This piece was written in response to a brief on ‘Attention’. It describes a moment where I find myself paying attention not only to a subject (techno music) but also attempts to explore the act of writing attentively.
Coffee grinding, forks scraping, kids crying, doors opening. Doors closing. Sirens interjecting without prompt, piercing reminders of life outside. Nothing but the daily cacophony of a generic cafe; Starbucks, Costa, Pret A Manger. Caffè Nero for those hardcore about their espresso. Double or nothing. Get in, get out.
Not me. I have been here since ten in the morning, protecting my table with brutish insolence. I am one of the stragglers, the seat-dwelling seagulls. Just one of The Working Crowd, whose companion is her laptop and some cursory books spread across the maximum surface area to justify my occupancy. I like to think that they protect the solitary cup of coffee I have nursed for over an hour from judgemental eyes, dredged down to the soggy grinds whilst I defend my right to free wifi. But my tolerance for caffeine has been climbing steadily higher as the (very) new year progresses, and any stimulating effect this beverage should have has already worn off. Forking out for another cup seems a bad investment on my body and my wallet so I turn to another, cheaper alternative, pushing my white headphones into my ears.
Who needs caffeine when you have techno? I find this genre of music works on my mind like a slow release of adrenalin, cushioning my concentration with its repetitive, seamless grain. One track pulses into the next. Its rhythms are steady but erratic, harsh with a mellow curve. Each track is as irregular as raindrops landing in a puddle, fleeting solitary points of contact thousands of which make up the nebulous whole. Meanwhile I write, constructing syllables into words into sentences whilst monotonous notes skitter across the soundscape, punctuated by synthetic calls of the wild. The bass bounces with a resounding thud -ud –ud, muted like words missing their two front teeth. Abstracted from the formula of verse/chorus/verse, techno is but one endless vamp, punctuated by brief refrains of five or less descending notes, falling not down but off the page.
This music makes the mind elastic. It warps echo into space, creates a vacuum in my skull. There is nothing recognisably human in these sounds, permeating a dark and uninhabitable landscape, instigating the primal desire to dance. But there’s more to it; this isn’t just about physical escape. It’s about democratised music, music which prides no melody over harmony, no lyric over sound. Vocal samples are distorted beyond recognition, forming part of the soundscape. This is music which lends itself to community, to audience participation rather than passive spectatorship. Sitting here, surrounded by strangers in the sobering light of midday, I am present but not really present, pulled inside myself as a trembling sustain wraps itself around my brain and tightens, activating anticipation through repetition of the same rapid beats. It is as though I am observing from behind a glass pod, insulated inside my own mind. Each note, note, note, puts the stress on hold. My head nods inadvertently. I am no longer quite in control. Random actions become performance with intent. A strangers foot jiggles on the beat. Dropped plates a well-timed clash. Fingers dance across screens of all sizes. Strangers form alliances, covert participants in my private rave.
A beat becomes an echo becomes a breath. I look up. There are few seconds before the next track begins where I am made aware once more of the reality of my surroundings. Potential allies become strangers again, feet shifting mindlessly in nervous irritation. Sips, slurps and laughter fall flatly with no guiding bassline as mismatched conversations ebb in random flow. I look around, distracted by the absence of music. Suddenly, I see you. Our eyes meet. You are looking for a table. Your gaze is not accidental, but deliberate. A quiet hum builds. No, this one is not available. And it won’t be for a while. Can’t you see I’m working? Can you hear the furious tapping of my fingers on keys, the predatory song of the millennial student? Our eyes meet. I hold your stare unblinking. A synth flickers, then fades. You betray your discontent with a shake of your head. I grin in return. Of course I win, I’m plugged-in, tuned-out. You can’t touch me behind my self-erected sonic wall. I’m sorry, this person is not available right now. Please try again later. Later. Later. This is the soundtrack to my approaching deadline. Elated on 140 BPM.