Click here to read all the parts of "The Mysteries of His System, The Verses in His Life, A Love Story, by Barry Grant.

You are reading the older HTML site

Positive Feedback ISSUE 22
november/december 2005


The Mysteries of His System

The Verses in His Life

A Love Story

Part Fifteen

Liberation Through Listening in the Gap

An Audio Play for Any Number of Performers

Act II

Wherein Audie and Prudence Continue Their Search For Mr. Bell and a New System

At A Show in the Made Man Motel


by Barry Grant



Scene 1

Gold Chips


Prudence: Audie. . .

Audie: Prue. . .

Prudence: I have an urge.

Audie: To do epistemology?

Prudence: How did you know? Do you think it has something to do with these gold chips or disks we’re walking on? They’re all over the hall.

Audie: They could be the cause. How can we know?

Prudence: We could do an A/B, like your magazines write about. Or a double blind.

Audie: But maybe the disks know you’ve already walked on them and don’t repeat their effect? And maybe they only work if they know you know you are walking on them?

Prudence: But Audie, isn’t the fundamental question theoretical? How can little pieces of plastic cause a desire to engage in a form of philosophical thought? Doesn’t that violate the laws of physics?

Audie: Who knows? Have we gotten to the end of physics?

Prudence: Come to think of it, how would we know we’ve gotten to the end?

Audie: Prue, this is exhausting. You don’t sound at all like yourself. I don’t know what these disks are doing to us, but let’s get moving.


Noise is unavoidably generated at the quantum level.


Audie: That voice again! What a claim! Noise by definition is an audible, subjective phenomenon. Remember our conversation about Merzbow? Can the author hear subatomic particles?

Prudence: Maybe the author means by noise any difference between signal input and output. That leaves him with the problem of demonstrating a causal relationship between subatomic waveforms and audible frequencies.

Audie: Hurry, Prue! Hurry! Let’s get away from these things! Running, slipping, clicking sounds.

Prudence: Hold me tight!

Audie: Wraps arms around Prudence. My Prudence! Are you yourself again?

Prudence: I think so.

Audie: It was awful! You sounded just like me.

Prudence: Pulling Audie hard against her. Poor you!

Audie: Prue. Look! One of the chips has broken open. There’s another piece of plastic inside. It’s blank. Turns it over. No. Look. It’s a symbol of some sort.

 Prudence: Om. The symbol of everything, the known and the unknown.

Audie: How can a plastic symbol. . . Prudence places her hand over Audie’s mouth. She replaces her hand with her soft, warm lips.

Audie: Um.



Scene 2


Audie and Prudence stop in front of a door. Next to the door is a sign.

The sign says, Broadview Systems Analysis.

They enter.


Prudence: We are looking for Mr. Bell, Peter Bell. Director of the One World Free Vegetarian Foundation. Do you know him? He might be in trouble.

Pitchman: Sorry, I’ve never heard of him

Audie: He might be exhibiting a mono system.

Pitchman: I can’t help you, but please, come in, sit down. Audie and Prudence sit on the edge of a bed. Squiggles, X’s, lines, and dots cover the four walls of the room. A legend indicating the meaning of the dots and lines in terms of squiggles and squiggles in terms of dots and lines runs across the bottom of the walls. Papers with similar notations lay in piles on the furniture and floor.

Pitchman: My name is Broadview, Bob Broadview, of Broadview Systems Analysis. Let me ask you, Where does a system end? Exactly. Systems don’t end. They have beginnings, but no ends.

Audie: Dr. Johnson said the same.

Pitchman: Furrows brow. There are the sources, controls, amps, and transducers, of course. And the wires. And racks and stands. I have spent years on those alone. There’s the room. You have the dimensions, the surfaces and substances. The molecular density of paint and other surfaces and their reflective properties. The furnishings. The Q. Dust density, amount, and type. Air flow. Then there’s electricity, gravity, humidity, temperature, the oxygen percentage of the air, and air pollution. Sound travels slower in C02. The effects of solar activity, cosmic radiation, and temperature. The size, density, and consciousness of the listeners. A system goes out into the universe and in to yourself. What you had for dinner. The current administration. Can you really enjoy a hundred thousand dollar system when people are starved, tortured, and deceived by corporations, governments, and ad hoc committees?

Audie: You’d rather not, but you can.

Pitchman: Exactly! The human condition. So there’s the psycho-socio-political-cultural-economic-spiritual-biological environment. And, of course, everything interacts.

Audie: If everything connects, a system analysis would take forever.

Pitchman: Exactly! Look. Picks up a thick sheaf of paper from bed. Here are frequency/room paint type interactions for a single speaker model. Points. These calculations address carpet-type/frequency dispersion patterns for the same speaker. Points to corner of room. Over there are calculations of speaker cable dielectric/air density distortion interactions. Points. There, sunspot/dielectric and shielding relationships. Points. There. . .

Prudence: Thank you very much Mr. Broadview, but we’ve got to find our friend.

