Paradise Noise - Chapter 3
After school that day, I met up with Rinko at the landing of the stairs leading to the roof of the northern school building.
The place was dusty and dimly lit because no one usually passed through it. Rinko, who had arrived earlier than me, was waiting for me with an unhappy expression.
“Why this place?”
“I asked Hanazono-sensei if I could use the music room, but she told me to use the roof if I just wanted to have a nonsensical match.”
I nodded and walked past her, heading towards the stairs.
I unlocked the door leading to the rooftop and turned the knob. Vertical streaks of light entered the darkness and spread out, and a breeze with a faint, fresh smell of grass flowed into my nostrils.
The rooftop was an open concrete floor, with various types of grass growing along the seams, forming a dull green grid pattern. In the middle of it all was a single synthesizer on a simple four-legged metal stand.
There was nothing else. Beyond the railing, the clear, bright sky of May stretched out endlessly. The eyes of Rinko, who was still standing in the door frame, were fixed on the synthesizer. I connected the instrument to an extension cord that I had pulled from an electrical outlet on the fourth floor and turned it on. A collection of simple, coarse black dots began to dance on the elongated green LCD screen..
“What’s that?” Rinko asked as she approached me.
“It’s an old synthesizer called EOS.”
“It’s got speakers. That’s unusual.”
Rinko traced her fingers over the large black disks attached to the shoulders of the instrument.
Normally, synthesizers do not have the ability to produce sound on their own. I would normally have to have speakers and a separate amplifier if I wanted to generate sound. However, since the YAMAHA EOS was developed based on the concept of allowing people to enjoy a synthesizer all by itself, it has a built-in sound mechanism. This meant that the main unit alone could produce quite a large sound. On the downside, it’s much heavier than an ordinary synth. I had a hard time bringing it to school.
“So, what are you going to do with it? Were you saying something about a match?”
Rinko asked, and so I took my sheet music out of my bag and handed it to her.
It was a short piano piece that fits on a single sheet of paper. The duration of the piece is probably just over three minutes. I tensed slightly when I felt Rinko’s gaze running over the lines of the score.
“Well, this is Ukrainian composer Igor Medvedev’s Prelude No. 6 in A minor, written a month before his unfortunate death in the Russian Revolution—”
“You wrote this song, didn’t you, Murase-kun?”
My lie was immediately detected. Trying to feign ignorance, I turned my eyes counterclockwise about three times and followed it up with a modest cough.
“No, it’s by a Ukrainian composer.”
“Recently, I’ve been forced to read a lot of Murase-kun’s scores. Did you really think I couldn’t see through your lie at a glance? What’s the point of telling me such a lie?”
“…Sorry.” There is no such composer. It’s all fabricated.
“So you want me to play this piece of fancy music like I always do?”
“Can you play it?”
“This is the first time I’ve seen…” Rinko looked at the music sheet. Her eyes stopped at the bottom right of the paper. “…What’s with the horrendous tremolo in the coda?”
(TL: A tremolo is a wavering effect in a musical tone, produced either by rapid reiteration of a note, by rapid repeated slight variation in the pitch of a note, or by sounding two notes of slightly different pitches to produce prominent overtones, at least according my trusty search engine, Google. Coda is, well, a coda. Go look it up.)
I nodded my head in agreement.
“That’s the best part.”
“There’s no way you can play an octave and a fourth degree tremolo at this tempo, is there? Do you become happy by making a song that no one can play by putting it into a sequencer?”
“What makes you think that I can’t play it?”
Rinko’s eyes widened slightly and then narrowed suspiciously. That’s right. The A-E-A chord, which requires a full extension of the right hand to hold down, and the D-A-D chord four keys above it, are played alternately, flickering as if one was waving a bell. It’s probably something that Chopin, Liszt or Rachmaninoff would never have been able to play when they were alive. But I can play it.
“I really can. If I can play it with no mistakes, but you can’t, then I win. How’s that?”
“Is this what the match is? What’s the point of doing this?”
I answered cautiously, taking note of Rinko’s expression.
“As I said before, your piano skills are too good to be wasted on just playing the accompaniment for a music class. So, if I win, play a song of my request, just once, 100% seriously. Right here, on this synth.”
She lowered her eyelashes and let out a faint sigh.
“Why should I take part in such a match?”
“If you win, I’ll do all of the school song accompaniments at future school events in your
Rinko’s complexion changed clearly.
