Charles Russell likes to give Selene, who lives in the adjacent apartment, what he calls sonic displacers. Even if friends are over, he commands silence in the room, then sits on his wooden barstool and listens through the drywall to Selene watching her shows. Then Charles Russell holds out his hand a foot from the wall, sits up straight, opens his palm and pounds a single shock to the apartment next door. Then he smiles, relieved, as if he has just undergone a pulse of electro-shock therapy and the bell jar has temporarily lifted. “Wait,” he says to anyone in the room. “Here it comes,” and seconds later, the phone rings.
Charles Russell picks up the phone, repeats her questions for comic effect. “Have we heard anything? A sound? Did we hear a thud? A thump? Hold on,” he said, then asks aloud if Max has heard a thump. “Max heard it, too. You want to talk with him about it?”
An hour and a half later, Charles Russell repeats the routine. It has become a kind of tic, like step counting, or measuring the angle of your food. And it is an act that Charles Russell feels entitled to. He moved to Gainesville with Max at the end of August. Max had moved to Gainesville to look for like-minded musicians, start a band, land a contract, and Charles Russell had simply wanted to get out of Palm Shades. At the end of high school, his parents had divorced, and he had been floating since, staying in house after house.
However, Charles Russell decided that he wanted to leave his mark in Gainesville. He designed his own set-up with a Vox bass amp, BOSS signal processor, a Mini-Moog synthesizer, an array of flange, octave, delay and distortion pedals and a sequencer. He generates his sounds using a banjo with modified tuning pegs, and he strings it up with round wound bass strings, using the a low E flat-wound string as a drone. Charles Russell considers this rig an act of genius. He considers it such an act of genius that he refuses to play with other musicians. He refuses to even play songs. While his roommate, Max, sits up in his room and plays guitar along with CDs, runs up and down scales or sits on the back porch writing songs, Charles Russell creates sound sculptures. Each composition sounds abstract and full of shapes and colors, but he stresses to anyone listening that the sounds are controlled, that he can repeat any composition note for note. He composes each piece, records them one by one on a TASCAM four track (using all four tracks with multiple mic placement), then rewinds the tape to the beginning, labels it, logs it and keeps the cassettes in an aluminum file up in his room, the only piece of furniture he owns other than a sleeping bag and a barstool. He titled one of his compositions, “Young Boy, Mauled by Black Bear.” He titles another, “Pig Breaks into Distillery, Gets Drunk on Moonshine and Discovers Gainesville Killer Sipping Brine in Baby Bottle.” In September, he worked on a twenty-seven minute magnum opus to which he granted the title, “Space Shuttle Makes Love to Wife of Ronald Reagan.” All of his compositions possess the strange quality of sounding exactly like the titles.
Charles Russell claims that what he has undertaken will grow like a seed outward, and within months, his mark will be made. His performances will be in demand. He believes with conviction that sonic images emanating from anywhere with enough distinction will cause curiosity to run amok. Charles Russell claims he will end up performing his pieces at the Covered Dish, at the Hardback Café, at frat parties and record store openings and will get picked up by touring bands and present his genius to ten thousand seat arenas.
Charles Russell claims many things. He also claims to have never had a cold. He claims that he would look beautiful as a female. He claims to know the secret to giving a woman a seventeen minute orgasm. He claims that his sound sculpture compositions have the potential to turn Gainesville, Florida into a sonic Mecca, that his music will have the same effect for classical music that garage bands did for rock. People will see. Best thing was to get in on the ground floor.
But then in early October, someone knocked at the front door. The woman introduced herself as Selene. Her hair had the wiry texture of too many perms, as if one day each strand would break off and flake away. Her skin bore the resemblance to a bird’s eye view of the moon’s surface, but lined with visible veins and dander. She introduced herself as their neighbor. She said she was a dental hygienist. She told them she left the house while it was still dark, and she took classes at the university twice a week, at night. She held a plate of hot dogs, stacked seven wide and three high. She had cooked too many. She had cooked so many, she said, that she didn’t know what to do with them all, and if they wanted, they could have them. Charles Russell, blocking her attempts to look into the apartment, had thanked her, and he and Max did not consider until they had finished eating all of the hot dogs that perhaps she had not offered them all of the hot dogs. They had eaten twenty between them. That’s two packs. Perhaps she had wanted to join them. Perhaps she had wanted to eat with them.
After that afternoon, the phone began to ring. Selene reminded them of her hours and her need for sleep and study. Had they been making the sounds? They had? Could they stop? By November, she had stopped asking and had begun telling them to stop. By December she had begun threatening to call the police.
Charles Russell calculated the time that Selene had robbed of him and decided that the time could not be quantified, because it was not necessarily the amount of time that he had missed composing his sound sculptures, but the quality of time and the instances of discovery, both constructed and serendipitous sagacity. What she had stolen from him was joy. She had taken his joy and replaced it with cortisone and high blood pressure. Charles Russell decided he would compact all of his playing time into neatly compacted sonic displacers. “Watch this,” he had said to Max. He sat up on the stool, held out his open palm and leveled it against the wall. Charles Russell even recorded some of them to maximize the effect, setting two mics up for a stereo mix, then taping two contact mics to the drywall itself for texture and depth. He recorded one, mastered it with just enough reverb to bring the vibrations back to life, then spaced each attack seven minutes, eight minutes and two minute apart to ensure realistic simulation. He writes the title of the composition with a Sharpie on the cassette tape label: “Sonic Displacer for Undersexed Woman with Hot Dogs and Dander.”