SONG: Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons


“Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons” [Download]

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Popular Mechanics, 10 Jan 2018, “Incredible ‘Hypatia’ Stone Contains Compounds Not Found in the Solar System”, as used in the post
“Hypatia: A stone older than the solar system”

OK, this is really a spoken-word piece, and it’s done following the format of two separate kinds of things I’ve done in the past.

First thing, it’s a gushi, like the lyric I wrote for “The Waves Around the Women” – a syllable-counting poem with repeated syntax from stanza to stanza… but subtle differences in wording that (hopefully) make the poem mean something new by the end. In this case, I used 10-syllable lines based entirely on the poetry I found in the phrase “polyaromatic hydrocarbons,” which is just a beautiful-sounding pair of words. I mean, just try saying them. “Polyaromatic” sounds like “polyamory,” and “aromatic,” and “polyrhythmic,” and “romantic,” all at the same time.

I have this goal, too, which I suppose I’m only now setting down in words, which is I really want to be able to create the way Zen (or Chan) masters did, which is spend a long, long time learning how to do a thing so it happens all at once. Spend years practicing meditation so you can blip out a moment of enlightenment, you know? I have this feeling that Basho wrote most of his best haiku without thinking about them, just in five minutes, writing off the cuff. But it takes a long, long time to be able to do that.

I suppose I could have tried to learn how to cartoon like Charles Schulz, but I did music instead. I want to be able to consistently write pretty good songs in, like, 15 minutes. I love sketches. I love found sound. And lo-fi, of course. But not exactly scribbles, or entirely random noise. Haiku. Or, well, gushi. (I have no idea if this sudden-creation was part of the gushi aesthetic back in the Tang dynasty, but it works for me.)

Second thing, having sort of written a poem *as* a poem, I did the kind of thing I’d been doing in collaboration for my “proper art” project, Squid Pro Crow, over yonder. I take pleasure in assembling soundtracks or minimalist classical pieces out of loops and effects, building to a climax and then descending. I might have grown up listening to punk rock, but I also loved chamber music, I guess.

So I thought I’d try following that formula with my own words, like a real poet.

The subject matter here could have been about the electric brain stimulation boosting memory, or about birds of prey intentionally setting fires (“firehawk” is too good a piece of terminology to pass up, isn’t it?), but the Hypatia stone seemed to suggest a certain dramatic brassiness, just from its name, and its age, and its fragmentariness.

Thus, this thing here. I made it almost all using orchestral soundfonts – a pair of cellos, an English horn, a recorder (with a delay-sustain effect on it, for extra trippiness), and a Turkish brass band (with a smidge of distortion on it, for extra RAWK-not-rock).

I only once had the experience of breaking everything in my computer by flipping the wrong switch, but was able to fix it at around 2 a.m. The effortless, instantaneous act of creation always seems to involve lots of late nights and gritted teeth.

But sometimes it works out.