Tables and Stairs

Nikos Veliotis, Ferran Fages, Robin Hayward Tables and Stairs Organized Music from Thessaloniki

That isn’t to say you think improvisation is a pack of lies… No, you don’t mean that exactly. But you do wonder if the best musicians are the ones that lie… and lie well, so well that the truth comes out cold and lifeless and the lies end up warming you while are alone in bed, staring at the water marks on the ceiling. Could the most perceptive, most delicate and subtle be the best liars, the ones that play down their true feelings in order to further the conversation? Those who restrict their egos when their psyches are all screaming “play louder, play more, play now…” You press play, all too aware that you must leave the house soon.

In day to day life first meetings can be filled with awkwardness and unknowing, as though in each word you could be stepping into the perilous. You can offend others so easily, you realize — that secret you let out of its cage… Was it so goddamn important for you to mention your interest in diaphragms to her?

Nikos Veliotis on cello, Robin Hayward on micro-tonal tuba and Ferran Fages on sine tones… Table and Stairs. You’ve been listening to this one for a couple of weeks. It spins and you sit back; you wonder how they all first met… over beer perhaps? Does Fages enjoy beer? What kind? Maybe he likes something bitter, something that goes well with those sine tones? If that’s the case, you think, then Hayward has got to be a Guinness man — all those subterranean depths he conjures. Veliotis, a lager, an ale… yeah, an ale, a barley wine in fact, something rich, powerful, nearly sweet, a tang of alcohol but ultimately soothing. You don‘t know if they‘re lying when you hear this album, Table and Stairs… recorded at a concert in an apartment in Athens, and released on organized Music from Thessaloniki… Organized music? you wonder, is it music that marches in unison on the factory owners, chasing down scabs in the dark of night, lighting fires in a rich man’s house? You think of the stairs they climbed up to that apartment in Athens, shoes scuffed against stairs, tuba hefted, cello cradled, laptop in a pack… Fages got off easy. You imagine the apartment they played in is tight with a few casual but suddenly close friends. The album seems frustratingly brief, you think, but realize that in its briefness there is an allowance of breath, and you don‘t worry so much, because it will all be over soon, whether you like it or not. And there’s something about being left wanting more that is so much better than wanting less.

There’s a mustiness, a laden air to the thing, you think. Clean lines erupt from Fages’ computer and are quickly subsumed by cello groan, tuba sputter… but sometimes, once and a while, they are left alone, unanswered in the air: a question asked, or a statement of intent? But the beginning, the beginning is unclear, unformed. Hayward’s sounds travel slowly, as though through a viscous liquid, light straining through amber where grit hangs in wisps, and you think of the ice that is melting off into your whiskey, hazy as heat distortion rising off pavement. Fages’ punctures, swipes broadly, uses his sine tones like blunt rapiers, down out across the sound, and not subtle but in away refreshing; Veliotis’ cello courses gently in the background, rosin on horsehair, pulled coarsely, sleeping. Drones erupt and subside, never cloying in your hair, pushing you into outer space to contemplate the space Buddha or some shit. You think to yourself, this is searching. But for what? Where does truth enter in? Somewhere along the line, 20 minutes in or so, it all makes sense, in the beautiful entwined movement there is communication. Is it all lies you wonder? You turn off the stereo, after it shambles to a halt, and a few moments pass; you almost think it will start over, again. You almost wish it, because you know you have to leave. And there are people to meet.

