Monday, March 16, 2009

For whatever it is worth, I offer my soul…

You are going to think I am crazy. What follows may not make any sense to you at all. Or it may make such beautiful sense that it will break your heart. In either case I can't say I have much of a reputation to keep up, and if you don't already think I am crazy, by the time you finish reading this, you might have made up your mind one way or the other. Since I have nothing to lose, here goes...

What do you see when you hear a song? 

Do you have to hear to understand? Speak to tell? Do you have to understand a song to love it?

Do me a favour and download this song and listen to it before you read any further.

I absolutely love this song. I don't even know what it means. And you know what? I don't even want to know! I don't want to go to the bother of getting it translated only to find out that it is about a goat eating a cabbage. Even so, it is such a beautiful song that it wouldn't make a grain of difference. Language is inadequate. Words are not at all important.

Rani maak il youm
Ghir il maktoub heelaqeena

Such passion and earnestness in the voice as can only be shown by someone who has discovered some great secret and wants to share it with you in all earnest; show you the reason and the purpose, but you are blind and you don't see. Hence there is a vain desperation in the voice.

You realize, without anyone ever having to tell you that this is a song of the desert. The cymbals, the strings and the drums. The Oud and the tambourines. Beads and trinkets. Sheepskin water bags. Little ornamental thimbles. Alabaster. Riches and treasures of the desert. Winters in Cairo. Faya-Largeau. The bazaars of Alexandria. Yet…

1:25 to 1:46 - This could not have come from people who had never seen water. This came from people who knew water, had held it and cherished it. I know what it is. This is the music of waves crashing against rocks. This is a country where people soak up the early morning dew from desert grass in a piece of linen and then carefully wring out the water droplets into a vessel. This came from people who worshipped water.

1:46 Wihiyah
A solitary shining pebble on the beach. Just like the way you can spot a shiny red ball in a sea of beige, you can catch that one word - Wihiyah! And when you throw that pebble into the ocean, no matter where it lands, the ripples spread out from there and it becomes the geometric centre of the ocean and the Universe! Go back to that one second when he says it. 1:46 -that is the pivotal moment. The "anyway..." of the song, the see-saw on which it rocks back and forth...

2:42-2:44 Ghir il maktoub heelaqeena
The voice quavering as it trails off, like the thrashing tail of a fish. The rear end of the car twitching nervously under heavy braking. Springs contracting, red hot valves opening and closing many hundred times a second.

How the voice randomly slithers like an electric eel under a layer of divinity! Mere words cannot capture it. It flits in and out between sheets of music.

Oo rani nebki winnoh
Magotli il sheqb il maatrooh

1:25Ma…trooh. Throttle over-run. That most beautiful of all motor racing sounds! That blip on down-shift, the engine howling as the cogs rev furiously for a brief moment. The slurping manifold intake noise. Backfire, tongues of flame leaping from the tailpipes.

2:10 to 2:21
Lonely desert nights. Inky black sky. Caravans. Camels resting beside palm trees under a scintillating ocean of stars. Canvas tents. People dancing and singing around bonfires to the hypnotic sounds of the oud and the flutes. Nights of merry dancing and celebration. Swirling skirts of the Bedouin girls. Camelskin tambourines. Flashes of skin in the light of the camp fire.

The vibrations transmitted back through the tyres and suspension arms and steering column back to the wheel, which frantically vibrates, and the helmet thrashes around in the cockpit. The chassis flexing by an almost imperceptible margin as the car slips out of the tug-stream, leaning on tyre grip, cornering as if it were on rails.
2:21 to 2:44
What impeccable modulation and control! The voice blends in inconspicuously with the surrounding, as a backdrop to the night's bonfire and revelries. An accompaniment to the cold desert night and the glittering crescent of the Mediterranean moon. Shadows and silhouettes dancing on the tent walls. The smells and the sounds of the desert. Dry river beds. Sand dunes. Acacia. Sand storms. Oases; fertile islands in arid limestone plateaux. Phantoms of water. Bedouins and their sheep. 

