She places her hands on my shoulders and brings me toward her in an embrace. She leans back, then hugs me again. And, I know, Leigh allows herself to believe it, too. In my pocket is my cell phone. On it are three missed calls from Amelia, received fifteen minutes apart, each without a voicemail. Her cheeks are wet, and I bring her a tissue. She lays it in her lap, letting the tears remain there like glass on her face.
I watch her left-hand vibrato as she presses her index against the strings. I watch her right elbow move in unending breaths. The music seems to cascade out, beyond the radius of our two bodies, seems to spill onto the backgammon table half-played to my right, onto the Cogswell chair, onto the bookshelves housing the novels and leather-bound encyclopedias a partner gave us countless Christmases ago.
I shut my eyes. The music leaves watermarks on the wallpaper. Leigh plays only half the Sarabande.
Then she lifts her bow, lays the instrument on the rug, and comes to me. She places her hand on the backside of my neck.
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Together, we peer out the window. They are be-scarved and be-mufflered, these Carnegie Hillers, and they file in slowly. She exhales, and I can feel the muscles in her upper back release and lengthen beneath my arm, which is tight around her shoulders. She looks over at the cello. We remain that way, her hand on my neck, my own hand holding the knob of her shoulder, watching the steepled church until its doors close. Then she helps me walk the Fraser into the living room and position it beside the backgammon table.
I screw the nails of the stand into the tree base and, with my Swiss Army Knife, slice at the netting. Leigh steps back to inspect the tree, which is leaning precariously to the right. In the night, I jolt to the sound of metal against metal. Leigh snores and turns on her side, her elbow pulling the sheets with her.
When I turn it on, it casts a cone of light into the living room, where the Fraser lies on its side like a toppled soldier. It has hit the chess set on its way down. The three of us. You, me, and Leigh. I erased the voicemail, hoping, as I did, that I might succeed in stopping her. I unlocked the bathroom door, got back into bed, and clicked off the television, to whose sound Leigh had fallen asleep. Now I leave the fallen tree in the living room and walk to the study. I open a new browser window. The Gmail logo is adorned with garland, the dot above the i a red, glowing nose.
Bill, I think. Billy the Kid. The frontier outlaw. The gunman. Merry Christmas , I think. Merry Christmas to you, too, Bill. I click open the emails.
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I read even the fine prints: the unsubscribing methods, the copyrights. And then, when there are no emails left to open, when the only unopened one is from Bill, I hover the mouse over the blank subject line. I asked for a favor, and friends do friends favors. I close the browser and then the lid of the laptop. I push myself as far from the desk as my arms will reach. Leigh and I will have to start to look for rentals. I stand and walk as speedily as I can to the laundry room, my feet slipping out of the backs of their loafers.
I find a tool chest. Within it are hooks and a drill and some twine. From the chest, I retrieve a hook and screw it into a stud on the window-side wall. I loop twine around the trunk. My cell phone vibrates against the fireplace mantle. Good God, I think. I watch it, my hands frozen inside the tree. I can feel sweat at my hairline and then dripping down my temple. I secure the Fraser at three points along the length of its trunk and, when I finish, tug at one of the low branches.
Again, from across the room, the cell phone drones. It inches across the mantle. I crack open the window, letting my pajamas billow around me. But she stays there. The cello looks grand, resting on its tailspike, waiting to be played. I carry it to the window. With it leaning against my shoulder, I sit on the ledge. I pluck the G, which vibrates steadily up my arm: a deep, bottomless tremor. I put my left index finger over the two top strings. I guide it, skating the bow atop the strings, the dyad of notes blending into a single, throaty, dissonant sound.
She hesitates, then turns, and I watch the back of her move to the living room entrance, round the corner, and disappear. Enjoy strange, diverting work from The Commuter on Mondays, absorbing fiction from Recommended Reading on Wednesdays, and a roundup of our best work of the week on Fridays. Personalize your subscription preferences here. Skip to content. Ambiguous signals from outer space, of course, make for much more interesting drama, which is probably why they are reserved for science-fiction films that require at least a bit of thought from their audiences.
But no one, ever, knows what the signal means. Another example of an ambiguous audible signal from outer space is to be found in the film Contact Zemeckis Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film is closely based on the same-titled novel by the American astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan, a novel that in turn originated with a screenplay whose first drafts date back to The electro-magnetic signal from outer space turns out to be much richer than at first it seems. In the novel on which the film is based, author Carl Sagan describes the initial stages of the de-coding process:.
