Library of Instruments

by Kim Junghyeok

Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé

Published in Koreana: Korean Art & Culture (The Korea Foundation) Vol. 23, No.3 Autumn 2009  pages 90 - 99

It’s wretched to die as a nobody. The phrase came into my mind as I rose into the air after being struck by a car. My surroundings grew blurred, every sound faded away. Total stoppage. I could see nothing, hear nothing, think nothing. It felt as though I was being sucked into a huge capsule. That phrase, It’s wretched to die as a nobody, wrapped itself round my head like a helmet. Hitting the ground with a thud, I lost consciousness.
If I did not die, it was surely thanks to that phrase. No-one would believe me, but I really think it was because that phrase had wrapped itself round my head like a helmet that I survived. For the first time I realized that sometimes the power of thought can cover your body with a thick layer of armor, so that if you try your hardest not to die, you really can avoid dying. Lying in hospital swathed from head to foot in white plaster like the Abominable Snowman of Himalayan legends, I pondered the phrase all day long. I could not recall in the slightest how I came to be struck by the car, or how high I had risen into the air, but I remembered that phrase clearly. If I closed my eyes, a white wall appeared that was covered with it. If I opened my eyes again, the wall would vanish and the phrase go on flapping around inside my head like a fish. I was all the time living with the phrase. Before I went to sleep I used to recite the phrase like a mantra. I had a feeling that by doing that I would not die. Every time I opened my eyes, I was alive.
All the while, my girlfriend sat at my bedside making me listen to music. Whenever I told her about the phrase flapping around inside my head, she would joke, “I reckon you must have banged your head,” and turn up the volume. Sonata, concerto, symphony, then back to sonata, it was an unending forced march. Unable to say whose work it was, who the performer was, we listened to music twenty-four hours a day. There’s nothing like music while bones are knitting, she used to say, but sometimes I felt as though my flesh was being battered rather than my bones knitting. Still, I certainly could sense that I was alive. I began to feel that the notes echoing round my hospital room were like my bones.
It was only three months after being admitted to hospital that I started to be able to walk. My left shin-bone was bent like a bow but that did not prevent me walking. Once I was able to walk properly, I went to the place where the accident had happened. There was nothing I had lost, nothing I needed to check, yet I had a feeling that I had to go there. I carefully examined the surroundings, almost as though that phrase might have fallen to the ground somewhere. Of course there was no trace of anything. Not so much as a sliver of broken glass. Thinking back now, I reckon it was a kind of ceremony. It was almost as though I wanted to go to the place where I had nearly lost my life in order to show it that I was still alive.
A whole lot of things changed after the accident. First, I quit my job at the office. I mentioned that phrase to my section chief. His only reply was, “Stop joking, get some rest, then come back to work. When it comes to being wretched, I’m one up on you.” He didn’t want to accept my resignation. I reckon he was jealous. He asked what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I had no answer. After quitting my job I started to drink. Since my wounds were not yet completely healed, nothing was worse for me than drinking, but unless I got drunk I could not get to sleep. In order not to die as a nobody I had to do something, but there was no way of knowing where to begin. I bought three cases of the cheapest white wine at a discount store and emptied one bottle every evening. At first the astringent taste made me regret not having bought a more expensive wine, but as time passed I grew accustomed to it. After I had drunk almost the whole bottle, I would begin to glow all over and grow sleepy. I told my girlfriend I was only doing it to warm myself up before sleeping, there was nothing to worry about, but in fact even I could see early signs that I was becoming an alcoholic. But when I drank, that phrase disappeared from inside me. The uncertainty as to whether I would be able to wake up alive the next morning vanished too. That alone made drinking worthwhile.
If I had not passed in front of the musical instruments section of the discount store one month after starting to drink, I suppose I would have just gone on uncorking a bottle of wine in one corner of my room and falling asleep dead drunk every evening. I still do not consider that way of living to have been wrong. With the passage of time, I start to think that it was all a process. Because of the accident, that phrase appeared; because of the phrase I began to drink; and it was because I was drinking that I discovered the instrument store. When things apparently completely unrelated join together in a line, life changes. And that line drawn out at length makes an individual life.
