On the way back from the gym one evening recently I got very annoyed by a passing car full of youngsters listening to techno music at highest volume. The two step beat seemed incessant and there was no tune, no lyrics. Pure noise pollution as it seemed. Yet, suddenly I realised that there was a most surprising connection between those teenagers and my mother, a woman of great refinement, sensitivity and warmth, who sadly died many years ago.
My mother had an ability I never experienced with anyone else to squeeze a piece of fabric between the thumb and the middle finger and then press it down with the index finger. As a result, the fabric made a clicking noise when it was released. With repetition a continuous beat ensued similar to that of the techno music, albeit it civilised and non-aggressive. This sound was a frequent accompaniment of my mother – most pronounced when she was worried. A clever friend once told her that he thought that she made this sound because it emulated the beat of the mother’s heart as the embryo hears it in the womb. It was the sound of safety. Despite the aggression of the techno music perhaps the teenagers were also ultimately seeking safety in the music without knowing it.
I thought that I had not inherited this instrument of comfort – I certainly cannot move the fabric as my mother could. Yet, in another form it is with me as well. One of my favourite pieces of music is Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No 5. An advanced construction, for sure, but when you hear it you will immediately recognise its pulse. Its insistent rhythm enthralls and embraces you, as does its wildest longing, the nature of every heartbeat.