Pitchman: power grid/wire type/frequency response calculations with corrections for the dollar inflation rate. Holds up papers. Here, tube-type/humidity/. . .

Prudence: Turning around at the doorway. Thanks again!

Pitchman: subjective warmth relationships. And here. . .

Audie: In hallway. Prue, I know what you are going to say.

Prudence: To have an idea so perfect and so impossible. I am afraid it will destroy the poor man. If only he could understand that. . . .

Audie: . . . all systems are perfect in themselves. Yes! Yes! Come on dearest. Let’s try another room.




Scene 3

Audie and Prudence stop in front of a door. On the door is a poster.

The poster says:


JLIAT JAZZ - one work based on a file of PCM data using 16 bits (signed integer) and a 44.100 khz sample rate which is typically used in digital audio. The range of values allowed are therefore -32768 to +32767. The piece of < 1.5 seconds consists of setting each successive word (16 bits) from -32768 to +32767 giving the full range of 65536 states that all such sound files (and CDs) typically encode. (i.e. other works found on CD are never more than variations)


Still Life #3 CDR packed with full printout of digital data in a limited edition of 100 copies.




Man: 65536 states times 44100 samples a second times 60 seconds in a minute times 75 minutes. Not enough time in the universe for all the possibilities and the sound still sucks.

Audie: Whispers to Prudence. CD sound has gotten much better. You’ve heard it yourself.



Scene 4

Audie and Prudence stop in front of a door. Next to the door is a sign.

The sign says, Oz Acoustics.

They enter.


Prudence: We are looking for Mr. Bell, Peter Bell. Director of the One World Free Vegetarian Foundation. Do you know him? He might be in trouble.

Pitchman: Sorry, I’ve never heard of him

Audie: He might be exhibiting a mono system.

Pitchman: Can’t help you, but please, come in, sit down. I’m Dr. Bob Marvel, president of Oz Acoustics. Our research has determined that most audiophiles have very good systems. None of them perfect, of course, but most of them pretty darn good. The problem with most systems is not the system, but the owner! Audiophiles are nagged by doubt and insecurity about the quality of their auditory judgment.

Audie: To himself. That’s me!

Pitchman: They doubt their systems because they don’t have the courage to trust their ears.

Audie: You do psychotherapy?

Pitchman: Too messy. Our solution goes immediately to the root of the problem. We offer a range of genuine medals, from Bronze Ears to Platinum Ears, to the highest level, Celestial Ears! Our technicians are currently at work on an even more subtle and refined level. We’ll announce it at the next A Show. I’m very excited about it! Our upgrade program allows customers to improve their systems as finances allow. We also offer certificates suitable for framing, stationary, and genuine letters from our president (that’s me) testifying to the quality of the audiophile’s auditory judgment.

Audie: Deflated. Oh. How’s business?

Pitchman: Great! And the repeat business is phenomenal.

Audie: Well, thanks. Sorry we can’t talk longer, but we’ve got to find our friend.

Pitchman: Thanks for stopping by. Here, for you and the lady. An Oz Acoustics “I Can Hear!” pin.

Prudence: Thank you!

Audie: Yea, thanks.



Scene 5

Audie and Prudence stop in front of a door. Next to the door is a sign.

The sign says, The Sound of Two Curved Panels

They enter.


Prudence: We are looking for Mr. . . Hey. What is this place?


What is the Sound of

Two Curved Panels?

Reflections on Music Reproduction

Donaueschinger Musiktage, 1999

by Albert Grantowski


Audie: Grantowski! Again! Who is that guy? This is really odd. It’s all writing. I think we’ve walked in to an essay!


The signs to Bernhard Leitner’s sound installation, Wasserspiegel, led to a path off the grounds of a castle, where Alvin Curran’s Totodonaueschinger played. The path ended at a tiny pavilion perched above a drainage spout that empties into a stream. I had wandered this way the previous night when Curran performed the piece to open the Musiktage.


Audie: Do you see any signs, or a museum?


I noticed that the sound of the water rushing from the pipe changed in pitch and density as I moved my head or walked across the pavilion.


Prudence: No. No streams or spouts either. Just, er, text?


I thought: That’s just what happens. I don’t know anything about the acoustics of small, opened-sided structures with four meter ceilings. Now I see two curved panels hanging from the ceiling. This is Wasserspiegel—the two panels, in this particular place. What is the sound of the panels? I wondered.


Prudence: Do you hear anything?

Audie: No. Just your heartbeat, and mine.

Prudence: Hold me.


I descended the pavilion’s two small steps and headed through town, past a tamping machine banging pavers into place, to the Blaues Rathaus building, the site of Johannes S. Sistermann’s, Uberschreiten Raum Allein. Saxophone notes, saws, car horns, scudding electronic beats, clangs, squeaks, crying babies, “creaking doors,” electronic sound washes came from. . . everywhere on three floors of the municipal building. Later, sitting in the lobby, I watched visitors enter the main doors, look quizzically around, and head up the stairs in search of the sound source, just as I had done. Poking behind doors, scanning spaces, I had discovered tiny copper strands running along the bottom of walls to backs of pictures, mirrors, and benches. The furniture was wired with speakers, or wired as speakers.


