A Story by Arica Rust
When I walk down the street, I sometimes stop to look at plants or trees that I pass by. A tree above me in the autumn daylight lowers its branches to allow closer inspection of the maple leaves hanging from its limbs. At the end of the bow, its limbs divide into another set of branches nearly identical in number to the ones stemming from the original limb. Then yet again the branches divide into twigs each festooned with maple leaves fading from red to green as the older, larger leaves begin to darken to red with the coming cold weather. The new green leaves look like copies of the larger red ones: children of themselves like when I stand in front of the bathroom mirror with another mirror at my back and see many reiterations of myself stretching out to infinity towards the horizon. Inside each leaf, I see a memory.
In 1807 when Jean-Baptiste Fourier published his memoir On the Propagation of Heat in Solid Bodies , he described what would become known as the Fourier series wherein one can recreate a complex waveform by adding together its component waves.
The other night, I was lying in my hotel room with my headphones on, listening to one of my favorite tracks. In the silence of the mostly empty hotel, I closed my eyes and let my mind’s focus move from each instrument. I pulled forward the electric guitar, then the bass guitar, then the tom rolls, then the lead vocal, one-by-one, to the forefront of my mind like picking the petals off a flower. Then when finished, I lay each petal back into the mix to reconstruct the song in its wholeness like the semblance of the flower.
For a very long time, this listening process has been the closest I come to meditation. It brings me a sense of calm to hear a song this way, much like looking at a painting in a museum then stepping forward to look at each individual brushstroke. I hear this way in my everyday life if I shift my focus.
I am walking down a new street in a town I have never been to before that reminds me of everywhere and yet nowhere. I hear the reflections of cars whirring about, bouncing off the glass buildings. Then I shift my attention to the shuffle of my feet against the rough concrete, then shift again to hear the two people I pass by as they talk over coffee, and shift and shift and shift until the people talking sound like they are singing, the reflections off the glass buildings sound like striking bells, and my feet sound like a drunk drum beat. The world around me becomes an urban orchestra twisting and reconstructing itself in its own enveloping rhythms. Inside each sound, I hear a memory.
I reach above my head, brushing the sweaty hair poking out of my rock climbing helmet off my face. I forgot to pick the cable with a spanset to the cable bridge before we started going up to trim, and now I had to fix it. Standing on top of the motor distro I reached out to choke the cable with the spanset.
“What does it say on your arm?”
I turned my head around to see my friend but also my boss standing below me with his laptop in hand staring up at the Dune tattoo scrolled across my left forearm.
“What?!” I said. I was so fixated on trying to wrangle the cables in a hurry that the words went straight through my brain.
“Your arm. What does it say on your arm.”
I smiled, “ ‘Fear is the mind-killer.’ It is a quote from the book Dune by Frank Herbert.”
Instead of responding, he pulled up the t-shirt sleeve on his same arm to reveal a series of words written in Latin on his upper arm.
“We have the same tattoo,” his words grinned.
Maybe it was only for a split second, but in that second, I thought of the leaves on the trees spiraling off the branches identical to the ones that came before it, and inside each leaf was written one of the letters from the tattoos on our arms. Inside them, I read a memory.
Seven days into this show, the A1 and I had become friends talking about professors that we had in common from San Francisco State, but in different time periods. Some teachers and mentors last through generations like that. He always offered to buy me coffee during his morning excursions after our beginning-of-day checks were complete and walk-in started rolling. Come to think of it, he even had the same classic white-haired, “sound guy” ponytail that our professor had.
And the branches diverged yet again.
I had thought about something ahead of him in anticipation of something I knew he would think but had not yet thought and then when he thought it, he laughed in surprise and gratitude.
“You know, you are gonna make a great husband one day.”
My heart smiled, and in each word I heard a memory.
We had just finished dumping the truck and pushing all the cases into the dark theater. I finished helping with what I could on deck so now it was time to make my way towards FOH to see what we were working with today.
The FOH engineer was already there beginning to pull things out of the utility case to place them on top of his console in what was becoming our daily base configuration of the setup. An old man sat in a chair next to the house console, we had met earlier during introductions, and he told me he was the house tech.
After getting ourselves situated and ready to begin our verification steps, I began our daily procedure of moving systematically through the system du jour to check where we were at.
“We just had the [insert Manufacturer’s Name] guy come in to check the tuning a few months ago,” the house tech said.
“Oh, it’s all good, this is just part of our procedure every day,” I said cheerfully.
I moved the measurement microphone at the transition point between one side of the main hang and one side of the in-fills. There seemed to be a time difference present.
“Hey, do you mind if I see the tablet for a sec? It looks like there is a slight time offset between the mains and in-fills,” I said.
“I can’t give you access to the tablet. It has to be run by a house technician. Also, that seems impossible. This was just tuned.”
I just stared at him.
I went back up to the stage to grab something, or so I told myself.
“Are you OK?” the stage tech asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just having a hard time getting this guy to help me.”
“Dude, he came up to me earlier when we were loading in and started asking me all these questions and I was like, ‘Man, you got to talk to her, she is our crew chief’ and he said, ‘Oh, that little girl over there? She is your crew chief?’” he told me.
I didn’t understand. I looked at him while he spoke and the words fell apart into their individual components trying to form themselves into a complete thought. Crew chief. She. Little girl. Man. None of these words made sense. They were not talking about me. The words fell out of his mouth and clanged onto the floor like a rigging shackle falling out of someone’s pocket.
Inside each word, I saw a memory. Leaves branching off of a trunk further and further and suddenly the jukebox in my brain flipped on and I started hearing The Beatles in my head:
“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together….”
And the focus shifted, the CD skipped, the record flipped to a new song:
“I am just a copy of a copy of a copy…”
And the focus shifted again, spiraling out like leaves slowly fading to red on the branch of that tree and I could hear each word dripping off them like the sound of water droplets falling into a bigger pond. Then suddenly without warning, the orchestra surged with energy, gathering up into a great crescendo. I was walking backward and falling upwards and reading texts from a book forwards:
“I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.”
And I’m inside my own memory.
Standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom of my childhood home where the door to the bathroom held a full-length mirror and swung inwards. When I stood in front of the mirror I saw myself reiterated out into infinity: a complex form split into its component parts.
Who is this that stood before me?
It seems that I keep being told who I am, but only I get to decide who I am…
When I open my eyes, I’m standing under the tree. The sunlight gently warms the outside of my face. My face. The wind begins to pick up, rustling through the leaves, and I pick their decisive sound out amidst the complexity of the orchestra.
Then they begin to fall.
One by one the tree sheds its leaves.
Returning to the dirt to be decomposed, eaten, and returned as food to feed itself to grow for the next spring.
“Fear is the mind-killer.”
A Note From The Author:
Once upon a time, before I focused on audio (and sometimes while), I was a writer. I published a collection of poetry in 2016, but haven’t written much since. It seems that in this time of uncertainty, we need art more than ever. I usually write technical blogs to focus on education in the audio world, but art and science exist to both love and hate one another. A historically bittersweet romance. Yet the beauty of this world lies in its complexity in each individual. Much like the Fourier transform, a complex world is the sum of its many individual parts.
Quotes from Books and Music:
Dune by Frank Herbert (https://dunenovels.com/)
“I Am The Walrus” by The Beatles (https://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/i-am-the-walrus/)
“Copy of A” by Nine Inch Nails (https://www.nin.wiki/Copy_Of_A)