August 24

International Strange Music Day


When Ashley found herself in unusual situations, her younger brother used to mark the occasion with his simulation of the repeated four-note theme from TV’s The Twilight Zone. As an ominous storm cloud darkened the sky over their childhood home, or if an odd looking gentleman passed them in the mall, Simon would launch into an automatic refrain:  “Doo dee doo doo, Doo dee doo doo.”

In the latter case, Ashley would have to smack him on the shoulder, say something like, “Hey, that guy can hear you.  Your code’s not that hard to crack.”

In later years, Simon branched out into his impression of a theremin — the instrument popular in sci-fi or haunted house thrillers, with a synthesized oscillating whistle that managed to sound human and alien at the same time.

Rather than the sound of a real theremin, it was her brother’s joking impression that ran through Ashley’s head as she traversed the post-apocalyptic world.  She’d open a car door and find a fully clothed skeleton, its bony fingers clenched tight to the steering wheel, and memories of Simon’s voice provided the soundtrack.  “Oooh wee oooh uhhh, oooh wee oooooh.”

Or, she’d step into a new town, and it would look exactly like the one she’d left behind.  She’d call out, “Anybody there?” and an untouched ground-floor window would slam shut, glass breaking.  Complete silence would follow, aside from her brother’s strange music.

One night she’d dreamed of a door opening unbidden, a shadowy form beginning to enter the room where she slept, one arm stretching into view, then another, then another, as the theremin continued its synthesized wail.

The theremin was a machine trying to sing like a living thing.  And as Ashley woke from her nightmare, she realized her own voice, silent across these tragic, solitary days — or the sound of another human being, speaking or trying to sing — would be the strangest music of all.