Psycho-sonic Main Ear



 “I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” Yossarian is told, when he’s found naked on a branch, observing the funeral of a man that was chopped in two deliberately by an aeroplane pilot in Catch 22. “You should have looked for me in this tree.”

We are all fascinated with worlds we hope we never have to occupy. But when quality raises its head from the banal, we totally get it and are thrilled by it, whatever its content. We get more than realism to keep us honest. Our exposure to art transfers to everyday media imagery and concepts, even if we never avail ourselves of the galleries and spend our own time in contemplation. Metaphor, we get. Surrealism, we get. Expressionism, we get. Avant-garde, we get. Cubism, we get. Impressionism, we get. Modernism and Post-modernism, we get. Absurdist, we get. Abstract, we get. Most of us even get the magic-realism of David Lynch, Andrei Tarkovsky and Charlie Kauffman.

The question ‘why?’ holds us up, we’re preoccupied with it. We don’t like the risk involved in the inexplicable when it comes to our lives and wellbeing. Something has to be ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ regardless of their actual effect.

One person asked what my book was about (and this concluding chapter ‘The…’). I responded “searching, but not for answers,” they said “acceptance.” It didn’t quite cut it.

It is more pro-active than this. It is the allowance for the acceptance of the unacceptable. This acceptance I am talking about is not passive resignation, pragmatism, or fatalism. I am a fatalistic optimist, not an optimistic fatalist. But even that is too prescriptive. This acceptance I am seeking exists in us all. It is empowering in every instance, not detracting. It accepts the potential of letting go.

Not merely letting go of things we have clung to that are unreliable; letting go of what made us, or the factors that preserve what we have become; letting go of, or embracing, the potential of what we could have been under different circumstances and what we do not know we could be, given other circumstances. It isn’t looking for greener grass, or settling for a life in comparison with those less fortunate. It’s not even a broader acceptance of others as an acceptance of ourselves. These are inclusive factors, but I’m talking about acceptance of things that impact on us without a ‘why?’

The reason the acceptance of the inexplicable is so empowering is because it can only come from within and can be unique to the individual. It is true to the self or to a neglected or suppressed / oppressed individuality. It can be uniquely the individual. And by nature is essentially the undiscovered individual, not found by self-analysis, but found mostly from common external sources that we are unable to question. Neither mysticism, nor the paranormal, but the everyday. Similar to the way we question metaphors and what we get from literature and media scenarios that are foreign to our experience. But ones that don’t make sense, that don’t add up. Instead of dismissing them, looking at what they do for or to us. It already constitutes a significant part of our daily lives, but in recovery from mental illness it is rarely accounted for and mostly constricted.

Explaining these things is not the way to find the answers. Explanation is anathema to what these things are, but to get to the inexplicable it’s necessary for us again to get beyond the explicable. We can only consider examples and their effect on us, individually.

If we go back to the paragraph in the introduction to [volume one] where I describe the pain exhibited by inanimate objects or vistas – “a neglected garden… a rotting window frame… a bus-full of aspiring city workers and students… passing the waving brolly of a pensioner… a flickering florescent in a factory… a row of starlings shitting from a telephone cable… a ruche in the carpet, sticking out from the gripper-rod… people laughing and dancing, holding and hugging, performing and receiving awards and not receiving awards… a drunk staggering from a pub… a bloke turning over his vintage car engine… a damp cracked slab with a weed poking out…” – I ask how such things can exhibit so much pain, but they are not exhibiting it. The pain is in me, not them. But it is derived from those particular objects.

It isn’t always that I am hurting anyway and those things exacerbate it. It is an accepted fact that everyday sounds can generate pain for people who are depressed or under extreme stress. Synaesthesia can be explained to a limited degree via unusual cerebral connections, but this is a step beyond that, something that every individual has, tapping our subconscious. I still get this pain, spasmodically, along with fluctuating periods of hypersensitivity.

But as many things ‘exhibit’ these morose physical emotions, other things exhibit more positive effects. What’s so great about that, I hear you say? Everyone has that. And that’s the point. It isn’t the significance we give to either of these influences in the sense of how we prioritise them, as if prioritising the ‘positive’ influences will negate the groaning agony of loss or pain, as indeed NLP or mind over matter doesn’t. It’s more how sensitive we are to what it is they do for us, or how we desensitise ourselves to these influences.

Sometimes it is the opening up to the unbearable that is alleviated, or placed in perspective by the inexplicable. People under intense stress are often relieved by the most intangible influences. The sound, movement and power of the sea, or running water. The wind moving tree branches. The sound and scent of rain. Tramping slowly through thick snow, mud, or ice, each sound irreplaceable and distinct. Staring incessantly at the corner of my lounge window frame and sill, when I was catatonic.

For a writer, the creative process that somehow haphazardly spills, a little here, a little there, until a happy accident, a word or phrase ties two ideas together, so seamlessly that you would never be believed if you said they were originally totally unconnected in time, thought and concept. These subtleties and intuitive observations, that the reader will think were there from the start, as an original stream of consciousness, have you leaping from your seat, thumping the air – “yeeessss, woohooooooo!” But you have no idea where they came from.

