Every week I intend to write about a musical related part of my life experience. Last week I outlined the dynamics regarding the importance of Pandora radio in my workplace. I also evinced my strategy and Pandora hack of putting bands on my station that average 10 minute plus songs. This is mainly to minimize the amount of time that I have to listen to music and bands from my coworkers. Most of which I don’t mind. However, as I detailed last week there is one employee (employee B) I work with whose music somewhat annoys that shit out of me. Last night I was researching certain childhood maladies and diseases often prevalent in autistic children and that continue into adulthood. And I came across something that certainly resonated big time with me. The affliction is called misophonia. From the Mayo Clinic: “Misophonia is a strong reaction to specific sounds. Misophonia may cause a reaction to sounds such as dripping water, chewing, snapping gum, or repetitive noises, such as pencil tapping. People with misophonia can become irritated, enraged, or even panicked when they hear their trigger sounds. Treatment might involve therapy or lifestyle recommendations, such as using sound protection or creating “noise-free” zones within living spaces.”
Perusing some different articles I now realize that my brother and I also had/have misophonia. For him, it was the sound of me chomping my breakfast cereal too loudly at the kitchen table. I of course, being the little stinker that I am, quickly realized this and made sure to do it worse and more exaggerated just to annoy him. It is probably one of the reasons to this day we only communicate two times a year during each other’s birthdays. I am certain I have misophonia as well. Mine stems from my post trail depression of not having to hear noise pollution when hiking for 6 months at a time and then suddenly living in a place with tons of noise pollution. However, my biggest misophonia trigger is whistling. And not all whistling but the really bad kind. If you don’t have misophonia or any empathy for distracting noises I am sure the next paragraph or two will just sound like a “get off my lawn” whining tirade, but it definitely affects me and my mood. At my job there are a few whistlers. When I am there I am basically a slave. I am forced to abide by the rules of my workplace for a meager wage. And in return I rent out my body to my martinets and tyrants, as Noam Chomsky calls them. These tyrants or employers then get to decide how and when to use me for their menial tasks. I don’t have a lot of say in shaping my work environment. Other slaves, err coworkers are in the same situation. When I am at work, I am rarely focused on my task at hand. I’m almost always in my own world. I am probably writing my next poem in my head. Or writing my next blog entry, or thinking of something that I can draw once the slaveholders let us free for the day. Or possibly I am thinking about the state of the world or what I will be making for dinner that night. I actually prefer the menial jobs or the jobs that most employees dislike, like taking stickers off boxes. The tyrants feel that kind of work is way beneath them so they often leave me alone. So to me the worst possible threat to my utopian space inside my head is not a nano managing boss but rather a misophonia trigger sound. A sound that immediately snaps me out of my day dream trance and thrusts me right back into the cruel and austere atmosphere of being at work. Everytime I hear somebody whistle it instantly puts me into a small rage for forcing reality back on me. It sucks that happens to me. I have avoided entire sections of my workplace to avoid whistlers. I don’t think most of them do it to to annoy. And there is one guy there who works upstairs that whistles beautifully like a magpie or songbird. But then there’s this other guy at my job that whistles constantly and badly with zero shits about others peace and quiet around him. worse yet, he often whistles the same tunes everyday, everytime, everywhere out of key and/or flat. One of his favorites is the song, Renegade by Styx. If I had to work across from him boxing for more than a half hour I would seriously end up injuring him or myself in a violent paroxysm. Whistling is that big of a trigger for me. The other equally bad trigger for me are commercials. In the same department as the whistler at work there is also a radio that plays commercials between songs. To me they are awful. Here I am enslaved (well if I want to be able to eat) and now being tormented on top of it by being forced to listen to asshole car marketeers, rapacious ads for attorneys, and restaurants cajoling people into eating slaughtered cow and pig carcasses. And the worse part is, I can’t block the noise out. Somebody that feels the need to whistle clearly has a gnawing need to draw attention to themselves. So thats why discovering the band Om was a gigantic victory for me. It is also why I have been so attracted to jazz and noise lately. Employee B typically only whistles to his own music. His music is mostly salsa music (which I enjoy) and mid 80’s christian rock like Petra or more insidiously a genre specific christian band that he is using to testify to one of the non christian employees through their kind of music. The most absurd one he plays as a testimony band and genre proselytizer is one called, Christafari. This is his answer to the Phish listening employee that will often have Bob Marley and/or the Wailers reggae music on. Christafari are you kidding me? Thinking about everything wrong with that concept will make your head literally run away kicking and screaming from your skull. My problem with his music is how it seems to motivate him to happily whistle along. Worse yet since every song that comes on his station is immediately thumbs upped, I have to hear the same songs everyday. So that is why Om and drone bands like Sunn-O are my alexiteric to the venom of the happy whistle. He can’t cheerfully whistle over a 15 minute long doom song or a 12 minute epic Eric Dolphy jazz song. Moreover their durations minimize the chances of him whistling to his own songs. The few times he has tried it he sticks out like a sore thumb and I think that even he realizes that whistling through other people’s songs is kinda an asshole thing to do. If whistling is to my misophonia, than the band Bell Witch is the lullaby to my ASMR.