Weight shifting to the front right tyre, as the highly sprung rear suspension is rapidly unloaded, approaching the far limits of mechanical grip as it just about begins to lock up, then ease off the brake and bring the rear end back in line, riding the kerbs as the left and then the right dampers are stressed, and finally emerging sideways in a tidal wave of savage power with the rear wheels spinning away, frantically grappling for traction, soft compound slick tyres scrubbing on the road. Hint of opposite lock to catch the rear stepping out of line for a heart-stopping moment. A calculated slide. Controlled rage though every corner, 26 times a lap, lap after unforgiving lap, 78 times. The deep blue of the Mediterranean crashing on the cliffs of Algiers and Annaba. Peace. Quiet. Solitude.

1:02 – 
Shtaydeer il galb il khaali
Shtaydeer ha dellali

Wonderfully dynamic patterns, repeating endlessly, as if you are looking down at the tarmac from a plane while it is taking off, except that it never takes off, but runs along the tarmac endlessly as if in a dream. Patterns repeating themselves endlessly. Non-deterministic, recursive Mandelbrot fractals. You can never escape them. You cannot flee from order. Mathematics always catches up. The faster you go, the more fragile you become.

3:06 to 3:50
Waala dirtiha biya
Megwani nebki megwani
Ana illi dirt inniya
Widnoubi aleek intiya

Falling rain. Mist hanging around huge trees. Sweeping corners. Spirals and great arcs. Rainbows. Slick tires scrubbing on the tarmac making screeching noises, leaving great black arcs of rubber. Cars vanishing as quickly as they appear.

3:36 - 3:47
Maqbool - the rasping, metallic shriek of the 3 litre V12 as the taps are opened for just a fraction of a second and the twelve featherlight pistons flare and the crank revs up to 19500 rpm and then back to an idle 5000 in the blink of an eye, as if nothing ever happened. And revved back up and down again and again thrice in a fraction of a second.

Hasnou awni dima maghboul
Hadi hiya halet l'amour

It is a place in your mind which is isolated from hurt or passion. You are lonely there, living with your memory, consciousness, anger and fear. Nothing from the past can hurt you. Not the ecstasy of reunion, nor the trauma of betrayal.

Pushing to the extreme limit of adhesion and grip. Delicately balancing the chassis with the throttle and the steering wheel. Balancing extremely high-sprung machinery on a knife edge at 180mph. Feeling the dampers push the wheels on to the tarmac just so, making minute modulations of the throttle so as not to upset the natural harmony of the springs unloading, leaning into the corner. "The faster you go, the more fragile you become." In that one orgasmic moment, you realise the absurdity of all art. There IS order in the Universe. Total discipline and method. When there is no chaos, how can there be any art? It is absurd, because you cannot subject a deterministic entity like the Universe to value judgement. There is no pleasantness or unpleasantness. There are only consequences. How can you criticise a consequence? And since everything we know is a consequence of something else, how can you criticise anything at all? How can you judge something that is deterministic and inevitable? Beauty only arises out of comparison; There is no beauty without criticism. In a slotted world, how then can something ever be called beautiful? The mysterious desert, with its untold myths and rumours. Pigeons and doves flying with the limestone-white minarets of Ghardaïa in the background, deafening whispers echoing across the centuries in its courtyards . It cannot be real! It is just too…beautiful! Are these mere shadows dancing in the mind? These are expressions of irrationality! But how can something so beautiful be so irrational?!

Each little thing pushing the next little thing. Every little ratchet, valve, pushrod and pinion all working in an absolute harmony of engineering precision. It is clockwork. How can it possibly be so beautiful?! The quintessential dichotomy of our lives!

Shtaydeer il galb il khali
Oo rani zayt fi hleli

The sustained assault on the senses. The heat and the exhaustion. Dehydration and the G-forces straining the muscles. Focus and concentration. 900 bhp. And in the midst of all the noise and vibration, in the survival cell, in that sacred place in your memory and consciousness, inside the helmet there is calmness. Way beyond the threshold of pain and agony, you are floating in stillness. In solitude and peace. You are untouchable. You have Control. Power.

Music, Mathematics, poetry and metaphysics are not fundamentally different things. They are just different frameworks for seeing and understanding the same essential thing. This view and understanding finds expression in different forms - in an otherworldly song or in evocative words or in expressive engineering. 

Whatever you can imagine is real. 

I imagine perfect harmony. I wish I could show you, but words are a poor excuse. Words are not enough. My most sincere apologies.

What do you see when you hear a song?