From the blog of Arthur Plague: singer/songwriter, creative genius (lapsed), as provided by Alan Bennington
Art by Scarlett O’Hairdye
Saturday: Farewell Abbey.
Well, what a hoot! Finally arrived in this God-forsaken place just after two, to find it’s not so bad after all. I booked it a while ago, just after my latest diagnosis. I reckon it should get my creative juices flowing if nothing will, so I decided to give it a fortnight. After all, if the doctors are right, I’ll be pretty much deaf by then, anyway.
So I checked into this monastery-come-retreat and was greeted like an old mate by the head honcho, Bernard. They all wear snazzy robes and stuff, but he’s got jeans underneath and he’s basically just some sort of hippie throwback with attitude. Middle-aged and loving every minute of it. Sickening.
And do you know what? They know all about me. All my chart hits and misses. My run in with drugs and the dark side. Obviously it’s no secret, but it was a bit of a shock to have this grey-beard from yesteryear waxing lyrical about my back catalogue, even quoting bits of “Siren Song” (his favorite) at me. But the amazing thing is they think they can help me write my “magnum opus” before the old lug-holes pack up completely.
They’re a weird lot–“A fusion of religions and cultures from east and west,” it says in the blurb. They have a “creed based on music, meditation, and mantra.” Bernie soon got busy showing me around. It’s like a mini-version of Hogwarts but with all mod cons. The worst thing is no cell-phone reception! I know it’s deepest Northumberland, but really. Thank heavens they have good wi-fi, so I’ll be able to keep you up to speed as my final masterpiece takes shape. I hope.
But what an interesting evening. I spoke to some of them over dinner–all vegetables, by the way. The food that is, not the inmates. They told me they’re carrying on the work of an Austrian monk, Gregor Mendel, who discovered genetics way back in 1866. Apparently he did it just by studying peas and bees. They reckon we all have something they call our own “soul tune” encoded into our DNA. I’ve always thought that music was in my genes. Well they’ve offered to prove it. Just a bit of saliva and they can figure out my whole genetic code. Bernie promised to show me their music laboratory tomorrow. It all sounds a bit “new-agey,” but you know what a sucker I am for technology!
I met up with an old friend, Pippa. She’s been here for a few days, “Trying to re-discover my mojo, darling!” so she says. It was a shock to see how she’s lapsed from the human dynamo I remember. I hadn’t realised she’s not written anything of note since See Hear Now went platinum back in the noughties. Now she’s pinning her hopes on discovering her “heart song” as she calls it. I hope she finds it.
My head is reeling!
I slept like a baby till we had to get up at some ungodly hour. Bernie took me to their music lab straight after breakfast. They’ve got one of those keypad locks on the door and he was ever so careful not to let me see the number. Don’t they trust me? It was incredible, though. Lots of normal science-y stuff: bottles and test-tubes, microscopes and machines. And it’s all linked to an amazing state-of-the-art synthesizer. (I must download the software onto my laptop!)
As soon as I’d stopped gawping, he got me to drool into a little tube like a maniac, then one of the monks injected it into a chemical extractor. Bernie tried to explain it, but I got a bit lost. He said that DNA is coded in its own special language using just four base chemicals. What they do is break it down into “sequences,” a bit like bar-codes, and somehow extract the part that is unique to me.
So there I am, reduced to digital mush on a memory stick!
Now here’s the even more crazy thing! They plugged my data into the synthesizer, then got me humming and singing into a microphone. Just random notes and tunes to start with, but he sampled what I was doing and started playing it back. For a while, it must have sounded like a karaoke from hell … but all of a sudden, I found that I could anticipate what was going to come out of the speaker. I was singing along to a tune that I hadn’t even heard before, yet I knew exactly how it was going to sound. It was bizarre. I was in absolute bliss, better than any drug-induced state I can remember.
Suddenly I was aware of a deafening silence; for a moment, I thought my time was up. But Bernie and the others were beaming.
“Well, that went rather well,” he said, “It usually takes a lot longer to find our initiates’ soul-tunes. Your impending deafness must have sparked your intuition.”
“Intuition?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” he said. “You just tuned in to the music already encoded in your genes. We simply showed you how to bring it into your conscious mind, as if you were recalling a deep memory. Now we will teach you how to use it to reach your personal nirvana.”
And so we spent the rest of the day getting down with the groove. Can you imagine half a dozen frisky monks and nuns all humming and chanting together in ecstasy? They showed me how to hum the tune under my breath like a personal mantra and put myself into a sort of super-consciousness. It’s like another way of seeing and feeling the world, a sense of pure wonderment.
Saw Pippa at dinner. Oh, she is so jealous, poor thing. I hope she finds her heart song soon. Can’t think any more. Off to beddy-byes.
