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August 22, 2008

Repairing what is broken.

I have a mild habit of saving broken objects. Mostly pottery, plates, glasses. The pieces usually end up in the garden with the larger ones used to provide shelter for herbs. Recently, I dropped and broke into several pieces a large ocarina that my family had given me as a birthday present some time ago. I am fond of the ocarina and was saddened by its demise. My partner suggested I glue it back together. In the moment, I gave-in to my disappointment and dismissed her suggestion saying that it wouldn’t be the same afterward. It sat on a bookcase for months. A few days ago I decided to glue it back together. No special reason, just an impulse. I glued and rubber-banded it and set it back on the shelf. This morning, while on the back deck, I heard a lovely low airy whistle coming from the house. My son was playing the repaired ocarina. It was indeed different than when it was whole. It had gained an appealing whistle-like buzz similar to ethnic flutes that employ rice paper as resonators. This is due perhaps to the small chinks and cracks that air escapes from now. The ocarina has commenced a second life, offering me another opportunity to enjoy it and benefit from its character.

I was mulling over this experience when it occurred to me that there was another broken relationship waiting to be repaired. Two stoneware vases that I had bought from a local potter several years ago were lying in pieces in my garden. The vases, bottles really, were quite resonant when blown across the opening and I had been using them in my electro-acoustic composition and during free-improv performances. I was fond of the deep mellow sounds they made. A year or so after I acquired them my cat knocked them off a shelf in my studio and they shattered on the cement floor. There didn’t seem to be much hope of repairing them and I let my disappointment get the better of my resolve. I placed them in the garden just outside the door to my studio. They have been there for a couple of years.

This spot of garden happens to be where I pee when I am in the studio late at night and don’t want to go all the way back into the house (or, just because I like to pee outside). Sometimes, while peeing, I direct the stream over the pottery shards. They glisten faintly in the night light. Once, when the moon was full, they glinted with beautiful stars of green and blue and red as my urine washed over them. I thought of how I had a relationship with the bottles though they were broken and no longer resonant. This silly ritual sustains my appreciation and, coupled with the fact that the broken pieces are the first things I see when entering the studio, serves to keep the relationship alive – at least in my subconscious.

After the ocarina event, the bottles called out of memory and demanded reconstitution. I dug into the spot of garden where the bottles had been resting and gathered all the pieces I could find. After washing them I was pleased to find that they were not decayed or stained in any way. The jagged edges were as if newly broken. The glaze still held its luster. I put them in the oven to dry. After piecing them together without glue to discover the best assembly sequence, I found one piece was missing. A quick inspection of the garden was fruitful and I prepared to assemble. The bottles came together fairly easily with the most difficult part being the reconstruction of the shattered mouth of one. Using Polyvinyl Acetate (Elmer’s) glue and rubber bands the bottles were soon standing upright looking for all intents and purposes whole. A few remaining cracks and chinks I filled with softened bees wax. Several drying hours later, I lift each in turn and blow across their mouths to produce the familiar mellow tones – not as resonant and full as before but warm and welcome just the same.

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