It’s cool outside, but not so cool that you need a jacket. You wear a sweater; even though the sweater is not one you would wear normally, it’s the only one that was clean. But that’s beside the point: you are on your way to meet some people at the bus station, people you know, but not so well that you would characterize them as friends. But you told them that you would pick them up when they called you and said they knew Thomas, and anyway Thomas vouched for them. Your sister called earlier and was upset. Her boyfriend left her and she was feeling bad, bad enough to take her own life, to throw herself out. Out into where you had asked? The train tracks that run behind her house? God no, please, that’s morbid. No, she said, out there, out the goddamn window, you pussy. Jeez, Maria, no, no. You talk her out of it, or at least you talk her out of the idea that she may want to think about killing herself. Because you know her, and you know that she doesn’t have that in her. She’s weak. And this concerns you only insofar as that it could be a bad page in your journal, something you might not want to read later. So you may not write an entry today, or at least you might write about the movie you saw last night instead, even if it wasn‘t very good. You didn’t understand the ending. But you rarely understand endings. If all things could just last forever, you think, then in some ways you could live forever with them, because you were there too, if only for a moment. But that’s besides the point, because you’re on your way to meet some people, and you’re late.

No, no, that’s not right. You’re right on time. But there’s something off initially. Your feet don’t seem to follow one another in that concise movement you‘re known for. Your breath seems caught in your throat. And there’s no time for that. They come off the bus, the man has a grey mustache and she has a birthmark on her cheek that looks like a silhouette of a small bird mid flight. They smile and you shake their hands, but your hands are sweaty. They don’t seem to notice, or if the do they ignore it. You get the pleasantries out there so you can chart how far the ‘how was your trips’ go before there’s silence and you know when something’s gone wrong or right… You ask them if they are hungry, and they say that they had already eaten at a rest stop on the way– it was vegetarian, but a kind of vegetarian that simply means a dull yellow cheese, white bread, wilted lettuce, and a narrow slice of tired red tomato that spits out the end on a conchoidal sheet of mayonnaise. You all pinch your eyes and laugh at that sudden shared unspoken comment. You hear wind through the trees. But there is no wind at the bus station, just exhaust, the patter of rain that has started to fall against windshield. And as you start off you realize that you’re talking more than you had in a long, long time

Your parents never trusted you with the car so they made you work in the back yard until you raised enough money to pay for insurance. Your cheeks got red in school when a girl kissed your best friend and you were so worried that they all would see that redness and misinterpret it… somehow. You notice that good comedy is structured in such a way that the protagonist of a joke is almost always simultaneously relatable but also heroic, something you were beginning to understand acutely, but could never master. You stopped smoking cigarettes because you were afraid.

Veliotis’ cello streams through the window. The window pane shudders.

And what was so strange was that these two strangers respond and start telling you their stories like they are friends. And these stories are not asked for exactly, but seemed to make perfect sense in the telling. There are moments of silence after some time, but never oddly over drawn or uncomfortable, really, but seem more like short respites, where the communication has to stop, to breathe. Then abruptly it starts again. And they talk to you, and the joke you had heard from your brother last spring before he had gone to basic training makes them laugh, laugh so hard there are tears in their eyes and the man with the mustache grabs your shoulder when you were taking a left turn onto Johnson. You try to remember something else to say, something that is funny, but you can’t because his hand is warm and it feels so differently to you just then. How strange you think, as you pull up to their hotel, and the rain is falling — how strange to think that they were only strangers a minute ago… It was a short ride you realize suddenly. And as they get out of the car they shake your hand through the open window, but you don’t say proper goodbyes because it’s raining and they were getting wet, holding newspapers above their heads, eyes squinting as the rain is streaming down their faces. You are aware of your handshake. You never felt your handshake was ever strong enough. You had practiced on your other hand, but it always felt awkward — people stared at you as you sat at your desk at work, squeezing your other hand and shaking it one, two– no more than two times. They wave you good bye from the door way. You wave back. Where is your applause you wonder? Where is the audience? . Hayward blasts a deep resonating note. Let’s face it you think, as you twist the car radio dial, maybe it was just lies, but they were good ones. A high pitched tone, doubles, pins the leaves against the wind shield. You rub your head with your hand. When you get home your girlfriend comes up to you and tells you to listen, to quiet because this line from one of Mikhail Lermontov‘s poems is so beautiful,

I am bored and sad
and there is no one to whom I can stretch out my hand
when the soul is afflicted.

Isn’t that sad? She asks you.

You take her head in your hand. You hug her.

Organized Music From Thessaloniki


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