At our school, the school song is sung at both the opening and closing ceremonies. However, there are many other occasions when the school song is played at school-wide gatherings, such as entrance ceremonies, graduation ceremonies, and choral contests. Hanazono-sensei had made it clear that she couldn’t be bothered with the piano accompaniment and that she would leave it to Rinko. It would be a very unpleasant job for her.
It’s not a bad deal if she can get me to take over for her.
After a while, Rinko said.
“To clarify, the winning condition for you is if I can’t play and you can. Otherwise, I am the winner. Is that right?”
In other words, if both of us are able to play it, or if neither of us are able to play it, the match will result in my loss. I guess you could say that the conditions were quite in Rinko’s favor.
“If you went to the trouble of bringing your own synth, aren’t you going to put the score into the sequencer and claim that you played it with no mistakes?”
“I won’t do an automated performance. I will play everything by hand.”
Rinko stared at the music sheet again. She was probably running through the score in her mind. All I could hear right now was the sound of the baseball team jogging and passing by in the distance, the sleepy grunts of the band’s tuba players practicing privately, and the jerky sound of a robot arm operating from the factory across from the school gate.
Eventually, Rinko thrust the sheet music back at me. Just as I began to despair that she would turn down such a ridiculous offer, she said.
“You don’t have a music stand, do you? Hold it so I can see it.”
Relieved, I walked over to the other side of the keyboard and held the sheet music out for her to see.
After just a mere four bars, the match had almost completely faded from my mind. Her performance didn’t sound like the score that I wrote at all. It sounded to me, at least, that what she was playing was actually the swan song of a composer who had died in the Russian Revolution. The flickering, dispersed chords in the treble clef were the spray of blood on the snow; the occasional heavy, accented bass note was the sound of a gunshot piercing the bodies and bones of the Russian princesses. She sang the tragedy without a trace of bitterness or pity.
That’s why, when Rinko had suddenly stopped playing after coming back from the repeat in the intense middle section, I almost dropped the sheet music in despair. Though, I had written the score in anticipation of this; it actually might’ve ended up turning out just as I feared.
Rinko batted her eyelashes and shook her head.
“…It’s impossible. I can’t play this one… These keys are far lighter than those of a normal piano. I thought I could slide my fingers from side to side like a glissando, but I couldn’t help but hear the extra notes in between…”
(TL: A glissando is a continuous slide upward or downward between two notes, at least according to Google.)
I let out a breath of relief.
“Okay, I’ll play it now. If I make no mistakes, I win. Is that fine?”
“Have you memorized it?” She asks, and I nod my head, albeit doubtfully. The question, now, was if I had the entirety of the score memorized and if I could play by myself, without any mistakes.
“Well, it is my song, and plus, it’s relatively short.”
“Then hand me the sheet music. I’ll listen and check for any real mistakes.”
Rinko then snatched the sheet music out of my hands and pulled a ballpoint pen out of her blazer pocket. In order to ease my nerves, I rolled my tongue around in my dry mouth and forced myself to gulp down the saliva.
Everything is okay. I’ll be fine. I’ve been practicing it for days now. I wrote this song myself.
However, thinking of her initial performance of the theme, I went through a state of despair once again. If Rinko’s performance was as bright as a star in the night, my performance would be as dim as a miniature bulb of a lamp. How can there be so much difference between the sounds produced by playing the same instrument and by the same score? Even the difference in our tones are evident. It really was just as Hanazono-sensei had said.
However, as I shrank back in shame at my own ineptitude and progressed through the theme, while trying not to make any mistakes, I felt a paradoxical joy arise.
After all, Rinko’s skill is the real deal. Even with the sound of a synth, which I bought two years ago for my musical hobby, she could still make such a special sound. Truly, it was worth an all-nighter to prepare for this. The first thing that I had to accomplish, though, was to play the entire piece with no mistakes. After that, I had to make her admit defeat, even if I had to compel her to do so.
I will ask her to perform again in front of me, this time for real.
After passing through the now frustrating middle section like one would trek through a swamp full of algae, the melody clears up. The theme climbs up the wide gap of the octave, coming and going like the restless waves on a beach. Eventually, I arrived at my destination: the place where Rinko’s performance had abruptly ceased to exist. A sheer cliff where even the most accomplished pianist stands still in fear.
