The Valeries, Synthesizer Transmission (an excerpt) – Forrest Muelrath
January 21, 2022
Ever since my wife left, I’ve been playing the synthesizer with increasing frequency. Like literature, ambient synthesizer music is a creative activity that I indulge in quietly at home, out of the way of any interference between my ego and my own pleasure. I bought my first synth for my daughter. A Yamaha DX-7, which is often associated with pop music made during the musical zeitgeist that preceded the digital revolution. Before commercial laptops were pre-packaged with digital audio workstations and software synths, the DX-7’s digitally controlled oscillators and algorithmic tone shaping was state-of-the-art sound creation technology. When I purchased the DX-7, I had hoped my daughter would take to the instrument and develop a musical practice for herself, and perhaps even my son after her. But it was not long after I purchased my first synthesizer, when both of my children were yearning for their own personal computing apparatuses, with which came the illusion of having all the doings of a DX7, and seemingly infinite other programs that might distract from a young woman’s musical development. I am sure it is quite obvious to most culturally aware individuals of my generation — the approximate generation known as X—the digital revolution laid a schizophrenic pall over nearly all of the consumption and production of media. As if culture had not been properly entombed by the time I saw the immensity of what was Joey Ramone walking down a street in Alphabet City. Or, when I —- well, not me, but a member of my psychoanalytic cohort at The School and someone whom I once considered a friend of mine—interviewed William S. Burroughs about addiction, pedophilia, and the incident in which the author shot his wife in the head. As if culture was not already dead enough, my son’s generation took what is likely my generation’s greatest innovation—the home computing system—-and injected it with commerce and advertizing so tenacious that it implants itself in every modicum of one’s being, making so that not only does the content of what appears on my son’s computer screen seem to be the stuff of nightmarish schizophrenic hallucinations, but furthermore that each consumer of this culture—essentially every single person on earth—has been subject to at least a few innocuous schizophrenic delusions about the word they live in and their place in it! I mean, for all that is love, Jules, have you seen the video of my son dressed in a purple Kimono, whoreish make up and a blond wig, injecting himself, as he claims in the video, with a concoction of LSD, methamphetamine, fentanyl, ketamine, tranquilizers, and Cialis. And then, as my son begins to drool on himself with the bloody syringe trembling in his hand and his fairly-well sized penis grows increasingly erect, (meth and Cialis, should one even ask?), how he babbles on about the reason he did what he had done was because he thought he had already died doing it, and he wanted to see if doing it again would bring him back to life! Granted this is the lowest of the low of culture, and seemingly only intended for a private audience, but nonetheless, there it is, in the glorious 60 frames per-second, high definition video footage shot on one of the numerous high-end Apple smart phones I have bought for my son. What else could a media example such as this say but that, not only does culture remain quite dead, but furthermore a sad, soul flattening blanket that carries the disease of psychosis has been laid upon its rotting corpse?
I began today by talking about synthesizers for a reason. For the past two days, an insufferable nervous energy has tormented my entire being, and I have not been able to write. Ever since I pasted the text in which my son advertised himself as a lady whore in the pages above, the nightmarish images I have seen on my son’s computer inevitably shatter my reality whenever any other thought enters into my mind. I spent two days attempting to trudge through my manuscript at the pace requisite to its purpose, but each time I returned to my writing desk, I was forced to read what I had last wrote (my son as lady whore), and the most anguishing sensations a father could possibly experience this side of death came flooding into my nervous system.
I first became familiar with the DX-7 while listening to a syndicated public radio show that came out of the Bay Area called Hearts of Space. Hearts of Space (or HoS for short) featured a seemingly boundless offering of ambient music every Saturday evening, and during the time when my children were approaching their pubescent years, I began a habit of retreating to the basement Saturday evenings, where I would hang upside down from my chiropractic gravity boots and just sort of… let my mind collect new ideas while visualizing the sounds that would flow from synthesizers, like the rolling florescence of cosmic gases, far away from earthly disruptions, which in today’s world typically smash into consciousness like meteoroids would a space shuttle as it passes through an asteroid belt. The host of Hearts of Space had (perhaps has? I’m not in fact entirely sure if the show is still broadcast – the last time I recall listening to HoS was before my son at last left for college, at which point my wife and I began spending more time together watching movies and television at home during the evening –- perhaps I should check the radio for HoS this coming Saturday, since to the extent of my knowledge, I will be alone with nothing to do but engage with my new alchemical practice involving my son’s pornography and the cheap simulacrum of the publishing industry that has cropped up in the cultural hellscape created by Amazon robots programmed to package up and sell any artifact that resembles what history teaches us about culture, my manuscript notwithstanding – and which, by the way, is in fact the only world my son has ever known.)