Bernie told a joke over breakfast. He said, “Did you hear about the yogi who goes into a pizza restaurant and asks them to make him one with everything?” Well it made me laugh.
He told me how they believe that mankind was created as a divine creature, the ultimate embodiment of a spiritual being. But we abused the gift by committing some sin, he wouldn’t say what, so the creator gods decided to take it away for good. They hid our divinity deep inside our own being, where they thought we would never look for it. Then Mendel went and discovered genetics and thought that our genetic code was the answer, a secret formula that would reveal our path back to heaven on earth. All we need is to unlock the code with the right key. And music is the key. That’s what all the religious music in the world is striving for. To find the one primal melody that will unleash everybody’s hidden powers and start a new phase of human evolution.
It’s all bonkers of course! We’ve been evolving for thousands of years and there’s no evidence of any god-like ancestors that I’ve heard of. But it did get me thinking …
Saw Pippa again. She’s upset that I wrote about her “lapse.” Must be more careful. I hadn’t realised everyone here is reading my blog.
So, now that I have my very own soul-tune, I spent the day immersing myself in the music, and I’ve used my melody-maker program to come up with an arrangement that’ll blow your minds.
Here it is, playmates. I’ll put it on all my social media, so please listen in a darkened room and tell me what you think. Share the love.
Attachment: <audio file>
Just saw Bernie and he was a bit miffed. He’s annoyed about me releasing stuff on the internet. He seems to think that the general public might be at risk from hearing “genetic music” they aren’t prepared for. What drivel. Sorry, Bernie, but I’m not convinced. He made some random remark about having to send me back home if I try it again. It was a joke, wasn’t it, Bernie? I hope so. Listen and share, folks, listen and share.
Thank you so much, peeps. Your kind words make me woozy with delight. Already got over ten thousand likes.
My hearing seems a lot worse today, yet the thought of my imminent deafness doesn’t seem so bad. I’ve learned to play the tune over and over in my head … Happiness on tap.
No sign of Pippa, so I went to her room. I suppose I was expecting too much, but she was politely non-committal about my soul-tune. “Sorry Art, but it just doesn’t work for me,” she said. Oh well.
What’s happening out there, guys? Why are you not sharing my music? Only a few more thousand likes in half a day! Seriously, this is musical gold. Some of you are really into it, but there’s a lot of bad vibes out there too. People are saying it’s not as good as the old stuff, but I beg to disagree. This is my soul laid bare, literally. I don’t have any more to give.
I’ve been dreaming about DNA!
You remember I had this obsession with earworms a while ago? Those annoying tunes that get lodged in your brain and won’t go away? Some are just a few seconds long, like that bit at the start of the cinema adverts, and sometimes it might be a whole chorus of a song. They suddenly appear out of nowhere and keep going round and round your head ad infinitum. I collected loads of your favorites, and I’ve been analysing them to see if there is any common theme that I can use in my final work.
So please will you help me again, faithful disciples? Tell your friends and send me any more of those “sticky-songs” that send you potty.
Would you believe it? The wi-fi has ceased to be! I asked Bernie what was going on, and he was very apologetic. He says it happens every so often, and he’s getting their local techie in to sort it, but it does seem a bit weird.
I just tried posting this with my mobile data, but there’s no phone reception either, so I’ll have to wait to get connected again.
How annoying! Still no wi-fi. So I’ve gone for a walk to find a convenient hill top.
At last I found this sweet place with a good signal. Great to see all your responses to my earworm request. I’m downloading them all as we speak. Isn’t it great how you can grab tunes so easily off the web?
I’m listening to the sounds of nature; birds singing, the wind in the leaves, even heard a deer calling. I can’t believe that’s all going to be lost to me before long. What did I do to deserve this? I don’t want to be deaf. It’s my idea of hell on earth. Can there be any virtue in total silence? How will I exist without my beloved music?
I hope they let me back in the building. Oh, stop panicking, Arthur.
This is crazy. They let me back in OK. But I’m not sure if they’ll let me leave again! Bernie is worried because I talked to you again this morning. I think he thinks that I’m going to beat him in their search for the key to the “primeval tune.” He as good as told me that the internet is out of bounds from now on. So it was probably him that shut it down in the first place. He said I must work solely on nurturing my own soul tune and forget about changing the world.
So we carried on with my lessons … I’m turning into a mystic! They are teaching me to focus on the present moment. What we perceive as “now” is really about ten seconds long, just enough time to hold the essence of your tune in your head like a sort of mantra that keeps repeating like a constantly recurring memory.
I hadn’t realised it, but I think I’ve been searching for this sensation all my life. It’s a sort of primal existence where time seems to fall in on itself and you feel totally in tune with all the life and humanity on the planet. Sounds crazy I know–sorry, but I just can’t stop smiling. I want it to last forever.
Can’t get to sleep now. Keep thinking about DNA.