Having emptied all three cases of white wine by the end of a month, I headed back to the discount store to buy some more. Since there was a huge mirror hanging directly in front of the escalator going down to the basement, I turned my head to the right in order to avoid seeing my grim-looking face. Along the handrail, Christmas decorations were flashing gaudily. It was only then that I realized Christmas was approaching. When the escalator had taken me about a quarter of the way down to the basement, my eyes were struck by a piano in the instrument section on the ground floor. I still recall the price tag standing on the keyboard. Ordinarily, I would have considered it unthinkably expensive, but in my bank account I still had the compensation payment from the accident as well as my severance pay, accumulated and untouched, so that I began to reflect, ‘A piano’s no problem.’ Beside the piano guitars, violins, and other toy-like instruments were lined up. As I stood there on the escalator gazing up at the instruments, my girlfriend came into my mind. She and a friend were running a small violin academy and whenever she heard a record of a famous artist, she used to sigh. It was not because of the outstanding technique, but because she was unnerved by the sound of a violin. I would scold her: Music’s played with the soul, surely, not an instrument, but since I knew absolutely nothing about music, there was nothing I could say. I rode the escalator back to the ground floor and went into the instrument store.
The violins were ridiculously cheap. It was only after I had listened carefully to one being played that I understood the reason for the price. The violins in the store were the kind of product that, though you might assume they would produce sounds you could not be sure they would in fact produce any sound. I gave up on the violin, bought a case of wine and took it back home.
The following day, the moment I told my girlfriend that I wanted to buy her a violin, she immediately seized my hand. I anxiously wondered what price violin she might choose, but I also reflected that it did not matter if it took all the money accumulated in my account. I had the impression that buying her a violin would be better than drinking wine. By the time all that money was gone, I would probably know what I had to do next.
Until we began our pilgrimage round the instruments shops, I had been feeling that all we had to do was buy something reasonably expensive, but as time went on I discovered that just looking at instruments with her was fun. As we found out instrument stores and did the rounds, even though my leg was less than perfect, the mere fact that I had survived and could therefore walk around with her made me happy. Talking with her, at a given moment I found myself unbearably eager to learn an instrument.
 ‘What instrument will you learn?’
 ‘I’ve got big hands; what about the piano?’
 ‘Long fingers can be a help, but I reckon big hands might be no help at all. Unless you want to play two keyboards at the same time? Did you learn the piano as a child?’
 ‘Not at all.’
 ‘If you didn’t take piano lessons, what did you do?’
 ‘I learned taekwondo.’
 ‘Well, taekwondo can be useful in life, I suppose.’
 ‘Not necessarily.’
 ‘Maybe not.’
 ‘I like the sound of the cello. Is learning the cello hard?’
 ‘What about the violin?’
 ‘You mean learn from you?’
 ‘Why not?’
 ‘I don’t much care for the sound of the violin. It upsets me.’
 ‘You say that because you’ve got no depth.’
 ‘The deeper I go, the more I get upset.’
 ‘It’s up to you; learn the piano, learn the cello . . .’
I had said I wanted to learn an instrument, but in fact I lacked the confidence to do so. Not only did I lack any kind of musical talent, even supposing I learned an instrument, it offered no perspective of allowing me to earn a living. It all boiled down to the fact that the only thing that interested me was not to live as a nobody, that I had to achieve something outstanding so that my name would be remembered by future generations.
The last store we visited that day was the one she liked best, that had the biggest selection of instruments. It was called Musica, but the store might just as well have been called an Instrument Museum, it was so well furnished with every kind of instrument. I did not know what the basis for the classification was, but it was obvious at a glance that care had been taken to ensure that everything was arranged in a regular order.
 ‘Why, you’re back again, Miss. There’s nothing new in secondhand.’
 ‘Today I’m not looking for secondhand stuff. Don’t you see my benefactor here? He’s one of those gangsters who deliberately get themselves knocked down then blackmail the driver; he’s just pulled off a big one. He says he wants to use that money to buy me the ultimate violin.’
