Surely it's the spirit behind the music, as much as the music itself, that the plants are responding to."
"I don't see that that is necessarily so," retorted the Professor. "The plant is breathing the air. The air is vibrating with sound pressure waves. There's your "vibrational energy". Like that sub-sonic sound gun the French have developed. A focused vibration at seven cycles a second causes massive abdominal haemorrhaging. Yes, yes, you know, it all seems to boil down to a question of inner harmonics..."

"Yes," I interupted, "but I think it's more like, music goes straight to the dink." I spiralled my thumb to my heart. "Pull out the plug, and faaa..." my hands fountained over me.

Professor Bookish and I returned to the entrance of the green-house complex. It was, incidentally, still the third of December, 2 BC (Before Concert), though now it was getting dark. The pink Lincoln stood waiting. Our rather gangsteresque chauffeur held open the door. As we climbed in Bookish spoke to me in an intimate tone.
"You were speaking earlier about sincerity," said Bookish slyly. "Sincerity. The importance of recognising the truth." He tapped the dollar "S" and cross sign on his lapel, and lapsed into silence as we sat back in the Lincoln's luxury surrounded by the smell of leather, musk, and stale cigar. The circulophonics uttered Bartok.
"Now I could show you a thing or two about sincerity," Beamish continued. "Yes I'm sure you could," I answered non-commitally.
"What are you doing this evening?" asked the Professor.
"That depends."
"Well, there's a big Salvationist meeting at the Maple Leaf Gardens tonight. Templeton himself will be there, so it will really be worth seeing. There'll be quite a crowd, but I'm one of the sponsors of the Toronto Chapter - they've been consulting me about their musical arrangements - so I can get us seats on the platform. You'd learn something, if you're not afraid of the truth."

Chapter Four