An Excursion to Platport

Les Sklaroff

Young Brix presents a more-than-musical offering.

The house was unnaturally quiet, thought Aoma Mylhirm, not for the first time, with that familiar unbidden maternal pang, as she spread cheesefruit paste on a humal leaf, letting it rest on the plate for a minute to allow the enzymes to interact.

It was late afternoon. Relvin, a senior engineer at the water-purification plant, was of course still at work, and she must soon get back to her designing, preferring to work in daylight. She had been making pieces on commission for Smigs of Yarp Street ever since they had accepted that first experimental gold bracelet with the double snake motif. It had been on display for only two days before being bought (so they told her) by a customer who had enigmatically described it as "most appropriate". The tumbling and polishing machinery which provided a kind of white noise background to her lapidary work was currently switched off, contributing to her unease at the silence, and although she had easy access to archives of musical recordings, there was nothing there she could think of that would fill this specific auditory void.

She waved a finger at the wall calendar. A trail of consecutive squares glowed, the last five a brighter red, reminding her that Brix would not be back from Platport until the middle of the following week. Aoma and her husband had tried to find a tutor for him in Snoak, but exponents of his chosen instrument, let alone instructors, were very elusive. Eventually one of Brix's more enlightened teachers had contacted the music department at Sparagulan College, persuaded by the boy's obvious enthusiasm for the instrument he had been fortunate enough to inherit. They had unhesitatingly recommended Dr Zorioni in Platport.

Lovingly designed by K Morrington Follard, the Multingale was an extraordinary instrument, having the capability, under skilled hands, to create and blend into a musical form virtually any imaginable sounds. It was an instrument that encouraged experiment and improvisation. Fewer than a hundred working originals were known to exist. None of Zorioni's pupils had come close to achieving his own degree of mastery, although he had helped some very competent performers. He had been intrigued to learn that the young hopeful he had agreed to see would actually be bringing his own instrument, which had apparently lain neglected in an attic for many years before being recently restored.

Half a century earlier Erigio Zorioni had captivated audiences in concert halls and amphitheatres throughout the world. He no longer gave public performances, but was devoted enough to his art to want to pass on his expertise to promising newcomers. If he judged a prospective pupil to have sufficient potential he would make no charge for his tuition, even offering accommodation in his spacious house for the initial intensive ten days.

The Mylhirms had duly travelled from Snoak City, and arrived by appointment in Platport with their eleven-year old son, Brix, and his expertly restored Multingale. Safrana, the cheerful middle-aged woman whom they presumed to be a housekeeper, led them into a large, comfortable study, whose tall arched windows looked out onto a frothy canopy of cherry trees. The lawn was strewn with blown petals, reminiscent of a wedding scene whose participants had just departed. The view was partly blocked by a high-backed chair, which slowly swivelled round to face them, revealing a wispy-haired octogenarian. He nodded to the woman, who withdrew, and rose to his feet to greet his visitors.

"Ah, Mylhirms. So pleased." He indicated a capacious sofa. "Sit." They sat, the boy between his parents, cradling on his lap a sturdy custom-made leather carrying-case.

"And you are Brix?"

"Yes, sir."

"So this thing you hide so protectively in the bag…?"

"It's my Multingale, sir. My dad made the case specially, after we got the Multingale back from the repair shop." Relvin Mylhirm smiled modestly.

"And how much do you like this instrument?"

The unexpected question left Brix momentarily wordless. The fingers of his right hand involuntarily stroked the case as if it were a treasured pet. He beamed. "It's great! I just love it! It can do anything! Well, nearly anything. I mean, I know I've not had it for very long, but…"

Dr Zorioni raised a hand, a distinct twinkle in his bird-bright eyes. "Soon we shall hear what you can make it do. Perhaps you would be kind enough to release it from its most excellent bag," (he nodded approvingly at Relvin) "While I speak for a moment with your parents." He beckoned to Aoma and Relvin, and led them through a side door into the garden.

"Mylhirms, please to wander with freedom among my cherries for little while. I must assess how touch-familiar with his Multingale is your boy. Already I see he has the enthusiasm, which is good sign, very good, but not enough. Salfana will bring sandwiches and to drink. There is seat and bird-bath. Also sundial." With this afterthought he waved towards the clearing beyond the nearest trees, and left them to explore.

Brix took a sip from the glass of water Salfana had brought him. "Before play, water," said Dr Zorioni. "Afterwards, if satisfactory playing, something perhaps better. So, Brix, you are eager musician. Now we will hear." Zorioni retrieved from a corner a wheeled stand with cushioned clamps and an automatic foot-switch. "Please to rest here your fine instrument, and bring that stool with red and gold seat. He waggled a finger at a side lever. "You make to adjust for height."