 ‘Then I can’t sell. Could you play an instrument bought with that kind of bad money?’
‘At least it would produce a bad sound, wouldn’t it?’
‘The violin would sound all beaten up.’
‘Perfect. That’s just the sound I want.’
The owner with the moustache and my girlfriend kept perfect time. As they exchanged banter, their timing was like a comedy act that has been practiced for a long time. My job had suddenly been transformed into blackmailing gangster, but I loved it when she spoke like that. On hearing her words, I suddenly felt as though I was not crippled at all, that the accident had been a dream.
The owner with a moustache looked like someone who had nothing at all to do with music, but the first impression was not a negative one. The moment I saw him I was fascinated by his moustache. I was struck by the thought that it was the kind of moustache someone might grow who had nothing to do with music and was desperately eager to look like an artist, and found it looked cute. Judging by what he told me later, my guess was fifty percent correct. As they went on joking and he smiled, the moustache suddenly looked like a mountain, whereas before it had been like a level plain; its movements were so remarkable that for a while I could not help staring at his moustache as it kept expanding and contracting.
 ‘This is my boyfriend.’
After exchanging jokes with him for a while, she introduced me. The owner smiled again, transforming his moustache into a line. She continued to discuss with the owner as they examined violins, but it was mostly specialized talk that sounded to me like some kind of foreign language. I passed the time idly pressing the keys of a piano standing in a corner or plucking the strings of a cello one after another. At a given moment, the owner began to talk in excited tones.
 ‘That’s a really stupid distinction to make, don’t you think?’
 ‘Yet that’s what they all write. It wouldn’t be easy to change now, surely.’
 ‘What do you think? Do you think it’s right to refer to a violin as a string instrument when you’re explaining what it is?’
‘Well, it’s certainly got strings, hasn’t it?’
‘In that case, why not call an hourglass drum a string instrument? It has tuning strings, after all.’
‘Mr. Sophist, those aren’t used to produce sounds.’
‘What do you mean? Those strings control the sound, don’t they . . .?’
‘A drum isn’t an instrument that produces sounds by vibrating strings, is it?’
‘Surely those strings make a sound when you beat the drum? A kind of mosquito-like buzzing, at least?’
‘You call that music?’
‘So is a piano a string instrument or a percussion instrument? It has strings, does that mean it’s a string instrument? They are struck, does that mean it’s a percussion instrument? Yet you don’t strike a violin’s strings. So it must be a percussion instrument, not a string instrument.’
My eyes were fixed on the piano keyboard but my ears had taken off on their own and were following their conversation. The owner with the moustache spoke engagingly. The two, who had previously been like employees in a joke research institute, now turned into panelists in a debate about musical instruments, as they talked on. Just then a customer came in to collect an instrument that had been brought for repairs, and the conversation was briefly interrupted. I was trying to see how large an interval I could span on the piano, stretching thumb and ring-finger to the widest extent possible before placing them on the keyboard. I put too much strength into my fingers, struck the keys hard and sent a resonant pair of notes ringing through the quiet shop. The other three all turned to look at me but I pretended nothing had happened and went on studying the piano keyboard. Fortunately, neither the owner with the moustache nor my girlfriend said anything to me. As soon as the customer had left they picked up their conversation again.
‘Anyway, I reckon it’s a waste of time dividing instruments into percussion, string and tubular instruments. If you actually play an instrument, there are so many aspects that don’t fit in . . . and if there are so many exceptions, it’s the distinctions that are wrong. What does your boyfriend think?’
Perhaps he realized I had been eavesdropping on their conversation, because the owner with the moustache asked the question abruptly.
‘What? Why, I don’t know anything at all about music.’
‘I’m not asking about music but about making distinctions.’
I closed the lid of the piano and walked across to where they were standing by the showcase.
‘Listening to you talking, I thought it sounded a bit odd.’
‘What was odd?’