It’s 2 a.m., and I’ve invaded the lab! Bernie couldn’t keep hiding the password every time, and I managed to guess it from what I saw of his hand movements. “1866.” It’s like their creation date. The year Mendel made his breakthrough. The wi-fi was switched off after all, so I’ve put it back on.
I’ve been looking through their database of the human genome. It’s mind boggling. Something occurred to me when Bernie was talking about DNA. Billions of base pairs making up thousands of genes. He said that 99.9 percent of it is common to every human being, and it’s just that tiny bit extra that makes us different from each other and gives us our individual tunes. Well, supposing that our common DNA has its own tune too? Some shared melody that linked us all when we first became human, when music was our only language, before we even invented speech. Music in the key of life?
I think earworms are the key. I put them through some new software. It’s a form of artificial intelligence that can generate algorithms from any tunes it hears. It’s coming up with some real catchy riffs. Interesting that much of it centres around just four notes: A, B, D and E.
I’ve managed to isolate our base DNA. It’s massive of course. I plugged the data into the synthesizer and started playing my earworm music to it. For a while there was just a maelstrom of noise as different tunes competed with each other. I found myself drawn into the mix as I hummed and chanted the dominant melodies. The rhythms kept changing as my pulse and breathing gradually attuned themselves. Eventually, it felt as if my very brain-waves were locked into a gorgeous refrain that hung in the air, repeating and repeating every few seconds … the most beautiful little tune, like a forgotten nursery rhyme …
It’s hard to write now. I’m in such a state of rapture. My mind is in harmony with the whole of nature, the universe is humming my tune, no, OUR tune. It’s pure heaven. I can’t tell you. E-B-A-D-A. That’s the tune in a nutshell. “Ebada” will be my final legacy to the world.
Here it is. Please listen …
Attachment: <audio file>
This has all gone so wrong. “Ebada” will send you mad. Please DO NOT listen. If you are able to read this, then you must not listen to my melody. If you’ve heard it already, then I fear it’s too late. I beg you to listen to something else, anything else to distract you.
Oh no! Millions of you have shared it. The news is full of “The Ebada Virus” as if it’s better than the Second Coming. Please see sense before it’s too late!
Not sure how long I was in there last night. I was in a state beyond insanity, locked in a vortex of heavenly sound. But eventually I allowed the music in my head to subtly evolve until it finally became my own familiar soul tune again and I could come back to earth.
The other initiates heard the melody too. They all discovered the ecstasy and managed to find their way back to normality.
All apart from Pippa. She couldn’t escape it. How can I ask her forgiveness for my arrogance?
How angry Bernie is. As soon as we had recovered, he sat me down roughly and lectured me. “Arthur, we believe the divine melody will awaken the holiness within all of us. But it has to be nurtured and directed so the mind can take command of its own destiny. This tune holds you in the present moment in a state of unimaginable bliss. But anyone who hasn’t learned to control their own soul-tune won’t have the antidote to prevent their consciousness being locked in an endless loop.”
Then he told me about Pippa.
I rushed to her room. She looks sublime. Her eyes wide, glistening and dancing. Her breathing gently in time with the rhythmical convulsions of her body. She is singing “Ebada” over and over to herself like some unholy prayer. I don’t know if she is in heaven or hell. But she will never return without her heart song.
Bernie’s confiscated my laptop and turned off the internet in a vain attempt to limit the damage. But they don’t realise the speed of the web. “Ebada” has spread around the entire planet.
My lovely tune has gone viral. I can’t stop it now. Everyone who hears it will find my infernal, eternal earworm taking over their mind. My beloved technology is the instrument of Armageddon. I doubt there will be anyone able to keep the internet going much longer, or the phone lines, or anything for that matter. Everything will eventually grind to a halt. This may be my final message.
I know you don’t believe me. But this is NOT A HOAX!
I’m back at my sweet spot. How normal everything looks. The sunset is so beautiful.
I’m sorry. This is not how it should be. Everyone who hears “Ebada” will be locked in a perpetual trance just like Pippa. Only those who can’t hear it will be truly safe.
The deaf will inherit the earth!
Arthur Plague is, or rather was, a famous singer, composer, and self-confessed technophile. Finally admitting to himself that he is going deaf, he is desperate to write a “big song” that will be his final legacy. Any means must surely justify the ends!
Alan Bennington is a retired IT consultant who now teaches a few bits of English and mathematics. This is his first attempt at writing prose fiction.
Scarlett O’Hairdye is a burlesque performer, producer and artist. To learn more, visit her site at www.scarlettohairdye.com.
“A Catchy Little Tune” is Copyright 2018 Alan Bennington
Art accompanying story is Copyright 2019 Scarlett O’Hairdye
This story originally appeared in Ariel Chart and Scribble.Follow us online: