The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

August 30, 2013

pain noh gain

i will punish my fingers until they behave. my muscle memory
must form an indefinite set ready at a moment's notice to adapt
to another instrument, another scale. i must learn how to search
for consonance on the single string, how to double-play the
double-string, how to leap across the multiples. i must learn
backwards and forwards bowing and furious arpeggios. i must
learn to stretch my fingers past all endurance to reach the
holes on the longer end-blown flutes, and to form unisons and
fifths across distances on the bowed instruments. i must learn
to sing. i must learn to sing in consonance, stretch my vocal
cords to match the played tone, already shifting in octaves and
harmonics. i must learn to work autonomically so that all of
this occurs without thinking, so that the music might stumble in
spite of myself; in fact i should think of many other things
while playing without interrupting flow. the flow should take
care of itself, should punish my fingers, drive my voice hoarse,
drive my breath into gasps as if i were in a vacuum state. then
when my eyes seem crazed, when those geometric patterns appear
before them, appear among them, then i might be able to play for
a short while, pain shooting up my wrists, across my thumbs,
perhaps, the doctor said, i'll need surgery, freeing the nerves,
giving space for everything loose in the wrist, and i think the
fingers will be next, everything on my hands collapsing; already
i begin to think, who will inherit these instruments and their
history, who will play with such finesse that the mind can't
follow what the body is doing, has done to it, the mind is a
diving falcon or falling object, the mind is a shooting star,
the mind is a world of pain, a whirligig of pain, the music is
all about this coming, this muscle memory, the music is coming,
the rest of the flesh is dead. the music transcends the pain, is
all about the pain, the haunted figure of the rehearsal, of
repetition, of slow degeneration of muscle and nerve, of
feedback loops, the mind murmurs in the midst of the song,
you're going nowhere, what the music's taught, that there's
nowhere to go, and you had to destroy your hands for this? you
had to destroy your hands.

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