by Ada Fetters
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
The vocalist who opened for me last night, Pretty Keen-Eye, said that “Music isn’t love, it’s all just friction.”
This is what MDUSA says: “Music is waves of filthy friction, repetitive motion with rapid variations. You should feel the vibrations in your chest. While the pretty girl’s words are cut up and rearranged around you, you should want the bass. My goal is to build up anticipation, keep adding to the pattern until you want the resolution so badly you’re practically begging for it. You know it is coming. You and the people around you generate the tension; screeching on my part would only relieve it. When I finally let you have the big, wobbly bass, you should feel it in your chest. It should make your vision blur.”
Music is love.
This is how Emery the brain knows that the disparate elements of a track have come together correctly: MDUSA feels it in his viscera and responds accordingly. Other people feel it, too, because MDUSA makes enough money for Emery to live in his own place without worrying too much about balancing his checkbook. MDUSA’s sound, made possible because Emery went to college on a cello scholarship and minored in ballistics, is hard enough for other DJs to duplicate that I won’t have to move out anytime soon.
I am Emery, by the way. Emery the brain, Emery the producer, Emery behind the show. Hardly anybody has heard of Emery. Most people know me by my DJ alias, MDUSA, which stands for Many Died, You Shall Also. Sometimes I even think of myself as MDUSA. It’s hard not to. His force of personality is more powerful than mine.
MDUSA is known for big, disorienting bass drops and for wearing dark glasses in night-clubs and theaters. This is because my glasses are tinted to let in light only from the low-frequency end of the electromagnetic spectrum. The higher the frequency of light, the more it obliterates the gradients of brightness that my eyes can cope with.
Rapid intervals of bright light and darkness blind me even with my glasses on, whether it’s sunlight through trees or strobe lights. During gigs I am dazzled; it’s useless to fight it. I navigate my sound by timing, by touch and kinesthesia around a mental map of my setup. My fingers will find the keys and turntables long before my eyes do, which is important when the drum-track is sped up to 140 bpm.
I know my equipment like I do my own equipment, which is something MDUSA might say. Last night he did a show and stayed for the rest of the party, radiating manic energy into the small hours, long after the glow-sticks and light-bracelets went dim. That guy fades from my brain and body with the dawn, though, and takes his mouth with him. Emery of the balanced checkbook and early-morning coffee will keep the thought to himself. I push the heels of my hands up under my dark glasses.
* * *
Leona and Nathan join me for coffee at our usual diner. Nate gets up in the pre-dawn. Leona was up all night anyway. She hasn’t changed out of her spangled sleeveless shirt. The wind has changed direction since last night. Now it is blowing from the north, which means we’ll have a storm in the afternoon. I love sleeping under the rain.
Leona looks out the window with her chin on her hand. She says there should be a word for the way a sunlit tree looks against the dark underneath of an approaching storm cloud, when the sun is behind you, shining under the cloud. “The leaves twist from green to silver and back again. The cloud is white on top but, underneath, it is nearly the same shade of blue as the sky overhead.”
Green and silver mean nothing to me, and the details of the approaching storm front are too hazy for me to see, but I know what she is talking about. “Raiolight,” I say.
Nate tests this with his orator’s articulation. “’The tree sparkled as the raiolight faded in and out.’”
“Did you just come up with that now?” Leona asks.
“No,” I admit. “It’s the word I have for when I am in a dim room with light coming from behind me, lighting certain objects so they are luminous against a darker background.”
Pale cochlear strands emphasize Leona’s dark curls. When her teeth flash they are the same shade as the pearls in her ears. “You would have a word for that.”
Her mouth is painted. She says it is garnet but her lips, hair, eyebrows, and eyes are all the same grade of dark to me; darker than the lip-prints she left on her coffee-cup but brighter than the coffee itself.
Thunder growls from far away.
Nate talks about mass, which will happen in an hour or so. He’ll be singing. “D’you want to attend, Em?”
I am tempted. Our lives had first overlapped when he was a music minor, philosophy major. His singing in Latin is not something to miss. However, I am so drained that I’d probably nod off halfway through and call attention away from the ceremony.
Leona is sweetly sleepy. “I’m gonna go to... making the... you can do that all you like but... ’s time and now.” She waves her hand in the general direction of her neighborhood.
“Couldn’t have said it better myself.” I stifle a yawn.
* * *
My house is not large. I don’t need a lot of room. I also don’t need big windows. The things I need are simple. I need deep shade at midday, a back yard, and hardwood floors.
Carpet might reduce the chance of glare, I know that. However, the possibility of losing wires or adapters against the texture of a carpet; trying to get spills that are invisible to me out of a carpet; the odor of a possibly-stained carpet; no good can come of these things.
That’s why I fit heavy dark cloth over the windows, put good insulation around the doors, and place my own lamps around instead of using the obnoxious ceiling lights that came with the place.