The picture, still unintelligible, was joined by a deep rumbling glissando of sounds, sliding first up and then down the audio spectrum until it gravitated to rest somewhere around the octave below middle C. Slowly the group became aware of faint but swelling music. The picture rotated, rectified, and focused.
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Clutched in the eagle's concrete talons …. Sagan Morse in the late s for the sake of making it possible to transmit messages over distances bridged by electrical wires. In the s, after the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi realized his idea for transmitting electrical signals via radio waves instead of via wires, common practice had the long and short impulses converted into monotone pitches sounded by an oscillator.
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Based on the Latin alphabet and Arabic numerals, this version of the code was standardized by the International Telegraphy Congress in T he release by Ruscico i. An unidentified version that uses the soundtrack , but not the footage, of the Ruscico release features four transcriptions, including a second transcription, but in different handwriting, in Cyrillic. Caligari Wiene , Dr. Jekyll and Mr. For a comprehensive survey of early science-fiction films, see Telotte Telotte 77— The Sounds of Outer-Space Technology.
Science fiction that deals with space travel has always involved technology. After all, it is technology — in real life nowadays as well as in the literary or cinematic fiction of the past — that makes travel into space possible. And the same might be said for films from the early s, when space flight for humans was fast becoming a reality.
Although images published in magazines and on television showed persons around the world what the cramped capsules occupied by the helmeted and tightly space-suited Yuri Gagarin and John Glenn looked like in reality, in fiction, filmmakers most often opted for a more comfortable imagery based on the spacious flight decks of intercontinental airliners.
Similar sounds — in essence variants of simple sine waves — came from the so-called ondes Martenot. Oscillator-based theremins manufactured and marketed by RCA, for example, in effect gave a wordless voice to the powerful inter-stellar robot in The Day the Earth Stood Still Wise , to the fierce vegetable-like creature rescued from a long-ago crashed flying saucer in The Thing from Another World Nyby , and to the frightful-looking but nonetheless friendly aliens who bother earthlings only because their spacecraft is in need of repair in It Came from Outer Space Arnold To illustrate outer-space technology in such low-budget films as It Conquered the World Corman , Invasion of the Saucer Men Cahn , and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman Juran , composer Ronald Stein craftily imitated the sound of the theremin by means of tuned oscillators, sometimes in combination with a solo violin or a vibraphone set to a slow pulsation rate.
At the same time, so that audiences of science-fiction cinema could immediately understand whatever other-worldly or futuristic technology was being depicted, the sights and sounds of the imagined technology had to be based on things that were, in fact, quite mundane.
This applies not just to depictions of communication devices and flight-managing equipment but also to flight-powering equipment and — importantly — to weaponry. In the Golden Age of science-fiction films — that is, in the s — probably almost everyone in the cinema audience would have been familiar with the sounds of airplanes and automobiles, and of firearms and explosions in general.
If members of the cinema audience were not in fact familiar with these actual sounds, they were at least likely to have been familiar with how such sounds had, since the mids, been represented in the soundtracks of a wide variety of narrative films. On 20 February , the astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For more on the historical development of the trautonium and its use in film, see Wierzbicki Wierzbicki The Sounds of Heavenly Bodies. There is little in The Phantom Planet Marshall that qualifies it for a place in the canon of science-fiction cinema.
The The Phantom Plane t is certainly not the first instance of a special sound illustrating the atmosphere of a distant planet. Sonic evocations of planets or asteroids are similarly used, occasionally and sparingly, and mostly in the first season, in those episodes of the television series The Twilight Zone that describe existence somehow remote from Earth.
In the films from the late s, the ethereal and arguably eerie sound of the theremin in and of itself symbolized a mental state that is in one way or another bizarre but nonetheless quite human, and therefore quite earthly. In contrast, the sound of the theremin in Rocketship X-M symbolized the landscape — or perhaps the atmosphere — of a distant planet.
At this point, the otherwise black-and-white film suddenly shifts to red-tinted imagery. After the Rocketship X-M , the theremin and its various inexpensive imitations — the simple tuned oscillator, the newly invented electronic keyboard instrument called the Novachord, the recorded and perhaps somehow processed sound of rushing wind and water, the wordless human voice — over the next decade were used almost exclusively not in psychological dramas but in science-fiction films.