Rinko, you were halfway to the correct answer. This keyboard is much softer and shallower than that of a grand piano, so it’s true that you can play glissandos by gently sweeping your fingers along the keys at high speed. But that’s all you can think of. That’s because you’re a pianist. On a piano, each specific key is tied to the string of a particular music scale by a hammer mechanism. One note above “La” is always “Si”; one note above that is always “Do”. If you slide your finger from “La” to “Re”, you will inevitably hear “Si” and “Do” in between. Isn’t that obvious?
(TL: “Do Re Mi Fa So La Si Do” is in the order of the notes/tones “C D E F G A B C”)
That’s the norm for pianos.
However, this keyboard isn’t a piano. It’s a synthesizer.
The sound that is produced when each key is pressed is simply set by the tone data within the synthesizer. There is no reason for assigning a “Do” note to a “Do” key, other than that it is typically convenient to play it.
So, I just rearranged them.
Just before I reached the tremolo point, I ran my left hand over the panels to shift the tones. The sampled instrument was still the exact same piano that I had played up to that point, but with one key difference: it was in a different scale arrangement for the higher notes. There was no need to go back and forth between the long distance of four keys. There was also no need to worry about sounding unnecessary notes in between. All I had to do was to put “La” next to “Re”.
My left hand’s octave notes move fervently and lively while the bells ring out from my strumming. I’ve ingrained this passage into my hands over and over again. That’s why, during my performance, I could afford to glance at Rinko’s face. Her typical expressionless face was now tinted red, perhaps even with a hint of anger. I felt as if the match was about to vanish from my consciousness. The sounds of my performance were reaching a hot, pulsating place inside her, making her shake. We are playing music just for this moment. There will never be another paradise that could give us so much pleasure.
Out of breath and with beads of sweat on my eyelashes, I ran through the ascending pattern of the coda and struck the four octaves of the final chord with all my might. My insides froze. There was a very slight mistouch at the very end. I wondered if she had noticed. While my fingertips trembled as they clung to the keys, I fought the urge to end the performance quickly so as to cover up the mistake. I ended up basking in the afterglow instead.
It wasn’t until the echoes had completely faded that I was able to lift my fingers.
I wiped the sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand and looked up at Rinko’s face.
I felt her lips move, so I opened my mouth to interrupt.
“…U-Uh, u-um, this is just a preset with a special sequence of scales, and since the switching is done manually and the tremolo was played by hand, it’s not an automated performance, you know?”
I desperately tried to come up with an excuse, partly because I knew that the logic was a bit difficult to agree to, and partly because I wanted to distract myself from my last mistake.
“I never said anything about controlling only the keys, so when we decided to play on a synth, there was a possibility of this…”
Rinko took one glance at me, looked down at the sheet music in her hand, wrote something on it with a ballpoint pen, closed it, folded it twice, and finally shoved it into the keyboard bag beneath her.
“Fine. I lose.”
“So you may not want to admit defeat, but I really didn’t cheat… Huh?”
“I’m saying that it’s my loss.”
I swallowed the words I was about to say and stared at her face. Her expression was blank, like the moon behind a thin cloud. I couldn’t understand what she was thinking.
“You want me to play a song of your request right here, right now, right? Come on then.”
Are you sure? Are you going to give in to such an unreasonable line of logic so easily? Didn’t you notice my mistouch at the end?
There’s no point in dwelling on it. I’ll take my victory before she changes my mind. I connected the headphones that were hooked to the end of the keyboard stand to the synthesizer and held them out to Rinko.
Confused, she narrowed her eyes and tilted her head just slightly.
“Headphones? You can’t hear me if they’re plugged in.”
“I didn’t say I wanted to hear it. I just said to play it for me.”
She didn’t seem to know what it meant. There was no way she would. I continued.
“You’ve said it yourself, ‘There’s too much excess noise, it sounds poor.’ I’ve created a sound that solves exactly that. You can play any song you want. I’d prefer it to be as intense as possible, though.”
Rinko was still pursing her lips quizzically, but she took the headphones from my hand and put them over her ears. I think there’s something special about the silhouette of her rich black hair held back by the headphones that stirs some fundamental longing in me. I was so absorbed in watching her that I almost missed Rinko’s hands on the keyboard. Ah, crap, I hadn’t switched to the new sound I had created yet. I rushed to operate the button near the panel.
Rinko began with the main chord of C major in a loud arpeggio from the lowest to the highest note, as if she were strumming a harp. Her eyes fluttered, seemingly in discomfort, but she played the same pattern again, this time in a weaker style, and then a third time with furious speed and intensity.
