The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 16-JAN 17

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DEC 16-JAN 17 Issue

a misplaced bestiary
Part 4: Sound Spiders (Sondifera terrastis)

Of any of the order Araneida of arachnids, none have the ability to create sounds which either frighten their enemies or express their own, genetically separate personalities, none, except these spiders inhabiting the dry wastes of the Sonoran Desert, sondifera terrastis, or sound spiders, as they are known to the many connoisseurs of vibrations. These spiders produce sound through an amplification of light and electrical impulses, as well as, of course, through the mechanical vibration of the air around them.  They create sounds indistinguishable from noise, on the one hand, and, at the other extreme, produce the most evanescent interlacings of both musical and mathematical patterns, which go into the making of their very delicate and extremely graceful webs, both webs of light and webs of electromagnetically executed patterns.

Sondifera terrastis inhabits an area of about thirty square miles in extent in the barren reaches of the Great Sonoran Desert.  There, the stars pass each night in vast and distant caravans above them, and below them the animals empty their burrows to emerge into the night air to hunt for (and devour) the subjects (and objects) of their survival.  The coyote, fox, armadillo and kangaroo rat are alive in their portable night journeys while the stars in their vast numbers of configurations fall slowly, silently toward the east, as they have done for overwhelming ages.

Yet, as  it has always been, these creatures continue to listen to and for each other, continue to place themselves in a moving dance of visual and aural patterning, spaced out points of referential balance, one might say.  There, in that seemingly stiff yet dry and continually shifting landscape, they have been listening for millions of years to the sounds which have shaped them.  And there they float in it, light as dust, in a sea of events, yet trapped by what they cannot hear.  They are part of an immense orchestration, even to the padded flight of the great horned owl, which floats, suspended, moon-lit, in the ear of its fated participants. They all hear their own parts in the great and intricate symphonic sound web of their wider, anciently interconnected existences; and they reach out, haunting, hunting, and searching, for their survival, to listen in that patterned distance to each for each and to each other, reach out into something beyond a critical sense of form or feeling which we know, in our own particulars, as music.  They extend themselves to embrace the web of their total, mutual interaction, like superb musicians who have been practicing their instruments for thousands of millennia, passing their knowledge on and on to the infant squeals of the young, and perfecting the sounds of more than their brief existence, gradually, imperceptibly improving, extending, amplifying the strategies of vibrations. And as we know, through hours, days and nights, indeed years of listening, the sounds have become in that extended atmosphere, a purer, more subtle one and reach out further to the soundless stars and the distant, vague forms of hills, which have become in their ears, imminently imploding, collapsed vibrations, like a lung that has not yet been inflated and yet remains within itself, needing to be filled.

Yet all these sounds exist, however perfectly, on the borderless path ways of the mind.  They fall into the patterns of vibrations in the air that breathes them, as into the vibrations which are the ghosts that inhabit all things, in continually wrapping and unwrapping light or in the electronic shaking of the atoms of which they are so fundamentally composed.  Yet, they are limited, as the hearing of animals is likewise limited.

This is not true, however, of the sound spiders (sondifera terrastis). For these delicate spiders contain receptors of another order, amplifiers of yet other dimensions beyond our own senses, which project their cries, their intensified, trembling dance of circumstance, project them into the vast regions of stars, as well as into the more local valleys and rounded hills of that desert, the mapping, by sound, of all the extensions and depressions everywhere, mental, in fact, a more than mental, sonar of sonars. They project their sound, in short, through what is soundless.

Sound spiders in their appearance are, in color, rock-gray and easily mistaken for the desert floor on which they move. They drill minute holes in the earth, but these are not their real, permanent homes, only resting places for their dreaming. They live in the large ocotillo, which dot at intervals this immense landscape, or should we say “soundscape”.  While underneath their bodies the earth vibrates in tremors of subtle anticipation, over them, in the vaster areas and arenas of their world, other vibrations begin at times to "infect" the air, sometimes only in particular unlocalized and ambiguity-laden spots, which extend themselves in strings of sound (sonic string theory, some have ventured) and sometimes in long, concentric ripples which stretch themselves outward further and further from the also ambiguous pond of their inner ear.

In contrast to their gray, earth-like, and ordinary appearance from above, the sound spiders’ undersides are a deeply molten blue, clear as a dark, yet seemingly transparent, piece of jade. And in these blue, depthless underbellies, smoother than polished jadeite, their personal parasites, tiny protozoa in the shape of eight-pointed stars, “wrinkle” themselves as they move across the dark and glistening bottoms of the sound spiders, attuned to the vibrations in the electromagnetic spectrum, to the radiation which constantly falls on them and is constantly changing, higher, more powerful penetrating rays, gamma, beta, and cosmic rays, which enter them day and night and "tune them up" to other, higher, more ancient and extended vibrations, for these parasites exist as a fine-tuning mechanism for the larger, more extended projections of harmonies.

