The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2017

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MAR 2017 Issue

a misplaced bestiary
Part 6: The Responsible Echo Birds (Echoicoicae Mimimiata)

Recent scientific research has conclusively shown that a certain small percentage (5%) of all echoes is purely the result of non-geologic, indeed biological resources.  There is—and it has always been thought so—an “animal” as well as a “mineral” echo.  This observation has led to the discovery of the Echo Birds or what we must suppose are something scientists have called “Echo Birds”, since until recently the existence of these avian contenders or volute “air apparents” has been only an hypothesis predicated on certain mathematically, rather than empirically, determined phenomena.  The existence of the planet Neptune was, for example, “discovered” through the aberrations of the orbit of Uranus, as the existence of some sub-atomic particles behaving in peculiar ways—quarks, charmed particles, etc.—have been predicated on certain phenomena going on within and around the atomic or sub-atomic level, the evidence for which having appeared suddenly (and interpretively) within the cloud chambers as if on the screen of the mind.

Atomic scientists have become increasingly activated aesthetic creatures in the last few decades, something unpredictable from any historical investigation of early twentieth century physics.  From the evidence of certain recent scientific pronouncements—the “discovery” of anti-matter, for instance, or the observation (from quantum mechanics) that an electron may “leap” its orbit instantaneously, or other statements which certainly boggle the mind as well as the body, dark matter, anti-gravity, etc.—one would think that scientific observation and reason had gone on a shotgun marriage with art.  And so the world of physics has, aesthetically, entered the wilder field of biology and hypothesized the Echo Birds, where none had existed before.  And there are those among us who would ask why, and there are those among us who would, perhaps unfortunately, respond with their massed armies of answers as if the massed weight of answers themselves could determine the direction of our belief.

Flitting from one wall to another—either in the grandeur of the larger canyons of Arizona or New Mexico or in the smaller “interrupted” canyon spaces between the many self-reflective monolithic skyscrapers in Chicago or New York or Tokyo or in small rooms in the hovels of Rio de Janeiro or throughout the film-set “quantum” mansions of Beverly Hills or within the empty, utterly inner auditoriums of rock musicians (“ears of anthracite” or “distillers of restless “sound objects” some say)—these echoes are a familiar experience to everyone who knows what it indeed means to hear or perhaps we might say “to overhear”.  Adults which have been shown to vibrate themselves on certain frequency modulations have deliberately (that is, with intentional practice) grown to recognize the phenomenon and at times have been “transcendentally” charmed by it so that, instantly, an inward smile lights up their suddenly formed faces and their overly prepared bodies start to glow, in fact, glow sympathetically to the overtone series which these received sounds have touched them with, as if a tap on the sonic shoulders made one turn his auditory head and see before him that suddenly sound painted landscape.  While there is no evidence that this ability to recognize the “apparently unheard world” is innately attached to our or to any species, children, it seems, recognize the mirroring of sound when they are born. They seem to be still traveling on a wave which began to form in the continuous joinings within the womb itself.  Some force beyond us somehow captures our sounds, yet returns them only in a slightly different shape, but with enough for us to experience, in their randomly spaced reappearances, a genuine “shock of recognition”.  And adults, it has been shown, can, with continuous practice, return to that vibratory wave that seems to have left them at birth, or at least soon after.

When our cries go out to the world, in an instant they are gone, and we hear their calls from another, unexpected position, another unexpected source, wanting, but unable, to return to us.  The speed at which they traverse the canyons of their existence is often faster than sound, though the measurement is still imprecise.  And occasionally, a traveler, lost in the heat and light and shadow of the Canyon de Chelley or the Badlands of North Dakota or the immensely grand canyons of Ethiopia or in an abandoned Libyan wadi, may emerge with a glaze of light on his eyes or hands—emerge, beyond his will or projected desire, with something he calls an “Echo Bird.”

However, scientists soon noted that, under certain conditions, they could not tell the difference between the Echo Birds they had hypothesized and their brothers, the “geologic”, or “mineral” echoes (or, as they were sometimes called, “mineralized echoes”).  The criteria for choice had narrowed; the ability to measure the rate of motion and distortion in their sounds had come to an “unadvancing” standstill.  The Doppler effect ceased to exist; digital phase thermometers  were suddenly curled into quiescent question marks; and beyond that final gesture, silence more than prevailed; in fact, it seemed to rule everything.  Nothing intended or extended anthropomorphically wanted to fall (or even glide or slide) into place—in both meanings of that sense and sentence. 