If you aren’t familiar with Bell Witch thats understandable. They aren’t a very popular band and certainly not a band that will ever be played on the radio. Their songs are notoriously long. On their latest album, The Mirror Reaper their self titled, lone track, lasts one hour twenty-three minutes, and forty-one seconds. Halfway through the song there is a chunk of time called the “Words of the Dead” dedicated to their deceased drummer Adrian Guerra. He left the band due to medical reasons after their last and my favorite album, Four Phantoms and then later died. The song uses his cut and paste vocals that were left over from one of the recording sessions for Four Phantoms as a eulogy to him. Start listening at 51:30 minutes on Mirror Reaper in to hear them. They are beautifully sung. It is funny, but like another of my favorite bands Om, Bell Witch is also a two piece, drums and bass combination with no guitar. And it isn’t missed at all by me. The bass player, Dylan Desmond plays the high melodies throughout the song on his bass guitar. They also overdub a hammond organ throughout the song to supplement the heavy, dark, plaintive and brooding tone. The organ layer reinforces their dirge like feel and gives them a full sound sans guitar. The hammond organ has been falsely misaligned by me as a jam band instrument associated with bands like Phish and their ilk. But Bell Witch’s use of it is a stark contrast to the danceable funky happy jam grooves. Bell Witch is like listening to the way I felt the first time reading The Stranger by Camus. They have a certain nothingness attribute which is both simultaneously disturbing and inspiring. Listening to and watching the fan made video for Mirror Reaper using free domain black and white horror film footage strangely calms me. I get an extra sense of the sheer uselessness of all existence. Which to me, is really the entire point. Will you dance and smile on the precipice? Will you laugh? Will you cry? Will you embrace it? In the end it doesn’t really matter. So make your own sense of it. Bell Witch begs the question and leaves the answer up to us…
The drummer Jesse Shreibman sings all the low vocals and growls whilst Desmond sings the clean vocals. As a fellow drummer, I would find it difficult to play at the extremely slow tempo that he does. It is certainly easier when there is only one other person in the band to coordinate with but then he also sings at the same time. Bell Witch is definitely not for most people. Most people have attention spans the length of mice and can’t avoiding looking at their phone the moment there is a lull or “uncomfortable” silence in the conversation. To me, Bell Witch embodies that (un)”comfortable” silence albeit a very long, long one in the conversation. For me, thats where I find respite. Silence means there aren’t train horns, internal combustion engines roaring, jets flying, neighbors fighting, or my brother chomping his Lucky Charms over the breakfast table. My boyfriend said listening to Bell Witch is like going to the bathroom. You probably don’t want to spend too much time in there. It’s best just to get in, enjoy the release and then get the hell out. I think he mostly was referring to the low sounding vocals and growls. But on an existential level, the same could be said for mourning and grief. I only hope the next time I have to visit that paradoxical space it will be just as tortured, beautiful and epiphanic as listening to a Bell Witch song.