«–i] [MMX.Viii.iX] Luca Arnaudo: The Shepherd [+i »

He was a shy, thoughtful man. Of his country of origin, the land where he was born, he loved above all the white air of the cold days, the clear peacefulness of a space devoid of objects, the clouds hanging as ethereal curtains of light on the green flat countryside, clear with fresh rain.

He had moved to the Capital, the big city, to study engineering, after he had specialized in audio recording technologies. Over time he had become highly esteemed for his expertise in the expansion of dynamics and, more generally, for his uncommon sensitivity in the construction of the signals. Personally, however, he did not consider himself a technician but rather a craftsman, a tuner of sounds. Better: a shepherd.

In his work life sounds took all his time. In his spare time too the man often dedicated himself to recording outdoor sounds. He took personal pleasure in walking through the suburbs and uncultivated lands, beyond the edges of the town, moving along those parts of space in which different worlds face each other indefinitely till one gives way to the other one and you are unable to understand where you pass the break-through line. Or he inspected the old uncared-for industrial buildings. He appreciated the isolation of similar places, the discrete spectral densities, the feeling of warm mitigation they offered in the apparent absence of any minimal involvement to life.

However, this did not prevent him from taking pleasure in the noise of the city-centre and the busiest streets, where he used to go sometimes to take refuge after particularly burdensome recording sessions, to recover—through the exuberant surrounding noise—from the efforts his attention span recently lavished on minute sound details. In those erratic outdoor trips, made on his own, he took along with himself a complex contraption, blended with obsessive scruple to enhance the sensitivity of the old Cornell microphone, the heart of his equipment, to which the man was very close to as a kind of sentimental fidelity to his youth (it was, in fact, the first professional condenser transducer he had ever bought. To scrape together the money he had worked a whole summer, after high school, as a laborer in his maternal Aunt's factory of ceramics. Then, with a roll of money in his pocket, awed and together happily proud, he had gone to the closest big city to the best audiotechnical shops. Many times, passing by there, he had long-studied the window, unmindful of the cold and rain, before entering to ask. But that day, the day of the purchase, he went, quick and excited, to the clerk behind the counter).

shepherd bell

Once back at home, usually in the evening, he enjoyed building containers to store the sound objects he collected. They were mostly wooden boxes, light and clear, with tiny speakers hidden under a thin sheet of white tissue paper that lined the interior. Under the empty white there was a false bottom, designed to contain a small battery-operated tape-player with the non-volatile memory cards containing the recordings which played by opening the cover. Each tape had a label to identify the contents, written with a pencil in light handwriting and titles that were for the most part funny, things like 'first snow of the year', 'morning, voice of the fountain in the home courtyard', 'feminine laughter in a crowded bar', 'migration of clouds'.

The man rarely opened the boxes to listen to the content. Maybe he was more interested in preserving the sound memories than in listening to them: he recorded and kept, that was enough for him. But he surely loved giving. He made boxes to give to people whom he cared about most (a farmer friend, his elder brother, the girl he had met one day in a hardware store where he had gone to search for metallic sounds while she was searching for a key for her bicycle brakes), leaving these gifts as a thin pledges of their encounters.

One past Christmas, for example, he had given his canned sounds to his brother while they were looking through the old biscuit tin where, when they were children, they used to store the microscope and slide collection received as gifts from their uncle. While opening the box, it was possible to hear the agricultural silence of the lands around the farm where they had spent their childhood, the distant presence of water crossed by the barges which were transiting the canal behind the local high school, an infinitesimal hint to the running of the rail beyond the football pitch. His brother—a man of science, tormented, whose bouts of anger and depression removed him permanently from academic studies—initially had not considered any of this, lingered a few moments to study the lined emptiness of the box, biting his lip, and finally reproached the donor for the superficiality with which, many years ago, he had dropped the microscope from the kitchen table. And then, from the opened tin, just at that moment, a train whistle rose, expanding in the distance between the two brothers. Who looked at each other, and heard.

Luca Arnaudo was born in Cuneo, Italy, in 1974, and currently lives in a small village in the campagna sabina, not that far from Rome. A writer, jurist and art critic, he has written five books of short stories, travelogues and poetry: the last one, Zonzo di Buenos Aires, has been issued by the renowned Argentinian underground press Eloisa Cartonera.

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