(TL: An arpeggio is the notes of a chord played in succession, either ascending or descending, according to Google. If you don’t know what a chord is, I’m sorry. Go look it up.)
“…What the hell is this?”
She turned to me with a confused look.
“A noiseless piano,” I replied. “I made it especially for you. Instead of just recording and sampling a piano, I implemented software that simulates the acoustics of a piano by calculating the physics of the sound, making it possible to get a sound at all velocities of all pitches on the keyboard.”
When I saw Rinko’s face stiffen, I rolled the rest of my words around in my mouth and rephrased them.
“I can take a note played very gently and make it very loud.”
For a moment, it seemed as if a crack appeared in her blank expression. Her hands slammed into the keys, and the legs of the stand creaked. Again. Again and again. Even with the headphones blocking out the sound, I could hear the thick chords of A minor over four octaves.
A variety of expressions crossed Rinko’s face. Confusion, relief, and then… frustrated anticipation.
I waited until her fingers left the keys before I said anything..
“That’s the sound you want, right?”
It may have sounded sarcastic. Perhaps even ironic. But I continued.
“That’s why you have to listen to it with headphones, because there’s no point in having the noise of the outside world blend in with the sounds of the keyboard. You can play any song you want. I don’t care what kind of music it is, even if it’s just playing some chords.”
Rinko held her breath and looked down at the keyboard while I looked at her from the other side of the instrument. I suddenly thought that the ability to see a pianist playing from the front is another beauty that a grand piano cannot provide. The leaflike shadows cast by her downcast eyelashes on the skin of her lower eyelids, the flow of her hair like black honey that slipped from the shoulders of her blazer, and the slender fingertips that cut into the bone-colored keys were all so beautiful; it was almost as if time had been frozen.
But eventually, time began to flow again. Rinko’s left hand began to move, gently and rhythmically ticking off octaves of G as if she were a mother patting her baby on the back.
This is—what’s this song?
Because of the headphones, Rinko was the only one who could hear the performance. I stared at the silent dance of her fingers and tried to pick up the flow of notes. My right hand began to trace the melody, note by note, bit by bit, but I still couldn’t hear it. I stifle my breath, focus on my ears, and try to pick up the slightest echo that escapes through the space between the ear pads of the headphones and the skin of her ears.
Finally, I could hear it.
Surprisingly, it was not a classical song, but a jazz standard. It was Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child”. It was a clear, poetic arrangement over the rhythm section of Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette made by Keith Jarrett, an unorthodox genius pianist. I never thought that Rinko, who has spent all her time in competitions and immersed herself in the world of classical music, would choose such a song. I want to hear it. I want to pull the jack out of the headphones right now and bathe my body in her sound. I dug my nails into my palms and stifled my desire. This was not a match I set up for me to listen to. It’s for her to hear. A jazz standard is convenient because one could improvise as much as he or she wants as his or her emotions flowed. Play as much as you want. Savor the unadulterated sound of the piano, just the sound of the strings hitting the floor, as much as you like.
Eventually, you’ll realize.
In the same way that distilled water, which is as close to 100% pure, tastes bad, the sound quality of this noise-free piano is very poor.
I’ll reach out my hand to the panel. With the full force of the EOS B500, I’ll distort, twist, swirl, fire, and burn the sound that’s currently immersing you. I’m going to paint the tones with extreme colors and intoxicate you with a cocktail of effects.
But that moment never came.
The last sign of frustration in her near 100% pure expression disappeared. She took off the headphones herself. While her left hand continued to hammer out a G-octave ostinato, she grabbed the right ear pad with her right hand, which had been freed from the long chords, and ripped them off. She then pulled out the jack.
(TL: An ostinato is a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm.)
The sound of the piano was released into the air.
I felt as if I could see every particle of air coming to life in a light, lively rhythm. The smell of damp concrete and grass suddenly became crisp. Emotional tears welled up in my eyes as I looked towards the blue sky.
Rinko’s right hand struck the keyboard again, powerfully shaping the song “God Bless the Child”. A faint smile appeared on her lips as she sang the prayerful poem.
Eventually, Rinko took a breath and changed the melody to a calmer improvisation. The G-octave of the bass, similar to a heartbeat, echoed clearly, almost as if it were beneath our feet. The sound of the wind, the chirping of the birds, and the rustling of the leaves in the courtyard were all vividly colored by the music.
