These seconds of anticipation, when the lights dimmed and the murmuring from the auditorium faded, were the ones he savoured. As their eyes turned to the stage, he truly believed anything was possible.
He stepped into the darkness, knowing that those close enough would spot his impression in the blackness, and would start to clap. Sometimes, there was whooping and hollering, but not here. This audience would be more reserved, and he relished the challenge of breaking through to them.
He lifted the instrument to his chin, and cast his gaze over the pedals and laptop, as he did at the start of every performance. The cursor was set. He reached over and clicked. A light blinked in time, and he sounded the rhythm internally. He brought the bow up, tapping it three times against the lacquered body of the instrument—once for himself, once for the audience, and once for the connection between them. He rested the bow against the strings, and let his fingers find the first notes. And then he eased the bow forwards.
Lights enveloped him as the sound swelled, and the applause both rose and fell simultaneously. He pulled, then pushed, tapping the pedals with his feet, keeping the sound an ever-present wash, sweeping and swirling around the audience. Enveloping them. Trapping them. Ready for him to work his magic. For the music to touch them.
And he played.
His fingers found a melody, and he coaxed it from the strings. The vibrations pulsed into the cable, translated into a sea of binary pulses. He tapped the pedals, splitting and morphing the data, playing the controls as much as the instrument itself, shaping the sound. He played with air pressure, and it touched everyone in the room.
The melody was slow and mournful, with a hint of melancholy. The kind of thing this audience would expect, maybe even believe they had come here to experience. And so, he fed into their perceptions, casting his spell in the deep, pulsing rhythm that was felt rather than heard. They moved with him, and he brought them down into a dark happiness.
The melody became a refrain as he tapped, trapping the loop. On each iteration, the signal fed through different algorithms, and the rhythm strengthened with the sweep and cut of the filters.
He raised his eyes, finding a few faces at the edge of the light. He nodded to a few, making connections, seeking touchstones. He would play to the whole audience, but these touchstones were the ones he would play for.
The young girl with the spiked hair had a wild bitterness about her, anger at the world that hid a soft heart yearning for love. He could use that so well. And the gentleman in the suit, mouth twitching as he analysed the music—he would be the target for a release, for the soul to burst through the ordered mind, for the realisation that patterns and numbers are divine beauty. Then there was the woman a few rows back, secretly yearning for her lost youth, when she would give herself over to the music and the night, before the pressures of family replaced that innocent joy with something different.
These and others, he worked on, making his music for them. He touched them, and his touch fractalled out, their own emotions and reactions feeding into the magic he wove.
The young girl broke into a smile, wild and exciting and intoxicating, and he teased her with his notes, holding off until she could wait no more before driving them forward. The man removed his jacket and loosened his collar, and his limbs stuttered in syncopation. The woman forgot her family and, for this one night, she was once more the pretty, carefree thing that existed inside, and she would remember this for days to come.
The frame for music was time, but now it stretched, losing sequential meaning in the intimacy of each moment. He pushed his music against all constraints. It became physical, at one with the lights and the audience and even the room itself, a glorious multi-hued symphony that swept into a feedback loop, the applause feeding the music feeding the applause, a spiral rising to the heavens.
And then it was done. The crescendo burst, glittering the audience with vibrations that settled deep within. The lights dimmed, and he walked off-stage, the audiences appreciation echoing as staccato pulses.
His shirt clung to his back. His manager said something, her usual praise. Someone else complimented him. He thanked them with a smile, and sighed to indicate his need to rest after such a draining performance. Someone’s hand slapped his shoulder, and he returned their smile despite the jarring pain.
The backstage room was cold, and when he shut the door the thump of the DJ’s music sounded like a heartbeat.
He placed the instrument in its case. He’d wipe it later. First he sat, and he breathed. He savoured each inhalation, as if it were something he’d never before experienced.
He closed his eyes and tilted his head back.
The audience had cried, inside and out, and at one time this would have been his reward. Once, he would have cried too, but he had no more tears left.
He had a gift. He knew that. His gift was his music, but it was only a gift for others. The magic no longer touched him. Instead, his music was his burden.
He glanced down at his instrument, cursing the inanimate object. He wished it destroyed.
But that would never happen. The strings held him up, and without his music, he was nothing. It played him, just as he played the audience.
He yearned for the day the rhythm would cease. He yearned for the day he would be free.
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Running The Gauntlet