Sunday, November 28, 2010

moth's powder (11.lastsunday.04)


dear moth's powder,

i gotta admit, i love the tendency in black gospel music to make any rhythmic song arhythmic, to slow down standards so that the singer can play around and toy, tinker and trouble the structure. a mundane song gains new life by way of evacuating it of any such architectonics, yielding the song to a critique of normative modes of organization itself. 4/4 time and 3/4 time and 2/4 time become 0/4 time ... or would it be 4/0 time, marking the possibility of infinite capacity for diffusion, difference, what Derrida might call that which structures differing and deferring, differance. don't mind the faux-philosophical, opaque speak. some shit i learned - rather, "learned" (yes, the scare quotes are necessary) - yesterday (or even still, more like, some shit i read that didn't make much sense to me at first read, so i copied and have been trying to think about it with the things that i know). and i know i love how my own Aunt Hester would come to our church and how her "friend" Delores would play the organ for her. my Aunt Hester was queen of the arrhythmia that i'd hear in black pentecostal music. she'd take a song - something simple, a congregation song, even - like "this is the day"

this is the day, this is the day / that the lord has made, that the lord has made

i will rejoice, i will rejoice / and be glad in it, and be glad in it

this is the day that the lord has made / i will rejoice and be glad in it

this is the day, this is the day / that the lord has made

and whereas, during testimony service, we'd sing the song with the regular 4/4 structure, clapping on the two and four (not the one and three unless we were trying to make the song sound "caribbean" and somehow we'd gotten it into our heads that "sounding caribbean" means clapping on the one and three and slowing the pace just a bit; but god forbid, never would we clap on the the one, two, three, and four like the white folks did at the charismatic church in the suburbs), my auntie would come sing during an afternoon service just before the preacher got up and she'd subject the entire song's structure to a melismatic critique. so you know how with melisma, instead of each note getting a syllable, one can sing multiple notes for one syllable of the song. so instead of saying do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do one would take the do and make it do-oh-oh-oh-oooooh! going up and down the scale. people like Kim Burrell or Darryl Coley, i suppose, are good examples.

well. my Aunt Hester would take that little testimony service, congregational song and sing it as a solo with Delores playing behind her. no rhythm. no structure. rather, she built into the song ecstasy and surprise by way of the tension and release. she'd get up and say something like ya'll pray for me, i'm hoarse, got a cold but god gets the glory on today. i'm gonna sing...well and she'd pause while Delores would play "nothing music" behind her, filling in the gaps and pauses and breaths with sweet organ music that'd allow Aunt Hester a moment to think because she literally would never know what she'd want to sing but would allow the flow of the service to determine her song choice and how she'd deliver it. since this one time was right before the preacher and the service was sorta dry and she wanted to give the preacher something on which to hold that would allow his sermon to escalate more easily, i'm guessing at least, she went for something familiar only to hold up its familiarity to scrutiny, only to show us that that which we thought we knew was that which we didn't know at all. removing the rhythm while using words that we all knew very, very well (and, to be honest, it's also likely that we sang the standard version of the song during testimony service but she wasn't there anyway) meant that the substance of the song had to be found otherwise, that we had to get into it by her delivery, by the style she used that was, at the same time, its essentiality. singing that which we all knew in a way that we did not and could know meant that we were all on a journey - with my auntie - of discovery.

so after her pondering, she came upon - which is to say, she discovered already there - the possibility for the arrhythmic version of the song, which is really when you think about it, just another kind of rhythmic offering, rhythmic critique. kinda like how all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. some concepts have folded in them other concepts. rhythm as regularity is just another way to be arrhythmic. right? well. anyway. my auntie'd close her eyes right before the first word, after having looked over and nodded to Delores, Delores still playing the "nothing music" waiting for the first words, not knowing what auntie was going to sing. of course, auntie chose a different key than the one in which Delores was playing her "nothing music," so she immediately ran her fingers up and down the white and black notes to catch up to auntie, but so skilled she was that it took her but a quick second and she was there, right behind auntie, filling in while also anticipating.

thi-EE-ah-ih-whoa-ih-hee-heee-s ee-yah-HEE-yah-ee-yah-HEE-ya-s tho-oh-oooh-ooooooh! day

well. to try and recount the entire rendition through typed words would only be to falsify what actually occurred. words - at least when written - don't go there and i think my friend N.- might agree with me. not at all. you would have had to have heard it. but you can at least imagine her singing this lord's song in a familiar land but differently. it's as if my auntie would reduce the song to its component parts, examining the truth of each word and breath and note and break. the hesitant approach, i learned when i was much older, made the weary sad eyes she had whenever she sang make sense. i've since learned that her best friend and organist - indeed, that Delores - was her on again, off again partner who was convinced as hell that hell was her destination and so life became a living purgatory for them both. their intimate connection we'd hear as auntie sang while Delores played was nothing other than a melancholy they both endured on a daily basis. the possibility for their intimate music making is that very thing that broke down all sorts of ideas about what rhythm, tune and time could be for any song. and don't get it twisted, auntie would sing down the heavens and Delores would play the hell out of that organ until we all danced a bit, even those who'd never danced and those who didn't want to; she might've been what she preached against but she also had something in her that she wanted to give us whenever she sat on that organ, and that something was that same holy, terrifying, orgiastic feeling she gave auntie, no doubt.

