Pet Sounds: A series in which teaching staff and students from the English Department reflect on a piece of music or song. [Read all entries.] [Revisit the “Headspace” series.] [Revisit the “Ongoing” series.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]
Music is a time machine. Proust knew it. Even though there were no pop songs in his era, a petite phrase in a sonata could transport you.
There were no music videos in the early years of the 20th century either. But there sure were in its final decade. In Russia too. Crap, mostly. Heaps of pop. Flea markets and kiosks near metro stations sold music videocassettes along with porn, or stuff that was almost porn. Real stuff was available at certain spots, though. Harder to fish out, but you came to know where to find it.
I believe it was 1996. Friends from two music bands gather to watch videos in a carpeted flat in St Petersburg’s Dostoevskian area. We sit on the floor, one girl and four boys, aged 17 to 25. The video cassette goes in. Our eyes wide open. Soon, five jaws drop like tears. We’re immersed in witnessing the Double Trio avatar of KING CRIMSON, the band first formed in 1968. That’s the musical generation we identify with, better than anything more recent. We get infected, we empathise, we want to write something like this and perform it this way. The CRIMSON 1995 line-up will become family. We will let them in. Learn what Gunn’s Warr Guitar and Levin’s Chapman Stick are. What makes Fripp’s soundscapes, and how his spiderish sitting self hovers over things and spins everything together. Where Belew holds a slide for that string seagull sound, and when he applies an electric drill to show off. How to tell the sound of Brufford’s percussion from Mastelotto’s; and either’s from anyone else’s. We will recognise their sound by ear in any other band they play with. We will see them all live—not all of them together, but in amazing combinations nonetheless.
But not all of us will. The boy of 25 died that same year. Almost as many years as he spent on this Earth have elapsed since then. The girl and boy of 17 have two daughters now. The boy of 21 has stayed in the music business. And those CRIMSON tracks, whether samples of atonal avant-garde or rock ballads, texted or wordless, are our common language. From only that One Time.
Ivan Delazari is a PhD Fellow at the Department of English Language and Literature currently engaged in a musico-literary intermediality research project. In 1990-2000, while first a secondary school and then university student in St. Petersburg, Russia, he was leader of a music band he co-founded with his younger brother and a classmate. [Click here to read all entries by Ivan.]