Shafts Of Light

The height of summer seems to be the wrong time to be locked indoors, traped between four walls with the stereo on. The sounds you hear can either feel like an escape or soul-death. Luckily the airwaves reaching my ears are being manipulated by sounds interesting enough to keep me from total stagnation. Like A Silver Mount Zion and their LP (wait for it) He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner of Our Rooms.

They're a Godspeed You Black Emperor offshoot. Go figure.

What grips me right away, putting the disc on and pressing play, is track one, 'Broken Chords Can Sing a Little'. Amongst the piano and violin, a radio itself plays as an instrument. In the place where ordinarily a singing vocal would be, an evangelical broadcast beams out, hissing and crackling, and cutting over and between itself, snatches of the preacher's speech being obscured, some bawled out like from a megaphone. Only some of it makes sense. The Lord Jesus Christ, sin, the coming of the Saviour all seems to be the general gist. And the track plays on, moves on, heaves tugging along like a sad, slow behemoth, or a steam-train (the kind a million photography students lie waiting to capture but never get to see).

Of course it's as scary as it is thrilling and interesting. Why the hell is it there? Is this whole piece about religion, or about us going to Hell? I know only vague details about some of the group member's politics but nothing about their religion, if they have any, so that remains an unanswered question. And the train eventually stops and segues into the next track, and the next, and I'm left bewitched and bewondering.

It's always so weird when you hear snatches of sound like that, because the question of why it's there kinda changes and becomes a whole million other questions. A lot of it seems to do with the way that the language itself can be broken down, and if you look at it as just noise, just another bunch of sounds that just so happen to have originated from a human larynx, then you start to wonder about human beings and communication in general. I remember reading an interview with the guy from Scanner, talking about how he used his phone-scanning equipment in concerts. The sounds the city made, as he sat on a rooftop listening to the people below, painted a broken, sometimes disturbing narative of its inhabitants and their lives. Brief, sluggish enquiries would start the day, followed by business, gossip, more business, and then in the evenings, all the goblins would come out to play - abuse, arguments, promises, lies, tears.

Sometimes sound comes to us like that, doesn't it? Mysteriously and out of the blue. All it means is that there's a human being on the other end of it, making that sound. Asking why opens up the cans of worms that in public we usually try to hide. Like the "aether talk" (as David Toop describes it all in Ocean of Sound, a great book to read on trains) is in fact a secret history, and all our stupid, sad sounds, all our talk and all our language, is just a burbling code to try and hide the facts we don't want to really say with any clarity. Such moments can be disturbing or they can be exciting, but they always ultimately remind you that you are alive. As a student I stayed in a Halls of Residence for a year, and one day I could hear the girl next door to me crying her eyes out for hours on end.

Why was she crying? Why didn't I ask her? What was her story? I can still hear her.

In the multitude of noise and motion, we are all alone - but sometimes shafts of light grace the corner of our rooms, and we can step towards it with one ear outward, and hear it.

© Dee Dee MacGowan 2002