Gretchen Henderson


Derived formally from Aristotle's Minor Work of the same title (De Mirabilibus Auscultationibus), my variation of "On Marvellous Things Heard" explores a range of literary appropriations of music, in terms of translation and metamorphosis. Part investigation, part inventory, and part invention (in the musical sense: a composition in simple counterpoint), this essay indirectly assays the narrating subject as she directly assays the subjects of literature, of music, and of silence.

Acoustic spaces resonate to reach each listener's ears differently, dependent on physics, architecture, and physiology. I am particularly interested in the innuendos of voice, in the volitional space between voice and body, which helps to generate genre. In singing, there is a technique of visualizing pitches: to imagine the purest sound, to engage physiology before a song is sung. Muscles constrict and relax; the abdomen expands, forcing air to circulate and wedge open the throat. Then, the mouth. Gabriel Garcia Lorca believed that, through duende, the voice surpasses the throat and starts at the soles of the feet. Wherever a singer's sound originates, her mouth is part of inlaid resonating cavities: within head (throat and nasal passages) within body (supported by lungs and diaphragm) within architecture (auditorium or inhabited space). She is not apart from, but a part of. She is culpable and capable, even capricious, if programming invites improvisation within, and outside of, the song.

By trying to inhabit the essay's interstitial spaces 'literal, aural, and otherwise' I follow Umberto Eco's concept of the 'open work,' as well as John Cage's motivation for musical composition: not self-expression, but self-alteration. The genre (more as verb: to assay, to test) supports this metamorphic quest, as the essay undergoes a kind of deformation and reformation. Moving beyond critical boundaries, the elusive voice here becomes permissive behind its theoretical veil, like the shape-shifting boundary between speech and song. That threshold invites me, and hopefully readers, to listen more closely to silences, to contemplate and respond in whatever form (even in white space: refuting, concurring, doodling, dreaming) about our world's natures and nuances, volitions and vulnerabilities: its marvels.


* "Prelude" is the introductory essay from On Marvellous Things Heard Gretchen E. Henderson (Green Lantern Press, 2011)