Sunday, July 13, 2008

music on a long thin wire...

1916 ohio RPPC man playing violin on a high wire

this photo was taken in 1914, as french violinist simon renaud continued his journey across america, never setting foot on the ground. renaud had come to america a few months earlier seeking a woman he knew only from a passing glance on a paris street a few years earlier. he did not know her name, only her initials 'em' which he had seen imprinted in gold on one of her suitcases, as she passed beneath him during one of his infamous performances playing violin upon a high wire. renaud was smitten from above, but could find no way to make contact with her from such a distance.

there is no record of how he knew she was returning to america, maybe it was his keen eyesight, and his ability to read small things from above, but he decided to cross the ocean on a boat to find her.

when he arrived in america, he bagan a journey from coast to coast entirely upon telephone and electrical power wires, convinced that he would only recognize her from the same vantage point as he had first seen her. he knew that if she somehow passed beneath him, she would seem to him exactly as she was that quiet morning she caught his glance. he hoped to recognize her, and take her to be his own.

renaud was renowned for wire walking, as well as his ability to play the violin while upon the wire. he had invented a special kind of 'amplification rod' which when hanging off the wire and touching the neck of his violin, would act as an acoustic microphone, amplifying his melancholy tones so they were audible for miles.

here we see him on sept. 19, 1914, in fredricktown ohio, several weeks into his journey. renaud had spent years designing "musical performances consisting of a series of any number of phrases which explore the acoustic properties of a single vibrating wire." he was not only an exquisitely balanced man, but a tinkerer and a thinker and a listener. his amplification rod allowed him to "pick up the sounds of the vibrating wire... on the resonant bridges and amplify them for ...listening." his night performances were extremely beautiful, as he would "light the wire so that the modes of vibration (were) visible to viewers." newspaper reports of these 'performances' remain the best descriptions of what seems to have sounded and looked quite magical.

renaud spent several years looking down on american cities and small towns trying to find this woman he knew only as 'em'. by this time, he had ceased speaking, because of his distance from the ground (for who could hear him, and he was tired of yelling). instead, he used his violin to express his ache, and the telephone wires spread the sound of his sadness as a kind of sonic cloud that followed him everywhere. his longing became a weather condition, and most folks could hear the audible tugging of his heartstrings hours before the man was within their view.

it is believed that he found her once or twice, but she managed to unknowingly elude him, because the wire paths never quite followed the pedestrian paths, and they would move together at first, but then drift apart. there is some speculation that in rural ohio, he once managed to get her up upon the wire with him (she holding onto him ever so tightly for dear life), but this has never been proven.

at some point he realized that he had spent so much time above the landscape he had no real desire to ever come back down. the earth was too earthly, and too solid. it had neither the resonance nor the view that that felt right to him. he needed a line to walk upon.

finally, sometime in 1916, he actually arrived in the town that she called her home. he was quite beside himself at such luck, because he never really had a direction, as much as a hope. he was a bit nervous that after so many steps and so many notes he might have found the end of his journey. he became a little anxious that she might reject his advances; for after so much looking and longing, he felt a bit outside of the things of life, and perhaps not quite the man he used to be. because of this he realized he could never really come down to her, and he spent many days above her house quietly adoring her perched upon his wire like a bird waiting with the hopes that she would eventually come to him with some breadcrumbs.

all of the wire walking and ache sounding left his arms and feet exhausted, but every time she walked beneath his eyes, his heart beat audibly because he knew she was there. eventually, he began to make quite special notes fall from his violin into her. it was his only way of speaking.

rumor has it that these tender notes are what finally brought her to him, and after hearing them, she would regularly visit him in the darker parts of the evenings. like a sleepwalker, she was able to climb up onto the wire without fear, sometimes for a moment, and sometimes until the sun began to be visible on the edge of the horizon. after so many miles and so many yearnings, renaud's mind had fallen into a state that continually drifted back and forth between realities. for himself, he was never really sure if it was she who came to him in the night, or if it was a phantom he kept returning to in a dream. regardless, on those nights he was quite happy.

image: RPPC fredericktown ohio, sept. 29, 1914, fredericktown day celebration, quotes in the text from alvin lucier's score for music on a long thin wire

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Blogger Ryan Callis said...

Wowee wow.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

a beautiful story - could be by paul auster - another string to your bow, so to speak. jeremy

2:41 PM  
Blogger sroden said...

thanks!!!!! i'm pretty happy with where this is all going. i need to temper the writing a bit because i hate wordy blogs, but you gotta go where things take you... glad you are enjoying.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

sometimes a blog needs more words - and this little story dragged me in only revealing its origin in your rain after a number of paras. a lovely riff on a photo

2:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

italo calvino is smiling.

9:33 PM  
Blogger woolgathersome said...

...and Walser, too. I'm thinking, particularly, of how this tale somehow seems akin to his Balloon Journey...

8:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi there!
it's the first time that i visit this blog. the story it beautiful! is it actually based on historical facts?
i'd like to get in touch with you because i want to find out more about.

7:23 AM  
Blogger sroden said...

no facts, other than the photo which is real, and a bit cribbed from alvin lucier's notes for music on a long thin wire - which are in quotes. but the text is mine. you can email me directly from my site - for more dialog...

8:03 AM  

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