Jan 152018

The Noon Bell
A Phenomenological Essay on Daydreaming and the Alps

(Taken from the collection of essays in the book Hidden Layers – A Phenomenology of Aesthetic Concealment)

Year – 2016
Publisher – Zarathustra Books   

Sometimes I sense a faint vibration which emits no sound. Sometimes I feel a light which I cannot see. Sometimes – all too often sometimes – I have an itch outside of my body. These spirits – like small fiery sparks – flash past me, far too fast to see, yet far too bright to forget. I am left savouring its afterglow.
A soft smell of pine needles moistened by Alpine dew and a subtle jingle of goat-bells wake me. The pale sun creeps through the blanketed sky – its frosty light fans through the traditional red wooden window shutters. The church bell yawns its rich, rippling rhythm throughout the village and beyond, and as the strokes resonate, so do my dreams upon waking.
In the dimness of my bedroom, the sleeping lamps, silent cupboards, and draped clothes in the shade appear somber and dignified – refined by the curtained sun. How disturbing it would be to switch on the light! How prosaic these things would look! Transforming the tediousness that brightness would bring, the dimness allows my imagination to surface, and in quietness, my memories emerge. My room, veiled in a degree of translucency so complete, allows the hum of an insect to emerge – a hum of a leisurely bee spending the day botanizing.
I hear an Alpine symphony of raw noise. How aesthetic natural sound can be! – Every little vibration entirely uncultivated and wild. I hear the flap of several bird wings disperse like an ocean spray as a distant train from a small mountain station startles them. I hear a faint running stream accompany the tones of the bell – barely audible, distinguished only because of its sharper frequency. Unlike the evenly spaced notes of manmade compositions, the music of the wind has a rich chromaticism, swirling thinly like a whispering choir. The bird song too is far from human melody – it is a highly dissonant, arpeggiated cluster, screeching with little dynamic variety. The overall combinations of these sounds create a harmonic suspension – a relentless musical tension exposing my ears to a series of prolonged unfinished cadences with no resolution. If an undesirable sound should pass, such as a car racing by, I shall recover my tranquility by living the metaphors of the Alps: a car becomes a roll of thunder, or a hasty forest breeze.

Danny’s mother pregnant with him in the Alps. 1982.

My ears blend with my nose as the bell harmonizes with the smells of Switzerland. Like the refining quality of dimness and quietness, even foul odours of farm animals possess a sweet almond aroma when thinned at the right degree by a gentle wind. The air of the region is perfumed by fragrances, enchanting me with a thousand smells given off by the indifferent wisdom of the mountains and their secret life. Passing through my nostrils – invisible and superabundant – the atmosphere holds in suspension a great reservoir of poetry. There! I smell the pine needles again – they have an odour of truth and innocence reminding me of my pure self again. They have brought me back to childhood; my pine needles – my petites madeleines. This cherished pine exhales a perfume of earth that has in some sense absorbed, fixated, the particular sort of joy I felt as a boy – a fresh, carefree life, uncontaminated by responsibilities.
Ringing as far as the mountain station of Prui, the bell spreads its echo, travelling with my thoughts as far as infancy.
I was born at sea level, but now that I’ve revisited this old alpine family retreat thousands of feet above, my childhood lies not only far behind, it lies fathoms deep beneath me.
Silence. Shadows. My quiet, blurred, dimly lit space lures my mind into daydream. I wonder what other hazy, boundless images lie outside my room – hidden in the silence and shadow. From the opaque veins crossing the depths of a mountain icicle, to a foggy light seen from the tip of Guarda, fading lethargically back, deeper and deeper – daydreaming seems to be charmed by earth’s haziness and resonance. Whether my eyes dive through the darkened depths of Lake Sils Maria, or the muddy marsh of a bowl of Swiss barley soup, or whether my fingers should touch a rock buried at the bottom of Ftan’s fountain – these are my daydreams looking from ‘outside-in’; a concrete ghost drawing contemplation in.
I hope this daydream will never end; lost in the church bell’s narcotic chime; lost in nostalgic smells. I fear that as soon as the bell comes to an end, I will try to rediscover the glimmer that my soul projects on things, only to become disappointed to find that they seem to lack in nature the charm they derived in my daydream.
Swelling, deepening, the bell spreads its undulating currents, and listening closely, I wade through its overtones and sub-harmonics: a soft, serene sonority with a drowsy, bottomless resonance.

Danny with his father in the Alps. 1987.

‘What! Is it noon already? Have I slept through the entire morning?’
Once an unscribbled white paper, now a blurred notebook, my mind attempts to net a fluttering dream memory – yet what remains, is merely an enduring, shadowy sensation. I gaze at a crack on the ceiling – the same hairline fracture of paint I’ve stared at morning after morning as a boy; much of my life consumed in linen-emerged-thought. I focus on a smooth, blank space, but curiously, my mind ceases up, and my lingering dreams vanish in a murky fog. It would seem, then, that a crack or blemish of some sort is necessary for freeing my mind – as if my eyes need lodging in a crevice to allow me to contemplate – like a plant needs grounded roots before flowering and stretching in the air. This strange phenomenon seems to apply to my bed sheets too: instead of smooth stretches, only rippling linen-dunes allow my eyes to glaze over in daydream, and when lost in their deep wells of shadow, a milky murmur of a dream rises to the surface.
But wait! Just as withering as a water ripple or mountain echo, I’ve lost the image in my mind again! Have I been struck by the noon bell’s lure? Woken suddenly from divine distraction and self-absorption by the twelve somber strokes, I rub my ears and ask in complete surprise and embarrassment: ‘What time is it?’ ‘What was my dream again? This disorientation is familiar, for it seems, each day, with an involuntary echo, the noon bell prolongs my bewilderment – for even after the bell falls silent and the normal rhythms of daily life have been re-established, my days continue in an oddly halting manner.
I retreat back into my slow mountains and my quiet cave, waiting for my dream to resurface, waiting for the fruits of my drowsy reflections, waiting like a sower who has scattered his seed. I shall be silent like the tree outside my window, and only speak quietly when a gust of wind slowly caresses my leaves, until finally, the dream; the memory; the truth, falls to the soil and carpets the earth, leaving no ground to walk on – leaving only altitude and Alpine air to hover over.

The Noon Bell was written in 2016 in Scuol, a small village in the Engadine Valley. Below is a recording of the same noon bell, goat bells and sounds of the Swiss region which inspired the creation of Dany’s essay. Taking his microphone to the mountain station Prui, to the alpine village of Guarda, on the trains to St. Moritz, and around the lake Tarasp, Danny recorded and composed this musical sound design to bring the reader closer to the Alps.

A Journey Through The Engadine Valley

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