“…Such a variety of sounds,” Rinko suddenly murmured. Without stopping her performance, she, too, looked up at the sky and closed her eyes.
“I didn’t know. I didn’t realize it at all. Thanks to this boring sound you made for me.”
She probably meant to say that in her usual spiteful way. However, I wasn’t angry, because I had made this noise-free piano just to make her realize.
“There was no such thing as excess noise, was there?”
Rinko’s words were already like part of a song, and they penetrated deep into my heart.
Her fingers slid over the soft keys with renewed fervor, debauching and inflaming them. No matter how much passion she slammed into it, the fake plastic bones absentmindedly absorbed it and turned it into digitally processed sound. However, that’s as far as a synthesizer can go. No machine can embody the emotions of our ears, our minds, and our souls to produce sound. As long as we are alive, breathing and beating, all kinds of sounds surround us and resonate with each other. The laughter and footsteps of students, the sound of truck engines on the street, the sleepy calls of wood pigeons flocking in the thickets surrounding the temple, and the sound of a train crushing the alarm at a distant railway crossing. Even on such a narrow rooftop of rugged concrete, everything was just so full of life. There were no such things as weeds, and even the grasses that sprouted and bloomed in the cracks of the tiles all had names, had lives, and lived with burning passion. If you can feel that, then any place is a paradise, a place where there is no such thing as noise, and everything you hear is the sound of peace.
I felt a sense of alienation that was cool and soothing. I felt the presence of Rinko, the music she makes, and the perfect world that surrounds it. But now that it was finished, I felt lonely, just like the nameless grass beneath my feet, swaying in the wind.
If I am in this place, I am part of this paradise.
Is it enough for me to just stand there in a daze? Hearing birds, insects, and railroad tracks sung with their own voices, am I content as a mere spectator after bringing the instruments? And that’s “God Bless the Child” playing in the background. How can I leave such a groove-filled song to such a cheap synth piano?
I’ll join in.
I closed my eyes and surveyed the tempo of Rinko’s performance: around 72 BPM. I find a break in the phrase and quickly run my fingers over the panel, intuitively picking out the preset drum loop and gently smoothing it into Rinko’s performance. As the beat began, the contours of the melody became clearer and clearer, lightly emerging from the ground. I glanced over at Rinko’s face. When my gaze met hers, I was stunned and immediately looked away.
She wasn’t surprised. She wasn’t angry. There was even a hint of a smile on her face…
So that’s how it is.
Despite the fact that she was in the middle of her performance, I didn’t care. I changed the instrument’s sound. The dizzying tones of a fully phased electric grand piano spun out from Rinko’s fingertips, causing her eyes to widen. While she was distracted by the abrupt change in sound, I assigned an acoustic bass sample to the lower notes of the keyboard. The drums alone weren’t tight enough for the beat. As expected, it needs some bass.
(TL: Phaser is a digital effect that you can put onto sounds. Sounds pretty cool. As the name suggests, it makes a sound “phased”.)
Who will play it, though?
Rinko only has two arms. So, obviously, it’s going to be me.
I reached for the keyboard. Because I was facing Rinko from the opposite side of the instrument, from my perspective, the keys were upside down. Though, it shouldn’t be a problem as I only had to press a few keys at a relatively slow tempo and in a simple rhythm.
The bass was gently placed as monotonous rhythmic patterns on repeat, and placed beneath Rinko’s intricately wavering melody full of life. At first, I kept it simple, exploring her strokes. When I felt our breaths coming together, I gradually deviated from the chords and then returned to them. Rinko noticed my approach. The number of bold, accented notes and tensionful chords increased. The two of us dared to compete with each other to challenge the dangerous rope, where even a slight loss of balance could destroy the performance. It was as if we were dancing on a thin rope stretched high. If both of us stepped off at the same time, we would fall headlong. That’s why we breathed in and out, dizzyingly passing the notes from one to the other, like one holding on to the other’s hand and jumping around on that rope.
There was no way I could stay calm with all that going on.
