Something calls me tonight to write about the old vines and the theme of decay in experimental music. I am inspired by my brother Pierce Warnecke, a contemporary musician, who writes custom software in a program called Max that deteriorates sound & video. When I started to research this notion, it seemed like the theoretical writing hadn’t quite caught up and mostly I was being informed about the standard musical definition of decay as the time it takes for a sound’s volume to decrease to silence. All sounds are subjected to this trajectory, the rapid oscillation of air pressure mapped by a sine curve diminishes over time to silence. Without the resistance of air around it, perhaps the sound would go on and on forever… but in a void like that, there’d also be no sound.
At least it is a point of entry to examine the lifespan of a vine, that progresses through time in a sinusoidal pattern as well, the bottom of the curves are winter dormancy and the tops are peak summer vigor, the stretch of green tendrils attempting to colonize air. Lifespan varies in a vine, the IRS affords it 25 years of depreciation on a grape-growers taxes, but it is usually artificially summoned to death when the value of its crop no longer pays for its farming, as is the case for the old vines in front of my house.
Planted by my grandfather in 1973, they’re on rootstock that is not modern and highly susceptible to soil borne pests like phylloxera. That’s one factor that is speeding up the diminishing sine curve of these vines, another is a wood fungus called eutypa (or Dead Arm) that effects yields (but not quality) and is highly contagious to neighboring vines. When winter pruning occurs, fresh cuts expose the infected interior wood to moist wet weather, the perfect environment for a fungus to volatilize and catch a flight to the next block over, where similarly pruned vines display large open cuts prey to migrating eutypa spores. Of course, there is a fungicide that can be applied to prevent this, but it is never 100% efficacious. Perhaps in a vacuum chamber the vine would live on forever, it is a miraculous plant and deserves its interloping moments as the tree of life, upstaging sometimes the pomegranate or fig… but in a void like that, there’d be way too much missing to even think of good wine coming out of it.
Despite the sound economic grounding of the decision to replant this block, sadness is inevitable, as I think of the past 50 years that these vines represent and as I miss already the future wines that they will not produce. Pierce enlightened me in an email, explaining his work and some precedents that inspire him like the composers William Basinski, Tim Hecker, The Caretaker, Liz Harris or Lawrence English: “In their music, they tend to keep the melodic and harmonic changes at an arms length, and focus instead on developing the processing of sounds (fuzz, analog tape noises, distortion, etc). This could be what gives their music a strong emotional factor: 'pretty' or 'sad' melodies and chords, which on their own might not resonate with the listener of today, but processed in ways that make them feel more like deteriorating artefacts of another, happier time when that type of emotional music was more widespread. The fact that it is often quite repetitive also makes me think of a memory that one keeps turning over and over in the mind's eye ... it's the sound of nostalgia, for my ears.”
I am victim of this same nostalgia tonight, wishing away the organic arsenal of decay on the sinusoidal progression of these vines through time. Alas the pressure of the living world around them has silenced them. This growing season they are left untended and unpruned resulting in an explosion of over-abundant small clusters that will never ripen, an empress’s extravagance in wearing all her jewels on the eve of the empire’s upheaval.