For those that were there that day, in the hot dust bowl of an amphitheatre sprawled beneath a steamy, noonday sun, it marked the beginning of the end of everything once considered knowable.
Gone was the safety net held high by once trustworthy truths. It ushered in the dawn of an age in which things transmogrified to spread beyond their material borders. It was the change of all.
An air of excitement and anticipation fluttered through the crowd. Snippets of dialogue heralded the beauty and atmosphere of light. The quality of the rehearsal on stage surpassed that of more mediocre ensembles’ main acts.
We all revelled in the shared feeling that this would be a movement to remember. Not one of us could have guessed how far reaching just such an assumption would be.
After the concert, many would convince themselves they’d seen it coming. Such dubious claims, like the now altered state of the world, could not be found to make much sense, less still yield any proof.
If the proof was ‘in the pudding’, we, in our ignorance of what was to come and what followed, were mere flies stranded in the murky unknown ointment of a future more harrowing than any we could have foreseen.
It opened with a fanciful medley of bassoons, harshly punctuated by dreamlike, choral string arrangements. The buildup progressed until the subtle, harmonious melody seemed to work in concert with the sunset. A momentary effervescence arose, almost capable of being touched.
What followed piqued our interest further still. Bass drums, wind instruments, and a haunting vibraphone pummelled the crowd with the brute force of a high-speed planetary collision in the blackness of impossibly dark space. Such was the scale of the heavenly trumpets and rolling tremolo rhythms that for a moment the clouds seemed to part. As they did, what was unveiled painted the picture of a sky spread wide open to whatever might exist beyond.
When the strings repealed their earthiness, sounding as an army of harpies screaming across eternity undoubtedly might, the precipitous water molecules floating high above proceeded to dance and change. Something strange started happening, shimmering in the space between the transfixed bodies of the audience to which I belonged. Our words grew slurred and not one of us could peel our eyes away from nor silence our ears from that which we witnessed.
The detail the audience heard, in the searing twinkling tones of the xylophone that parted and met like interleaving waves of sound, took on a life of its own. Form gave way to a new, as yet undefined, mode of composition. It posited the total, anarchic decay of many thousands of years worth of musical, chordal, notational structure.
The faces of the orchestra players, projected on screens for all to see, were adorned with the language of hypnagogic states of being. Gradually, then violently, they turned, fast becoming increasingly warped and bent. The actions caught by the cameras, played by fingers seemingly disconnected from their hands, should have been impossible for any human being to perform.
That day we discovered how human bodies could easily become slaves to the power of otherworldly forces we’d previously thought under our control. The screens fizzed with the distorted light as some invisible grasp wrote havoc upon and held askance the now-puppeteered orchestra.
Their mouths unwillingly opened so far that they broke free of their jaws and up past the sockets of their eyes. It grew clear that they, like their instruments, were channelling something beyond anyone’s understanding or control.
Their crooked arched backs and unwieldy contortions were, to the audience, like observing a desiccated forest of angular trees caving under the immense strain of quakes stampeding below their feet. The sound far outstripped what we used to describe or imply when referring to something as "immense".
The entire audience watched, incapacitated and unable to peel our eyes away. We were all too terrified to see or miss some important, life-altering / life-ending thing.
Perhaps we awaited a warning. Some benevolent authoritarian directive like a prescription to cover our ears. So fearfully convinced we would be next, it was as though we wanted to know the sound when it did to us what it was doing to them.
What was once a prodigious assemblage of profound musical talent had, by way of this nauseatingly shocking and unexpected process of sound, grown into a horror too mortifying to conceive. Second-hand listeners would freely doubt the possibility, much less truth of what we'd seen. That was until it happened again, and again, all the while they helplessly waited for their turn.
The orchestra had become a pulsating, hive-like tumour of flesh, wood, and metal. Pockets of hair sprouted through its surface giving it the appearance of a sun-baked dune glabrous but for its odd, brackish tufts.
It was no longer possible to see where flesh began and instruments ended, this bulging neoplasm a truly berserk and wild thing. I remember thinking later how it was as if some experiment designed to yield life from unusual everyday objects had gone psychotically awry. Like electrodes stuck into haggis had coaxed its inert innards to life, terrors too profuse to be repeated were seen through its glutinous pellucid skin.
The sound spread through us like some kind of unholy tremor. Convulsive, our better senses no longer knew what to feel or think. The panicked rioting of the crowd soon found unsure footing and arose a stampede. Like water suddenly emerging as something viscous and bleak, the crowds crushed one another, assailing the exits. Injuries were suddenly less common than the deaths of those that made up the fleshy carpet, trampled beneath our feet.
In the aftermath, Science caught up, having sought to discern sense from what occurred that ghastly, fateful day. We were told we were now living in an alarming age beyond logical explanation.
Mouths were agape at the globally elected officials that had grouped to unanimously and publicly explain.
Critics lent their peculiar form of punditry to the debate, calling it the age of AnthropomorFiction. Vociferous in their disbelief, they looked on in horror as their commissioning editors and the powers that had once been suddenly asked them to accept life had miraculously sprung out from the previously-presumed inanimate.
It wasn’t just limited to Sound.
It was simply the first to shed its skin and step into the light of earthly existence. A reality-reconstructing war cry, it trumpeted the end of surety in all its forms.
Smells intimated their cognisance by impacting on the eyes and reordering what humans thought they’d seen. Water mirrored our forms and that of every other its or their curiosity led it to replicate.
No one could be sure if these elements were part of a single living lifeform or the reflection of tributaries as far, wide and profuse as the lack of singularity in humanity's irises.
All that could be known was that we had suddenly become a very precarious offshoot of that thing we once called "life". The term became something of a dirty word as it now applied to near everything that behaved as though it possessed will.
We couldn’t discern what the newfound livings intentions were. Sound continued to inhabit both organic and inorganic matter with an aplomb exclusive to its engagement with the world. Scientists surmised that it behaved with psychotic, schizophrenic tendencies as measurable in human counterparts afflicted with such conditions.
When we hear the sirens that pervade the silence surrounding every populous centre of human habitation we no longer know what to think. It only rings when Sound makes its approach. The others that now live show little interest beyond the navigation, testing, and exploration of the earth.
Sound is quite different.
As I listen to the wails that make their approach I’m reminded of an unsettling rumour I’ve heard. Unlike so many of the outlandish others, it’s one I dread to think of as true.
Sound has once again reprised aggressively repeating its actions on that fateful, frightful day. It has started simulating the sounds members of the human and animal kingdom associate with safety, drawing us and them closer in, like the sticky beaded drops upon a spider’s web.
It is sucking life in, converging to turn biology wherever it can find it, into pulsing, tumourous vectors of its symphony of unrest.
As I hear the sirens growing closer, the fretful in me wants to go outside and see what all the ballyhoo is about.
I know this could be it. I could be being warned by a tannoy system of safety as primal as the horns fashioned from skulls. I wish I could distinguish clearly the truth behind that single, bellowing note so typical of my kind.
I face the risk that this is my last warning, perhaps even my last chance at safety.
I remember an article I read, back in the early days of otherworldly anthropomorphisation. The writer had saliently charted what, to me, seemed the most plausible reality.
I think of its now world famous title. The siren grows louder. “Sound, alive--” it had read, “has completely lost its mind."
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