My heart, fingers, and every cell in my body raced with passion as each note was played. I couldn’t hold it in. I fiddled with the panel again, changing the tone. Now, the sound sample was a combination of a rose piano, distorted to the point of splintering with its intense contour highlighted. As I moved into the upper register, the sound created more tension and suspense, almost like a stringed instrument. Rinko’s fingers wove a melody freely, sometimes in unison and sometimes in obbligato, as I intertwine my own melody. But since I was facing the keyboard from the opposite side, I had to instantly flip the improvised phrase onto the keyboard in my head, making it incredibly difficult to press the correct keys. But I can’t use that as an excuse. Rinko has brought me to this place. No matter what happens, we will run along together. The tiny five-octave range of the EOS B500 was far too narrow for the two of us and the maximum of twenty-four simultaneous sounds were far too few. Fighting for every last sound and note, my fingers and Rinko’s fingers clashed and twisted over and over again on the keyboard.
At the end of more than a hundred refrains, a miracle came. Rinko swept up to the highest note, swaying her hair and scratching the keyboard. A familiar melody pierced my ears, though I couldn’t figure out where I heard it.
I raised my eyes. Rinko gave me a pleased smile. Finally, it hit me. It was the theme of the Prelude in A minor that I had composed just for this game. It was incorporated directly into the chord progression of “God Bless the Child”, and unbelievably, it didn’t feel out of place at all. At the top of the ascending improvisation, Rinko shifted her hands slightly and began to play that demonic octave tremolo. In breathless excitement, we filled the middle register with thick chords.
How to play passages that one shouldn’t be able to:
The answer was simple. There was no need to prepare a mechanism that switched the order of the notes. All we had to do was play it together. I felt beaten down, burned out, and completely defeated. It was refreshing. The thought of it made my fingers suddenly feel light.
I felt like I could keep up with Rinko’s performance for hours and hours.
In fact, I’m not sure how long we kept playing. If it hadn’t been for the slight drizzle that was starting to come down, we might have kept on going until midnight.
The EOS B500’s frame was soaked, the sound of tiny water droplets dripping on the floor was all that was left. The cold drops touched the back of my hands and neck, causing me to stop playing and to look up at the sky.
“The keyboard will get wet!” Rinko exclaimed quietly. I turned off the synthesizer in a panic, shoved it in my bag, slung it over my shoulder and ran for the door. Rinko also brought me my keyboard stand. As soon as I got inside, I unloaded my stuff, crouched down on the stairs, and took a breath. The rain intensified and began pouring down.
Fortunately, I had a bath towel packed in my keyboard bag, specially prepared for this case, so I handed it to Rinko. For some odd reason, I felt that I shouldn’t look directly at a girl wiping her soaked hair, so I turned my back to her and focused on putting away my instrument.
Kuku. I heard a giggle.
I glanced over my shoulder and saw Rinko with a towel still on her head, laughing and trembling from the cold. It was the first time I had ever seen her laugh out loud. All my tension unraveled at once, my body relaxed, and before I knew it, I was laughing too.
After a while, Rinko stood up and threw me the towel. Then she fixed her skirt and looked at me with eyes that clearly weren’t smiling anymore.
For a moment, I wasn’t sure what she was asking me. What do you mean, “satisfied”? Were you just playing to satisfy me? We were both just playing because we wanted to—
Then I remembered.
That’s right, I was told that if I won the match, then she would play a song of my request. I had forgotten about it until just now.
I didn’t care about the match anymore. The only thing I cared about now was the regrettable fact that the rain had washed away that momentary paradise in the blink of an eye.
“I’m not at all.”
When Rinko said that, I was surprised and glanced at her face. There was a faint lingering passion hidden within her usual blank expression of coldly observing people.
“Murase-kun’s performance was as poor as ever. The samples sounded cheap, too. Especially the drums. Please prepare better sounds next time.”
Left with a bit of disappointment, I could only watch in silence as Rinko walked down the stairs. As her footsteps disappeared farther down the landing, all I was left with was the ambience of rain. I looked down at my keyboard bag lazily leaning against me and said good night to the EOS B500 that I could see through the open zipper. I guess it didn’t work out so well after all.
It’s not your fault. You’re a good instrument. It’s my fault for not being able to prepare a convincing tone. I could’ve asked her for another session.
It’s not that her playing was dirty or lacking in skill.
I think she was just dissatisfied with her performances. That’s why I wanted her to know. I wanted her to know that she was capable of making music that drove me crazy.
It just wasn’t enough for me. The match was probably just too much to handle, and Rinko admitted defeat only because she didn’t happen to hear the last mistouch I made.
I suddenly noticed.
