Monday, July 02, 2012

Monochordo


           He brushed back the flakes of a jelly donut from the sides of his mouth and spoke while licking his lips, “So tell me again what your trying to say or do with this poster? It is a poster right?” I sat up straight in my chair and replied, “Mr. Antonelli.” He immediately stopped me by waving his cup of coffee and said “Joe, please call me Joe.” “Ok, sure, well Joe I’m trying to entice you and of course you’re wonderful poster shop in possibly carrying my Pythagorean Monochord poster. “Yeah, I know your trying to get my interest in your product but words like Diapente Materialis and Diattessaron Formalis somewhat confuse me. And this funny looking instrument being turned by a hand coming out of a cloud, could anyone beside you know what this is all about?”
Utriusque Cosmi Historia 1619
            “Oh yes I’ve written a three page epistle explaining what all the terms mean, see it’s right here and each epistle is held neatly together by a little blue ribbon, and there’s no extra charge, none at all.” He sighed took a sip of coffee and said “Ok kid, tell me in one sentence what this is about.” I was ready for that and quickly replied,  “It’s about the mystical construction and manipulation of the universe based on Pythagorean principals.” “You know Neal I love the universe as much as any man can, but why would anyone choose to buy this over Farrah Fawcett in a nice tight bathing suit or Lynda Carter showing a lot of what men like to look at?”
            What Joe couldn’t see was how inspired I was when I first opened Fludd’s work “Utriusque Cosmi Historia” and made the connection between the ancient Pythagorean monochord and the mountain dulcimer. Shortly after this motivational moment I took a copy of Mr. Fludd’s illustration to a graphics house where I had the image expanded and then printed on 17 x 22 parchment paper. After I picked up my 500 posters I hired my friend Peter to airbrush 100 of them. We ran a clothes line on my deck in Felton and pinned them up and painted them all in an assembly line fashion. First doing all the yellow, then the blue and so on. As we watched them all come into fruition we were convinced that thousands of people would treasure this ancient image in their homes. We were certain that our creation was a large step forward from mood rings and pyramid hats, both of which seemed to be very popular in the late 70’s.
            Joe offered me a donut and said, “ So did you draw this? “Oh no this is the work of Robert Fludd” I replied as I reached out for a donut. “Fludd, Fludd was he some kind of beat poet here in the city back say some ten years ago?” My mouth was full of jelly and sugar but I had to immediately reply “No he was a renaissance man from the 17th century,” I said all the while blowing little flakes sugar and pastry in front of my face. “Fludd was a really interesting guy he was a Christian, an alchemist, a Rosicrucian a Paracelsian and in 1598 he received an M.A. in medicine from St. John’s College, Oxford. Joe continued to nod his head and replied “I’m almost afraid to ask what a Paracelsian is, should I?” “Well Paracelsus was like Fludd, a philosopher of esoteric knowledge, he’s credited with the creation of laudanum and was an early practitioner in the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine. “Did he smoke the same stuff as his buddy Fludd?” I raised my hands to my chest and laughed with Joe and said, “Hey you never know what these free thinkers would do.”
            As Joe was poured himself another cup of coffee he looked at me and said, “So tell me Neal when you not running around San Francisco trying to sell posters about heavenly geometry what do you do?” “Well I write musical instructions books on the mountain dulcimer.” “What’s that?”  “Oh it looks a lot like the instrument that the hand of Apollo is touching except it has more strings.” Joe closed his eyes and replied, “Please don’t take offense at this Neal but why is it I’ve never heard of anything that you do?” That last statement from Joe gave me a great sense of gravity.
            The Pythagorean thing made sense to me. From his work on the seven string harp and his knowledge of mathematics, Pythagoras expounded the theory that the seven planets were in the same proportion to each other and to the seven notes of the then known musical scale. The planets, he said revolve in perfect circles upon invisible spheres. The harmony emitted by the interval and spacing of theses planets produces a concordant sound, known to the properly initiated as The Music of the Spheres, simple.
            The mountain dulcimer is played in modes and thus I found an even greater spiritual connection between all this ancient knowledge and my humble folk instrument of choice.
             It didn’t seem complicated at all, it made sense but as I sat opposite Mr. Antonelli I could feel that my career selling esoteric posters of the cosmos based on 16th century knowledge was coming to an end.
            It all seemed so promising when I started out that morning. I rolled up the California coast armed with the knowledge of the ancients, 500 newly printed Pythagorean Posters and a heart full of inspiration. I sold two to a store on Geary and then after nine polite refusals in a row I decided to go to the mega poster store on Columbus Street where I was currently receiving the truth from above delivered by one Mr. Joseph Antonelli.
            “So listen Neal, are there places that people say like yourself go? You know maybe you should be selling these to folks who play that thing, what do you call it the doorchemer?” “Yes” I replied that’s a good idea but most dulcimer players don’t share my interest in this whole musical cosmos thing and then most people into cosmology don’t really play the dulcimer so I’m sort of stuck I guess.” “Hey kid let me unstuck you a bit. I sell posters of Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Brando, you know movie stars beautiful woman, handsome men. I have to level with you Neal in all my years here on Columbus Street no one has asked for this monochord Pythagoras thing you got here. I guess the closest thing would be the one with all the stars with the arrow pointing to the words “you are here”. I slowly nodded in agreement as I let go of my fantasy of becoming a New Age poster mogul. “So tell me Neal how many of these did you print up?” “Oh 500.” “And how many do you have left?” “Oh 498.” “Ah kid let me have three so now you just have 495 to go.” I insisted he take 6 for the price of three but he politely refused. He patted me on the shoulder as I was leaving and said “Hey kid, at least you gave it a shot, don’t ever give up and don’t worry you’ll figure it out.”
            It was a beautiful ride down the coast that evening. I stopped to look at the Seven Sisters and saw a shooting star. That night I dreamed a dream of all the muses— Calliope, Terpsichore, Urania,  Erato, Clio, Thalia and Polyhymnia singing to their respective planets. And there reaching out from the clouds tuning the string of the monochord to the heavenly choir was Mr. Antonelli and in his other hand was a chocolate cream donut glazed with stars.