A young composer-pianist explores the twelve-tone method:
"He composed mostly at the worktable, popping over to the Bechstein now and then to see if something was physically playable or to check a motive or a rhythm figure. But when he had a piece written to his satisfaction he would take it to the piano and play it — at first very slowly, often so slowly as to be out of tempo — and listen with all the concentration he could muster. He felt oddly passive, hearing his own work as if from a distance. The strange sounds contained in a progression of unrelated intervals. The eerie, dense chords, like black stones in a Zen garden. Notes skittering in all directions. Everything up in the air without a net.
Sometimes, even with a purely atonal piece, he could hear fragments of some unwritten, hallucinatory, tonal substructure running along underneath, as if played by a string section of ghosts. When this happened — and it was always by chance, beyond his control — he became excited, carried away with an only slightly guilty pleasure. Once he played such a section for Satterthwaite and asked him if heard anything else behind the stated sounds.
"Oh, I don't know," the boy said. "Sometimes I hear chords when there aren't any chords. In my head, I mean. Like there, bars twenty-three to twenty-six."
"Play it," Satterthwaite said, bending his head to take his brow in his hand.
Claude played the four bars.
Satterthwaite lifted his shiny face. "I hear only the notes."
"If you are hearing something more," Satterthwaite said tentatively, "it's probably your brain trying to pull it into tonality. Disregard it. You are doing wonderful work, young man. Very pure, very adept. Stay on the high path. Don't be sucked down, even in your head."
"Yes, sir," Claude said, knowing full well that if this was impurity, he wanted more of it.
— from Frank Conroy's novel Body & Soul