What was to be done?  There was seemingly no way to tell where an Echo Bird existed at any moment or, for that matter, whether Echo Birds, after all, did really exist in all their condensed probability. Had we wanted them to exist and had thus brought them into existence?  Had we extended desire from its huddled shyness outward into an explosive, expressive universe and invented our own projective expression?  What had our ears heard and our bones vibrated over, that is, what had we not, up to that moment, not heard before as it imploded within us, or had we reconfigured sound as invention and invention as ground and worshipped belief?  Why, they asked, had we not found a single Echo Bird and brought it home with us, clearly, in some mental or physical or even allegorical cage?  And why had the scientists, turned mute with implosive pronouncements, hovered around their charts and grown mathematical at the same time as the birds seemed to appear and disappear in their eyes, though not in their ears.  Had desire or the failure of our purity of means or the recognition of limits to reach and the invention of ultimate boundaries distorted all or a part of our auditory visions?  Or had the warning that we should not believe all that we think not, indeed, been heeded?

Research piled up for and against these mathematically fabricated or “unseen” birds. But only recently, has a great deal of light (and sound) been shed on this subject by a well-known professor of acoustics at the newly-created university city of Albido in Siberia (the great acoustic training center is still there), who has, though calmly (and yet somewhat maniacally) begun to pull Echo Birds out of some places in which they were never supposed to exist, that is, more specifically, the earth’s magnetic field, the Van Allen Belt and the Magnetosphere, where Professor Lilililionono has found, much to the surprise of his associates in acoustic theory, an Echo Bird enveloping us.  Further refinement in optico-acoustical technology and the genetics of “feather-weighing” assembled flight has heightened the resolution, clarified the range of echo and, most significant of all, perhaps, allowed some giant radio telescopes, which had been deliberately pointed to that region of space, to “photograph” the sounds of this all but ubiquitous bird, a bird of vibratory feathers of so-called “near space”, which, instant by instant, receives a  spectrum of messages of one kind or another from space and transmits, and transmitting, translates them throughout that oval magnetic envelope which surrounds us, indeed follows us in our journeys around the sun and the revolving galaxy, as the magnetic shadow of the planet itself casts into space, or the variously sonic rainbows our planet emits by its complex and constant turning and tuning.

There it sat, at one end of the Van Allen Belt, the furthest end, sending down to us the echoes of galaxies and star systems almost too numerous to count. Sounds, unintelligible at first but capable of translation (or translations), expanded from the great constellation of Orion onto dense phono-graphic plates, sounds which appeared like pulsing droplets of energy splattering the surface of ponds in a minute rain of discrete particles, the sum of whose effects produced a so-called “sonic image”.  “Voices” swooped into it like an immense owl of space, a cape of mobius wind, that solar wind, which envelops all the planets with their traveling families of moons and asteroids.  And a single persistent sound from Tau Ceti seemed at first to say, “No life here”—that is, as it was unraveled and as it later deposited a “sheet of ambiguity” on the spread sheets before them. 

Of course, the separation of these signals was a task of gargantuan proportions, like Hercules’ cleaning of the Eugean Stables (of the ear, of course), only exponentially worse, though our astronomers and acousticians and mathematicians (and others) felt themselves equal to it, as if woken up suddenly in a morning on which they realized they had enormous things to do and proceeded to do them.  Such is the desire of our species for answers, that it will not hesitate to get up even earlier (even before it is born?) to steal a march upon the deceivingly apparent phenomena of our lives and times, to get behind them and push, so to speak until the world they have touched begins to move before them and therefore is measurable.

Through all these dense messages overlaid on more evolved and involving palindromic and enantiomorphic patterns and patterning, the acoustical astronomers slowly, and yet with great caution, and turning over image over image over image, felt they could hear something in their digital and electronic ears which did not come, that is, come directly from outside that Van Allen Belt of curious radiation.  It was a voice like no other, one with a purity and intensity of intension, a curving within itself and a soothingly yawning extension which made their whole bodies twitch, as if the “music” inside it were a song which spoke to their cells, in the form of ganglionic inter and intra specific conversations, rather than to any larger constructions or feelings or mind. 

They could only conclude that this sound, of ultimate purity and basic, streaming purpose, was coming from the Echo Bird of the Van Allen Belt itself. And gradually, after much refinement of audio and trinaural succession frequencies, the development of so-called “cooked and canceled” overlay techniques and through the use of older inverse silence ratios, as well as through a whole spectrum of other ancillary manipulations (cleverly revealed and cleverly concealed), audio astronomers could refine to a point of possible clarity a persistent and “meaningful” message which began to appear inside them and also on their various screens, all of it digital dancing in the form of a hazy, lazy, grazing image, which pulsed and glowed in various colors and contours within and beyond the aural and visual spectrum and “spoke” in variously vanishing tones, of a trans-aural and trans-visual spectrum both within and beyond human capacity, as if in the ultraviolet of sound. 

