Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Soundscape of Jerusalem-No. 2 (Tabula Rasa)

3 a.m. one window opened. The sound of wind through the trees. Soft rug sounds, distant traffic barely audible; winds move through the trees, gradually increasing; small gestures become larger than life; insomnia allows for this early morning treat..The high pitched cry is my nervous system; the meds to get me out of my latest doldrums are 10,000 sheks a month and I doubt the health fund will pay for this, I certainly cannot…but that thought I flush out and relish these minutes of quiet…Kafka’s words, “everything will be laid at your feet” (do not go out, do not move)…so the Jerusalem soundscape this 3 in morning is, yes, a bit esoteric, minimalist, without bells and whistles..the nervous system has no pulse, but only flow, hence corroborating that light is a wave, occasionally the wind caresses the trees and they sigh together then disappear…tabula rasa morning…how is this sound scene different from anywhere else in the world?

Everything a distant wash, a city slowly awakening…I try not to breath hard, even though a have a chest cold..I meditate on this sound, when the wind rises and falls..strange: my computer shuts down and starts again, with some Japanese text on the screen….an occasional car, distant, hum of someones heating unit…a cup of chai, a Proustian moment far away from India..not one bird in the mix…as one mac is released another becomes sick…I am stymied with this conundrum around health, and graceful aging becomes less graceful…strange new sounds emanate from the body having nothing to do with Jerusalem, just the rusted parts, slowly creaked and fragmented…this early morning, Jerusalem seems soggy, her eyes filled with sleepers, the presents are in the inner journeys of sound bytes, even fainter that the breathing of the wind.

What will turn the corner? An elephant? A six-ton semi-trailer? No, this quiet beast now slumbers; I am strangely relaxed. Not moving from this seat or from this window, until something “significant” raises its ordinance. The wind finally increases, and out of the doldrums this ship should sail. A city slowly awakes two layers of car sounds, one seems to approach…now the slow hum of a helicopter, distant, moving away from the vortex, in and out, traveling in boxed circles, or perhaps a light plane…yes…I am like a monk, whose aural gaze is affixed on a blank palette; now only slowly building machine car sounds..how is THIS special and unique to Jerusalem? It is not because of these illusory machinations, but the inner memory…oboe alone, staying in one half-register of tessitura (how I like that word)…according to Gertrude Stein the most beautiful words in the English language are “cellar door”.

Already 3:30 am. Voices of a judge addressing me: now you hear the sounds of denial…the helicopter (or light plane) gets closer…still many asleep; yes, a helicopter doing rounds; does Jerusalem sound like any other city at 3:30 am? I await for at least ONE bird song. Today I am slouched over the keyboard, grinding out these words. *Hearing French Horns , regal…they recede…I begin to slouch forward, need ergonomics now; I ask myself what will be the first real departure from the norm, this wash of morning fabric?

It is DOG CRIES? Oscillations; they sound trapped…for sure they are NOT cats. The helicopter returns, no doubt surveying something, someone. THIS sound is typically Jerusalem’s, especially at 3:30 am. The morning dogs have disappeared. Blending into the nature, the sounds around, preparing my soul for eventual travel on a Japanese high-speed bullet train, where there are no longer rhythmic track sounds, but only waves which mimic a singer. 3rd pass of helicopter. Some imaginary voices, as if talking out of the 18th century. A woman’s voice, “It’s the first time since the ‘borderset’. My health condition is on my mind…put it out please. another voice, where are the pieces? where is water? thinking of , goes, disappears…cars rev more; I cannot reach the inside of the adjacent room to move anything; the helicopter gets louder…recalling the earlier intifadas (is one brewing?); My inner sounds are buried for now. Indulgence. But what is worrying me is that there is not ONE bird singer (which is strange), only the wind through the trees, with an occasional crescendo. “I caught this morning’s minion”….someone whispers in my ear. I ask myself, so how is THIS tabula rasa (Jerusalem’s) different from all others? A solitary woman’s voice, “Huh”…a branch crackling..now more trucks for the bass…Absolute IN-ACTION.

Sorry to the reader for this overly aesthetic diatribe. It is honest. It is now. New headaches indicate a relapse of an illness I have suffered from. Doctors tell me it’s potentially life threatening.

So like that omnipresent helicopter circling around one area nearby (I can’t imagine where or for what), I am sitting on a time bomb. This is not said to illicit sympathy.

Since I started this tone poem of sorts, nothing really has changed! It is nearly 4 am. A few more cars; my nervous system is louder.

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The helicopter becomes the constant clock, a reminder that we are, in essence, still at war, still on edge, still lest than trusting. It is a restless sound, and its circularity intensifies, one loop after another. Say any few words over and over again, and it will begin to sound foreign. Such is this bestial morning intervention. Now it subsidizes. I await for just ONE sound of surprise, just ONE!

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And that ONE will be a miracle. I ask, is it true that in Jerusalem /Israel we have “hashkaat pratit“?

It seems as if the helicopter has retreated to another neighborhood. My nervous system is an omnipresent one-note mantra. My inner audible life has yet to be fully awakened, as I find myself plagued by morning fatigue. Early coffee will eradicate any vitamins from the early morning meal. The distant helicopter returns; it’s an all night affair. When I was in miluim at the Kotel, the Border Police showed us a measure of respect, because they thought that our old rifles (M-16) designated our status as sharpshooters (“salafim“). Those days are far away now. I am weary of too much ACTION, and find myself relishing in-action. This is not necessarily a Zen thing. Just weariness. Just the beginning of phase when one begins to blend back into nature. Yes, I could ride out the rest of my life as a Luddite, purely speaking one who detests machines. But where? This morning exercise is proving to me just how prominent and annoying a generator’s boring consistency is.

So, it remains a tabula rasa. I will need 3 cups of coffee to get the creative juices going, if I want to call myself a “composer”.  And now at 4:21 am, here’s the distant moazin.  The sound now billows, like a blossom opening, so deep, so sad. Cars are more active.  Helicopter louder.  Stirrings from other corners.  Jerusalem, a city like no others; a city like others.

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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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