A winter walk in slow motion. The sounds of every sinking step along the snow carpeted trail, of a twig’s shudder felt by each cell of the tree, of water droplets dripping from glittering icicles, of pine cones being kicked sideways, of broken glasses…
An endless journey forward through the monotonous sparse woods, which effortlessly extends itself by looping the same scenery. It invites a meditative mind to open the inner eyes, drawn to meticulous examination of every detail in the derivation, and lulled to dreamy introspection of the encompassing philosophy.
At times clouds pass over and hastily flew on, casting transparent shadows on the otherwise blinding whiteness. A strange flicker produced by the transient chiaroscuro induces a moment of intellectual illumination, in which the mind briefly floats in the air of delightful clarity.
When I was small and looked at “Still Life in Motion”, or “Movement in Still Life”, I thought of a largely immobile living being undergoing quasi-equilibrium movement. Now it suddenly clicked that still life refers to a painting, like that of a couple of drying flowers gathered from outside the house, a framed old photograph of someone distant in memory, a plate of promising green grass, and an empty bottle – all of which set against a patchy gray wall in a dark room. So is trudging in that snow, doubtlessly a motion but in truth a collection of snapshots of the outer scenes and inner states.
I have never been good at ambient music. But when I open the window, and all the luminous particles of sounds and samples come along a sudden blow of wind onto my face – like this entrancing opening – I am the most willing captive to offer my most secret imagination.
I received my assignment in the warm evening air, head propped in hands. When I bit into the first signs and symbols the next morning, I was already tired. Faraway clouds passing by, that piece of square blue sky, framed by the window in which a familiar figure appeared, with bottles of beer in his hands.
He whispered impatiently: “Why are you still here? It’s time to play. We have a new kid from the northern country. Let’s go to Acre.” I looked at him as though looking into the mountains or into thin air. After indulging in this still act for what felt like a long pause, I jumped over the windowsill. And we broke through the morning light with our heads – except for once before we completely disappeared from the watchful town, his mom called out to caution him. He answered in a deep voice with composure like a real adult does, because he knew the rest of us were silently making jeering faces.
In a loose long train we passed the narrow streets, noticing how the cat, approaching from behind an Arab little girl in pink stripes, cast a polite and anxious glance at her while overtaking her. We ran through the tunnel, out to the open, around the gun turrets, and over the old city wall. Then I found myself rolling on the choppy waves, embracing the temperamental sea. I could trace the whirling wind and reached out for it, but of course it did not even notice my feeble hand and roared away. The sea foam sprayed fresh salty mist onto my face; the pearly droplets that are her daughters danced around my head and wetted my hair.
The cloud grew heavier and the wind blew colder. The city wall was close at hand again. I ascended the parapet and balanced myself on tiptoe between the crushing waves on one side down below, and the scattered puddles on the other on the terrace. The waves tried to pull me back with their thundering laughter “Don’t go! Let’s keep playing!” But the smooth puddles that are the mirrors of the bright grey sky calmed my heartbeat. And I missed the human voices; I had drifted afar. There they were, two muted, black, hardly distinguishable figures at a distance about to disappear around the corner. My heart cried out “Wait! Wait for me!” I tried to speed up but the crenel gaps were too wide for my timid steps.
A new federal agency, dedicated to the destruction of predators… aimed to kill every predator of every species in a region… [Dan Flores, Coyote America, 2016]
Extermination, destruction, eradication, extirpation… these words blatantly went into state policy titles. For someone growing up with population ecology common sense, it is beyond ridiculous to see, not too long ago into the past, a governmental agency trying to eliminate the entire “predator” category from the ecological hierarchy.
Forest service, national park service, fish and wildlife service… these names today automatically project green and friendly mental images, referring to probably the most harmless governmental departments. Who would have thought they had such a dark history during the late 19th and early 20th centuries?1
These near past events serve as a warning sign that is still beckoning to us: how zeal wedded with ignorance is surely to produce madness Ahab style. One would think after the Endangered Species Act, wild animals in general were to cast behind them the darkest era of their history, and to ride the turning tides triumphantly into the future. Wrong. If my eyes are not deceiving me, the red wolf recovery program is still on at this very moment – the one that actually led up to the Act itself. One defines a specific animal to be a species, then finds it to be endangered. In the name of purity, some other canids like coyote, whom red wolves naturally have genetic exchange with, simply lost their right to exist. Layman’s questions aside2, the chilling methodology aside3, one never ceases to be exasperated by blind human convictions.
Also noteworthy is the social significance the particular scientific advance in ecology rapidly brought about, which today I have so naturally taken for granted. Back then the coyote research was done in a highly politicized environment, entangled in a web of industrial interests – in this case those of the ranchers and hunters – much like what climate scientists have to face today, as was pointed out in the book. I wonder how climatology will look like in the eyes of the near future. Does it cast a similar curve of acceptance rate that quickly converges to a common wisdom steady state? Has it morphed into a new wave of public movement?
