The Music that Ate the Movie
… I had never noticed that little cinema in the back alley. It looked more like a shop, a liquor or tobacco store, but over the shop window there was a neon sign CINEMA Ω that was humming and crackling, and in the shop window there was a poster, DR CURSTON’s ULTIMATE EXPERIMENT it said, with a picture of a long-faced man with ruffled hair, like static, and electric flashes all around. I wanted to ask Geoff, Is this some kind of horror movie, but he said, Come on in, with a smile I had never seen on his face, but it was kind of nice. Still an odd choice to take a girl for a first date, if it was a date, we could have gone to Asphalt Jungle, or Gunfighter with Gregory Peck, I like GP, or Solomon’s Mines with Stewart Granger, who’s a bit of a creep. It felt like he had taken me to some kind of obscure sect or anarchist cell or don’t know what, and I thought that maybe I shouldn’t have said yes, maybe it was just because it had been so unexpected, his asking Want to see a movie tonight? that I couldn’t think of an excuse right away, not of anything that wouldn’t sound too lame, homework, or piano practice, but I’m too shy, I guess, and I said yes, and since we were there I should give it a chance, or so I thought.
Don’t worry, Geoff said, I know the place, and I, What kind of reassurance is that? or so I thought. He bought tickets inside at the counter, and Want a drink? and I had a 7up, and him too, didn’t look like there was much choice, and we took our drinks inside, but first we had to go through a long passageway, awfully long it was, the theatre must have been in another building, far away from the street, which gave me a panicky feeling, suppose there was a fire and no other way out, or so I thought. When we passed a mirror I pulled my beret straight and saw Gff looking at me and our eyes crossed in the mirror, he still had that smile on his face, which was nice but also a bit weird. Two or three corners and finally we were in the movie theatre, which was dark and pretty small, and nobody else there, even when the movie started we were alone, and I didn’t like that at all.
So it started, with very loud music that suddenly came from nowhere, but it was beautiful, an orchestra with strings and everything, and a melody that makes you feel like you’re on a cliff and ready to fly into the sky or dive into the ocean which all feels like the same thing, and I thought, I really do like music, which was a silly thought, for why wouldn’t I like music? but then maybe I sometimes forget during piano practice, so when it hits you it hits you, and it hit me at that moment, and for a second I felt like snuggling up to Gff, which might have been the next best thing after flying, but I decided to sit still and [crossed out: not make him think he could do as he pleased].
But then the music changed, gone was the melody, and we saw a room or lab with a lot of tape recorders and weird machines buzzing and beeping and pieces of tape all over the floor, and you didn’t now whether the music or noise was made by those machines or just hanging around as part of the music. And Gff bent over and whispered into my ear, which gave me goose bumps, Electronic music, he whispered, as if I wouldn’t know that, but was it real music?
Long-face Dr Curston was manipulating his machines, unhappy with some bell sound that came back again and again, looking from which machine it came, until finally he realized that it was the doorbell, which was kind of funny. So he went to open the door for a delivery man with a package of fresh magnetic tapes or whatever, and through the door opening a rubber ball came rolling and bumping past the delivery man and past Dr C, and it was like those tape recorders were somehow picking up the sound of the bouncing ball, for the electromusic got a sort of bumpy swing, and a little girl jumped into the lab going after her ball. But then the ball rolled under a machine and Dr C screamed Don’t touch that! so the girl started to cry and Dr C felt sorry and got on his tummy himself to get the ball from under the machine.
So they were both cosily on the floor, and Are you a composer? the little girl asked, and he, I’m not a composer, I’m a musical inventor, an ACOUSMATICIAN, saying it very slowly for her never to forget. And she, Why he needed all those machines? and that the neighbours didn’t like the noise, and Can’t you play the piano? and he, Would you like that better? and she, Not if you play scales, and he, laughing, Or etudes, and then he suddenly jumped up, not so happy anymore, screaming Etudes! Etudes! which made me feel somewhat bad about my Czerny. And his machines started making a kind of rhythm out of his Etudes, like the sound of 100 piano’s, but with the notes swelling and sliding and shivering, which a piano can’t do, and the screen went black.
When the movie came back there was the girl’s mother complaining about all that noise, and he, But it’s my life, I’m a musical inventor, and she, Why don’t you invent some inaudible music? and he, Inaudible music, that’s just the music in your head, any idiot can make that, but I [crossed out, illegible] and then he goes on about how he wants to create a kind of music that lives its own life, has its own laws, without any human interference, music that is truly autonomous, and the electromusic seems to make a kind of chorus out of those words, truly autonomous, but without the words, and it sounds like it’s coming from everywhere, in front and behind and above, and even right beside my ear, for Gff too is humming along with it, knowing exactly how it goes, so I ask, How often have you seen this? and he lifted six fingers, but then added, It’s different every time, every time there’s less left of the movie, and the music gets bigger! And that sounded really weird, the music gets bigger, and scary too.
That’s how it began, and then it got worse, for the girl died through some accident and people blamed Dr C though it wasn’t his fault and then he took revenge by unleashing a kind of music that was truly autonomous but it was evil music that went after people and hurt them.
I know what Miss P would say, All the detail is at the beginning and then you are rushing to the end, that’s how I often write, but that’s the music’s fault, for you could hardly hear anything anymore of the dialogue because of the underscoring, as they call it, or overscoring, as I call it, because the electromusic drowned the dialogue, making it a kind of very noisy silent movie, and ever so often the images froze as if the film was stuck, and eventually faded altogether while the music went on, with only specks of light on the screen, or sometimes a face, and you could hear voices, the voice of the child, and other children, but very high and very low, and very fast and very slow, all kinds of voices but no words, and I got somehow afraid that we would never get rid of that music, that they would open the door and it would escape with us through that long corridor and into the street and everywhere, or so I thought, and then the opening melody came back, but it wasn’t like flying off a cliff, more like falling into a very dark hole with spiky walls and a very hard bottom or no bottom at all, and then Gff shouted out loud because I had been pinching his hand real hard without even knowing it, and I said sorry and then the movie was over and the lights went on, and we giggled like a pair of idiots for no reason.
So, did you like it? Gff asked and I, It really got me scared, and he, Do you believe that music could become autonomous? and I, Do I believe in ghosts? and Next time take me to Gunfighter, though I don’t know whether I should give him another chance, he’s nice but has weird tastes.
Now I still hear bits of that electromusic in my head, but it’s inaudible music, or so I hope.