Saturday, September 23, 2017

Two Glitches

I've been listening to Mike Oldfield's double album Incantations. It's one I listened to a lot as a kid having been introduced to Oldfield by a science teacher (who lent me Five Miles Out) and then hearing the famous Tubular Bells. Incantations is my favorite, a four-part largely instrumental work that moves through progressions in what Wikipedia tells me involve the circle of fifths which I have yet to learn enough about to recognize or begin to understand but which sound good. The piece repeats motifs with different instruments and has two great solo vocal sections that put me right away. I came back to it a couple years ago wanting good writing music and recently found a vinyl copy and am listening again. It is beautiful. Listening yesterday, I noticed in Part Four an odd moment when things fall out of rhythm. A piece of percussion, a hand bell I think, sounds mis-struck. I’ve noticed before but let it go. Incantations is over seventy minutes long and this moment of discontinuity lasts only a second and a half. Yesterday though, it stuck with me. What is that? I wondered. This afternoon I attended a wake for a family friend. She died last week suddenly for most of us, not so suddenly for her family, though almost any death seems too sudden. At the wake, we talked with friends and family, listened to a couple good speeches, remembered the woman so recently gone. Her death brought us, at least for an afternoon, together. One of her daughters who hasn't seen me in twenty some years said I hadn't changed even a little, that I looked exactly the same. I smiled. Her oldest sister asked how I was doing and I said, great. She said, you're always great. I nodded and smiled. I said, what have I got to be unhappy about? Why shouldn't life be great? The middle sister and I talked a little about my dad's death over two and a half years ago. She nodded, understanding where I was going. She said, I know, it gets better. I smiled a little and said, yeah, but it also totally sucks. I told her how last week I had a vision of Dad. Just a moment of remembering. It was of him when he still smoked Winchester little cigars. His glasses were tinted dark in the bright sunshine. He was holding a drink. Maybe a beer. Maybe just a cup of ice water. I'm surprised it wasn't black coffee. Whatever. He was smiling widely, laughing, having a great time. It lasted for all of eight seconds, the moment of remembering, but I’ve brought it back now. Not him alive, but the image I imagined last week. He's not coming back, but the imagining felt good. There were M&Ms in a bowl at the wake. How great an idea is that? The glitch in incantations occurs exactly at twelve minutes, thirty eight into Part Four. There should be a percussive hit on a set of bells, but the initial sound is cut and comes in late. The rhythm is off like a skip in a record, a chink in the cassette tape except nothing else is off. The rest of the instrumentation is perfect. There’s just that one moment of one instrument missing. Then the song is back as it should be, the rhythm restored, perhaps the circle of fifths proceeding as it should. I don't know. The original master tape was faulty. These things happen. I'm a minute and a half past that glitch now. My friends are a week past the glitch of their mother’s death. The music goes on. The party is likely just now breaking up. The family will gather some more, remembering, planning, imagining how things go on. I'll listen to the last few minutes of Incantations now. Someday I’ll explore the circle of fifths, wondering if understanding helps me better hear the music. Here comes the big finish with guitar and that odd percussive bell, the hits coming just perfectly in rhythm like a steady heartbeat we're sure will go on forever.