My girlfriend asked the question with an expression suggesting she was taken aback to find me involved in the discussion.
 ‘Because I don’t understand; what do you mean by ‘tubular’ in a tubular instrument?’
 ‘It means the sound is produced when air is blown into an open-ended, circular tube.’
 ‘So the tube is the instrument by which the sound is produced? But with a string instrument the strings themselves vibrate and that produces the sound, doesn’t it? So the string is what actually makes the sound, which is a slightly different basis from the definition of a tubular instrument. And ‘percussion’ refers to the act of striking, a different category again from tubular or string instruments.’
 ‘Correct. The fellow’s got it sorted out right.’
 ‘I have to agree. Hey, there’s a corner of you that’s bright; I’m amazed.’
My girlfriend pouted as she nodded her head. I had never once in all my born days given a thought to the categories of musical instruments, yet as I opened my mouth I felt as though all the blankets in my mind had been neatly folded up. I still blush to remember how, on hearing their praises, I briefly felt proud. That day’s conversation was only possible because none of us realized that experts in musical instruments were not that stupid. Three months later I had already learned that experts classified instruments differently. Scholars referred to tubular instruments as air-sounding, to percussion instruments as body-sounding and to string instruments as string-sounding instruments. But I am still proud of the way I immediately put my finger on the mistaken terms for the three kinds of instruments when I had never thought about it before. I feel even prouder when I think of how many people still use the old names without the least thought.
I was immensely encouraged by their praises. I felt as though I had discovered some new truth, like the person who first realized that the world was round. The owner with the moustache, I and my girlfriend spent no less than two hours chattering. The two of them did most of the talking while I played the listening role, but thanks to my contribution to the discussion about categorizing musical instruments, I had a formal invitation to be part of the conversation. Talk about music occupied eighty percent of the conversation, but from time to time something personal about each of us emerged. The owner with the moustache admitted that he was finding it increasingly difficult to run Musica, my girlfriend said that her pupils’ parents were getting increasingly rude. After nothing but discussions about how everything was increasingly going to the dogs, the talk turned to my accident and the owner’s eyes sparkled. Obviously talk of someone else’s accident, especially talk by someone who had had such an accident and survived, fascinated him. Only there was nothing much I could say. On my way home from work I had been hit by a car while I was on a pedestrian crossing. I had no memories of the rest. But that’s so boring! The owner with the moustache grimaced. I felt obliged to mention that phrase, and how I drank one bottle of wine every evening because I could not get to sleep without drinking.
 ‘But what does it mean, dying as a nobody?’
‘To tell you the truth, I don’t know. In some ways it’s like some kind of code, or like a meaningless phrase . . . .’
 ‘You’re right, the phrase is a bit odd. Every time I listen to you speaking, I wonder if the grammar’s right.’
 ‘Only there are times when that phrase grows solid and takes control of my head. It changes into something like water and fills my head. Then I can’t breathe. I feel as if I’m about to die, that I’ll never be able to take another breath, never be able to be reborn, or if I’m reborn it’ll be as someone else, not me, you see. It’s like the feeling you get when you fall into water. I just have to drink.’
 ‘And if you drink, you’re alright?’
 ‘It turns the water filling my head into liquor. Then I can get my brain to stop.’
 ‘Suppose you went to the hospital, dear?’
 ‘My brain’s full of water. Drain it please. Tell them that?’
 ‘No, you need to go to a psychiatrist.’
 ‘That’s enough of that. It’s nothing those people can solve.’
 ‘Have you resigned from your job?’
 ‘With a mind like mine, how could I work? I have to rest and think a bit.’
 ‘Idiot. If you die while you’re working, that’s not dying as a nobody; whereas if you die now, you’ll really be dying as a nobody.’
 ‘This is our first meeting so you might find the idea odd, but what about coming to work here?’
 ‘In Musica, you mean?’
 ‘Business here is bad, so I’m starting up another kind of job. I’ve been considering stopping here and employing someone else. You could think you’re simply visiting, just dropping by . . . . You said you want to learn an instrument? I run a weekly class in piano, cello, viola and violin, you could attend without paying.’
