Reflections in the Water… (series: Beauty in Noise, part 7)

…from mirrors to obliteration.

by Dave Skipper

I’ve just been watching the surface of a lake which is surrounded by woodland. There is no wind, not even a light breeze, but the water is not still. Intermittent circular ripples emanate from random points, their instigators unseen. Presumably small flying insects alighting on the water, or else minuscule raindrops finally escaping their delicate repose on an overhanging twig or leaf. But what grabs my attention is the shimmer across the lake’s expanse. I can’t feel any breeze, but I guess the subtleties of what air movement there is are sufficient to brush the surface enough to provoke motion. And what I see shimmering is not so much the water itself but the inverted treeline, a wobbly mass of variegated vegetation, an array of green hues and straggly outlines. The trees themselves are of course as much within my field of vision, and there they stand: branches and foliage stirring here and there, their colours a touch more vibrant than their real/imaginary twins.

I am struck by the beauty of the reflections. They are unfixed, imperfect, not truly accurate reflections of what I can see above, yet they transfix me. They are a deviation, a disturbance, a disparation from the original, but in spite of that – no, because of that – they hold an additional special beauty. The reflections are enhancers, even as they obscure the details of the trees’ forms. They are vibrant, in a different way to the organic life of the literal trees. They are mysterious, creating something new and ethereal out of light and water. They are evocative, stimulating wonder, wonderings, and worship. They are improvisers, stuck with the laws of physics yet constantly evolving and shifting and presenting unforeseen shapes and effects.

I thought about how all of the above observations would increase manifold with a heavier breeze, with gusts of wind, with a rabid squall or raging typhoon. The mass of images getting more messy with the proportions of the wind-on-water violence. New styles, new dimensions of beauty, then into new realms of indecipherable splurges, shapelessness, and conglomerated colours. At some point the delicate poise of balanced beauty is left behind, and the focus shifts solely to the turbulent waters, any semblance of reflection effectively lost. A different kind of beauty emerges, wild and noisy. Different kinds of eyes are maybe needed, as all clarity and tranquility is eclipsed.

I imagined what it would be like if our eyes only ever saw rippling reflections. How we would pray for breezeless days! How frustrating it would be for visual clarity to be almost always an impossible dream! How disorientating it would be to navigate our way around life. Imagine trying to read and write if the words, the pages, and your own fingers would not stay still, with corners expanding and shrinking, lines twisting and bending, colours breaking and mixing, everywhere and all the time! Unable to see the trees for the reflections. I guess in this inverted world the solution would be to look into lakes and puddles and cups of water – ah, there at last everything is still! The beauty of stillness and clarity and enhancement!

As I reflected (ha!) on these things I naturally saw parallels to noise. Noise (whether unwanted noise or noisy sounds or noise music) is often a phenomenon of disturbance. Sounds are variously obscured or deconstructed or distorted, whether deliberately or otherwise. Textures shift. New patterns emerge. Timbres are enhanced. A different slant is overwritten on the usual listening objects. It might be subtle, or it might be overwhelming and even destructive. The beauty and wildness of noise is there to be observed, pondered, savoured. Sometimes it is to be dampened or evaded, but don’t be too hasty.

If constant, relentless, overpowering noise was our status quo, then we would be as frustrated and disoriented as if all we saw were shaky reflections. But within our life of rhythm, of work and play, activity and rest, togetherness and solitude, then noise in various forms can be a life-enhancer, a beautifier, provoking wonder, wonderings, and worship.

If noise is like a reflection, at times vibrant and at times chaotic, what does it reflect? How does noise reflect its source, its maker (or its Maker)? Does noise reflect its context, its environment? Does noise reflect the human condition, human desire, human conflict? Can noise reflect truth or the nature of reality? Is noise inextricably tied to something outside of itself, dependent on what it reflects, derivative? Or is it a self-referencing entity, independent and all-encompassingly new, original?

Not a carbon copy, but a creative warping or expansion of external realities, reflections teach me of the beauty and potential of noise…

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