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No matter how vibrant the so-called modern world is and how much technological development exists, it is still be over-shadowed by the impoverished and neglected world within it

Traveling on the subway/metro, musical sounds, both amateurish and professional, are ordinarily in hallways of the underground station. The interstice of sound occupying this space and time, though hard to avoid, can be ignored. Especially for the frequent traveler the sound is probably versed in, normalized as a humdrum routine. Almost like the rustle movement of life.

Recently, in San Francisco, I’ve taken notice of a slight change in genre and caliber of artistes that make the sounds in the underground metro hallways. There seem to be more of the young contemporary classical musicians that give impressions of newly graduate of some music academy.

On this particular day, as I am making my way from one end of Powell station (San Francisco) to the other, the rich, almost cathartic sound of a violin captures my ear, properly. The sound becomes the rapture causality, and a reason of inquiry of whether the world is getting nearer to where the sound is?

As I reach the artiste, the sight becomes a somber beauty. The most exalted sound glimmering at the heart is performed effortlessly yet passionately. But a look beyond this sound and behind the musician, the beautiful sound and ardor is shaped and shapes the scenario of the ‘other’ in the back of him. The entire scene takes the metaphor of the disparity of sound in the so-called ‘first world’. An illustration of the elusive but yet pronounced boundary between sound and silence.

The performance locale, I’m assuming picked randomly, occupies a total exposure of the ‘other’. A few steps directly behind the artiste a homeless man is laid on the floor, completely knocked out. Precisely behind the homeless, as a backdrop, on the wall is a billboard captioned ‘The Sound of First Class’. This tagline, to me, is the irony and backdrop of the state and dilemma of the so-called first world. As if it is deliberately staged and crafted to speak to sound, exposure, and visibility.

While the artiste is performing to be heard and made visible, and as a result earns money from it, same time the homeless’ condition is also a sound that emerges louder and pervades the space with dead silence. A beautiful harmonic sound against a non-sound, questioning the ‘first class’ (first world) brand while it exposes its deficiencies.

In such scenarios, both occupy the space to be made visible and earn money. While avoiding is possible (in both cases), it becomes impossible to escape neither hearing nor the gaze of sound. Perhaps, the difference is on volume or our state of consciousness.

Particularly in this case, it seems as if the artiste has received more money for his effort, more so than the homeless who is curled up on the floor, with pitiful pennies that don’t add up to a dollar scattered on his frail cardboard mat. I can’t help but ponder if the artiste is receiving more money due to the offering of sound that elevates our state of mind or, is it due to the high regard given to the artistry of sound; and in the case of the homeless does the begging make us feel so wretched inside that we prefer to remain faraway from its condition and pretend as if it does not exist. Whatever the reason is it becomes a question of our humanity and an inquiry of the so-called ‘first world’ statehood, and how at the end, we will be judged not just by how much we support the Arts and the likes, but also by our compassion towards the condition of the poor and how we end up treating them.

Consequently, no matter how vibrant the so-called modern world (first-world) is and how much technological development exists, it will be over-shadowed by the impoverished and neglected world within it. Here, the aesthetic sound that becomes visible and appealing to the emotion is shaped, for me, by the scenario of the invisible yet highly visible ‘other’, exposing the dilemma of visibility, the condition of the other, and the disparity of sound in the ‘First Class’.


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