Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Symphonie vegetal

The garden's in and the first shoots appear. And now begins the battle against the birds, the slugs, and the rabbits. It's a losing battle. I know it's lost before I begin. But I don't plant my seeds to feed myself, any more than I write these posts to make a living. I plant my seeds to watch the miracle of growth. Plant a radish, get a radish, never any doubt. Those tiny packages of DNA in the Burpee envelopes. Soil, sunshine, water and -- voila! -- twisty strings of As, Ts, Gs, and Cs sing their vegetable songs. Taking atoms from earth and air and humming them together into delicious melodies. Peas. Beans. Cukes. Onions.

I have a dear friend here, Rachel Holstead, whom I have know since she was born, and who is now a brilliant young composer whose works are performed in the finest concert halls of Ireland. She goes out into the world with microphone and recorder and collects sounds -- the wind in the trees, the waves on the shore, the creaking of an oar in an oarlock -- and stitches them together with instruments and voices into marvelous music. I've seen her scores. They are not unlike transcriptions of DNA. They are the instructions for building a symphony out of atoms of sound.

There is a difference. Rachel's work is the conscious creation of an artist. The DNA of the sugar-snap pea is the result of millions of years of trial and error. It would be as if Rachel started with a million random notes, had the composition performed hundreds of millions of times, making essentially random modifications to the score each time and observing the response of the audience. The changes that evoke favor are incorporated into the score. The changes that put the audience to sleep are discarded. Slowly, ever so slowly, the piece approaches a thunderous ovation.

I stand by my garden watching a performance four billion years in the making. I roar my approval.