Aerial is short, sweet, fun, and a perfect example of how anyone can make music if they set their mind to it. Making quality music is another thing, which is why Oliver Barrett‘s piece is so effective. Why, this instrument may be on top of your very own house, or your grandparents’ old house (because they never took it down), or stuck in a crevasse somewhere, as it was at the Barrett residence. But few of us would think of using it as an instrument.
The last time I ever touched one of these things was when my grandfather was unable to get reception on the football game, so he sent me up to the roof. As long as my hand was touching the aerial, the picture was clear, but when I let go – static. On Aerial, these formerly unwanted sounds become cherished. First there are the high, piercing tones, then the first tendrils of static, like raindrops pelting a clueless child who really should not be up there in the first place, then an utter deluge. Fortunately, Barrett is recording from a safer vantage point. It’s not clear how he sourced what sounds like a hundred inverted rainsticks, but this passage, peaking in the seventh the minute, is particularly dramatic, ranking up there with his best drones.
The whole purpose of an aerial is to make sound and picture clearer; but musicians sometimes want things to sound less clear – distorted, disjoined, askew. At the halfway point, Barrett begins tapping the aerial in such a way as to suggest random drumming or the cessation of a storm. Then the piercing tones resume, suggesting music made in hardware store aisles or the hidden patterns of construction crews.
All too often, we say, don’t try this at home, but here we say do ~ find some outdated object in or around the house, and use it to rediscover the joy of homemade music. Don’t worry about it being catchy or commercial. One day when your own grandchildren look at old house pictures and ask, “What was that?” you might reply, “Oh, that’s an old musical instrument; we had no room for it in the house, so we kept it on the roof.” (Richard Allen)