Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Soundscape of Jerusalem — No.3

Drawing by Jacob Yona. (Facebook)
Drawing by Jacob Yona. (Facebook)

Sometimes the sadness is so intense, that I have to walk outside.  I awoke this morning hearing a gentle Peruvian children’s song in my imagination, a melody reminiscent of a dear friend’s tragic loss: his son died from a fall in Peru.   Here is the melody:

But today even this melody is too much to bear; I set out on my greatly anticipated morning’s walk into the sounds of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem’s birds do me the honor! In all my travels, I have never heard such variety of melodies. These cascading sounds are like small gentle sponges, massaging my brain, clearing the ear waves.  From my home in Talpiot Arnona, I eventually pass the “Tachana” (The Station), a train station steeped in history and saturated with whispers (I can actually hear them!)  Walking further on, I gawk at the valley of death, sinking below me; I hear imaginary cries of children sacrificed to Ba’al, emanating from the depths of the large crevasse below. Such a dark sound rattles me, like a shaman’s noisemaker on a dull rainy day; it certainly does NOT contribute to peace of mind! I curse the fact that I have too vivid an imagination!

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Further into the Mishkenot neighborhood there is more quietude, but an eerie one that brings out goosebumps.  Goosebumps (tzmamoret in Hebrew) are funny things; they occur via intense pleasure OR intense fear (I wonder to myself what the Marquis De Sade would say about that!)  Many foreigners have purchased houses in Mishkenot as an investment or to have a foothold on ancient soil; few actually reside here.  “Is it really Jerusalem’s ghost town?”, I ask myself.  I find this thought amusing: that this upscale neighborhood is now heavily occupied by empty streets and ghosts. I ask myself, “Do ghosts make sounds?” I really don’t feel like staying much longer to find out!  I move on toward the Old City.

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If I begin to fine-tune my ears to the distant aural horizon, I hear amazing sounds emerge.  For me distant traffic becomes a set of multi-layered ocean waves with  deeper-sounding trucks like contra-basses and motorcycles, mid- range brass. The normally banal sounds are transformed though my omnipresent “squelch-box.”  Still wishing for a bit of natural silence, I ask myself “Why can’t we learn from Bern, Switzerland, where asphalt is MIXED with rubber,  mellowing the whir of car engines to almost silence?” Furthermore, while stopping at Bern’s red lights, drivers are required to turn car ignitions OFF!

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Bern, Switzerland

Soon I approach the entrance to the Old City (Jaffa Gate) and like a multilingual rainbow, this new scene cries out:  Crackles, crashes, booms, hisses ..(At that moment I think of the Italian futurist composer Luigi Russolo and his catalogue of noises!).  I have no desire to wander over to the Cardo for there, the shops are too “manicured” for my taste, so I decide to linger and bask in the “andalmusica” of where I stand. I discover that it’s possible to “unpack” the layers, as one would peel away the layers of a gigantic treasure chest:  Cart wheels. Footsteps.  Dripping of stone tunnels. Hollow echos.  Lone voices, distant and close. Pots’ clang. Boiling water. What grandeur! What endless variety! A percussion “heaven.”

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I now backtrack. My journey continues to the right of Jaffa Gate’s main entrance, leading me to an Armenian pottery store, where Italian opera (Aida) gently flows from all four corners of the establishment. The ceramic store has tragedy oozing from its “pores”, and because of that, the opera deeply effects me like never before.  As I exit the store,  I hear the aria fading.  I close my eyes.  For some reason, the Peruvian children’s song from my inner memory returns.  The sadness of the Armenian people are fused with another people’s, and mine.

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Yes, even with all the cornucopia of Jerusalem sounds, I cannot escape the sadness that I feel; the mental sounds and images of Jerusalem 1968 (my first trip to Jerusalem’s Old City) , and Jerusalem 1980’s (Teddy’s City) brilliantly rise up in my memory; in those years there was a real joie de vivre emerging from all the city’s pores.  I was truly privileged to start my life in Israel during that period, and to personally know the late Mayor Teddy Kollek.

From l. to r: Mrs. Thomas J. Pickering, Mayor Teddy Kollek, US Ambassador Thomas J. Pickering, Stephen Horenstein (Author, Composer), Leah Stein, Choir Director; 10th anniversary of Liberty Bell Garden, Jerusalem. 5.7.88; Premiere, “Magic Garden,” 75 singers and performers. (Courtesy of The Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music)

I emerge from the Jaffa Gate area and enter the Mamilla Mall. What could I possibly HEAR here?  As if on automatic pilot, I dial up my imagination, hearing sounds of the Second Temple period: ten choirs, bells, cymbals, deep plucked strings–our own “holy sound palette”!  Suddenly “for real” a moazin’s cry pierces the air–as if from out of no where–so past is fused with present.

I walk through the old Arab cemetery, emanating a strange, even apocalyptic quiet, and eventually I look up through the steel and glass of the humongous Museum of Tolerance.  I find this all too ironic and strange.  However,  the “silence” is not “pregnant” with deep meaning, but rather like hundreds of small fishing weights swinging too and fro against the thick air.

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Finally I backtrack my steps to an “oasis” called the “Ha Mifhal” (The Factory), an artists collective that brave Jerusalem artists fought to build and nurture;  here the people talk quietly,  as if they are in Europe, as if they relish their own voices and those of others. In the background,  distant sounds of soft indigenous music are mixed with the sounds of the cafe; the people here are so friendly , the surroundings so aesthetic… “Am I in heaven?” I ask myself?  Here, I feel comfortable enough to close my eyes, while I imagine myself on a distant mountain top, with the Peruvian children’s song now being replaced by bells, percussion,  plucked string sounds and a solitary low-pitched bass flute.  It sounds like this: (SOUND LINK:  https://cl.ly/5cbd8a8d0355  *Jeffery Kowalsky, percussion; Steve Peskoff, prepared guitar; Stephen Horenstein, bass flute).

Art at entrance to Ha Mifhal; by Jacob Yona

At that moment, I say to myself, “My man, you have finally arrived, like a Chinese wanderer, you have found your bamboo field, you have found peace of mind”. So I proceed to enjoy my morning coffee, the pleasant company, basking in the warmth of this newfound oasis!

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About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and hermit. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. 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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