A wonderful moment in ‘Magnolia,’ directed by P.T.Anderson: (which I will now spoil for those of you who have not seen it), we have been captive to a film which follows the excruciating climax of the personal lives of its chief characters to their individual and poetically collective hiatus, only to be smashed into insignificance by something insignificant. A shower of frogs.

It is only this seemingly miraculous deluge of slimy green flesh that awakens them from the futility of their long-ingrained prejudices, or their precious principles that have taken over their lives and emotions for all those painful years, and the three hours of the film. The frog deluge is explainable via tornado. Why only frogs, you can argue density and mass versus gravity and velocity; but what you cannot argue is why it changes ingrained perspective, why it has such a profound realisation for the characters and for us. Why we get it. Its unusualness and surprise, even its irrelevance, doesn’t negate its reality.

It is there because we get it. It is the point. Maybe it’s the acceptance of the normality of madness. “Things like this happen all the time… and so the book says and blah, blah, blah…” even Jason Robards best efforts to reconcile his marriage, alienation from his child and inner regrets culminates in a morphine-laden “blah, blah, blah…” all his life has led to this.

Maybe it shakes them for a moment, to think broader than their preceding experience, even as Robards breathes his last. But it isn’t merely welcome distraction. It’s a priceless moment, proceeding with each chief character fantastically adding their voice to the lyrics of Aimee Mann’s song, “…it’s not going to stop, until you wise up.” Sung poignantly, because that (realisation) is only part of what song does for us. They are not alone in their isolation and as bleak as isolation gets, neither are we.

Another break with convention builds our anticipation to be cataclysmically broken by the frog-storm. The classical soundtrack score slowly intensifies to the climax, overlaid not just with the sound effects of movement and objects in each scene, but other music, the theme-tune to a television game show, the applause, interjecting crossover dialogue and peripheral television crew activity; the sound of a car with its mumbling occupant and a pop-song playing on the stereo; an ambulance siren; a policeman crying in torrential rain, supplicating God in a high-pitched abandoned wail, to help him find his gun – there’s much more than his desperate searching going on; five barking dogs scavenging over spilt sleeping pills; a woman in despair at her drug-dependent state, having just screamed her lungs and snot out, at her apologising sexual abuser – her estranged contrite father – to extract him from her safe space he just invaded again. Chaos. Sonically and even conceptually, the sound shouldn’t work. It should be unbearable, muddled and conflicting, even layered, but it isn’t.

Certain sonic harmonies lift the soul. In combination, music becomes ‘fuller.’ Changes in proximity and tonality of a monophonic instrument can do the same thing. Resonance provokes different emotions, from euphoria to devastation. Acoustics and ambience can create intimacy, confinement, infinity, or disorientation.  Dissonance can be funny or disturbing. Famously, Hitchcock’s films are driven by the score, more than the action we see. Whereas in Bartleby only the jazz score penetrates the interminable insipidness, to pick up the writer’s sardonic pathos; a little sugar to make the medicine go down.

In music production and composition, you can tell the difference between clarity that doesn’t work and subtle ambiguity resulting in a complete sound, a different composite sound to what the individual instruments are producing. Just compare the remixed versions of the Beatles collection to that of the originals and you’ll see what you gain and lose.

Subtle mixing of various sources can combine frequencies or separate them by adjusting an EQ band by 0.01 db. They can cancel each other out, or phase. Other composers are masters at the composite mix, Steely Dan and Donald Fagan’s songs show a masterly touch in subtly and clarity combined, minimising the individual musical parts for the sake of its final artistic output. Quite distinct from the P.T.Anderson effect.

Some people find the tension of Scott Walker’s ‘The Drift’ unbearable, while others find it astonishing in its textural beauty. Baudelaire, who never caught Walker’s ‘Drift,’ said – “I love Wagner, but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its paws.” It’s easy to understand the innate indescribable nature of why some rhythmic songs get us up out of our seats straight away, but not why others with the same rhythm and chords don’t.

It’s less accessible understanding why some melodies make us feel euphoric or sad. Why I find Phil Collin’s voice sonorous, sensitive and invigorating in the old Genesis stuff pre ‘Abacab,’ but annoyingly irritating and irredeemably depressing in the later pop-Genesis and his solo albums, including bright boppy pieces like ‘Can’t hurry love.’ An instrumental by his one-time partner in crime Steve Hacket, called ‘Twice around the sun’ is resplendent in beauty, composed around a stirring guitar solo that I cannot keep a dry eye to. It’s positive, but immobilises me. What’s that all about?

We can go into all the preconditioning and familiarities of each individual, but ultimately this emotional response to vibrated air is not restricted to pre-known sources. We get it on first-hearing. One of the transcendent qualities of all music. A world we know only too well, but know nothing about, beyond the physical and our emotional experience.