 ‘Surely I’m not a suitable person? I’m too old to be working part-time like a student, and besides, I know nothing about musical instruments.’
 ‘Why? You exposed the secret of percussion, tubular and string instruments . . . . Just think about it.’
 ‘Do I look like someone who could sell instruments?’
 ‘Ha ha, you think faces sell instruments. You’re funny. You’re good-looking enough to sell instruments. Don’t worry.’
The following day I phoned the owner with the moustache and said I would do it. I told him I did not want to be paid since I did not know when I might change my mind, but the owner was so obstinate that in the end I was obliged to accept a small salary. In addition, he told me the lessons would be free and I could borrow an instrument for nothing, once I had decided what I wanted to learn. My decision to work in Musica was a way of letting go of myself. Whatever came along, I wanted to let myself go, follow the flow. I wanted to watch new things impaling themselves one after another on the skewer of my life from a long way off.
Working at the instrument shop proved to be unexpectedly enjoyable. I had to deal with the customers, but there were only two or three of them in a day, and since most of those came to look at instruments, I did not have much to do. Occasionally parents would come in, holding a child by the hand, and start inquiring anxiously about which instrument was best, but I would simply repeat what was written in the manual, to the effect that the owner was temporarily absent. When I told him that I was embarrassed not to be able to explain anything, the owner with the moustache said it did not matter. That was because, as a rule, most of Musica’s regular customers ordered the instruments they needed directly from the owner, and all I had to do was look after them once they were delivered, then, when the customer came by, receive any remaining balance and hand them over. Still, reckoning that at least I ought to be able to distinguish the smaller instruments from one another, in my spare time I read an illustrated guide to musical instruments. Occasionally I might also sell an accessory such as a guitar string, or a musical score.
When it came to music, I had heard plenty of it banging at my ears while I was lying in hospital, but the music I listened to in the shop felt very different. Perhaps because it was full of instruments. It felt something like sitting next to a movie director watching a preview. Listening to a violin concerto, I used to stare at the violins. When I listened to a piano sonata, I use to delude myself that someone was sitting at the piano playing as I listened. There was no end to the sounds one instrument could produce, and the state of my heart as it responded to those sounds one by one was necessarily different each time.
Sometimes my girlfriend would drop by and play the violin for me but oddly enough that did not produce the same degree of emotion. It was the same if I took a CD from the store and listened to it at home. Once I recorded my girlfriend as she was playing. I told her that a really good violin had come in, she ought to give me a star recital, and she did her very best, playing the violin as if she was making a record. Whenever I listened to that recording alone in the shop, I could feel her emotion fully.
I gave up trying to learn an instrument after the second week. The introduction to musical instruments class was usually held in a small room in one corner of the shop. I found it hard to attend the class and keep an eye on the store at the same time. Even though there were no customers, I was preoccupied. I gave up after learning how to hold the bow when playing the cello. I was happy just looking at the instruments while listening to music.
By the end of two months I could distinguish the various instruments and even give simple suggestions to customers. I was sufficiently good at it for the owner with the moustache to remark: If you were a bit younger, I’d take you on full-time, it’s a pity. After three months had passed, as I read “Effective Classification Systems for Instrument Salesmen” that I had borrowed from the library, I reflected how the store should be changed. It was in that book that I read how stupid it was to classify instruments as string, percussion and tubular instruments. Yet I was not happy with the classification the scholars proposed. I had the feeling that the main problem with any classification of instruments was that It might hinder the creation of new kinds of instruments. I wanted to classify instruments in my own way. The owner’s way of arranging the instruments was based on how they produced their sound, while I would group together instruments having a similar quality of sound. Violins and cellos produced their sound in the same way, but their timbre was completely different, so I would assign different places to each. Around that time the owner’s other business was moving fast and I was left almost entirely alone in charge of the store; as a result I was able to move the instruments around, arranging them in a variety of ways.