The clamps locked gently. It was a perfect fit! "I didn't know about these, sir," Brix said admiringly. "At home it usually just sits on a table."

"A fine Follard Multingale is like emperor, like great monarch," said Zorioni. "Deserves only best throne for display and proper audience. Now sit on stool. Before you switch on with foot, please to show me how you place hands for starting play."

Obediently, Brix let his forearms rest on the wrist-pads, fingers poised to glide or dart over the arc of keys, or lightly press one of the many as yet unlit sensors.

"So far, good. Soon maybe I ask you to pick out some particular sounds, and make mix for feelings to show. Later we try different pitch, rhythm, some simple blending chords, so on. Ready for switch to play first whatever you like best, yes?" Zorioni returned to his chair, closed his eyes and clasped his hands under his chin. A little nervously, Brix nodded, flexed his fingers, took a deep breath and tapped the foot-switch.

In the cherry grove his parents looked up from their impromptu picnic and smiled at each other as they recognized Brix's now familiar touch. The piece began softly: distant bells, a pattering of falling snow, the liquid trickle of a stream. This was gradually intermingled with a lilting melody, hesitant at first, on a single string - a 'cello, perhaps, or a viola, continuing and strengthening the flowing theme (was that a hint of Vlotana?) then merging with a playful burst of syncopation on brushes and wood-blocks, before adding accordion and fiddle to transform into an audibly fiery dance, complete with crackling twigs and the excited barking of a dog. It concluded with a rumbustious whoosh, like a sudden gust of wind, accompanied by deliberately melodramatic sounds of crashing and tinkling, followed by the unmistakable giggling of children. Brix switched off, and the faint whirr of the idling instrument died into silence.

Erigio Zorioni remained sitting with closed eyes and clasped hands. Brix blinked, and stared at him anxiously, fearing that the old man might have lapsed into a coma. He'd heard tales about people's brains being affected by certain frequencies, but he knew better than to use the Multingale's subsonics or ultrasonics in the confinement of a room, even one of this imposing size. He cleared his throat. To his great relief, Zorioni's eyed opened. They glistened with tears.

"Excuse, Master Brix. That was foolish ending," he said, shaking his head reprovingly. Brix was crestfallen. He'd only played what felt right, as he always did. "But," cried Zorioni, coming over to grasp both of Brix's hands, "was also excellent surprise! And not I hope to make head big as grand balloon, but you have truly beautiful touch and good concentration."

"Salfana!" he called, in a startlingly strong voice for a man of his advanced years, "Please to rescue the parent Mylhirms, then take this boy to kitchen for special treat he will choose."

By the time Brix was escorted back from the delights of Salfana's kitchen (his appetite betrayed accidentally on his chin by a few cake crumbs and the merest smear of cream) Dr Zorioni had come to a formal agreement with the Mylhirms. "The boy is raw, full of ideas, but also little too…" He searched for the precise word. "Too precipitate, you understand? He will learn to be patient, more subtle as he grows." He dropped his voice to a confidential whisper. "But I tell you, for beginner he has already wonderful talent." He bowed. "Is my honour to accept him as pupil. Salfana here will see to all non-musical needs at my expense." He dismissed their protests. "She will give you tour of house. After ten days we will consider what future for Brix and his music. Was most suitable gift, I think, this fine instrument. Dear Mylhirms, is belief of Erigio Zorioni for you to be proud parents of next Multingale virtuoso!"

Aoma applied a dab of flux with a sharpened matchstick to her nest of silver wire loops, used tweezers to add a tiny paillon, and neatly soldered the joint before carefully dipping the piece into a weak acid bath and then running it under the cold tap. It was to be part of an amber and turquoise pendant, for which the honey-coloured cabochon was already prepared. The sky had begun to cloud over. That would do for today, she decided, turning off the tap and walking over to the window, which looked east towards Garrible Park. During term time the street would have been clamorous at this hour with the excited babble of children returning from school. Today it was almost deserted. She listened hard. There was a faint hum of distant traffic, the intermittent buzz of a hedge-trimmer from Welfage Road, a muffled but querulous altercation between the young siblings next door. Somewhere nearby a bird was cheeping persistently. Well, it wasn't up to Brix's standard, Aoma thought immodestly, but in his absence she supposed it was the next best thing.

© L. J. Sklaroff 2014 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 00:57 Sat 22 Mar 2014
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