In ‘Starless’ from the Red album by King Crimson, a single note is rhythmically hit on guitar by Robert Fripp. It doesn’t constitute a tune, but it gives a sense of dawdling contentment, then its insistence becomes pensive containment, but it is the same note. Mixed with thumb cymbals and bells, it becomes settled, until it combines with certain chord movements making it tense in its inclusion or exclusion to them. It is still a single plucked note albeit occasionally climbing the scale by the odd semitone, but it becomes disturbing even though it hasn’t changed in pressure or sense-stress. It becomes insistent and nagging with a harder scratch from the plectrum. When it suddenly starts to be bent, the same final note morphed from its semitone sister, a fret below, turns its tension to caterwaul. Why?

Common familiarities, possibly, but you get no ‘why’ in music. One person hears racket, another hears art and another hears power. One sees a landscape, another sees a seascape, another travels through the rings of Saturn, or a neural macrobiotic microcosm, or a sewer. One sees Hieronymus Bosch, the other sees Turner, yet another sees Picasso.

But we’re still stabbing at fundamentals here. It goes much deeper than purely mood. A classical conductor interprets a composition’s moods and the composer’s intentions and with a wave of a baton harnesses an entire mix of two-dozen individual instrumentalists with their own foibles and agendas giving their own live responses to their fellow musicians and the tempo-less fluid pace dictated by the conductor and only hinted at in the fixed score their eyes scan. The tonality, timbre and sense stress of their instruments in that moment producing a finite unrepeatable result, audibly different to every one of its listeners. Replicated, but different every time it is played the same way, in the same spot, with the same instruments, (the same instruments are not the same as the day before), and different every time the same listener sits in a different seat or a different listener sits in the same seat. Mostly explainable except why a fraction of a second delay in the wave of a baton lends more or less sensitivity and accent, or changes the interpretation. And mostly all of this felt, as much as the result is heard. How boring it would be if music was only derived by composition.

Music for cinema has conventions, but listen to any Ennio Morricone and they don’t make sense, they shouldn’t work and when you consider some of the movies he scored for, they might not have been so iconic, so left-field, without him. Most music emerges just because it feels good, or it feels this, or it feels that. Sometimes it is because we don’t know what it feels.

And I think many of us underestimate dancing. Poetry too, has this sometimes indefinable ability to take us somewhere we’ve not been, or to see something from a different angle for the first time. Jaques Brel’s girls are “pink as a lie.” We don’t lose sleep over that. Nor ‘Sit down, stand up (snakes and ladders)’ by Radiohead –


sit down, stand up

walk into the jaws of hell (sit down, stand up)

walk into the jaws of hell (sit down, stand up)

anytime (sit down)

anytime (stand up)

sit down, stand up

sit down, stand up

we can wipe you out anytime (sit down, stand up)

we can wipe you out (sit down, stand up)

anytime (sit down)


stand up (the rain drops the rain drops)

sit down (the rain drops the rain drops)


the rain drops

the rain drops

the rain drops

the rain drops…


Ambiguous, obscure, but no less discernible.  Only the music moves it along from internal struggle to institutionalised oppression.

“Happy family, one-hand clap, four went by and none came back; Brother Judas, ash and sack, swallowed aphrodisiac; Rufus, Silas, Jonah too, sang ‘we’ll blow our own canoe;’ poked a finger in the zoo, punctured all the baaaaaaaallyhoo.” This is as much fun as the cascading and scatty arpeggios on Keith Tippet’s jaunty oblique piano, bridging verses in King Crimson’s ‘Happy Family.’

Granted, Radiohead and King Crimson may be outside most peoples’ frame of reference, but the music and lyrics are not, in essence. Mahler, Stravinsky and John Faulds are Crimsony in moments. At least Crimson’s askew jazz licks are in time. Try being on time with the signature as a blues trumpeter, or jazz singer, and people will tell you you’ve lost your soul. I’ve seen this with capable session backing singers too, that couldn’t hold the note to give themselves a shot at the creativity critical to a confident lead vocalist. One reason Gary Barlow lost hair trying to educate Charlotte Church to be pop, when her classical credentials are impeccable. Now, what’s logical about that?

Dr Zeus, Spike Milligan, fables, fantasy, science fiction. Soft Machine to Swingle Singers, it doesn’t have to be all Strawberry Fields and Lucy in the sky. Logic has its effect but so does illogic, from childhood [onwards, it lodges itself as a significant factor of our developing psyche. When we dismiss or underestimate this, and the power of biscuits, we undermine a significant proportion of our selves. We need to start listening TO OURSELVES, through our inner ear].


‘Four Jammy Biscuits Saved My Life Today: (how to NOT kill yourself)’

Both books achieved 4/4 stars in independent unpaid voluntary reviews. 


Side 1 : bare fact        (external influences)       Review:

Side 2 : bare soul        (internal influences)       Review:


Adrian Kenton – lifted from the final chapter of the 2-volume autobiography – ‘Four Jammy Biscuits Saved My Life Today: (how to NOT kill yourself) – side 2: bare soul.’ (2014).





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