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Music makes my mind drift uncontrollably. When I saw John Chantler and Johs Lunds perform at Copenhagen’s Mayhem venue I had a vision: I awake suddenly to discover that I have been sleeping on a beach. It’s a rainy early morning and I’m laying on my back in the open on the sand, the hood of my jacket blinding my peripheral vision. I have no idea how I got there and only see grey clouds above and hear the waves and wind. I stare into the sky blinking from light speckles of falling rain, my mind reeling from two dreams.
I try to stem the rapid decay that dreams inherently suffer from:
I’m a child living on a west coast Canadian island and the nights I hate most are the silent ones. To fall asleep to anything other than silence is preferable – rain the best, howling wind reassuring, a violent storm just fine – it’s an emptiness broken sporadically by a creaking tree, a snapping branch and other terrifying small sounds that emanate from the encroaching forest. It’s the terrifying absence of background sounds that makes me aware of how far away from everything I am here. It makes me claustrophobic – the dark edges of the forest encroach, the only thing keeping them from closing in is the light outside the front door washing the dark green trees, ferns and rocks with a creepy dim light.
Around this time, while I start to understand my fear of silence, I am given a portable radio. I spend nights slowly panning the tuning dial through the shimmering static noise of the radio spectrum, picking up the odd AM channel that somehow has made itself audible all the way out here where I am. Faint songs blend into speech into rich hisses into warbling glissandi and squeaks and pops – engrossing noises that I imagine come from orbiting satellites, distant planets and other worlds.
In the next dream I travel with my father to the northern tip of Vancouver Island. We hike through the forests of Cape Scott Park towards the sea. It takes us all day to get there. Along the trail I listen to the relentless roar of the wind and crashing waves coming off the ocean. The coast persistently seems just over the next hill but doesn't appear – the white noise grows more wearing and the hike turns to a slog. The park we are in contains a series of overgrown fields and dilapidated farm houses. Built by late 19th century Danish colonists, they were abandoned just over a decade later when the roads and utilities the government had promised didn't materialise. The settlements have a spooky peacefulness, beautiful but mournful in the subsuming nature.
Through ghost farms and fields, then some low bushes, we finally arrive at the shore. Here the white noise of wind and waves takes full hold. The white-capped sea churns out to the horizon and the pale bright sandy beach stretches to either side of us for kilometres.
Far down the beach we see a number of large dark lumpen shapes plonked upon the sand. As we walk towards them the shapes slowly reveal themselves to be a colony of recently deceased sea lions. In the heat of the blaring sun some of the giant cadavers have become bloated enough to cause their boiled and steaming guts to explode out onto the beach.
Dotted in constellations around the carcasses and across the shore are hundreds of brightly coloured size 10 Nike running shoes, all for the left foot. A shipping container must have fallen off a freighter during a heavy storm, breaking apart and dumping the left footed shoes into the sea, where they drifted to the shore and washed up on this beach. They look so peculiar and fake against the guts and endless nature – vibrant running shoes, floating through infinite space, bobbing across the swelling grey sea, in the brilliant rays of sunshine, or the luminous light of the moon, blown on by howling wind through the slow motion murk of my memory.
A large black bear emerges from behind one of the giant sea lion carcasses and raises itself up onto its hind legs.
I jump up but instead of the beach I am back in the venue and my ears are ringing.
There’s an idea that the essential human use of music is as a mask – that at its core music is a way to drown out all the external noises that our most inner primordial self automatically processes as a warning, setting our nerves alight. What this understanding of music might mean for, say, love songs, dance or noise music is hard to fathom, and the idea becomes too reductive to be interesting. But it is useful sometimes, inasmuch as the idea connects music directly to animals, landscape and endless cosmos – dumping us humans and our machines and activities into what was once called nature. Sound and silence drift uncontrollably, endlessly, until they find music. Music makes our minds drift uncontrollably but gives us an interface with the world.