We tumbled all the instruments into the chasm. Everyone agreed that it was probably for the best. The blasted things were only distractions. They’d had their uses, once, but those frivolous times were gone. Music was an idle superstition. A beast of a distant past.
For we are Homo Superius now, and we wear no tie to the office on Casual Friday. Songs of love and longing have no place in our active, dynamic and integrated world. Homo Fully Erectus has interpersonal skills which put the sweetest ode to shame, which could dull the keenest note from the purest harp. So we put a pin in them, in all of them, and we pulled the pin out, and they kthhhflibbeted through the air in circles like a balloon in its death throes, and disappeared with a final, wheezing discord.
Put more prosaically, we put them into holes in the ground. Museum pieces and oddities first. Lutes and ouds and three-stringed Appalachian dulcimers. We sniggered as we toppled in the virginals, although discreetly; you wouldn’t want the boss to see. In city squares in every CBD of every performance-oriented fast-expanding New World megatropolis we dug the great pits, and sweated with the unaccustomed labour as we pitched in harps and theremins and kids’ kazoos. Electric guitars tumbled after, the embarrassments of our pimply youths before we realised that rebellion was unnecessary because the world would give us it all, after all, if we would only ask it the right way, with vim and a can-do attitude.
We did it all on a Saturday, of course. It gave us something to talk about on Monday, during Networking Hour from 12 until 1. And something to tweet about on the Sunday in between, when there was otherwise nothing much to do.
A few of us kept something back. Out of vague misgivings or a notion that there might be a future opening in the teenage market for retro noisemakers, we held on to a harmonica, or we kept the piano, but ‘only for furniture’. A few crazies out in the hills and suburbs kept their old banjos and drumkits, of course, but among normal people with real jobs, compliance was contiguous with the overall thrust of the initial mission statement. Eventually the handful of us who had kept an instrument in the cupboard soon found it taken from them: not by Thought Police or even Company Policy, but by a stronger force—shame. Mate, did you hear about Bill? Actually kept a, like, electric bass? Like actually kept one, like he’s going to be in a band someday. Hi-larious, mate. Cheeks burning, we pitched our relics down the shafts atop the rest, then turned to join in the ribald laughter.
And so the world quietened. The gentle whirr of computers was the wind across our desert. Background chatter expanded to fill the foreground, or didn’t. We kept some elevator muzak and radio jingles, and a handful of scores for smartphone apps. Artificially intelligent computer programs generated appropriate emotive syrup for blockbuster movies. And that…was all. More and more of the crazies were following suit, seeing that they were out of step with the times. They traded in their tambourines for Facebook credits. We felt good about ourselves. Our forward-thinking hands-on drive to success had been a great team effort leading to a process of rapid progress across multiple sectors of the playing field.
A few grandparents still kept antique pianos, but that was all. Eventually the grandparents died.
Now silence is all and is everywhere. Noiselessly the directives and press releases flow from IT to HR via FUBAR and DOA. The markets have no melody, and our ergonomic keyboards do not even clatter with arrhythmic percussion, so sleek is their design.
And no busker can be heard, trumpet notes wafting in through an open window. No Greensleeves accompanies the ice-cream vans.
Music laid to rest, other pagan rituals followed: art and verse. The walls are medical green for optimal workplace productivity: no pictures hang. We have forgotten our poetry. Forgotten what rough beast, its time come at last, may slouch towards Bethlehem to be born. Forgotten the heav’nly Muse on the secret top. Forgotten, in the process, how to make a decent cup of coffee, although we gulp it more insatiably than ever as we race to meet next month’s targets. Somewhere, I even think that we forgot to…
What was I saying? I can’t…
I catch sight of my reflection on the inside of the sheet-glass window. It’s dark outside: I doubt I shall bother going home tonight. I’ll just press on and try to meet my target. My reflection raises an immaculate hand to tighten his tie, and it seems to me for a moment, a moment which has travelled a long way to get here, that my reflection is waiting. Waiting for a breeze to catch a dangling chain, somewhere outside. For a schoolchild to rattle a stick across some railings in a quick triplet pattern: dadada, dadada, dadada.
So that somebody, glancing up at their reflection on the inside of a sheet-glass window, might pause for a moment. And if they listen, then they might hear. And, just for a moment, regret.
‘The Fifth Season’, Aran Ward Sell 2012.