Audie: Prue, let’s get out of here!


The idea of reproducing the Curran or Sistermann or Leitner, of getting them right, or getting close to their real sound is absurd.


There is nothing to get right. The original sound is ungraspable, even as it is experienced. Recordings can only be sonic descriptions of sonic events. Recordings are tales.


Music recording is an art, but the art does not lie in getting the sound right. The art lies in making the sound interesting. There are no standards for what a recording should do, just as there are no standards of verisimilitude for photos or essays. Every encoding of a piece is the result of choice or inattention—which microphones, where, preamp, medium, and so on, to the engineering and manufacturing of the retail product.


Sonic reproduction in the home is an art, but the art does not lie in getting the original sound or the recording right, the art lies in making the sound interesting.


Audie: Wait a minute. This is getting interesting. It may help.


The desire for a true or absolute sound in one’s living room is the product of cultural forces and business interests. It is instructive to note the absence of an analogous phenomenon in photography. No one expects a photograph of an art work to look exactly like the original. No one purchases multiple reproductions, hoping each new image more closely approaches reality. (“Sweetheart, that is the 12th photo of Sunflowers you’ve bought this year. What was wrong with the last one?” “Look at the aching orange yellows in this one!”) A soldier once complained to Picasso that his female nudes were unreal. Picasso asked if he had a picture of his girlfriend. The soldier eagerly produced a picture of a charming young woman. Picasso took it in hand, examined it, and said, “Kind of small, isn’t she?”


Prudence: Enough Audie! Let’s go!


“?ehs t’nsi ,llams fo dniK” ,dias eH. ti denimaxe dnah ni ti ossaciP . namow gnuoy gnimrahc a fo erutcip a decudorp ylregae reidlos ehT .dneirflrig sih fo erutcip a dah eh fi deksa ossaciP . learnu erew sedun elamef sih eht taht ossaciP ot denialpmoc ecno redilos A (“!eno siht no swolley eht at kool , yenoH” “? eno tsrif eht hti gnorw saw tahW ,raey siht thuob ev’uoy srewolfnuS fo otohp ht21 eht si taht ,traehteewS”) .erofeb eno eht taht ytilaer ot resolc emosc lliw noitareti wen hcae gnipoh snoitcudorper elpitum sesahcrup eno oN .lanigiro eht ekil yltcaxe kool ot krow tra na fo otohp a stcepxe eno oN .yhpargotohp


Audie: OK. This is really tedious. Keep your eyes open for a quick way out. I think we passed a door earlier.


offers serious weight


Audie: That voice!


ni nonemonehp suogalana na fo ecnesba eht eton ot evitcurtsni si tI .laicremmoc ,lanoitome ,larutluc--secneulfni fo tsoh a yb denimreted neeb sah moor gnivil s’eno ni dnuos ni dnuos etulosba ro eurt a rof erised ehT


.gnitseretni ,niaga ,dnous eht gnitteg ni seil tra eht .thgir gnidrocer eht ro dnuos lanigiro eht gnitteg ni eil seod tra eht tub .tra na si emoh eht ni noitcudorper cinoS


Prudence: Audie! There’s the door, up ahead. Just after the next paragraph.

Audie: Take it!


.tcudorp liater eht fo gnirutcafunam dna gnireenigne eht ot os dna—muidem ,pmaerp , erehw , senohporcim hcihw—(noitnettani ro) eciohc fo tluser eht si eceip a fo gnidocne yrevE .egatroper fo eceip ro otohp a for dradnats on si ereht sa truj , od dlouhs gnidrocer a tahw rof dradnats on era erehT. gnitseretni ,dnous eht gnitteg ni seil tra eht ,thgir dnuos eht gnitteg ni eil ton soed tra eht tub ,tra na si gnidrocer ciduM. seceip eht fo snoitpircsed suoirav tsuj era erehT .thgir teg ot gnihton si erehT


Audie: That was weird! How is such a room possible?

Prudence: The world is full of mysteries, Audie, but I’ve never seen anything like that before. . . What’s that smell?

Audie: Smells like electricity.

Prudence: Hurry, let’s find the source.

Audie: Let’s get away from it! It stinks.

Prudence: Never mind that. We’ve got to hurry! I’ve got a feeling.

Audie: Mr. Bell?

Prudence: Yes!



Scene 6

Audie and Prudence race down a hall and stop in front of a door. Next to the door is a sign.

The sign says, Mono Is The One.

They enter.


Prudence & Audie: Mr. Bell!!


Click here to read all the
The Mysteries of His System, The Verses in His Life, A Love Story
(Parts 1 to 9)
by Barry Grant