Andrew Joron
The Theremin in My Life

Words mean a lot to me. Even—or especially—when they lose their meaning. It’s a fleeting experience, but it tends to recur. All at once, the words of one’s native language suddenly turn into—not just foreign words—but something other than words at all. As speech loses its meaning, the parts of speech lose their individuality, flowing into one another: words are heard as mere disturbances of air.

Imagine the speech-sphere turned inside out: its center—its source in sound—becomes its outer surface. Its new center is a vanishing point into which meaning recedes and finally disappears. All that remains is the exteriority of sound. One sound––miraculously, it also happens to be a word—now covers the entirety of language. That word is susurrus. It is similar, perhaps identical, to the “hum of the Earth.”

The hum of the Earth has been detected by the most sensitive seismometers: it is the hum, the rumble, the susurrus that remains after the effects of all other sources of underground sound have been subtracted. It is possible to believe this hum can become audible to the human ear, but only under ideal conditions—perhaps in a desert at night.

(N)ever-arriving wave, the world’s own drone. It is the sound of non-eventual time, a sound that humans throughout history have sought to imitate, often in sacred settings, at first vocally and later with instruments. One such instrument is the didgeridoo of the Australian aborigines, a termite-hollowed log that, when blown, is capable of creating standing waves of sound. These means of accessing the “drone zone” have developed alongside the art of music, but do not necessarily serve musical ends. Instead, they are “dreamweapons,” as the pioneering dronist Angus Maclise called them: tools for producing a sound-event poised between ephemerality and eternity.

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