The row of white keys peeking out from the keyboard bag under my feet looked like a toothy smile. A sheet of paper protruded from the edge of that mouth. It was the score of the prelude I used for the match. It was the one that Rinko had shoved in there earlier. I pulled it out, unfolded it, and smoothed out the wrinkles.
My breath stopped.
In the lower right corner of the score, one of the thirty-second notes in the violent ascending pattern is marked with an “X”. It must have been by Rinko. She said she was going to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes, so she was checking the score with a pen throughout my performance.
She was aware of the mistake.
How could she have not mentioned it? Rinko had won.
“…Huh? Only Musao? What happened to Rinko-chan?”
When I heard the voice, I was startled and fumbled around in an attempt to hide the sheet music somewhere. But it was Hanazono-sensei who appeared. “You won the match, right? Musao’s request was that performance just a while ago, right?”
“Ah… did you hear us?”
Even with the modest volume of the keyboard’s built-in speakers, it was natural that she could hear us if she was in the music preparation room directly below.
“Why do you look so depressed? Did you get carried away with your win? Did you make a naughty request and get beaten up by Rinko?”
“Can you please stop ruining the lingering atmosphere of our session by making baseless accusations…?”
“Yeah, yeah. It was a good session, wasn’t it? You two played together, right? If it was a great success, why don’t you look a little happier?”
“Ah, no, it’s not really a success…”
I told the teacher that Rinko had seemed unsatisfied afterwards and that she had noticed the mistake in my performance. The teacher looked at the “X” on the sheet music and shrugged her shoulders.
“I’m sure she pretended not to notice on purpose.”
I stared at the teacher’s face and blinked. The teacher continued with a disgusted look in her eyes.
“She decided to lose because she wanted to play for you. Why can’t you understand that?”
“…Ehh? …No, that’s…”
“You know, Musao. You’re a musician, aren’t you? You can tell just by listening to the performance whether it went well or not, right? I don’t care about your words or attitude.”
Hanazono-sensei’s words took a while to sink into me.
That’s right. I don’t know how I forgot. There are only two kinds of music: music that one wants to listen to again, and music that one doesn’t. That’s it.
And what did Rinko say?
“Please prepare better sounds next time.”
Next time, I’ll try to create sounds of higher quality.
She told me that there would be a next time.
I lay on my back on the dusty floor, forgetting that I was in front of Hanazono-sensei, and let out a long sigh toward the ceiling. It wasn’t a perfect score, but it was worth pulling an all-nighter to create the song and the soundtrack.
However, Hanazono-sensei interrupted my daze.
“So, Musao, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but the vice principal will be here soon.”
I jerked up in surprise.
“The vice principal came to the music prep room to ask if I was playing since he thought so. When I told him that I wasn’t, he mumbled something along the lines of, ‘Is it coming from the roof?’ I guess he went back to the staff room to get the key.”
“He’s probably almost here, then!”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“Eh, u-um, Sensei is the one who told us to use the rooftop, right? Didn’t you ask for permission after telling us so?”
“Why go through all that trouble? I just got the key and opened it secretly.”
“Are you still a teacher?”
“Well, I’m going to run away now, but if the vice principal catches you, don’t mention my name.”
“Are you sure you’re still a teacher?”
“If you are a true student, protect your teacher at all costs!”
“It’s usually the other way around!”
Hanazono-sensei, who had no intention of saving me, quickly disappeared downstairs. In quick succession, I stumbled down the stairs with my bag on my right shoulder and my folded keyboard stand on my left shoulder. I caught a glimpse of the vice principal coming from the other side of the hallway on the third floor, so I ran into the bathroom to get out of his line of sight. Close call…
Though I had to dash down the stairs while carrying a heavy load, which made my shoulders and back hurt like hell that night, I stayed up all night again playing around with the score.
I went to the music room after school on the next day and met Rinko there. Without saying a word, I handed her the new sheet music. She snatched it, took one look at it, and snorted.
“Why don’t you just create a new song if you’re going to rewrite the score so much that it’s barely recognizable?”
I was glad that she knew what it was even though it wasn’t in its original form. It was the Prelude in A minor that I used in yesterday’s match.
“Yeah, well, it was a horrible song, and I had to make it sound like it was written by a Ukranian composer to cover it up. However, I wanted to rewrite it as my own song.”
And? Rinko looked at me as if to say, “So what?” I looked away uncomfortably, let the words roll around in my mouth for a moment, then turned my attention back to Rinko and said.