Then at a given moment I began to record the sounds of the different instruments. I used a computer program to arrange the recorded sounds tidily in folders. Since there were many unfamiliar instruments, I was obliged to follow the performance methods indicated in the illustrated guide as I made the recordings. Progress was slow. It was hard to record the sound of an instrument, not a performance. Each instrument had at least twenty different timbres. There were some six hundred instruments in the shop, meaning I could record eighteen thousand different sounds. I cannot claim to have recorded every possible sound produced by each instrument, but at least I produced sounds from each instrument by every possible method. Scraping, scratching, knocking, plucking, stroking, pinching, I played the instruments. If today my hearing is as acute as it is, I believe it is entirely on account of the work I did back then. I was only able to distinguish and organize all those different sounds by concentrating the emotions scattered throughout my body into my eyes and ears.
I was so absorbed by the task that I installed a simple folding bed in the lecture room and slept there. I would record the instruments until late at night, then fall asleep in the early morning, so that drinking came to a natural end. My girlfriend mocked me, saying I was an incurable paranoiac, but since she had never seen me that serious before, she did not meddle further. If my girlfriend left me, it was not entirely for that reason, I suppose, though I think it was a decisive factor. What I was doing was not only rash, it contributed nothing at all to world peace, earned nothing, and had an eternally unattainable goal. For me, doing it was like setting off on an exploration of outer space knowing clearly that there could be no return, like going deep-sea diving without wearing any oxygen cylinders for use on the way back up. I was attracted to it precisely because completion was impossible. I felt sorry that she had decided to love someone else, but I had no choice. I reckoned it was all part of a process, but since it was uniquely my process, I could not impose that process on her.
Since I had used the money in my account to buy recording equipment, a computer and a sound-editing program, I had nothing left but by saving up my salary I was able to buy an additional, slightly more convenient recording system. I started to record, not only instruments but every kind of sound I heard around me. Customers’ footsteps, coughs, the cries of the mice living in the shop’s ceiling, the sound of a finger tapping on a table, the doors of the elevator closing, the washing machine spinning, the sound of water boiling, any sounds I could hear and record, the moment I heard them I would press the record button. Even then, I never once wondered what I would do with it all. I simply recorded as I breathed.
One day I was recording the sound of a Ghanaian frame drum in the classroom. Unlike ordinary drums, it resembled a wide rectangular tray and in order to play it it had to be laid slanting at 45 degrees and struck with the hands while regulating the volume with a heel, making the task more complicated than usual. I was recording a variety of sounds, moving my heel this way and that. No doubt because of the noise, I was unaware that anyone had come in until the owner threw open the door of the room.
 ‘What’s all this? What are you doing?’
Startled, I let the frame drum fall to the floor at which the mike placed on the floor fell over with a loud noise. I was going to have to say something to the owner with the moustache but with all the noise my mind went blank and I could not speak. Holding the door open, he stared around the room. The folding bed, the recording equipment, and several instruments awaiting their turn filled the room.
 ‘You seem to be busy? Shall I come back later?’
Even in this chaos the owner made a joke.
 ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had come in.’
 ‘I just arrived at the airport. I dropped in on my way home. I was wondering if the instruments were alright in this cold weather . . . what about a glass of wine?’
I fetched two bottles of white wine, a box of crackers and some paper cups from a nearby convenience store. I found myself obliged to tell the owner what I had been doing. The more I explained, the less clear what I had been doing, my reasons for recording the sounds, seemed to become. I began to reckon it must sound like a very lengthy, unfunny joke.
 ‘You’ve been having fun?’
 ‘Time certainly passes fast. Not that I know what I can do with it all.’
 ‘Because you’re obliged to do something with it?
 ‘So far I have about eight thousand files recorded. Doesn’t it sound odd if I say I recorded a whole eight thousand files just for fun?’
 ‘So long as you’re having fun, it seems you can do anything.’
 ‘Do you think so?’
Either because the weather was cold or because the store’s fridge was too good, the white wine was really chilled. I wrapped both hands round the paper cup. The cup was growing soft as it absorbed the wine.
‘Can I leave you in charge here for a year?’