Despite all the atrocities revealed by the book, its overall style is actually quite witty, and also dotted with suspension. The author’s personal encounters with coyotes were most beautifully written. The poignant reflection of the detachment shown by that killer child, awakens my own deep remorse for similar degrees of cruelty. The wooden call episode let me relive the moment of mixed mutual feelings – those of curiosity and fear that seem to epitomize the entire subject of man and nature.
If the Old Man Coyote, “a whirlwind biophysical force with a large capacity for taking sensuous pleasure in life”, who embraces “no religious tradition beyond being alive” but “sacred existence”, and “teaches delight in being alive in a world of wondrous possibilities”, sounds too much of artificial romanticism than a sober observation, then there is this; if among all the tales and accounts there is a single story to remember, then it is this:
A coyote trot along a trail with a sprig of sagebrush in its mouth. At repeated intervals it had tossed the sprig joyously into the air, caught it, then trotted on.4
3 The technique “using morphology measurements and recorded howl profiles” instantly alarms me by a frightening association with the Nazi studies of differentiating human races for malicious purposes. What the author related to was Crania Americana, which at first I presumed was less harmful as I had never heard of it before. But it seems to be recognized as an important work for scientific racism.
I had written stories to conclude my previous art book projects. So let’s pretend to do the same to the most recently finished one, by actually writing about Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers. I could do so merely because of the cover art, which is a photo of one of Modigliani’s female head sculptures, even though my actual execution involved only paintings. When I first skim-listened (because New Romantic in another album of his sounds nice), which happened before the project, I wasn’t particularly impressed. One day, after I finished the project, I went to Andy Stott’s page again to renew my subscription to New Romantic – the two events were unrelated. Suddenly that elongated face that I lately became familiar with caught my attention. Though this particular one isn’t featured on the art book.
So I tapped in and gave it a second listen. I don’t remember if I got to my present day level of appreciation of these sounds precisely on that day, or if my turning from disinterested to infatuated was because of the realization of who made the album cover sculpture. At any rate, since then I have been drawn into this record deeper. And it reveals additional connections to Modigliani’s sculpture works: the sound palette is heavy, colossal in size, much like the African art inspired bulky legs and bodies of the caryatids; saturated, grainy in texture, just like the surface of the stone material that Modigliani worked with. The opening Time Away pretty much has them both – as if the deep and long lasting calls resounded through pre-historic time to this very moment. A third connection, there is the wonderful female vocal appearing throughout the album; unlike every other heavily processed sound, it is mostly left untouched, embodying the pristine femininity exuding from the outward roughness of the stone work… I’m probably connecting dots that never exist… So much for a clearing of the throat then.
I can very well relate why Violence is one of the hottest hits. In between the fragile, unstable, volatile singing inside a pitch-black room that is occasionally pierced by a flicker outside the window, the two grave, massive outbursts work like a slaughter machine, swallowing and grinding all your sick, deranged, and misanthropic substance to produce a gigantic organism of emptiness.
Just noticed in On Oath, between the musical sentences played by the first woodwind-like layer, the blank is filled with some faint humming of a rotating mechanism, which actually is also the last sound heard in the end. This and the previous reference to machines are enough to evoke that industrial gloom that prevails Eraserhead that I recently watched, leading properly to Science & Industry, a nice rise in tempo structurally
The third postdoc position opening asks for recommendation letters. So I wrote to several professors, naturally including sensei, asking for permission to submit their contact details. I assume it’s a matter of yes or no. But in addition to agreeing, sensei suggested a discussion about it. I related this puzzling issue during a meeting with my advisor, wondering what additional information I should pack up for such a discussion. Advisor frowned:”I have no idea what this is about. He just likes talking to you.” I know that was a stray remark. It nonetheless left such a lasting impression on me that I could get instant gratification whenever I recall it.
And then sensei was abroad, followed by me abroad. When I finally came back, I already felt like out of the application business and just wanted to steadily complete my degree in peace. The complex task of writing sensei an email to follow up on this discussion was therefore easily subject to indefinitely prolonged procrastination. Amazingly though, one day I got an email from sensei asking if I’m back already – it’s the first time ever sensei wrote to me out of his own free will, all for such a trivial matter as writing for me a reference letter? The next day, denoted by
sensei was startled by my arrival in the time interval he indicated would be convenient for him. After comfortably waiting for him to finish plotting an important graph, I brought myself straight to:”So what is it that you want to know?” Sensei pushed aside his work, sat back, and said in a tone more serious than one would use on a stray remark:”Would you like to do a postdoc with me?”
This line is intentionally left blank.
Stupefied stare, frozen smile, wide-eyed, all these couldn’t have lasted too long, because the conversation must go on. The ensuing discussion includes sensei explaining, reasoning, making quite a compelling case – viewed from my hindsight, and me throwing disorganized anxiety and fears here and there, formulating ridiculous sentences. If this was an interview, I would have failed miserably.