Auburn Lull: Cast from the Platform

[18 July 2004]

By Jon Goff

Somewhere lost in the long horizons of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula a man sits atop a rusted trailer and aims an antenna into the persistent grey of the evening sky. He holds an ancient transmitter close to his ear and listens for a declaration from the heavens. Isolated far above the lake, he finds comfort in the vigil. For those who traffic in vastness, there is a longing for contact from a world more vast than their own. Late into the early morning, he discovers something moving behind the static, something ghostly but musical: the pulsing of keyboards and the rap of simple percussion. Soon there is a voice, or maybe a more than a voice, a chorus of whispers. At times it is nothing more than rise and fall of otherworldly noise. Later on, there is cello.

Hundreds of miles away in the collegiate abodes of Lansing, a much larger antenna broadcasts signal into the loneliness. Believing her listeners to have long since retired for the evening, the late-night DJ checks the clock and leaves Auburn Lull’s Cast from the Platform to play in its entirety. Considering it an apt reminder of Michigan’s almost forgotten space-rock past, she abandons the station in favor of cigarettes and coffee from an all-night convenience store. She passes an open car window on an empty downtown street, but rather than stop to hear the sounds emanating from within she ignores the man hunched low on the seat.

After an angry drive into town, a young man has arrived only to find the spare key to his brother’s apartment removed from beneath the lobby planter. Too tired to concede failure, he returns to his car, cracks the window and attempts to sleep with the radio on. There is no mumbling announcer or odd jumble of artists or styles. In fact, the music seems to play of its own volition. As if this station at this hour could play nothing else but this organic swell of transcendent sound. The young man closes his eyes and drifts far away from broken relationships, locked doors and cigarettes in the ashtray.

Having just had it out with her lover, a young woman lies atop a picnic table and stares into the branches of her backyard’s lone tree. Awake late into the night, her downstairs neighbor tunes the radio to the low frequency of an hour’s distant station. The sound moves in an easy wave through the open window and follows the curves of the young woman’s supine body. She raises her arm slowly, and the waves rise with her, encircling the tree in a soft coat of blue light. She lowers her arm to her side feeling the ghost of the wave pulsating in her palm and fingers. She smiles to herself and watches as the phosphorescent swell passes from the tree and off into the expanse of night.

The late-night DJ pours cream into her coffee and unwraps her newly purchased pack of cigarettes. She lights up upon leaving the store and this time, recognizing the sound resonating from within the parked car, she stops to feel sorry for the young man sleeping within. She taps on the window. He turns his head slightly and opens his eyes. As he rolls down the window, the young woman offers him a cigarette. He opens the door and takes a seat next to her on the hood, leaving the radio on. The record that has spanned the last hour builds to a final crescendo of nostalgia in the late night smoke.

At long last, there is silence in the ancient transmitter. The rusted, old man lowers his antenna and sits still and satisfied in the glow of contact. The first rays of sun sadly reveal the roof of his trailer.

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