Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Harvest of Gravity

Music is the gravity that keeps us in steady revolution at The Orchard. Without this musical gravity, each of us, each individual satellite, may be flung off into the far reaches of a vast, cold, and uncaring universe. Yet, this gravity is there, and we revolve in orbit, sometimes as planets in steady revolution, others as comets, occasionally dive-bombing towards the epicenter, only to escape as quickly as we arrived.

Located just a few miles east of the small college town of Corvallis, Oregon, on Highway 34, The Orchard is, specifically, a few acres of land lined with rows of filbert trees and perhaps a dozen apple trees. There is a creek that runs through the the property guarded by a fortress of blackberry bramble. There is a 4 bedroom house and a 2car garage. A large deck overlooks small garden plots occasionally nibbled by rabbits, and an inflatable pool with a thin film of flotsam and jetsam. Regulation horseshoe pits are shaded by great sequoia trees and aged apple trees. There is a decrepit chicken coop, and not far from it, a small, weathered motorboat at the edge of the property that no one knows anything about. It has always been there.

The Orchard is more than this, of course. It is a community of music. The house is tenant occupied, anchored by a young married couple and supplemented by a rotating cast of room-mates. In addition to these paying tenants, the supporting cast—asteroids, comets and plutons–consist of various local musicians, young and old, veteran and new. Stars form in nebulae, and dense black holes absorb all they encounter. The basement functions as a rehearsal space 7 days a week and a performance space once every couple of months or so. Upstairs, the original living room is the control room for recording. Snakes, bundles of instrument and microphone cables, slither from tape machines, computers and processors down to the instruments below. Currently, 6 or 7 bands practice at The Orchard, and over the years, many more have practiced, preformed and recorded there.

Though music is the point, practice often consists of much more. An hour of music can be sandwiched between: barbecues, games of horseshoes and basketball, trips to the creek, strolls through rows of filbert trees at twilight, watching deer startle in the field, harvesting blackberries or herbs, shooting rifles, or splashing about in the pool. Often, these activities are fueled or hampered, by alcohol or other intoxicants (though strict rules are enforced when shooting rifles). A typical Sunday afternoon may find 3 or 4 bands participating in these activities as they wait their turn to practice or record.

Gravity is a weak force. In Almost Everyone's Guide to Science, John Gribbon illustrates this well, "It takes the gravity of the entire Earth, pulling on an apple, to break the apple free from the tree and send it falling to the ground, But, a child of two can pick the apple up from the ground, overcoming the pull of gravity." However, gravity also can keep the solar system together, planets, asteroids, comets, sun and Kuiper belt functioning as one whole entity. Life on Earth depends on the sun. The Sun remains indifferent to our existence. The weak force of gravity, though, is all that is needed to form a necessary relationship between the fiery furnace and the blue planet.

Music is much the same as gravity. Relationships at The Orchard range from(and fluctuate between) polite tolerance and appreciation, friendship, and romantic love. For every pleasant memory, The Orchard also presents challenging traumas and tribulations. Allegiances change. Love develops or collapses. Bands come and go, only to return again. Music may not soothe every wound encounter, but it keeps us going. Whether acquainted, befriended or enamored, this is what we love, and this is what we cherish. In an essay, Kathleen Norris asks, "How do we tell the truth in a small town? Is it possible to write?" I'm not sure about writing it, but at The Orchard, we play it on guitar, banjo, drums, and booze.