here all along

‘So there are these two Irish blokes, Paddy and Murphy. And they’re in the jungle. And they see a crocodile with a man’s head sticking out of its mouth. And Paddy says to Murphy, So who’s the flash bastard in the Lacoste sleeping-bag?

Two quid, that joke cost. A man outside Shoreditch church with a can of Strongbow squeezed into his back pocket. Red cheeks, orange hair, a roll-up.

‘That way we’re all happy. You don’t mind if I join you, do you? The idea is, I tell a joke and you give me something for it if I make you laugh.’

Which made me laugh.

‘Enjoy the concert then? Any good?’

The pews were half-full with mainly men with matted hair. They came alone, or in pairs. They sat very still throughout the concert. Even when the lights went off, and the church was briefly very dark while our eyes adjusted, they did not move. Even when the tape of Telemusik was played, there was not a shuffle. I wanted to laugh but a man put his finger to his mouth and signalled that I should shush. And I wondered what was wrong with laughing, or just smiling: the music made me want to laugh. But I didn’t. I sat still and listened to the series of strange sounds: “a music for the whole Earth”… “technical processes, formal relationships, pictures of notation, of human relationships etc – all at once and in a network too tangled up to be unravelled into one process”.

There was a short interval. People stood up and stretched, as if between machines in the gym. Some of the men put their coats back on, some went outside for a quick smoke. Back to blackness, apart from the lights over the musicians. Running loo-rolls up and down the tam-tam, plucking at piano strings, fiddling with the short-wave receivers, a flautist and a slim-man called Vlad & his viola. High agitated notes, moments of familiar harmony, voices from far away to which the flute responded with chirps. A man in front of a mixer twiddled and twirled his fingers around faders and vol, as if touching a lady he loved I thought. Sometimes his fingers would rise up in pairs, gently erect, a signal to the musicians I couldn’t decode. The sheets in front of the ensemble said very little: just rows of black circles, blank spaces and thin lines. More secret code. A conversation me and all the men could enjoy but couldn’t fully understand. And yet, all our senses were enchanted and flooded full. Fully content. Fully surprised. It was called Kurzwellen which means Shortwaves. Someone said, you might hear yourself. Someone else said, it’s a waste of time, it sounds like a Joe-90 sound track. I said: where have I been all my life?

And a funny thing it was later to look at the websites. The woman on the tam-tam photographed with a pair of sticks only. The instrument most curiously absent. Just her smiling face and pretty body in sleek clothes. All that poise and attention and art and rhythm vacuumed away for a silky top.