21cm - A Background

A few people now have asked me what exactly this track with the title 21cm means, so I decided to write my own personal description of it, so here it is.

My views of the world, through music, are large vistas, covering more than the usual small story-scapes that proliferate the musical landscape.  21cm is different in this regard.

The track title ‘21cm’  - please bear with me - refers to the radio frequency wavelength of the ‘ionised’ Hydrogen line, used in radio-astronomy…the way we ‘see’ the Universe using the Radio Frequency (RF) spectrum, invisible to the naked eye.

The track, compromising of synthesisers and a classical-feel piano,  starts out with the sound of sea waves, crashing on a pebble beach. This is a sound that needs to be heard and appreciated by humans.  If you are ever in a situation where you can stand on a beach and listen to this simple, natural sound, close your eyes and block out all other sounds if you can and focus in on this sound only.  It’s a beautiful noise to behold, the crashing water (of life) moving solid rocks or sand (once rocks, but pulverised over time, by the water).

I then introduce what are supposed to be the noise of electrons orbiting their nuclei (Hydrogen again - another water connection and hydorgen being the first atoms to be created as well as the most plentiful).  When creating these elements of the track after multiple listens, I started to imaging them as Dolphins…perhaps an interpretation of early ancient forms of sea life. The scene - in my mind at least - is then set for the start of the world as we know it and have to come understand it, through it’s fossil records and history.

From this point, the repeating piano motif fades in - a complex, 7/8 time signature, with seemingly two sides, left and right hands fighting, wresting each other for dominance.  This piece represents the start of life and over millions of years, it’s evolution, including that of humans which eventually take over and dominate all over living creatures and their surroundings.

Interspersed with 4/4 phrases that mimic ‘rests’ in progress, the track builds as a parallel to human growth and knowledge, sometimes hurried through warfare, sometimes hindered by various understandable but unreasonable belief systems.  We reach a point where we are able to use our knowledge and experience, our growing scientific understanding, to search for other intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe.  We initially unknowingly and later knowingly send signals out into free space to communicate with any intelligent life form out there.  Are we really asking for help?  Are we wanting an answer to understand and justify our existence? To create meaning for ourselves?

Human existence continues unabated with all the good and bad that goes along with it.  Continually affecting our surroundings and other life forms on our planet, under the seas, on land and in the air, we continue on blindly, yet knowing the consequences of our behaviour but, generation after generation,  still choosing to ignore them.  This, ultimately, culminates in our own destruction.

For me personally, the track carries me along to this point and then drops me back down to earth with a thud - I feel like I’ve been on a ride and feel a little breathless.  I feel like I been picked up and have rode the track to this point and have now been pushed off as it is [almost] all over.  I almost feel a sense of relief.  The overriding image in my mind, is that of a huge mushroon cloud, building and building.

We are now returned to the same opening scene of waves crashing on a beach, accompanied by a mournful piano.  Towards the very end of the track, at last, our signals sent out years before into space, were received by beings we wanted to reach out to.  A beeping overhead signal, signifies that they have finally arrived to meet us and help us out of our self-inflicted predicament but alas…we as a species, peaked too early and they…arrived too late to help.  All that is left is the sound of waves, crashing upon a beach...with no human around to hear it.

My hope is that we can learn more, learn faster, in order to stabilise our planet, stop creating the emissions that will destroy us, stop creating the waste that will destroy those beings around us and return our planet to the paradise it actually is.

Are you with me?


© Ray Nelson 2019