I nearly fall asleep in the shower when steam unwinds muscles that MDUSA used and abused earlier. Finally I am able to stretch out in bed. Rain patters against the leaves overhead. Bliss. I am out in minutes.
The alarm gets me up just before sunset. In the summer, I like to eat breakfast in the back yard with the last rays of sunlight on my face. Sometimes my neighbors, Kate and the Wizard, invite me over to watch the sunset from their deck. Sometimes we pass a joint around. Sometimes I eat with them if they are in the mood for breakfast-for-dinner.
Sometimes they ask if I am okay. I say yes. My world and theirs are shaped the same. We live in the same city on the same block. We go through human routines. Our worlds just occupy different times. Mine overlaps with my neighbors’ at twilight.
After full dark it is time to head to the studio. I have the software to work on composition at home but I save the high-amplitude bass, with the big snakey sound waves that travel, for the studio where I can hear everything on speakers that are worth a damn.
I slide my laptop into my backpack and stand on the pedals of my bike as it see-saws down the porch steps. It is illegal for me to drive in this state. Everyone knows the top light means “stop” and the bottom light means “go.” If it is dark outside, I can see which one is lit up. However, direct sunlight makes it hard for me to judge which of the relatively weak traffic lights is shining. In our great and sunny state, my driving test was a fail.
So I let momentum carry me down the residential hill, cut through the concrete canyons and past the strip where neon obliterates the stars. On the other side of that is the corporate park that contains the building that contains the studio where I put my tracks together.
MDUSA the DJ has enough of a following for his record label to let Emery the producer use their subsidiary place after hours. I swing my leg over the seat and coast into the parking lot, standing on one pedal.
The pale cinderblocks at the rear of the building still radiate the heat of day when I park my bike and swipe my card to get inside. My head is already in my music, and I take the spiral stairwell to the basement level by grabbing the railings, lifting myself up and propelling myself downward.
All is dark in the studio lobby except the big tropical fish tank. Its watery light is enough for me to navigate. The building is so quiet I can hear the bubbling of the water filter. One of the angelfish comes out from behind a stand of plastic plants. I press my fingertip to the glass. The fish bumps its nose against the other side.
From there I turn down a hallway with an EXIT sign glowing at one end. It is faced toward the door in case people forget where they have been. I go past glass panes and locked doors to the studio where I do my work.
* * *
MDUSA is getting impatient. He wants a cello between his knees. He wants to play himself into a meditative trance. Then he’ll use a sound-board to rip it to pieces, add different levels of distortion to each, and restructure them to sound like the walls were closing in.
He likes to make the room itself serve his purpose, which is part of the reason why I need a studio and not just a pair of headphones. He’ll lay some high, contemplative synthesizers over it for buildup before the descent. Maybe include phrases from an old instructional video I captured the other day.
I can only plan so much, though. The best stuff happens when I am interacting with something outside of myself. It becomes more elusive than when it was inside my head. In my brain it stays what I want it to be, a blurry ideal of how the track should sound instead of the way it does sound.
Once the sound is out there, though, it becomes something real to chase after. Sometimes I catch it, if I put in enough work. Often enough, other people like it so much they come to see me perform, and we go down the rabbit-hole together and that is the best, the best, the best.
Coming into the studio I am so amped up that I unlock and open the studio door without looking first. Catorast — a flood of intense light — turns my surroundings into a depthless haze. My space is lit up as if someone is trying to warn a cargo ship away from it. This feels like a betrayal, as if my usually friendly surroundings have assaulted me. I turn my head away and back up, blinking rapidly while trying to get my bearings. Memories of my younger self stumbling around home-room and halls lined with lockers make me wince.
Picture this. When the bell rings, the others jump up and charge for the hall but I hesitate to leave my desk. If I lose my desk under the fluorescent lights, I’ll be stumbling around in a one-dimensional haze with dark shapes drawn on it. So I try to follow the shadow-people and their sinister ground-doubles. They stretch and shrink but I’m not sure if this is distance or a trick of the overhead lights.
I might flinch away from an anticipated collision with a shadow or walk into a solid body. Once I get out from under those evanishing lights, my world regains some depth. I have the territories of the school building mapped in my head, varying from “friendly” to “hostile” depending on both the light-level and who occupied which rooms.
It would be naïve to present this as if I were the only one who went through the mandatory grind that is “being different in high school.” I’ll say this: the other students at Greenfield County High found my behavior amusing.
There is nothing wrong with my brain. Remember, I maintained a music scholarship and minored in ballistics. Did you know that ballistics helps a person know how sound-waves behave in a small space versus a large one? It does.
I also learned how to launch projectiles. Figuring out trajectories made me happy in itself, but it was also a means toward the pressure waves that satisfied MDUSA.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Ada Fetters