The owner with the moustache poured more wine into my cup as he spoke.
 ‘Musica? Are you going away somewhere?’
 ‘I find myself obliged to go abroad for rather a long stay. I have to find someone for here but I don’t have the time. It’ll be best if you either take charge of it yourself or find someone for me. If you reckon you can do enough business to cover the running costs and your salary, I would rather you continued to run it.’
 ‘Either I stop now or I can’t stop for a year, it’s one of the two is it?’
 ‘That’s about it. Even if you decide to quit now, I hope you can stay on until the shop is sold. Then I’ll make up for it by a good severance bonus.’
 ‘I’ll go on looking after it.’
I was the first to be surprised to find that I could make such a major decision after less than a minute. There were any number of reasons. I disliked the thought of stopping what I had undertaken this far, and there was a happiness at the idea that I could go on classifying the instruments after my own fashion, anyway various thoughts ran through my head.
 ‘It’s not like you to be so full of confidence, surely? ‘Do I look like someone who could sell instruments for a whole year?’ I knew it . . . .
The owner imitated my voice, then burst out laughing.
 ‘But what will you do if I run off with all these expensive instruments?’
I asked, laughing in turn.
 ‘Well, that’s one way of closing down. If you run off with the instruments, I’ll collect on the insurance money. You do just that, understood? If there’s a single instrument left when I get back, you’re fired.’
 ‘Do you mean that?’
 ‘You should learn to crack jokes. With a joke inside you, living gets easier.’
The second bottle of wine was just the right temperature. Absent-mindedly I was tearing off the rim of the paper cup, a very old habit I had.
 ‘Coming in, the instruments seemed to have changed places a bit?’
 ‘I had nothing to do so I changed them around. I’ll put them back where they were.’
 ‘Do as you like, You’re the boss for the next year, after all. Seeing you today, you really suit this store better. I’m just a merchant. A merchant only has one goal in life. Buy cheap, sell dear, that’s it. You’re not a merchant, I like that. But don’t overdo things. You’ll soon be exhausted. If you keep on living like this, you won’t last six months.’
The following day, the owner came back to hand over responsibility for the store. On a small sheet of paper he carefully noted down the contact details for the place where I could order instruments, the person who repaired instruments, the person I could ask for help in an emergency. Just by that scrap of paper I could see what kind of a person the owner was.
 ‘With this much you could handle things for three years, not just one, right?’
 ‘You sound as though you’re leaving me marooned on a desert island.’
 ‘Why? Are you nervous?’
 ‘Still, the way you talk makes me feel sorry. Do you sleep well nowadays?’
 ‘It’s funny, everything has disappeared. The sound of the instruments seems to have pumped all the water out of my brain.’
 ‘That’s good. Instruments are better than liquor. Hearing what you said back then gave me food for thought, you see, that phrase. What was it, exactly?’
 ‘It’s wretched to die as a nobody.’
 ‘Yes, thinking it over, I reckon it’s true. I sometimes think I’m wretched. If I were a writer, or a movie director, or a politician, or a great inventor, or a composer, everyone would remember me. That’s what the phrase means, isn’t it? A longing to be remembered by someone.’
 ‘I really don’t know. It may be that.’
 ‘Don’t worry. I’ll remember you.’
I have no idea why that thank-you came out. I should have joked that I would remember him too, or simply smiled in reply. Hearing me thank him, the owner rolled his moustache into a thin line and laughed aloud.
 ‘You should change the name of the shop, too. Musica? It sounds boorish, doesn’t it?
 ‘I reckon it’s alright. It’s simple, easy to remember, elegant . . . .
 ‘What about Wretched Music Store? You and I both being wretches . . . .’
With that joke, we parted. The next day I began to be so troubled by wondering how I should change the store, how I should arrange the instruments so that they looked different, that I stopped recording for a while. That was about the time that I and my girlfriend separated. I really began to feel it was like a desert island. I depended on work to forget everything else. I redecorated the classroom and increased the number of classes. I rearranged all the instruments and hung on the wall a large chart indicating the different categories of instruments. In one corner I arranged a listening space where people could listen to music through headphones. I provided free coffee. All of that was in part intended to improve the shop’s profits but it was mainly because I wanted Musica to be a place thronged with people, not a desert island.