Not only the belly of these almost common creatures or the parasites which live there contribute to the intake and expression of sounds, but also other parts provide frequencies, tempos, or volume levels. For the sound spiders are a kind of vibratory barometer of vibration throughout our galaxy and sometimes a kind of basal barometer for the galaxy itself (like a thermometer stuck into the very mouth of its spiral shaping). Left to themselves, they are nothing, merely a medium of transmission, though they may seem to be expressing their individual natures. How many of us could say the same of everything else in our living universe, for perhaps we and all around us are merely a medium of transmission, a way of passing on the always interpreted information?  What seems to be self-expression, on closer examination, becomes the expression of what the thing is not, its reversed underside, rather than what it is in its encased potentialities. And it is this larger web of interaction that holds us, a web to which all things are tied and from which it is impossible to escape.

Thus, on the eyes one finds recorded, as on a digital tape, the sound history of the species. And on the legs the sounds of all the journeys which it has taken.  Inside the viscera there are organs that must be listened to on another kind of instrument, as we listen to the electrical potential of the heart or to the inner electrical vibrations of a television, an oscilloscope, a broad band cosmic ray absorption unit, listen in all its imperfect correspondence before translation.  The genetically bounded sounds of bats are well placed beyond us, but these vibrations, like the penetrations of illusive neutrinos, need something like the visual wavelengths of an electron microscope.

And inside itself, the filaments are woven, filaments created so far beyond, that inside each atomic packet lies a condensed aural library of information of a whole people, perhaps of a whole planetary system.  These enter it and are transformed, through some mysterious "black box", perhaps written in a logic of knitted anti-particles, knitted thus into "expression", the sound and electronic waves which the spider weaves out of itself and into the spiny ocotillo which it inhabits.  The webs "speak". They shape themselves into the outer ear of the sound spiders.  Like miniature radio telescopes, they absorb the pulse of light, they shape it for greater tuning, they capture the gossip of the galaxy and feed it into the desert they also inhabit, to the animals among whom they live, and they know everything, for they have absorbed everything. Those who must find this out, who are drawn to this region, this "sound sink", must study sondifera terrastis only to learn how the larger nets of communication hold together.

And the message they come to receive as a gift within them is neither peace nor war, neither the message of the faithful nor that of the skeptic, neither the blur of sound and sight nor the exact sound or image, neither the passage of time nor the realization of the immediate, neither the shout nor the whisper, the credo of future perfection nor the doom of future dissolution, the clothing of noise nor that of silence, the wish which makes and unmakes itself nor the wish which undoes all the knotted and varied others, neither the clam nor the star, closing or unfolding, neither the pain of opening nor the stability of the sessile indwelling mind, neither the indifferent, plausible life nor the committed kinetic vision—nothing resembling anything we know, yet including everything we know.

Poured into its ear are the sounds of the softening owl and at the same time the opening of galaxies, the purring of furry mice in their burrows and the tick of eggs dropped in the nest of the iguana, the sound of the line of the snake over the rough breccia of the desert floor and also the gradual rising of mountains, the pouring of water into water from the depths of the continent and the rising of all things empty of water, empty of light, empty even of sound but not of vibration.  For in all the chaos of growth and decay, in all the collapsed lungs of time and the stretching of shadows into the night, there exist among them clues, penetrations, orders on orders of orders, a dance of organization inside the very heart of chaos; and this the sound spiders listen for, in the praying of ants and the ritual dismemberment of the galaxy.  While the ocotillo, which hold their fragile webs of light and vibration, wave on in a succession of breezes extending far beyond themselves, the oldest things in the universe powering it into sound. And the sound going out to where it came from, saying, "Listen, for this is what you have made us, in the image of everything."

The Brooklyn Rail is proudly featuring Lost and Found Animals as a web exclusive serial through the Fall and well into 2017.


Sid Gershgoren

Sid Gershgoren has published six books of poetry and prose: The books of poetry: Negative Space, Mutual Breath (a book of 65  villanelles), Symphony (a medium long poem in a "symphonic" form), Through the Sky in the Lake (a book of "lines"), The Wandering Heron (a book of haiku), and two prose works, Past Rentals (a fictional "catalog" of a company that rent its "customers" space, place, and situation in a particular area of the past within a particular time, place, and situation), and The Extended Words (an imaginary dictionary). Sid Gershgoren has published widely in various magazines and anthologies. 


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 16-JAN 17

All Issues