Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society


Drawing by Jacob Yona
Drawing by Jacob Yona

The fridge’s hum masks morning birds on this improbable morning.  The sound frightens, cools timbres, like voices from the dead, thousands, nothing makes sense, rumbling cars particularly raucous, disturbing, threatening.  The coolness of this morning is unbearable.  The humongous mosquitoes circle the premises, like fake un-kept promises, big plans, conquering heroes, false claims, horrid scenes.  My mind rarely drifts into this discarded junk-heap of frazzled memories, the months of waiting, where death is in every passing breath, potential paralysis. The shackles of churning doldrums are hard to escape, the joys are tainted with non-believers like cats frothing at the mouth, no longer pouncing, their energies gone elsewhere.

We are the walking dead, while broadcasts boast of numbers, hundreds of thousands sacrificial lambs, our new definition of progress.  Around my window a spider plant hides the sun.  Do I cut its wings or let it live out its days?  Do I cry out these words knowing that few will hear?  I have tried to be legendary, to achieve greatness but now only bask in my own insignificance.  Does anyone else feel those pangs? All potentially new paths are worn.

Tinnitus*, incessant screech, harmonics of longing, static, cutting, around, inside. The deafening softness may be eradicated by merely tapping one’s own skull, quick jabs to the left, to the right, where a knockout is complete silence.

Incessant sound…(courtesy)

My instruments: 5 saxophones, 3 flutes, 2 clarinets and a lone Japanese shakuhachi. To whom shall I bequeath them?

Yesterday a nearly empty bottle of alco-gel exploded in my oven adding extra crispy flavor to my chicken legs.  I ate portions of bamia, a strange vegetable, a cross between a buffoon’s cap and the kind of green that signifies a late summer solstice.  Little crowns for little pretend kings, all huffed out with pride, the do nothings, exuding pomp in measured amounts.

Silent voice: “Oh, you are being so dark this lovely morning!  And it’s nearly the Sabbath!”

This, my friends, is post-carnatic syndrome.  Like Carnatic music (originally from South India, named after the Indian state of Karnatika), I dwell on a few insignificant notes, making them great again through their constant repetition, variation and seemly uncanny simplicity.  They say that this insignificant virus also reaches the inner sanctums of the brain. I can understand that now.

State of Mind 2 (S. Horenstein)

The fridge’s rumbling, the tinnitus and the storms of cars all become deafening, like bruises that won’t heal.  For governments the crisis is in numbers.  For us, blotched memories all congeal into one gigantic orgy—not the wild kind, but the kind that nags at our feet with incessant itching, encapsulating, irritating.  The stench of futility, our collective paralysis, our numbness to the 100’s of thousands dead remind me of the nightly “score” the TV’s of the 60’s squawked out: xxx GI’s dead, yyy Cong dead (mostly from napalm) in another bizarre  époque haunting the pasts of us baby boomers.

Napalm (Vietnam war); courtesy

I cringe at the light, because the mechanical house sounds are endless. Yes, pure madness needs no apology. These are doldrums.  These are bare cats with their fur wracked with scars, taking naps at noon, scoffing at their body’s ruddy knots mixed with an incessant sticky substance born in the Bowery, while they all lie gasping for breath.

The cooling trees are motionless, a protest strike from their usual morning grandeur.  They are also speechless.

Silent Trees (S. Horenstein)

Some call this depression.  I call it mourning.  Not the kind we politely smile for, but rather one where our crusty eye sleepers penetrate our lungs, our minds, our thoughts, our dreams “like a patient etherized on a table”.  The shadows and sparkles of early morning are no consolation for me any more.

…For I sail out to another land, with less hope, more dreamless sleep, carrying my green-mauve self-portrait to the local pawn shop, begging the owner to give me a few coins, whose jingly sounds will at least add another unexpected element breaking the incessant fridge’s drone, and my own deep, deep sadness. I try to cry, but cannot, I simply cannot.

The following music was composed with the above text in mind.

1) L’Homme Qui Voulait Comprendre (The Man Who Wants to Understand), by Stephen Horenstein (during this piece there are several LONG silences, please play to the end)

2) Sonombule, by Stephen Horenstein (music starts softly)

ASCAP/ACUM all rights reserved

Footnote: *Tinnitus according to the Mayo Clinic is “the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. This  common problem, affects about 15 to 20 percent of people. Tinnitus isn’t a condition itself — it’s a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder”.

Tinnitus (S. Horenstein)
About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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