The Gray Note
February 12, 2011
Perhaps you’ll understand what I’m about to share with you, and perhaps you won’t.
I often seek something I call The Gray Note. What is it?? It’s a sound that, when you hear, it takes you away, time forgotten, and your mind begins working at an incredible pace and in a rare harmony. My mentor at Ohio State told me about the existence of the Gray Note–that it was something he experienced once years before and had sought it out ever since. You never simply hear the Gray Note, it pulls you inside, like the embrace of an ancestor, and once you’re there conception is unbound and you’ve access to places in your own imagination never visited before–places you didn’t know existed. It’s like unlocking a hidden floor in a department store, full of treasures, where the public normally isn’t permitted to see.I encountered it once on the Roebling Bridge in Cincinnati, Ohio about ten years ago. The bridge doesn’t have a paved roadway, instead it’s simply a segmented metal grate with large square holes through which you can see the rushing waters of the Ohio River far below. Cars rolling across this grated surface make the most incredible sound, full and mournful. On rainy days, when the air is thick, the sound sometimes changes a bit in timbre and becomes the Gray Note. I was walking across the bridge one rainy day and fell into it, standing there, mouth open, captivated, listening for hours, not wanting to come out of it. It was like an LSD trip, only without the drug, just a perfect communion of your mind and your senses. Eventually, the clouds parted and the sound changed, and I was dumped back to Earth, lamenting the perfection I’d experienced and then lost.
I often returned to the Roebling to try and recapture The Gray Note, but it never was the same, and I’ve looked for it ever since, always elusive and just beyond my reach. I’ve hunted it, like King Arthur’s Questing Beast.
Today, I found the Gray Note again, in an unexpected place.
My wife wanted to stop at Target and get a few things. I really didn’t want to go, but she insisted. We went inside and she grabbed a cart and started shopping. We made our way to the vast frozen food section, all the cases full of whirring fans, that droning staccato sound they made.That sound…
As we moved down the aisle, there it was, in just the right spot, I re-discovered the Gray Note, rich and proud, full of life and creation.
As before, I fell in. Vast new worlds opened up, I created entire novels, beginnings and endings. Whole lives danced in front of me. I could have died there …
And then my wife shook me and it was gone. She said I was standing there in a stupor, like I was catatonic.
And there I was, back on Earth.
“Did you hear it?” I asked her.
“Hear what? I just hear noise.”
And my hunt continues …