“Can you play this song, please? I made it too difficult, and I can no longer play it by solo.”
Rinko’s eyes darted back and forth between the music and my face. Then she sat down on the piano chair and spread out my score on the music stand.
Her slender fingers swung down to the bone-colored keys.
A staccato that resembles a pleasant pain pierced my skin. Ah, that’s it, I think to myself in a state of euphoria. Rinko’s piano was truly painful. It is the brandy that burns the tongue, the deceptive painting that deludes the eyes, the tragedy that tears the heart, and the music that penetrates the bones and reaches the heart. The fact that it hurts the receiver, in this case, me, so deeply is proof that her skill is real.
(TL: A staccato is a note that is performed with each note sharply detached or separated from the others.)
I should’ve made the song longer, I thought with regret. I shouldn’t have omitted the repeated part. I should’ve used all of the notes in the coda and written more of it. The numbing moment ended up with me being sucked into a high-pitched trill like a night fog ripped by the morning sun.
After her performance was over, I was speechless. All I could do was sit at the desk in front of the piano and stare at the back of Rinko’s hands. She looked slightly uncomfortable as she closed the sheet music and put it in her bag.
“It’s better than before.”
I was beginning to think that “better” was one of her greatest compliments.
“I was surprised that you fixed it so that I could play it solo. The tremolo part, for example.”
“Surprised? Why? I rewrote it for you to play, so of course you should be able to play it by yourself.”
“Is that so?” Rinko nodded her head as if she wasn’t actually surprised. “I thought, since it’s you, that you would fix it for a duet.”
“You would pretend to play together, and then commit a sex crime against me.”
“No, I wouldn’t! What’s with the sudden slander?”
“You did it to Hanazono-sensei.”
“That was Sensei who did that! I’m getting framed! You know, yesterday when I joined the performance, it was from the other side of the keyboard! I didn’t come to your side, did I?”
“Yeah, I couldn’t believe it. That Murase-kun.”
“Which Murase-kun is it? Why do you look a little disappointed now?! You’re usually always so expressionless!”
“Anyway, I don’t want you to get arrested, so you mustn’t commit any sex crimes against anyone other than me in the future.”
“I’m not gonna—”
I swallowed down my words.
Other than her? Wait a minute, is Rinko saying that it’s okay for me to commit a sex crime against her? Still, I won’t do that because it’s a crime, but if she admits that it’s okay to do it, then it’s no longer a crime. Doesn’t mean that I don’t want to do it.
Ignoring my internal panic, Rinko took out some sheets of music from her bag and spread it out on the music stand.
“Start from Schubert’s Twenty-first.”
“Today’s program. It’s going to be a marathon, so if you want to go to the bathroom, now is the time. The pieces are Schubert’s Twenty-first, Liszt’s Fountain of Este Villa, Chopin’s Polonaise No. 1, and Beethoven’s Twenty-eighth.”
You’re going to play all that? Right here, right now? I know it’s a marathon, but why in the world?
It all came to my mind immediately.
“…These… from competitions…”
“Yes. None of the pieces won. I’m sure you’ve heard most of them on the Internet anyway.”
And yes, I listened to all of them. Sorry.
“I don’t want people to hear that I lost and I don’t want them to think I care that I lost, so I’m going to play it all again here. I’m definitely a better pianist now.”
Holding back the urge to laugh, I straightened my back and sat down.
After a moment of hesitation, I gave a small clap.
Rinko turned to the keyboard with a serene face. Her fingertips sank gently into the keys. As ripples of sound spread, the first theme began to be played haltingly.
The word “prayer” came to mind. One by one, the ghostly notes that had been haunting Rinko were purified and melted into the gentle afternoon sunlight.
I was delighted to have witnessed this small ceremony. In order for Rinko to start a search for a new sound, she needs to let go of everything once and for all. It doesn’t mean it will disappear, though. They will continue to echo somewhere in the same sky. Someday, they will meet again. It will be the sound of spring rain on our cheeks, the sound of birds calling to their mates, or the creak of sprouting buds breaking the snow. I also prayed that I would be able to be next to her like this, listening to her as she played the piano.
(TL: Love it. Can’t stop, won’t stop. Rinko is best girl, change my mind. Or so I say until the next chapter, in which a new girl will be introduced. And yes, the chapter title is literally called Paradise Noise.)
(ED: MC gimicked Rinko, change my mind)