The music soared. It rose and fell, lingered, crashed, and danced playfully through the concert hall. The orchestra played each note like a lover's touch, now gentle, now intense, passionate, penetrative. This music was a treasure to be cherished, and a feast to revel in. It was the music of Mozart.
Simon Aranck thought for a moment that the second violin sounded minutely flat, then chastised himself for looking for flaws. He was at Carnegie Hall, and this orchestra was among the finest in the world. Just enjoy the concert, he reminded himself. They triumphed through old Amadeus' 35th Symphony, an undoubtedly brilliant work, but not his favourite. He was still looking for that.
After the performance, Simon decided to forgo his usual post-concert scotch and head straight home. It was Saturday night, and he was heading to Harlem in the morning to attend a service at a church that he'd heard had an amazing choir.
The spirited gospel choir left him indeed impressed but ultimately un-converted the following morning. After mass, he looked over his schedule- he always had somewhere to be. New talent was being showcased at seven at Louie's, one of his favourite blues bars, where “new talent” often meant “some old black wino Louie found by the train tracks who can play a devil's deal on the guitar.” Early start to the evening, but it was a Sunday. Afterwards, there was a show at the Hound Dog whose bill included an opening act he'd never heard of, a second band that had been getting some buzz lately, and a headliner whose demo had been listened to by someone at Shabda, who then insisted to Jerry's assistant that he check out live. Jerry was dragging Simon along. He vaguely doubted that this “Ishana” singer could really be worth the effort.
After the competent but unremarkable blues man’s performance, Simon reached the Hound Dog in time to catch the last couple of songs by the opening act (whose name was “Coffee Mug Shot”, which he didn't bother to remember). He spotted Jerry at their table, drinking a whiskey sour that, as a fellow talent executive, Simon doubted he'd paid for. He got himself a beer and went to join his friend.
“How was the last band?” he asked.
“What last band?”
“That's what I thought. Have you heard the News yet?”
“The next band. That's what they're called.”
“Oh right. Stupid name. Might have to fend off a lawsuit from Huey Lewis. Anyway, Myla has. Got some minor radio play, college stuff. Might be okay, but that's not why we're here. Sandra won't shut up about this Ishana chick.”
“Friend of hers?” Asked Simon.
“Oh no, but I think she might know someone- a friend of Dick's or something. He passed the demo to me. I heard about thirty seconds' worth. Nice voice.”
“Baby, baby, pretty lady…”
The News were on the stage, and were managing to get the kids to dance.
“Lady, lady, later, maybe…”
The band did their fake good-night, and the encore song turned out to be the best. Jerry liked them, but Simon was unconvinced.
“It wasn't new,” he said.
“Is anything these days?”
“I suppose their name is ironic.”
“They've got charisma. The singer needs a new look- I'm seeing a John Mayer thing, a sort of Buble-gone-bad. Then stick a tie on the guitarist, and do something about the name- spell it with a '-z', or a double 'o' or something. For the Google searches, if nothing else.”
“I don't think we should sign them.”
“Whatever, I think there's potential. I'm giving them my card.”
Simon sighed. This is what it's about. It has nothing to do with talent, or whether you have a fresh new sound. It was about whether you could be a product they could sell. But for Simon, it was about the music.
Ishana took the stage. Another girl with a guitar, because the industry didn’t have enough of them. She had a keyboard handy as well, presumably to keep the pre-programmed electro beats coming. He couldn't wait.
Ishana got settled on her stool, seemingly aware that she, with her simple one-instrument-at-a-time sound, had to follow the foursome whom everyone had come to see (who were, incidentally, named Nick, Ethan, Wesley, and Stephan, and were therefore unlikely to change the name of their band). He mentally chided whoever did the booking on her behalf. She cleared her throat, swept her hair off her shoulders, looked at the crowd and said “hi”. Simon noticed the vinyl strings on her guitar- a classical, not an acoustic. She began to pick, to strum, her fingers making a dense, rich sound, and Simon found himself wishing he'd ordered wine instead. Ishana opened her mouth. She began to sing.
Your song is quiet
I long to hear it
But now I'm deaf.
I'm in this moment
Where all is silent
Since you have left.
Simon listened as her resonant vocals warmed something inside him. There was a pain he couldn't identify, couldn't tell if it was coming from her or from himself. He could hear his heartbeat when she stopped for breath. The girl could sing.
When Ishana had finished her set, she thanked the venue, and left the stage. She did not return for an encore. When Jerry finally turned to him, Simon was still waiting.
“Good voice, for sure,” remarked Jerry. “But I dunno, aren't there already seven thousand girls just like this?”
“I doubt it.”
“Well, I see our News boys. I think I'll head over and make their lifetime.”
“I'm signing her.”
“What? Her? Sure, she's pretty, I guess, but not in a commercial way. The News are more sellable.”
“I don't care. She has talent. She's one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard.”
“Fine, have it your way. But make sure you get photos before signing any contracts. If she's not camera-pretty, she's not worth it.”
“Right. Sure. Excuse me.”
Simon headed backstage to where Ishana was packing up. Had he finally found it? He wasn't sure. She was good, that was certain, but he didn't dare hope that this was the sound he'd been looking for.
“My name's Simon Aranck. I represent Shabda Records. You performed well tonight. I'm interested.”
“So, you heard my demo?”
“Well, someone did, and it brought me over. Here's my card. Call me if you'd like to talk. About your music.”
She professed the usual excited thank-yous that Simon was deaf to by this point. He went home to his regular torture of scanning Pitchfork and SoundCloud and other sites for anything that did not make his ears want to march right off his head. After regrettably encountering a band that had the nerve to call themselves the New York Action Figures, he reluctantly went to bed, the echo of Ishana's voice drowned out by the noise of the world.
The nightmare started as it usually did; someone was screaming. He didn't question how he knew this, since he couldn't hear it. He was looking for a horn or something, something to help him to hear. He realized with horror that he was deaf. There was a figure, indistinct, but female. He couldn't tell what she was saying. He knew it was important. He had to hear, he had to hear the sound and then everything would be okay. Everything was awful and ugly and broken, but if he could only hear that one sound, the one he needed, then everything would be okay. He tried to focus on the sound falling from her lips. He tried to listen to the scream echoing around him. He wondered who was screaming. He realized it was him.
He woke up feeling like he was choking. There was a ringing in his ears. Tinnitus. No, he was imagining it. He stepped out onto his Juliet balcony to look up at the stars. He tried to visually measure the distance between them. He mentally arranged his calculations on a scale. He wondered what those distances would sound like if the notes were played out. He wished he could see the stars better, wished there wasn't so much light from the ground. He tried to see their vibrations. He tried to hear their song. He couldn't. He never could.