My apartment building's pretty big, I'd guess something like thirty apartments to a floor and nine stories tall. I face the side with the hill and the parking lot, not the one with a view. I get to hear things, though. Like the two families at the end of the hall who let their kids ride bikes inside on a rainy day or the building's doorman who leaves work at precisely 5:30 PM each day, his car stereo perennially looping an old R.E.M. tape... or the musical stylings of amateur musicans.
You see, there's a guy (or girl, I'd guess) who lives downstairs from me. This person has recently taken up playing the drums. I say recently because there weren't impromptu rehearsals before roughly two months ago and because the drummer is great at fills but has no sense of time signature.
Sometimes I'll sit at my desk or on my couch and count out his beat in my head as he plays, 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4-5 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 1-2-3-4. Bump-ba-da-dump BOWbadaba DA thwump. For some reason he never hits a cymbal.
One time I tried to figure out where the sound came from; I think I narrowed it down to 312 or 314. Either way, it's one of the apartments that borders the elevator shaft. Which I guess explains why I hear it so well, being as how my apartment wraps around the same shaft.
I wonder sometimes if he has a band out there somewhere, a group of people delighted to have a source of percussion but disturbed that he can't hold a beat. I also have contemplated what it would be like to have an unknown neighbor knock on your door and ask to jam. Would he like the idea? Be mortified? I'd always guessed that I'd find it fun.
This afternoon I heard him get started: Boom-da-da daDUMP. Repeat. He's got a very distinct rhythm he likes to play with minor variations for his main riff during practice. I play electric bass as a pastime, never really with anyone, just as a way to cut loose after work or a hectic week. For some reason, the idea popped into my head to just start playing with him.
I slid my amplifier right against the wall nearest the elevator shaft, turned up the volume and plugged in. When he got to the beginning (so to speak) of his asynchronous tempo, I jumped in and started playing a similar beat on an open string.
The drumming stopped after I struck one or two notes. After a pause, he started again -- slower and more basic this time. I joined in.
He stopped. A longer pause this time. I guess he was trying to figure out what was happening.
The rhythm picked up again, a bit more consistent this time. I got a little more creative, basing a riff loosely on a popular song. He responded by keeping a 4/4 beat (or as close as he could to 4/4) and jazzing it up some with more snare.
We built a bit of momentum, going on for a few minutes, I guess ten or fifteen. I was having fun with our "elevator jam" when suddenly things changed.
I heard a shrieking roar reverberating through the elevator shaft. At first, I guessed it was the elevator plummeting passengers to near-certain doom. Then the shriek evened out and gained form and function; a rhythm appeared and the tone focused itself into a chord.
Somewhere else a guitarist had just joined our cacophony.
Somehow, I guess I managed to ignore my surprise because as the whole sonic assault occurred, I had managed to keep my riff going relatively consistently. The drummer, as before, stopped. But he heard my notes and jumped back in after a few moments. First with the BOMP BOMP BOMP of a kick drum and then with his trademark boomp ba-da-BA-dump.
The guitar tore through an incendiary progression, like Eddie Van Halen or maybe Eric Clapton -- overdriven, crunchy, and wahed to the faux beat of the rhythm section. We got up to speed and carried the bastard tune through several restarts of the drummer and it sounded smoother and smoother as it went along.
After not too long, a different resident started pounding on the doors of the elevator shaft. I guessed for a moment that we'd gained another performer! A distinctly masculine voice entered the fray: "Turn that shit off!"
Not being one to argue with neighbors in a "noise free" apartment complex, I quickly turned off my amplifier. The other instruments vanished almost simultaneously.
Maybe tomorrow I'll try to find the other musicians.
Or maybe not.