I’m not sure ambient music – if it is truly the thing it claims to be – is even culture, because, although the host of HoS —Stephin Hill, I believe his name is—has pitch perfect taste and encyclopedic knowledge on the entirety of the genre, and its instruments, from the pre-Eno pioneers – Lamont Young, Terry Riley, Harry Partch, and so on –- to whatever lush harmonies and soothing rhythms are resonating beneath the ozone at the moment of each transmission, I find it difficult to place Mr. Hill in the same intellectual class as music critics and historians. If ambient music is truly what it’s supposed to be — e.g., the soft shuffling of shoes produced by unwitting nurses as an inchoate ambient composer named Brian Eno strained his ears to hear the Bach his hospital visitor had mistakenly left at a barely predictable volume, as the patient was in the process of returning from a 10 day coma, or, John Cage who, while sitting by an open midtown Manhattan window, responded to the question What is music, by asking his interviewer to listen to the sounds coming from outside, then paused, and with zen like profundity exclaimed, that’s all it is, is the organization of what one can hear in a way that can be communicated to another person — if this is what ambient music truly is, then it is far more than what can be confined in music theory text books, nor written out with the twelve tone notation system that developed during the two thousand years preceding Yamaha’s invention of the DX-7 (or Apple Computer’s invention of my son’s DIY pornographic film studio.) Indeed, ambient is Gesamtkunstwerk beyond the creation of a single composer. Ambient is not as music used to be, pre 17th Century when it was God communicating through woman. Or in the 19th Century when men became gods to invent music and with it the rest of the universe. No, ambient is markedly different. It is a totality of consciousness, without obstruction of otherness, between man and all else.
One autumn evening, while hanging from my gravity boots fastened to the rafters below our kitchen, the concrete floor tickling my brain as it brushed against my hair, I recall the host of Hearts of Space introducing his transmission, as he refers to his program, by speaking about the changing seasons, followed by a brief segue into a soliloquy about the larger topic of Climate Change. As the evening’s music was elevated in the mix, until it swallowed Mr. Hill’s voice and I was swept far way from my family’s humble home, I recall the harmonies of that particular set being more dissonant than usual, punctuated by biting percussive plunks that seemed to puncture everyday reality and expose something occurring just beyond the limits of perception. Looking back on it, I can see how some might interpret this incident as a midlife crises, whatever that means, and that does not bother me at all, even if I would rather not think of a life occurring in a strict trifecta of beginning, middle, and end. In any case, what I experienced that night was something akin to an experience I had while reading Ram Dass and Timothy Leary’s interpretation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, many years earlier, while high on a strong dose of LSD – a hallucinatory transportation to a space that exists just beyond the one we inhabit, a sensory deprivation where for a fleeting moment one might experience pure being, similar to the way Tibetans describe the first of three stages on the journey towards death, and what the aforementioned hippie psychologists refer to as ego-death, a mystical experience where one’s surroundings fade into a white void, and any typical sense of the body is lost to new types of overwhelming physical sensations. An ecstatic glow of life floods experience as one merges into a unifying ocean of orgiastic, fluid electricity and peaceful boundless light – an experience that those who practice the monotheistic religions might associate with God. An oceanic feeling, I suppose in Freudian terms. Perhaps I ate something strange that night ; perhaps my son poisoned me with a dose of psychedelic narcotics; or, perhaps I hung from the gravity boots a bit longer than what is recommended and the blood in my skull altered my mind, but I don’t think so. I believe it was the synthesizer leading my mind from the eschatological fantasies related to climate change, into fantasies about my own death and the death of my family. Whatever the case may be, I completely lost sense of time or place as I hallucinated that I had metamorphosed into the chemical makeup of electricity and traveled through the wiring into the old FM radio, and then out the radio’s antenna as an FM signal, above my home where I saw my wife through the window speaking on the phone, then further into the sky, above our city where I recognized my children far below, riding in cars and loitering outside of a movie theater. I felt my nervous system spread out across the mountains and valleys, experiencing many thousands of acres simultaneously, until I was one with the entire range of National Public Radio’s Hearts of Space broadcast—spanning the entire nation during this moment, then the oceans, Earth, moon, sun, until finally I could perceive nothing but light and my own being.