Delores was, we'd say, a good organist. she did not lead the song but followed politely behind. she did not dominate the song but, rather, influenced it. she did this by having all of the drawbars for the B-3 pushed in except the 8' and 4', which were pulled all the way out to 8 (loudest volume). she, of course, would have the 32' bass drawbar pulled all the way out. there is nothing more soothing than the combination of the soft of the keyboard with the low bottom of the heavy bass. she'd keep her setting like this while auntie sang the first two lines of the song, following, as i said before, a bit behind. like a kind friend being led by the hand into uncharted territory. but after the dance and choreography of voice and pedal, organ and song, Delores would feel more confident and auntie would be more herself, eyes open now, having taken the microphone off the stand and holding it in her hand, prepared to walk a bit as she sang. well. Delores would then pull out the 13/5', 11/3' drawbars to about 4 and the 1' drawbar to about 2 in order to add vibrancy and bounce and color to the sound. still following, but not as far behind now. still polite but more knowing still. after auntie'd sing "has made" in her long, drawn-out, arhythmic manner, Delores would play the most delightful turn around which is like the end and beginning converging, an intro and conclusion at the same encounter. she, of course, pushed all the drawbars back in again because auntie wanted to sing the same lines again from the beginning, leaving the 8' and 4' drawbars out but now exposing the 16' as well, moving her hands up an octave because the 16' necessitates this move.

well, i'm sure none of this makes sense to you and, even if it did, you don't care about drawbar settings but at least know that by the end of Aunt Hester singing and Delores playing, Delores would have exposed all of the drawbars pulled out to their fullest volume and the folks in the church would be up and loud and screaming in response YEAH! YES! YESSAH! MMMMHMMMM!!! and MY MY MY and other such things because of this song and dance auntie and Delores publicly engaged. but you, of course and no doubt, are preoccupied with the curt but anything but simple question: why? why does any of this matter? and why linger in such a mundane conversation as drawbar settings and lesbians who cry and curse and feign coughs when called upon to sing? this is, at least in my mind, the very question that you have allowed to preoccupy you so much so that you never give way to, or a way for, experience. you never could or would and never felt you should believe me when i'd exclaim your beauty, your brilliance. of course, this is why you improvisationally asked me over and over again if i really actually thought that, if i believed it. you were beguiling, cunning, creative with the same query asked over and over again repetitiously until i too questioned if i meant it.

so why is it you like me

what is it you see in me

do you really like me

once someone comes around who really interests you, you'll leave me

you don't know anything about me

so what do you like about me

what things do you find attractive in me

i am not beautiful

the problem, of course, is that you consider beauty to be kinesthetic, the project of some such movement that has been enacted and since you have the annoying tendency to deem your actions impotent, you think the only beauty in you that others could possibly see a farce. well. to me, beauty is not kinesthetic but rather potential. it is about the set of capacities to move toward movement that others, quite literally, sense. and i mean sense in its most profound and quotidian resonance, i mean taste and touch and smell and sound and sight. your beauty, at least in the ways i detected it, was not wrapped up in what you've done (or, really, not done) but in the possibilities of a future. this was the beauty of Delores's playing behind and with my auntie: the possibility for discovering, for happening upon something, for invention and improvisation. but my auntie's breaking the song into components also sounded out a similar concern that you'd announce each time you'd ask me the same question differently. she did not believe the words she was singing, so she exposed them to newness and revisement to see - maybe hear? - something in them that would betray some truth. she wanted the kinesthesia of the words rather than living in their potential. the funny thing is, the congregation got it, they felt the potential and praised accordingly. but for auntie and Delores, the potential was simply not enough, they needed some action, some movement.

but, of course when i think about it now, kinesthesia and potentia are not that different. or, rather, they are both constructed from our social worlds and just like silence does not ever exist outside of a desire for it, and just like emptiness (of jugs, for example) is a ruse (a jug that is empty, Heidegger would say, is full with all the mixed properties that make air; to proclaim it empty is really to say that air is "nothing" but we know that this is not the case), so too is potentia a kind of movement (and likely that kinesthesia is also potentia with differance). i mean, everything is always moving, in a state of flux. so even the notion of potential does not fully encapsulate the ways in which potentia is a form of movement. it is the motion of possibility, it is the stirring up (the gift? am i Paul to your Timothy?) of occasion, it is the flow of withholding. what i mean is that potentia for me makes visible and audible the anticipatory nature of hearing. what we'd hear in auntie's announcement of a cold? the possibility for failure and not just of the song, even if not primarily the song, but the possibility for failure to produce the holy, sanctified and set apart subject deemed necessary for singing the lord's song. (her "cold" of course was nothing other than the announcement of the incapacitated body that produces of itself a certain sort of anacrusis for holiness itself but more on that some other time, i'm sure). what we'd hear in the first, hesitant, melismatic word this that she'd sing? the stirring up of a world of holy trouble. we knew, with that word, that the power of the lord was sure to come down. the surprise would be in how we got there, not in the fact of us getting there because there was determined as achievable and achieved before she began. previous to situation, N.- might say. my auntie doesn't sing much these days and isn't invited out much either. Delores still plays, thankfully but they are rarely seen together from what i understand. both of them got delivered, i think. too bad they're no longer saved.

in potentia,


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