The Hidden Hand of Ronnie Boykins

Inside of a suburban home, a bedroom. The bedroom of a young girl not long sent to bed by parents who want time to be with themselves. The light is off and the door is closed and the covers are pulled up above her head. She is not yet tall enough that her toes poke out at the other end, though it won’t be long. She is not yet sleeping. There is a small light which she is shielding from the landing just in case it creeps beneath the door and out, giving her away; and there is sound, too, for which she (the duvet) does the same. The light comes from the dial of a radio. Each night once tucked up and shut away she plays the radio and listens to the world outside. In fact, it is the universe she is listening to. The static between stations that she finds most interesting. Over and above the chatter and the music. She enjoys the sound of the crackle, the hum of interference up from the ground and back down from the ionosphere. The volume is so low it is barely audible, and yet the darkness intensifies the smallest sound, and she does not want to be discovered. She is attentive to the radio and the squeak of the floorboards as mother goes to the toilet, quickly turning the volume to nothing. Sure that the coast is clear she slowly moves the knob back a little. One, two notches so as to hear a robotic voice distorted by a weak signal. She flicks back and forth between stations, cutting up speech and creating new sentences, new meaning. She half tunes in just to hear the distortion above the music or the words. She lingers but only for a moment or two. She prefers to move the tuner slowly in and out of signal creating the decay into hiss of voice or note, like a ghost moving through a wall. Like tiptoeing backwards out of the light and into the shadows.

The Arabic numerals on the right correspond to the Roman numerals on the left…One as a rule refrains from citing texts like the one in Luke…proves to be an identity after calculation…squealing, low in the mix…The birth of universe man…Imagine a waterfall…everyone was great in his own way…chattering excitedly about secret bunkers, conspiracy theories, spy games…A friend of mine, Derek (not his real name)…let us either forget Abraham or learn how to be horrified at the monstrous paradox…A little golden skeleton…There is no moon…the BBC’s Middle East correspondent has more details…non-uniform bleeps and bloops…There is no aggregate of particles more homogeneous than a pure case…The logic of likelihood is elegant and convincing…Thus did the United States undertake to fight Nazi racism with an army organised according to racist principles…boredom paused, looked at me, then continued reading…cul-de-sacs…An abandoned office has mugs of evaporated tea; a blueprint now covered with the names of children, and genitalia…An effective probabilistic principle of induction would have to be even stronger…pitch changes…Nature spaces are invaded by sloppy country dances…swirling dust…consider a universe of objects…situations repeat themselves with subtle changes rather than developing…ambient noise…male songbirds like the Dunnock or Great Tit hold territories…it is six minutes past six…so always take a field notebook and record interesting sightings…it’s like a thin jigsaw which the music works very well with…crisp packets rubbed between hands…feedback…drifting particles…on, on, on, on, on, on, on, on…They all resonated within a very narrow band of frequencies…multi-layered sound…We still have not dispelled the air of paradox…Now the story of Abraham contains just such a teleological suspension of the ethical…noise like wind blowing over the top of the speakers…Even so, Schoenberg is not ready to go over the brink…the chain of minutes will unroll in the opposite direction…My ‘bogey bird’ is Leach’s Petrel…white noise…record what you are now experiencing…The absoluteness of truth receives some hard knocks from yet another quarter, in the shape of bizarre situations…And for this battle that is lost in advance I recruit you today…aural illusions…distant signals…A legendary Scottish ornithologist…crackles…Jazz became mechanical, and used mechanical lubricant: swing…patterns appearing…tics…the area of a graph paper…hiss…hidden spheres…

From out of the interference and between the voices, cymbal crash static, quiet screams of the universe there is suddenly a clear signal. A beacon in the early morning darkness. The unexpectedness of it wakes her and she is paying close attention. A double bass asserting it’s authority as it emerges like consciousness to a sleeping girl in a suburban bedroom. The sounds of atmospheric disturbance merged into the percussion behind that bass line, allowing melody to sneak up on her dreams, and she was awake. But what kind of melody is it? In the hands of Ronnie Boykins it is a sort of non-melody melody. One that seems to go nowhere; a repeating pattern, with slight variations. At once, anchor and motor, producing a sort of static motion. Like cycling with a high cadence on a flat road. That illusion is as much down to the sure footedness and discipline of the playing as it is the instrument, keeping steady amongst the fizz and pop of white noise, the crash of cymbals and the squeal of horns kept low in the mix. As the band plays chaos he is all the more striking in his clarity. But it is by no means clear if he can get the thing to go, or even if he wants to. There are moments when he is drowned out, moments when he sounds like he is changing tact, and of course that double role of melody and rhythm seem sent by Sun Ra to test his strength. It is a test that he ultimately wins; not by any movement but by remaining upright in the wind and by cutting a clear path through white noise and out into the world, as with a weak signal on the radio needing oh so small movements of the dial to improve reception. And when he is in he is in. Tones resonating clearly and proudly out into the universe, each note audible no longer muffled behind the showy solos of wind instruments and snare shuffles.

In her bed the young girl is upright and alert. What is this strange and beautiful new music? The sound of interference itself, disturbed, captured, arrested and then released. As if the wind was stilled for a moment, only to reveal a description of itself in order to that she might greater appreciate being blown off her feet, which of course she was. And then: static. Pop, Hiss. Boots sinking into snow. A low feedback squeal.

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