Linguists at the Radio Bank Observatory in G----d had been hot on the trail of the translation of this almost spectral voice, this message, for the over-repetition compulsion of this hidden handwriting on the wall of the ear of space itself was certainly intelligible, or at least intelligible as intelligible. 

But here a division in response occurred.  Those who agree that there is a message, and a clearly translatable one indeed, have no method of explaining the phenomena.  They merely say that “it is in them”.  They “echo it”  they “feel it”, they “clothe themselves in it”, and other ungraspable unprescriptive descriptions.  It has “taken over their bodies”; it has, they say, “magnetized” them.  “We have become them,” they say to the incredulous multitude, “for we have begun to vibrate with them, and they are inside us vibrating.”  (These are their own words.)  They walk around believing everything, with a kind of ecstatic glaze in their ecstatic eyes, with their hands held out in front of them as if allowing water, or grace, to freely fall through them and pass out of them, or else as if holding a delicate and almost visible bird there in their hand-shaped and out-stretched ears, the “very skin of their lives”. (And the responsive question echoes back, “Is that shifting shape held in their hands an Echo Bird or the shadow of one or many?”)  Though they cannot provide a rational explanation for their groping and loosened language formed into the linguistic air around them as pure assertions, they are adamant in their belief in the intelligibility of the message itself.  And the more adamantly we pursue them to offer a rational solution to their stammering statements, the more resolutely “somatic” their reaction becomes.

It looked, from the rationalist’s point of view, like a complete deadlock.  Either there was a message or there wasn’t one. How state the message in “human” terms? This they thought they were trying to find out.  But what are human terms?  The “message” existed beyond human perception but not beyond its perception through extremely complex human prosthetic devices.  Oscilloscopes, delicate counters, and gamma ray diffraction devices had recorded something, and it was, all agreed, unmistakable.  For those who believed in the objective world, there was the evidence of machines.  For those who “felt” the message in their bodies, there were the bodies, perhaps, isolated from the world in order to receive the vital message. How was the gap to be bridged between these opposite responses?

They had only to let the atoms of their assertion rest from the nervousness of overwhelming over-anticipation. The scientists had, finally, and after much blindness, found that they had too carefully and too marginally defined their terms.  Blinded by their assumptions, they had not dared to look at the larger, non-linguistic biological patterning which is also a truly, “literally” living language. Here we are talking of the wholly aesthetic language of movement, of dance itself in all its multi-patterned motions and emotions, a language that shows itself through movement itself, a language formed out of dispersed and hardly understood feeling, a  spreading out within us of the earlier, more primitive instinctive brain, the medulla oblongata, a name which will send shivers up and down our spine at the mere imagining of the level of existence of that intelligence. 

Here, then, from the medulla oblongata the message came.  It came in the dance of the rationalists and the “somaticists”, circling round each other, like binary stars, trapped in a motioning  gesture which was, and would always be, the message from the Echo Bird, a bounding and rebounding conversation pulled from the vibrations around them and within them (which were the same vibrations). 

The dance was the message! It was the movement and reflection of all objects dancing and glowing with light and light’s vibrations, whose voices echoed each other into a fusing mutuality as we do when we send and receive the impulses of that motion, all into each and each into all. But it was not just that. It was more more than that. It was much much more. The overtones woven into all those movements in and around us, through our history and our individual and collective futures, were moving at varying speeds and musical momentums through us and between us, touching, transmitting some primal communication which had grown too large to be seen in its pinprick of light ever again. 

But inherent in this dance was the single, consistent voice of the bird of that region of space, the Echo Bird, perched at the farthest end of the Van Allen Belt, which holds us in all our electromagnetic consistency and follows us with the echo of its oval voice.  It said, as it opened into us its vibrations, “Dance. Dance from echo to echo, transmit the original message out of which you were born and into which you will be born again and again, from sound to sound, from shape to shape. Transmit. And listen.  Listen and dance.  Both.  And make the dance return to the listening, for ultimately they are really one.”  And we named this bird the Responsible Echo Bird.


Sid Gershgoren

Sid Gershgoren has published six books of poetry and prose: The books of poetry: Negative Space, Mutual Breath (a book of 65  villanelles), Symphony (a medium long poem in a "symphonic" form), Through the Sky in the Lake (a book of "lines"), The Wandering Heron (a book of haiku), and two prose works, Past Rentals (a fictional "catalog" of a company that rent its "customers" space, place, and situation in a particular area of the past within a particular time, place, and situation), and The Extended Words (an imaginary dictionary). Sid Gershgoren has published widely in various magazines and anthologies. 


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2017

All Issues