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Positive Feedback ISSUE
The Mysteries of His System
The Verses in His Life
A Love Story
Liberation Through Listening in the Gap
An Audio Play for Any Number of Performers
A Perfect System
by Barry Grant
She makes a perfect system every day.
--Robert Ashley, Perfect Lives
As [John Cage and a friend] made their way to their seats, some friends urged them to come sit in the back, claiming, "The sound is better back here." Cage laughed and went to his previous seat, saying, "Imagine, a sound being better."
--Kyle Gann, Music Downtown
Audie and Prudence proceed down a darksome corridor in the hindmost recesses of the Made Man Motel. Audie plods, shoulders hunched, head bowed. Prudence, erect, beaming, clutches Audie's arm. Sound waves at a frequency of 60 hertz excite nerve endings in their inner ears. A pale orange light hovers in the air. Amplifiers, CD players, turntables, preamplifiers, speakers, various tweaks and accessories, and empty boxes and packing materials line the walls.
Audie: to himself, dramatically. A graveyard of vain dreams hymned by bad mains wiring. Perfect. I don't even care how this stuff got here. Or what causes this light that's everywhere. I give up. Seymour was right, poor bugger. A discriminating man can never follow the highest way. He can never hear only what there is to hear and not also his miserable, judging voice. Shoulders slowly slump further. Prudence? How can she help now? Love and luck? Just sham knowledge. Steps over a pile of noise disrupters and kicks aside a length of 13N zero crystal silver copper speaker cable that had fallen across his path. Uh! I'll never find a new system and I'll never get over not getting one and I'll never see that all things are perfect in themselves. I can't go on!
Audie loosens his hand from Prudence's grasp and flumps to the floor. He crawls to a pile of wires, pulls his knees to his chest, and nests his head in the soft coils of a pair of air dielectric cables. Prudence lays down beside him, arches her body around his, and rests her head in the nape of his neck. Their inhalations and exhalations meld tunefully.
Prudence lifts her head and kisses Audie softly on his neck. She gets up and stands over him, smiling. Audie turns his head and looks up at her.
Audie: to himself. That strange light has formed a halo around her head. God she is beautiful! What luck! She glows, just as she did when she first spoke those terrifying words to me. Things are perfect in themselves, Prudence, wise Prudence, sweet Prudence, celestial Prudence spoke to me, that morning, in the kitchen, as I sat bowed at her feet, and in saying those words brought me to who I am today, who, that is, I still do not know. Is the halo a sign? Might I yet hear, as Dr. Johnson said, only what is present? Might I yet know, deep inside myself, the truth of Prudence's words?
Prudence: the word floating gently up from her throat, Come.
Audie stands tall and takes Prudence's hand. They continue down the hall. The piles of equipment and accessories peter out. The hum fades into silence. The orange light brightens. Audie and Prudence step into the light.
Audie: to himself. Is this the way?
Edith: rolling a fresh Turkish Special between thumb and middle finger. Greetings friends!
Audie: jaw hanging. Edith! Edith!? What are you doing here?
Edith: I thought I'd surprise you.
Audie: You did. You sure did. . .That halo around Prudence's head and then that weird light we walked into. I thought I'd finally realize. . . What's that music?
Edith: Vaughan Williams, my dear, "Toward the Unknown Region."
Audie: I know that piece. Boult, London Philharmonic. I have it. Hey! That's my system. Prue, this is our apartment! How did we get here?
Prudence: smiling to herself. Another mystery, Audie. But isn't it great to be home?
Audie: Yea, but. . . What's that where the red chairs used to be? A couch.
Edith: No, not a couch, my dear.
Audie: A couch. What's the big deal?
Prudence: No, not a couch, Audie. Places a hand on Audie's arm, slides her hand down his arm into his hand. Come. Leads him to the new piece of furniture, and they sit, each with one arm on an armrest and the other ‘round the other's shoulder, hugging tight.
Audie: It's. . .
Audie: . . . not a couch. It's a loveseat.
Edith: jabbing toward the ceiling with her cigarette. My gift! It's not an Edith, obviously, but it's a lovely piece. Carmine and sooo kissy! I saw it in a thrift store and knew it was perfect for my good friends. I'll leave you to enjoy it.
Audie and Prudence: Thank you, sweet Edith. Come to dinner tomorrow, five-thirty. We'll tell you about our amazing trip!
Edith: I'll bring a case of my new Star Balanced Durian Mangosteen Wine. I've revolutionized oenology! If there was a heaven, this is the table wine the angels'ld serve! ‘Till then my friends. Exits.
Audie: feverishly. Edith is great, really great, but did we give her a key to our place? What did she do with the chairs? Should we offer to pay her for the, uh, loveseat? It's beautiful. Carmine and kissy? Durian and Mangosteen? How did we get back home? I thought I was about to understand what you've been telling me. Prue. . . Prudence pulls her arm from around Audie's shoulder. She takes his head between her hands and turns his head until his eyes face hers. Prue, I can see lights from the system in your eyes. Berylline blue, I think. . . Prudence cocks Audie's head, opens her lips, and pulls Audie toward her.
Prudence: reciting Liberation from memory, her voice barely tickling the fine hairs in Audie's ear. A man and a woman skip down a hall and skid to a stop before a sign on a wall next to a door. Audie's eyes roll up in their sockets. Every muscle in his body falls limp. The door is on a long corridor in the Made Man Motel. The sign says, Fine Sound Technology. The sign names an exhibitor at A Show, where the man and the woman have come in search of their friend, Mr. Bell, and a new system for the man. The man's name is Audie. The woman's name is Prudence. We know. . .
Audie: suddenly, eyes popping, words bursting from his mouth. Prue, this piece is perfect! I can't hear anything wrong. A perfect system! My system is perfect! How, Prue? We've found my new system, and it's my old system. Only. . . I am different! One moment, lost, bereft of hope, "All things are perfect in themselves" an empty slogan, luck and love useless. The next, I am a lover loving things for the things they are, a lover loving sounds for the sounds they are and people for who they are. Can a person change like that?
Prudence: lips stretched wide across her mouth, eyes faintly glowing tangerine. You are now and always were, my perfect Audie. Many kisses.
Audie: eyes and lips drawn down. Prue, something is wrong with the loveseat! The seat cushion is lumpy. As if a sprung spring were pushing against the foam or whatever material sits atop the springs.
Prudence: Audie. . .
Audie: Just kidding, Prue! The loveseat is perfect.
Prudence: Oh Audie!