So, I don't know, Jakob says. I spent the summer writing this paper, basically on the idea that information is now embedded into architecture.
Mm hm, says Thomas. They are sitting at a cafe table that wobbles perceptibly every time either of them lifts their mug or puts their elbows. Thomas works as a waiter at a hotel restaurant, so he is acutely conscious of the wobble: the management there requires the waitstaff to check continuously for unbalanced tables. If he was at work he would grab a wad of Silly Putty from the supply closet and mold a temporary foot from it: just another Stupid Waiter Trick from his growing repertoire.
I'm talking about things like those buildings in New York where the day's headlines scroll across lit screens. Or the banks of monitors at an off-track betting parlor. Also structures which are primarily designed to display information: movie theaters, for instance.
OK, Thomas says. Yes. He takes another sip of coffee. He feels groggy; he was up late last night arguing with Lydia. They couldn't resolve the issue, and in the end she had called a cab and gone home.
Well, anyway, Jakob says, I came across this building called the Tower of Winds, in Japan, designed by an architect named Toyo Ito?
Ah yes, says Thomas. (He remembers the e-mail that Jakob had sent him.)
And that led me to your website, Jakob says. Because you reviewed this- what was it? -this album that was inspired by the building?
Yeah, Thomas says. It's part of this series, the Architettura series, from this label, Caipirinha. It's musicians, mostly electronic, doing music that, uh, I guess you would say, tries to evoke the same sorts of feelings evoked by the building?
Well, Jakob says, I found this really interesting because Ito himself has said that the Tower is like environmental music, so you've got- what? -a man designing a building that he thinks is like music, and then musicians taking that building and turning it back into music? That's pretty weird!
Yes, Thomas says. I suppose so.
But my problem is that I don't really get what 'environmental music' is. I mean, I don't really know what that means. And I remembered the sound map thing that Freya had talked about, something you were working on? And I thought that, well, we might have something to say to each other.
Jakob is a little bit nervous. He had pushed for this get-together: he started teaching again this week, the summer vacation over already, and he knew that once he got locked into the schedule of the semester, he would find it difficult to make arrangements to get together with someone outside the logic of habit. It's surprisingly difficult for Jakob to fit someone new into the busy pattern of his life. But he knew he wanted to get together with Thomas. He had already tapped Freya with his questions about environmental music: she'd responded Oh, like ambient? He wasn't sure, although that wordambienthad been one he'd been turning over in his mind. At the Contemporary City conference at Michigan State, where he had presented a rough-edged version of his paper on information architecture, someone had generously given him a copy of a book entitled Ambient Television, on the adoption of television into American public space.
The conference: three days, each one crammed with interesting papers and presentations, a million different provocative tidbits twinkling everywhere in the air, like glitter. Then the evenings: wandering off campus to some bar or another with the other younger academics, drinking too many beers and gossiping about the minor celebrities in the field. He had a good time, got some small praise on his paper, and left with his resolve reinforced, a small notebook filled with notes for further exploration, and the e-mail addresses of a few useful contacts. So he kept after Freya to tell him about environmental music or ambient or whatever and she said You really need to call that guy Thomas, he can talk about it a lot better than I can. And he didn't want to lose the trail, so when she gave him Thomas' number, he called. And he feels a bit like he's forced this meeting, like maybe Thomas said 'yes' just because he lacked a tactful way to say 'no thanks,' and so Jakob is trying extra-special hard to come across as a likable, genial guy.
Thomas' reactions are hard to read.
Thomas is only listening with half an ear to what Jakob is saying. He chides himself for not paying closer attention, but he is thinking instead about Lydia, about where he went wrong last night. She had wanted to be comforted; he had misunderstood, thinking she wanted to be left alone. They eventually got to the root of that misunderstanding, but by then the conversation had begun to broaden its scope: had become more about Thomas' general coldness and distance. He found himself remembering the conversations he had years ago with Rachel, remembers Rachel being angry at him in this precise way, remembers having these exact fantasies of withdraw, of dissolution, of suddenly being teleported to the other side of the earth. He found himself wishing that he was spending time instead with Janine, found himself missing her gentle way of teasing him back into the present.
He is thinking of what he saw last night: Lydia standing there, in the center of his apartment, her face rigid and blank, but her eyes full of tears. She said this: for fuck's sake, Thomas, you're such a smart guy you know all this shit about religions and music from halfway around the world but you still don't understand anything about people.
What could he say? She was right; he was certain that she was right. Her anger was not like the mild annoyance he faces sometimes from the people he waits on at the hotel; there was no way he could make it better by just bringing a new set of silverware or giving out a few complimentary drink tickets. There was no way he could make it better at all. I'm sorry, he had said, but there was nothing he could do. She dialed up a cab on her cell phone, and they did not speak much while they waited for it to arrive. When the cell rang again, ten minutes or so later, she said Yeah into it and then stared at Thomas for ten seconds or so, before gulping for air and turning and walking out the door.
And now he is here with this guy, who wants to talk about the tradition of environmental music and how it pertains to a specific building in Yokohama. A building halfway around the world. I thought that we might have something to say to each other.
Yes, Thomas says. Yes, I think we do.
Further Reading ::
Information Prose : A Manifesto In 47 Points ::
A manifesto, outlining some of the aesthetic goals behind Imaginary Year, can now be read here.