Zipolite: the music of the ocean

The polyphony of the ocean is a sound that rarely becomes tedious for me. Though it could neither be called melodious nor harmonious and its rhythms are far from steady, it is one of the most musical of sounds. One hundred feet away, its roar sooths and gently lulls me to sleep… But some people just don’t understand… They come to the ocean and immediately impose their noise upon the night. They start the fire whose flames so clearly leap and dance to the same beautifully erratic rhythm to which the ocean sings… Then… the drums. I do not hate drums. Played well, with taste and a feel for the environment – at least when in a setting shared with such wild beings as sea and flame – they can be a beautiful expression of human creativity. But the odious beat of the drum machine*… of technology… of the factory… destroys the joy of a place like this.

Last night, the first drummer was drumming just this sort of rhythm – lacking all grace, all complexity, any evidence of love for the ocean. A lover immerses himself in his love – her drumming would be part of the music of the ocean if she were playing with love for it.

Later, the drumming was technically better – it had grace… it had complexity – but it still raped the music of the ocean rather than making love to it. As such, it was not soothing. It could not help the ocean put me to sleep. I finally had to ask these senseless hippies to tone down. I can’t deny that they did so with grace. Finally, a bit clumsily, they began to caress the ocean and her music, not to intrude on it… and I was able to doze.

It could be so much more interesting, so much more beautiful, if those who were to play music in a setting with wild sound would spend a while listening to the wild sound, the non-human music, so that they could improvise around these sounds, not try to drown them out or dominate them – it’s much better to seduce these sounds and make them part of one’s music. Not that we should always try to play along with whatever sound is around, even in a wild setting… But drums, in particular, can be very dominating, very demanding, and so require more careful playing. I do not mean more planned, but a more gentle improvisation… a real care for the music and the sounds surrounding it. Music, possibly more than any other creative endeavor, does not exist alone. It is part of the sensual environment. It can dominate that environment or it can dance with it, play with it, seduce it – become a part of it. We are mostly used to music that dominates: amplified music, recorded music, digital music… But even in these highly technnologized modes there are varying degrees to which it dominates. And I am most offended not when it dominates the environment, but when it dominates me. If I hate raves in the woods or bad drumming by the sea, it is because they intrude on my enjoyment, forcing me to listen whether I want to or not.


*Since writing this in 1998, I have found music in which the drum machine is used with more nuance and escapes the factory sound. Still in the context of sleeping outdoors by the ocean, I would not want to hear it.