In most of these, the place itself — not just distant from the Earth but in many ways different from the Earth — functions almost like a character in the drama. Syndicated again in the early s, it was re-titled Beyond the Limits. For details, see Wierzbicki Wierzbicki She Shoulda Said No! In all of these films, as in Spellbound and The Lost Weekend , the theremin player featured on the soundtrack was Samuel Hoffman. For more on Samuel Hoffman and his adventures in Hollywood, see Glinsky Glinsky —55 and — The desert is silent and mysterious, yet beautiful.
The movement starts with a mysterious theme played by bass clarinet and viola and accompanied by weird chords in the lower registers of the orchestra. It is interrupted by strange harmonies from the woodwind and the upper register of the piano. A contrasting melody of lyric quality follows. This is succeeded by the mysterious music which opened the movement. For more on the nomenclature, see Hanson Hanson and Forte Forte The Lost Planet was not a feature-length film but, rather, a fifteen-part serial released by the Columbia studio.
The Sounds of Space Travel. As presented in science-fiction films, the sounds of distant planets are entirely fictitious, as are the sounds of the travel through space that allows astronauts to arrive at, or depart from, those planets. These sounds are fictitious — invented, so to speak, out of thin air — because planets and travel do not make sounds.
For most persons, the Earth as a planetary body, aside from the rumble of the occasional earthquake or volcano, is quite mute, and there is no reason to think that the situation would be different elsewhere in the universe. Similarly silent, for most persons, is movement from one place to another; travel in the earthly world is of course often linked with sound — the clicks of footsteps on the pavement, for example, or the whoosh of wind in the ears of a bicyclist, or the roar of an automobile engine — but movement in and of itself triggers no vibrations that might be perceived as sonic.
As noted above, filmmakers have long appropriated the noises of familiar technology for their portrayals of fantastic technology, and thus the machines that in science-fiction films facilitate space travel tend to sound quite a bit like earthly airplanes or rockets. To represent the quite silent phenomenon of travel through space, however, filmmakers have long relied on music.
In tracing the history of audio-visual portrayals of space flight in science-fiction films, one notes four main tropes. The most dominant of these, and the one with the deepest roots, places sonic emphasis on both the speed of space travel and the sheer power of the means of propulsion. Rather, the sounds that denote decidedly futuristic space travel, and which are instantly read as signifiers for high technology, tend to be made up of bleeps and blips that cover a wide pitch range and are devoid of recognizable rhythmic patterns.
Opening sequence of the film Forbidden Planet. Even in the pre-cinema science-fiction novels of Jules Verne and H. Wells, imagined space travel of course involved ideas of speed and force, and of course it also involved ideas of futuristic technology. Importantly, it also involved the idea of adventure.
The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. Probably the most famous filmic representations of the weightlessness of space travel are found in a film released six months before the Apollo 7 mission. Csicery-Ronay, Jr.
The Canyons of the Stars …. They obviously do not share musical content or specific musical techniques, but perhaps they share — at least in the minds of their hearers — a collection of implied images. By the title of this lecture, it should be noted, Stockhausen meant not music in or from outer space, or in any way suggestive of outer space, but music that exists in earthly physical space. Many listeners have projected that strange new music which they experienced — especially in the realm of electronic music — into extraterrestrial space.
Even though they are not familiar with it through human experience, they identify it with the fantastic dream world. Stockhausen, quoted in Holmes . Emphases added. Shortly thereafter, he informed the Italian writer Mya Tannenbaum, he came across a mention of the star Sirius in a book by Jakob Lorner, and this stirred his imagination. The original German text is reprinted in Stockhausen Stockhausen — A rather different translation can be found in Griffiths Griffiths Adorno, Theodor W. Philosophy of Modern Music trans. Anne G. Mitchell and Wesley V. New York: Seabury Press.
Barker, Lynn, and Robert Skotak Beyer, Robert Bond, Jeff Los Angeles: Lone Eagle Press. Bouzereau, Laurent Brend, Mark London: Bloomsbury. Burgan, Michael Carlson, W. Bernard Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Charbonnier, Georges Paris: Belfond. Chion, Michel Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen trans.
Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia University Press. Christensen, Peter G.
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Christensen, Thomas Rameau and Musical Thought in the Enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan Jr. Science Fiction Film and Television — Flammonde, Paris New York: Hawthorn Books. Forte, Allen The Structure of Atonal Music. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Glinsky, Albert Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Griffiths, Paul Olivier Messiaen and the Music of Time. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Modern Music and After. Third edition. New York: Oxford University Press. Grand Canyon Suite. Miami, FL: Belwin Inc.. Hanson, Howard New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. Heimerdinger, Julia Kubrick and the Music for A Space Odyssey. Holmes, Thom London: Routledge.
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