Friday, August 10, 2012

Music of the Spheres

It was supposedly Pythagoras who realized that the pitch of a musical sound was in proportion to the length of string that produces it. He also apparently understood that basic numerical ratios can be found in the intervals of harmonious sound  frequencies. With these ideas in mind, he went a step further and proposed that the sun, moon and various planets each produce their own tones, which are in relation to their orbits and the distances between each other. Mother Earth and the quality of life of its inhabitants would naturally be affected by the music of these spheres.
Well, I can dig that. Again, I’m reveling in sunset at one of the beach-front tables at the Santa Fe Bar & Grill, on Tumuning Bay, Guam. I’ve mentioned this place in the previous episode. The bay is at high tide this evening, and pretty much empty except for a trio of local fellows casting a net for what catch I don’t know (I haven’t seen a fish longer than an inch during my forays into the water). Beside them, there’s a young loving couple cam-whoring, and further down the beach a slightly hunched Korean or Japanese lady apparently trying to train her Chihuahua to swim. I’m dry yet enjoying the restaurant’s sesame-tinged Tuna Poki, and a cold Stella Artois, but things are far from perfect — the background noise sucks.
What is it about so many of these paradisical drinking establishments and their bad taste in musical entertainment that riles me? (I must ask now for you to forgive my irritation, and my pretension.) Just above the bar is a 36-inch TV delivering raunchy music videos (which segue into Major League Baseball by 8pm). At the same time and in distinct counterpoint, the bar’s stereo system belts out tunes as improbable as ACDC’s “Highway to Hell” and “American Woman” by the Guess Who. Clearly, somebody in management needs a lesson on more appropriate ambient music. (I’m preaching to the converted if you are a regular listener at Radio Moka.)
How rare it is for a “rock free” playlist to appear in paradise. I think back, recalling when and where a beachside establishment bucked the trend and played music that seemed to fit the scene: Mykonos, Greece, 1979 — the master of a small tavern that served killer ouzo introduced me to the wizardry of two true guitar heroes, Paco de Lucia and Baden Powell.
Praia do Meco, the nude beach on Costa de Caparica just south of Lisbon, Portugal, 1981 or so — an airy cabana serving beers also had a cassette player, where for the first time I heard the lyrical voice of Brazilian Milton Nascimento.
Perhentian Island, on the northeast coast of Malaysia, early 1990s — a sandy tie-dye place called Coco Hut, wedged between three gargantuan boulders and canopied with dried coconut fronds, served Alpha Blondy’s reggae and jazz by the likes of Stan Getz amidst a buffet of catch-of-the-day curry and grilled barracuda. That all made perfect sense.
This week’s set is yet another foray into background ambient consultancy. I’ve purposefully kept the focus on Latin, Brasilian and African-based rhythms, each song with a clear tropical vibe. If only I were in charge here at the bar & grill, what magical musical majesty I might suggest.
But now the sun is blazing a bit too brightly (yep, blinding me) as it begins its dip into the Philippine Sea; the Earth seems still for a second, and good, as she grinds inexorably along her axis.
Happily, I imagine other realities, parallel universes, where no music is ever overplayed, where Anglo-American rock, rap and pop are kept at bay, and where every beachside bar and grill gets its sound just right —- in accordance with the music of the spheres.

This post first appeared on Daddy Peet Expresso #36, on


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