The earliest playable sound recording is this phonautogram of 9 April 1860–played back for the first time in 2008 through the miracle of the First Sounds collective. This trax consists of the first ten words of an eighteenth-century folk song (and sometime lullaby) intoned very slowly and as carefully as possible: “Au clair de la lune, mon ami Pierrot, prête moi—” (“By the light of the moon, my friend Pierrot, lend me…”). If M. Scott had not run out of recording space, the commedia dell’arte trickster figure Harlequin would have gone on to tell his “friend” that he’s searching for a pen and a light, so that he might make a record of his thoughts. Pierrot rebuffs him and sends him to his neighbor. In the final verse, the search for implements transmutes into a discovery of the shaft (la plume indeed) and eros (le feu) with the aid of the girl next door, and the trickster beds down Pierrot’s beloved. Much as in the long version of Kenneth Anger’s film, Rabbit’s Moon (1972), Harlequin teaches Pierrot braided lessons on desire, deceit (double entendres), and inscription/reproduction (the apparatus). The song operates, then, as a metacritique regarding the mimetic and psychological limits to Scott’s labors. Relatedly, the trax ends with an open-ended “lend me,” implying, at minimum, some form of outside supplement to reproduction. An ear, perhaps?
Somewhere between “All You Need is Love” (1967) and “Across the Universe” (1968), John Lennon converted from hippie to a man both harried and barricaded: the open advocacy of “love” for everyone transmuted into the defensive doctrine, “nothing’s gonna change my world.” (Bowie’s cover version of the latter on Young Americans appropriately encodes it as the ravings of a coke fiend). 1970s brooding, pained “God” takes this one step further and couples it with a strong dose of nihilism: a loss of faith in all kings, religions, and rock’n’roll, including the Beatles. All of these are now seen as myths and phantasms: “the dream is over.” But Lennon’s is an incomplete nihilism that continues to assert a Cartesian shot of truth with a splash of intersubjectivity: “I just believe in me, Yoko and me, and that’s reality.” Lennon here gets hung up on the same limit that has plagued all popular forms of nihilism: the “I.” Stuck with this seemingly ineluctable consciousness, nihilism never has a chance.
Sky and sun are our brutish limits. But training your gaze toward the ground may be more rewarding, if only for the lack of some pay(off). Imagine a city—any city—with both the apotheosis of civilization and its requisite nadir simultaneously on display for all to see. In its “cracks” and “in the seams of the world,” there are “secret scenes” or stagings that produce no “doubt.” Orient yourself toward “practicalities,” which are “possibilities” for those that live close to the earth. Commit to imagining perfectibility and “wait,” resisting the labor of literal realization. Set your “I” to “idle,” and will yourself to live downward. Transformative orientation.