Music: that’s what this was all about. That’s why I currently find myself staring blankly at nothing in particular on this dismal, gray, post-Soviet street somewhere in Ost Europa, upon a dismal, gray twilight. An evening without even the dignity of rain, for that torrent can at least create life on a long enough timeline.

Nor does this cheerless surrounding have the temerity to let loose a plaintive bird call, a car’s horn, or even the pedestrian braying of your average pedestrian. This entire microcosm appears dead, just as it seems my hopes of artistry are…

So long ago, it wasn’t this way…

Having always had a precocious talent for music from my infancy, I had eschewed the admonishments of my stolid, business-minded family of pseudo-Puritans to pursue a career in this frivolity. And this had certainly borne fruit—a few high minded compositions I penned for myself before I cast aside the praise of the bourgeoisie to enter the seedily glamorous world of popular music.

For the most banal of musical offerings I was granted a fortune beyond the dreams of avarice. For the mere tepid administration of an Istrian scale, combined with a meandering progression of triad chords, I won praise for my “innovation”; awards from inane benefactors and their allegedly illustrious ceremonies.

For publishing the insipid music of the corporation, a never-ending progression of painted sybarites and beauties that were purportedly once innocent traipsed through my bedchambers, engaging in every physical contortion and earthly passion conceived of by the fevered brow of decadence. A few of these soiled doves I even managed to both betroth and messily annul. Illustrating…what, exactly? That I didn’t care whether I wed a woman, blonde, brunette, or redhead, with skin fair or dun or anything in between?

The women were all…so similar, no matter the race, ethnicity, or creed: all voluptuous and pert and beautiful and loud and crass and vapid. I tired of them rapidly, the thrill of new love evaporating quickly. Always I was left wanting something more.

“You never could keep your attention on anything except for your damn music!” I could hear my father lecturing after my last failed marriage. And with bitter resignation that slowly turned into a warm, almost relieving sensation, I decided to heed the advice of pater familias.

As much as I hated his constant admonishments, the admonitions that were continuous up until the day he died, I had to admit…he was right.

Thank you, disembodied all-father.

Truly, to relieve myself of the malaise of my current life, I had to write music, I had to do what I was put upon this world to do better than anybody else. Good, artful, enriching music, of the sort that I used to write before I was seduced by money and pretty little distractions undulating and braying into microphones.

Alone in my estate (that I had somehow retained through all of the divorces), I surveyed the panoply of musical instruments and paraphernalia I had obtained over the decades. Instruments from the darkest corners of the Earth, state of the art recording tools that heralded the pride of technological civilization…gorgeous ambience capturing that exact faery moment, like a mote of dust caught upon a sunbeam, that I vividly remembered accompanying my prior moments of Apollonian genesis.

And I found myself unable to even begin writing a song. Or even to hear the cadences in my head that I would gradually transmit to paper, like molten iron is eventually wrought into proper shape. In frustration, I slammed the lid of my Steinway as I angrily surveyed the room for any font of inspiration. A Stradivarius with 300 years of continental opulence did nothing, nor did the shamisen of old Nippon.

The erhu whispered of the august grandeur of the Middle Kingdom, but the pentatonic scales and modes of celestial music weren’t what I desired. Listlessly, my fingers tapped on the lid of the piano.

Day turned to night and I had accomplished nothing but a series of aborted starts that filled the nearest wastebasket. “No…” I said aloud as I rose up, “What I need is to hear music at its live and unstructured core. Away from this natal state.”

And so I embarked, taking a private plane and walking on the most public of roads to find that mysterious sound I was searching for that had voided me. I scoured every inch of the new world, that place where white and black and red were unwillingly forced together and managed to create such wonderful music out of such chaos. From the Yukon to Santiago, from the wealthiest high rises to the most pestilent slum, amidst turmoil and upheaval, I still couldn’t find it.

From the New World to the Old World I foraged in the hopes of finding the sound I was lusting after.

The searing Serengeti and its Xalams provided a series of excellent melodies, but it wasn’t to fill the void. Sweat continued to pour as I crossed into the Levant, crunching millennia under my feet as I was delightfully assailed by the sights and smells of the fleshpots of the hoary Orient. I felt my doldrums slightly lift upon seeing the bedlah-clad undulations of a voluptuous odalisque, or upon the olfactory greetings of saffron, mustard seed, or hashish…

…Only to be depressed again once these fleeting pleasures had passed. Despite the bright, sun-baked reds and browns around me, I still felt that gray empty void, and apathetically trudged onwards to Eurasia in the hopes of finding that something. From the Levant I followed the thundering herd of humanity that half-beseeched and half-invaded Europe, and threw myself into the alleged pinnacle of human achievement, hoping to find that je ne sais quoi that would renew my muse.

My eyes became weary, my feet throbbed in pain as I slogged through the Sorbonne, Heidelberg, and L’Aquila, each time turning up empty-handed and without even a schmiss scar to remind me of my European university journey.

I continued to plod, away from the great Old World universities and into the great Old World taverns, brothels, and various other places of low standard and ill repute. Intoxicating aromas and elixirs and intoxicating women from the four corners of the Earth assailed me from all sides…they all slid off like so much rainwater: twenty years of success in the music industry had inured me to “mere” hedonism…and even more miserably, returning to the life of a normal plebeian was not an option for me either. I set my jaw after glumly walking out of my latest fleshpot—like the simultaneous villain/protagonist of a book I had read long ago (but couldn’t remember the name of), the only pleasure for me was to be through the agony and ecstasy of toil and self-realization, in striving to create external greatness simultaneously would I shape the inner being.

This quest brought me to the savage Far East, seeking amongst the small and efficient houses the live core of music that my sterilized erhu, koto, and shamisen back in the New World could never quite provide. Listening to an elderly busker in Shanghai, as cherry blossoms fell around us, I was dejected to hear that while it was wonderful, beautiful music, it just wasn’t my music.

The youth provided a distinct twist on punk rock, metal, and hip hop, a syncretism of East and West, old and new, but it still wasn’t what I was looking for. From Seoul, to Tokyo, to Bangkok, Phnom Penh, anywhere that might have helped me, and of course none of them did.

Trying to find anywhere I hadn’t been, I began a long perilous journey upon the old Silk Road, encountering a countless number of fascinating people and exotic lands that I couldn’t find myself paying attention to at all. Balalaikas and samovars surrounded me, the dust of thousands of years of history and culture…and it all fell flat.

Onward I trudged westward, and somewhere in Eastern Europe on a dismal day…I heard it! On a street that seemed unnaturally devoid of color, I heard the sound! Wafting from a dilapidated tenement window, the sound of a violin intoned beautifully, playing in a mode that even I, with a Juilliard education, couldn’t name.

It contained hints of several regional modes, and now simultaneously the regality of classical music. Somehow still I knew it could easily be applied to a dirge, a slow caprice, or the frenetic movements of unparalleled festivity. I had to know what mode it was, and if there were people in my path, I probably ran through them as I clodhopped into the tenement.

“THE MUSIC, WHERE IS IT?!” I asked panickedly, receiving only a dull, wide-eyed stare from the large, slatternly woman behind the desk. In response, I thrust my head into the elevator, only to find it disabled. Resigning myself to my fate, I went up the stairs.

Twenty flights of stairs, pounding my feet on unending concrete while listening to the faint masterpiece that the mysterious virtuoso still played. My heart stopped to pound, still keeping an ear open for stray notes that would tell me where I was supposed to be going.

The left side of my body burned in agony when I finally reached the top floor and the music was loud enough to hear in its entirety. In its proximity I could hear, in addition to the violin, what sounded to be some sort of woodwind being played simultaneously in an entirely different yet complimentary mode.

Is there somebody else in there? I didn’t hear anything beyond the violin before…of course there’s somebody else. Don’t be ridiculous.

I ran through the hall, the sweat pouring down my face in stinging rivulets. Like a man possessed, I hurtled through the halls of dinginess until I found the portal the music was undoubtedly coming from. I girded myself to crash through the door before dimly being aware that I was a world famous songwriter and thus such an entrance would be considerably…déclassé. And so I knocked, curtly yet courteously.

“Hmm?” the denizen inquired. After a few seconds of silence, the door was tenuously opened. I gasped for air to fill my aching lungs before managing to somewhat compose myself. “Are…are you the musician I have heard all night?”

The man, a short, slightly-built graying man with blue eyes and a slightly unkempt beard and equally unkempt glasses stammered a bit before saying “Oh, um…yes, yes.” in accented but grammatically correct English.

“Sir my name is—”

“I know who you are!” he said with a bit of a sneer. He knows me from the songs I write for the little sluts. Of course he does…

“Um, I write actual music as well, Mr…”


“Well, anyway, I’ve been trying for months to find a sound for my newest orchestral piece, and that! That is it.

“I’m not taking your money, sir. And I will not have you profaning my creation just so your American whores can dance to i—” “NO!”

I felt that I was practically screaming at this point, and dimly I was aware that I had started to sweat again.

“I’m an artist like you! Let me show you…some of my music. My real music.” I exclaimed, shutting him up with the greatest rhetorical device there is (talking over the guy).

Reminds me of negotiating with Spector, to be honest.

Practically falling over myself to get to the upright piano in the corner, I started to play the age-worn instrument with a medley of my old work. A Waltz in slendro, an Andalusian sonata, rock and roll that seamlessly molded blues, Phrygian, and Dorian scales to gather into a soundscape that had justifiably made me a star before I had graduated from the conservatory. The age-worn half-tone modulation to end it, and I finished, my fingers still fresh, signifying decades of musical training.

My host pondered what he had just heard as I looked around surreptitiously at my humble environs: unvarnished wooden floors, a single window, and a single flickering light source. A few fixtures with exposed pipes, a no-frills bed in the corner, a music stand, and reams of sheet music organized but clearly worn and stained from years of use.

To all sides were various instruments and plain, unadorned black cases containing mysterious music paraphernalia. Had I free time, I would have gone through all of them, plumbing their depths and feeling like a child discovering the art for the first time…but there were more important matters for me to deal with.

“Hmph, I suppose you are a real artist,” my host said, still with a disdainful look upon his face. Nonetheless, he picked up his violin and started to play, beckoning me to join on the piano.

Proizvedenov started to play those same melodies I had heard on the street, and I briefly wondered how I was to play any chords to with this melody, before I started to play almost reflexively. Just then, I knew I had it. To play from the soul, in wild glee and abandon…and suddenly I was that precocious child again, happy with the mere act of artistic creation, in a way that I hadn’t been in years.

Furiously, my hands danced across the keys as my feet pressed down upon the pedals, alternating from held to muted notes as the music demanded. Out of the corner of my eye, Proizvedenov, in an equal fury but yet calm and unflustered, drew his bow across the strings and pressed down on the fretboard with his free hand. Beads of sweat turned into rivulets pouring down my face and neck, but I couldn’t dare stop this maelstrom of brilliance.

The greatest thing I had ever played couldn’t be stopped by mere physiological demand. My forearms and fingers ached but I somehow managed to complete this song. A song that had to be transcribed for the sake of the very medium. Curiously, I noted that my host was not winded at all, whereas all the muscles of my arms and legs burned, as did all of my ribs.

“What..what was that?!” I exhaustively inquired. “Come, let me show you,” my host replied as he led me to his nondescript table that may have been a cable spool in a past life, and he began to write. “This will explain everything…” he murmured as he wrote, before going on to explain how he, too, had plumbed the dark corners to find this wonderfully bizarre facet of musical theory, and how “…nobody has heard stuff like this for a thousand years…it’s really fifty percent theory and fifty percent just training your body to be capable of doing it. Heh, a Juilliard education and thirty years of practice could only keep you barely able to breathe. An amateur musician would have died.”

Pages and pages he wrote, a casual glance revealing a form of musical notation that I had never seen, and yet…seemed oddly familiar.

Quarter tones? No, those are largely an intellectual curiosity. But how do they fit together so hauntingly and yet so beautifully?

As he wrote, the spartan surroundings seemed to take on greater majesty than their homely exterior would belie—for I knew I was seeing something sublime.

With a poetic flourish, my host finished writing and brusquely thrust the papers into my hand. “Here’s twenty pages of notes, now get out of my home.”

I was flabbergasted. “What? But…you liked my music—” “Yes, I certainly do, but I don’t care much for rich American twats barging into my home uninvited!” he snapped, and then shoved me out of his door and slammed it in my face. I frowned at this before realizing, “To hell with him, I got the notes!” Triumphant, yet still exhausted, I began the long trudge downstairs, ignoring the dull clud of concrete or the dull roar of rain that I only heard now but Is knew had started during the session with Proizvedenov.

I had caught my breath by the time I had reached the ground floor and the weather seemed clear enough to not destroy the looseleaf papers. Just as I had the front door in sight, I felt my body collide with a fleshy mass—it was that same slattern at the front desk, crashing into me and spilling the contents of a coffee mug, presumably coffee, onto my papers!

“Next time, don’t disturb me at night,” she said with a sneer, leaving me incapable of anything but gawping my mouth inefficiently…which quickly turned into blind fury!

I seized her considerable bulk by her lapels, and lashed into her with blow after blow, every limb crashing into her flabby face, obtaining vengeance where I had lost apotheosis…

…in actuality I was still standing ineffectually when she had long since thrown the evidence of our mutual clumsiness into the nearest receptable. What would be accomplished with atavistic violence? I had lost the greatest musical innovation in millennia, and would likely never get it back. It was as if any and all emotions were dulled, knowing that such synesthetic ecstasy had so briefly been imbibed, and never would be again.

I staggered into the grey and dismal street, at the Brutalist building that incongruously held such artistry. The street resounded with quiet, almost deathly ambience as I thought about what had just happened, and brought me to the present time.

I have a skill that I do better than anyone in the world—well, almost anyone. And I had failed. I found myself looking up at the tiny apartment where I had just created the greatest composition of my life, what I had sacrificed millions of dollars and the better part of two years for.

“You’re insane to dedicate your life to this crap!” I hear pater familias saying, continually ringing in my ears.

As I continued to stare into Proizvedenov’s window, the rain delicately started to come down.