The Complex Orchestra

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Pic by Garry Knight (Creative commons - free to use with attribution, free to repurpose with CC licence intact)

I am the conductor of the Complex Orchestra. It is a somewhat difficult process in some ways and unbelievably easy in others – I didn’t realise I was the conductor for a long time. I also didn’t know who or what I was conducting to – they are not to be seen. The choir is not so much invisible as, well, not embodied. You notice them more by the wind they swirl or the bum notes they hit or the way something beautiful occurs when they pay their two instruments in harmony. They look at each other in astonishment sometimes, or so I sniff, anyway.

The fact that the complex orchestra is not embodied does not mean that you cannot find them stuck down the back of the couch, in your hair just after you’ve freshly washed it, sitting on the toilet with you in the dead of the night. The bottom rangers seem to like 3am and use it as their moment in the moon, as it were. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, painting them black. The dark, the nighttime, the mysterious, the hidden and the colour black have all been dissed down through the ages, especially by those who simply cannot bear that they are there and would prefer to have the lights on all over the world, so that nocturnal animals all die of anxiety disorders.

 The complex orchestra is mammoth. It stretches away as far as my non-eye can see. It’s such a conglomerate! I was amazed to find that some of the very worst musicians in the complex orchestra who seem to struggle with a bit of aggro, like the one who has seaweed hanging off her shoulders and the one who smells always of Pinetarsal, they are often the ones who are most desperate to play as a team in the orchestra. One character has hassled me for decades. For long years he stood out in the hallway refusing to come in, smashing his bassoon against the wall specifically to disrupt the piccolo player, who already has a few unravelling holes in her basketcase as it is, poor thing.

I don’t know where their historical grievances come from. As far as I can see, the bassoon player is jealous of the piccolo player. I would also estimate a large dose of terror at her anxiety. How could I to say where this originated? I’m just the conductor. This ongoing dispute and terrorising may well have begun in the diaspora in 586BC or in some intergalactic family dispute a million years ago. I don’t know, I’m just the conductor.

It took me an awful long time to realise that I was able to conduct. It’s quite easy, really. All you need to do is see an invisible framework that no one teaches you about, be tormented or captivated by music that flows through you and then just as quickly leaves, and to not get caught up in thinking that you are responsible for playing the music with your own fingers. It takes a while to dawn on you that you are the conductor. And then it starts working better if you let the Complex Orchestra each play their own notes and help them to harmonise, and let them know that they are to try to contain themselves so that they don't waltz all over the will of other people. Jazz is fine, nastiness unconstrained without at least trying to self-regulate is not.

I was never so surprised when one day I walked out into the hallway and said to the bassoon player, “We are all sick to death of you banging your bassoon against the wall because of something that happened a million years ago. Work it out, please. We are not putting up with this kind of behaviour anymore. We require a bassoon player, and we would be most happy for you to come and join our orchestra" - I heard the piccolo player scream behind me, but I continued. "But if you cannot or will not behave respectfully, then we will have to ask you to leave the entire building. And I mean it this time.” And the clarinetist and trombonist both murmured yes. I knew the rest of the orchestra was behind me, that it was time for this particular hallway discord to end.

I had to leave it there then and go inside and placate the piccolo player and remind her that now I know I’m the conductor, and it is the right time for healing, that I am not going to let the bassoon player hassle her anymore. And so then the bassoonist came meekly into the room, holding his bassoon in one giant hand, and sat down at the end of the row and blew one long note on his bassoon. The piccolo player curled up in the lap of the tambourinist (she’s very small) and spent the next three weeks there, until one day the bassoonist, whose music now lent the most wonderful depth to the orchestra, played a long D and she pipped in with some pippy piccolo on the end, as a top note, like salt on caramel.

I don’t think the piccolo player and the bassoonist are going to go hang out at the pub together or anything, but they don’t need to, do they? You don’t need to be best buddies with everyone or even to really like some people. Doesn’t mean you can’t harmonise together.


  1. I love this, plain and simple. It inspires me. I've been thinking a lot about invisible (and visible) frameworks lately, what can be done with them.

    1. Awww, thank you Susan *curtsey*

      Have you come to any conclusions?

  2. No conclusions, just possibilities, which is one of the things I like about such frameworks. I've been reading The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene, which is all about spacetime from a physicist's perspective, and he talks about spacetime as a loaf of bread that can be sliced different ways. This has really been food for thought, so to speak :)

    I've also been taking a class on comic books and graphic novels, and we've been discussing the grid of the page, and how it can be used in different ways to create different narrative effects. It's pretty damn cool. I'm being stretched to use more visual-spatial intelligence and find ways of combining that with linguistic intelligence, which comes way more naturally to me.


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