The ‘Instrument Library Project’ came into being thanks simply to one girl. She was a middle-school student who studied the violin every Wednesday and one day she came up to the counter and spoke to me.
‘ ‘Mister, do you have an instrument called a sitar?’
 ‘Not at the moment . . . . You want to buy one? Shall I order one?’
 ‘No, I just wanted to hear what it sounded like.’
 ‘Really? Wait a moment. There ought to be a recording of a sitar here somewhere . . .’
 ‘No, not a recording of a performance. Just the sound it makes.’
 ‘You just want to hear the sound it makes?’
 ‘It’s something I read in a book, that the most lonesome sound in the world is the sound of a single sitar string plucked gently in a completely empty room.’
 ‘Really? It might be true.’
I had at first meant to simply send her away; but I had the sound of a sitar.
 ‘This is a recording I made of the sound a sitar makes; would to like to hear it?’
 ‘Really? Could I borrow it?’
 ‘I’ll transfer it onto a cassette tape. There should be the sound of a sitar string being plucked in here. But you’ve got to understand, this isn’t a performance, just a recording of the sound. Understand? There’s no wonderful music.’
I wondered what she would make of the sound but had no great expectations. I though she would probably be disappointed, with no music to be heard, just strange sounds emitted by the instrument emerging for five minutes. The result was not at all what I had anticipated. The girl came back the next day.
 ‘That’s really cool. Now I know what a lonesome sound is like.
 ‘Yes, really.’
That was the beginning of the ‘Music Library Project.’ Obviously I did not start with that name. And I had no idea it would grow so large. The beginning was simple. The first idea that came into my mind was to make it possible to listen to instrument sounds in the listening space as well. Then I phoned one of my former office colleagues and discussed my idea with him. ‘You mean like a juke-box?’ he asked. ‘Something similar, I suppose,’ I replied. We agreed that my colleague would set up a simple program for me in his spare time at a low price. Together we prepared the program and bought a computer capable of running the program. I paid for it out of the money I was due to receive as my salary.
Less than a month after first presenting the program to people, the ‘instrument sound jukebox’ had become Musica’s specialty, a specialty, indeed, among all the nearby instrument stores. The greatest advantage of the ‘instrument sound jukebox’ was the way people could borrow a sound and take it home. After selecting the desired instrument, they had only to press the ‘receive’ button and there was a mini-disk system linked to the computer that would download the sound. People could take away the sounds of several instruments at once.
A lot of people borrowed the sounds of instruments, for a variety of reasons. Some were curious about the sound of some instrument, like that schoolgirl who had been the Instrument Library’s very first customer; some people borrowed sounds to play to their children; some people said that they could concentrate much better listening to those sounds than when listening to actual music; there were those who said that when they were unable to get to sleep, they only had to hear those sounds and they fell asleep in a flash. Some people began to donate sounds they themselves had recorded, just as people donate books to libraries. Some three months after the launch of the program, people began to call Musica ‘the Instrument Library.’ It might have problems grammatically, but I liked the name.
I still have not decided if I did well to make the ‘instrument sound jukebox.’ I just followed the flow in producing it, down to today. Compared to before, Musica is cramped, many more people come in.  Of course, the number of people buying instruments has not increased much. What is clear is that I much prefer this crowded Musica to the Musica of the old days.
There is one thing that has been worrying me. I kept wondering what the owner with the moustache would think of all these changes. He might crack a few jokes, then say, ‘What you’ve started is really entertaining. Will you go on taking care of the shop?’ Or he might say, ‘Do you think it’s suitable, having all these people crowding into Musica?’ Sometimes he has phoned but I never breathed a word about the Instrument Library. Explaining was too difficult. Today it has been six months since the Instrument Library opened. And in a few hours’ time, the owner with the moustache will be arriving at Musica.