The Two Glenn Goulds

The Two Glenn Goulds
Meer / Garton

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The Two Glenn Goulds



He had an idea to get the two Glenn Goulds, the one from 1955 and the one from 1981, to line up. He said to Tina, “Watch me work some wonders,” and then, at that very moment, the sun went behind a cloud. He couldn't seem to get the brilliant but near-dead Gould and the ecstatic young revolutionary Gould to merge. Still, he could have claimed credit for the cloud and the sun.

The two Goulds had sometimes pretended to meet on the page with their Gould interviewers. And he had initially liked the appearance of talk, the focused points fanning out, expanding in a great pretense of dialogue that eventually eclipsed the page, leaving the reader in shadow. But these weren’t even the two Glenn Goulds. They were an in-between Gould who inhabited great-talking zombies. The voodoo quality of the self-interviews unnerved him. They read like the undead, but clever. No, the fact of two pianist Glenn Goulds was the real problem. It was like having two trademarks.

First, he moved them side by side so they faced each other. It was really a foursome. But the bodies of the grand pianos were gone. He had used moving equipment, cinches, hoists. Because to treat the pianos as Gould, to line them up at this stage would mean placing one on top of the other. A multi-stage process was best, with each Gould separated from his piano to reduce the possibility of damage or crushing in the moment of transfer. Using recently calibrated light hydraulics, he selected each Gould to be lifted (or freed) from a particular segment of the series of muscular/acoustic events that constituted studio time and then lowered precisely into his own. He mechanically massaged 1955 to match seven of 1981's A-section repeats and then merged and compressed the other eight to sync with 1955's single play-throughs. It was now time to activate the complete set of piano-hoist multi-directional devices. When he had reached the proper level of congruence, he leveled the two Goulds and began the unhooking process to the point of contact.

It materialized as an eightsome: the two Glenn Goulds, each with four hands, on a single piano playing several transcriptions of Wagner. Maybe he’d used the wrong kind of differential. Would he be this stupid for the rest of his life? No, that couldn’t be possible. He hauled everything back. In the numbers he at least felt the slant elation of a breakthrough glimmer. It was major. Three elements of each piece of Gould needed to align. But, no, he had been counting each Gould as two for some reason—the Glenn Gould brain, say, and the two hands as a single unit—but this all seemed suddenly arbitrary. The hands moved contrapuntally, each with its own lineage and, therefore, number. Thus an eightsome was produced if left unfactored. The shifts between the two hands charted along an audible line. But where was the line between the Glenn Gould brain, say, and the hands? And between the hands and the piano? (The chair at least had transferred correctly as fundamentally one with each of the two Goulds.) He regretted inviting Tina.

He tried to return to the process, to come up with his own strategy specific to Gould and his environments. It was so long ago. And the early Gould might not have known he was himself. That was what was great about it. The young Gould couldn’t sit still. And this was also what made it difficult. The older Gould confused him. Was it true that he could barely even sit? This Gould’s brain and nervous system might have moved to a different ladder. Because he felt the older Gould was unnaturally heavy, almost as if he were affected by the density of another planet. But no, the extra weight seemed localized. Too bad he couldn’t ask the older Gould himself if he was experiencing a sense of compressed mass.

He thought the young Gould might be concentrated entirely in the old one’s hands. That he had found a hiding place there. The older hands were acting, in a sense, as hyper-mobile beasts of burden. But the younger Gould, though protected there, would be alive only insofar as he was inside another, a rapidly decelerating host. And when materializing, such localized density fluctuations would follow the path of greatest distortion if one adhered to the handbook’s generic math. Maybe that extra weight led to the older brain’s caustic reaction to the first recording and thus to this incredible opportunity. It was unbelievably exciting that all this could be predictably mapped once a fluctuation ratio or model was realized. And he had really. Almost. An equation or two, plus the requisite measurements, and he was there.

He looked around. Tina was gone. This was fortunate since—he measured the room and managed a page of rapid calculations—with the corrected string of maneuvers, the apartment, empty, would be exactly the right size for the two Goulds. Well, for the three of them if he were to position himself under one of the concert grands. He assessed his chance of predicting the correct location of all six piano legs as slightly better than 50-50. And only marginally less predictable were the positions of the unshod Gould and the heavy-soled Gould. The young and the old. He and the Goulds. Lined up finally. Balanced. Maybe he’d publish an article. They’d all line up.

He set the process in motion before he’d even realized what he’d done and dove to the floor, flattening himself against the spot that he hoped would place him under one of the pianos. He heard something like a thunder crack and a screech of metal apparatus giving way, and saw the shadow of a piano rapidly engulfing the floor. Then came a great thudding impact and shaking of the room, the sound of splintering wood, the terrible music of soundboard destruction. He watched the leg next to his left ear crumple as that side of the piano crashed to the floor; miraculously the other two held and his head cleared the bottom of the piano by centimeters. He quickly pulled himself out from under the piano. There was the other piano, its facing right leg symmetrically demolished, with its corresponding Gould. The Goulds themselves, neither one looking particularly fresh, seemed intact. It had almost worked. Where was the miscalculation? He’d factored the Gould brains, the pianos, the hands, fingers as subsets of the hands... Then it hit him. It was the recordings themselves—not time-bound at all but a temporal segmented assemblages. How utterly embarrassing! He'd been undone by something as basic as tape splicing.

Both Goulds, the younger one tilting to accommodate the floorward angle of the keyboard, continued on. But the pianos were quite unplayable, capable of producing only broken, wildly distorted sounds. To compensate, perhaps, both of the Goulds were humming very loudly. Their voices—the younger one, already twelve to thirteen measures ahead of the older—were strained and not particularly melodic. Even so, he smiled. It sounded like it might be Bach.