WHAT WE FOUND ON EUROPA
One of the perks of being a full professor at a well endowed university is that you get to
travel. Guest lectureships, commencement addresses, and, if you're adept at formulating
proposals, fully funded fieldwork. And so this Spring, thanks to a fortuitous convergence
of interests on the part of NASA and the Ofterdingen Gesellschaft, I found myself blasting
off in a space ship to investigate Europa, one of Jupiter's (or is it Saturn's? - hell, I'm not
driving the thing) spectacular moons, accompanied by a couple of Russian scientists, a
Buddhist monk, a chimp named Bonanzza (his spelling) and a shiny golden robot who liked
to be called Rob, and whose main task was ship's cook.
Now Europa is thought to possess, beneath its frozen surface, a hot, bubbly core. This
has led to unbridled speculation on the possible existence of life: blind, grotesque, gigantic
worms, or delicate, fibrous algae, or even men like us (in character if not in appearance),
inquisitive, tool-making, bent on discovering the nature of their world, the riddle of
existence - yes, even prone to expressing such hopes in some unimaginable music.
Limits of space constrain me ...no, that's not true: this is cyberspace...well then, limits of
time...but again, not really: I've got all summer and nothing to do but man the barbecue
grill... The truth is that, regrettably, we live in an age of specialization, so it's limits of
expertise that constrain me to focus mainly on the musical aspects of our journey, though
some discussion of Europa's history, religious traditions and philosophical systems would
be necessary to a full appreciation of its musical practices.
So what did we find? A frozen terrain, a noxious atmosphere and a howling wind.
Wisconsin. Occasionally we were startled by the eruption of geysers spewing lava that
would freeze in midair forming dark, fantastic tree shapes.
- And that was all - according to the official report. No mention of the exotic musical
instruments, including those hollowed - out unicorn horns, nor of the ancient manuscripts
with their elegant hieroglyphs perfectly preserved in ice, no, not a word about the ritualistic
performances I was fortunate to capture surreptitiously on tape, when those wiggly fellows
with the large, round eyes came crawling out of the crevices one night and began to sing
to the mother planet. Instead there's this nonsense about hallucinations, nervous
disorders, erratic behavior, space sickness. Alas, professional jealousy knows no
bounds. Even faithful Rob the robot was turned against me: I had my revenge on his tin
head one night, executing an elaborate Balinese rhythm with a pair of wooden soup
Turning my back on all such sceptics, I present below, with only the briefest commentary,
a musicological treasure from Europa that I call A Beating of Angels' Wings.
A Beating of Angels' Wings
A single octave space contains 128 pitches - the contents of the seventh octave of the
harmonic series. Previously unimagined harmonies arise, alongside familiar triads - but
these are pure (untempered) and the ways in which they relate to one another are unique.
Toward the end of the performance a distinct honking noise will be noticed, the source of
which I was unable to ascertain in the nocturnal gloom. This has led some (unimaginative,
mean-spirited, bald-headed, pot-bellied) pseudo-scholars (modern Pharisees: "whitened
sepulchres" as the Bible has it) to impute the sound to one of those old geezers who
occasionally stumbles into a free event at a music conservatory, hoping to hear some
Brahms, annoyed to discover he's trapped in a composer's concert, and who commences,
at a certain point, absent-mindedly blowing his nose into a gigantic hankie, his fortissimo
B flat clashing with the delicate microtones emanating from the stage...
From which it follows inevitably that ancient Europan music is thought by such people to
be but the fabrication of a single human - admittedly a human of unusually poignant
utopian proclivities, perhaps bearing witness to the evolution of his thought and style - a
single man, I say, whose valiant efforts to construct an "alternate modernism" that would
restore mankind's place in the scheme of the universe have been met with indifference,
incomprehension and boredom, and who, therefore, in a desperate effort to rejuvenate his
career has transformed his pathetic little concert-tapes into some gigantic, bogus sci-fi
fiasco (from which it also follows that said artist might be none other than me - support for
such (outrageous, unsupportable) allegations coming from such disparate fields as
linguistics (where some have found in my (cultivated, idiosyncratic) style certain affinities
with the work of one Peter Ceniti who, being the former editor in chief and founder of this
Ofterdingen Gesellschaft, and who, having disappeared some time ago, is believed by
some to have "melted" into his characters - that is, the other members of the Gesellschaft,
and archeology (where the "Europa stones" I offered a number of museums for a very
reasonable price were rejected on unspecified grounds).
But why would one re-write history? As an act of self-justification? Or because we find
reality insufficient to our dreams, a story written by someone else? In that case I just might
be Peter Ceniti after all, though whose story he might be telling is a question whose
answer could be sought for endless ages from the myriad circling stars to the bottomless,
dark depths of Europa's oceans.