“The Sound-Sweep,” J. G. Ballard, 1960 — Ultrasonic music is the new fashion and phonographs and live performances are a thing of the past. It is a world where the echoes of music remain in their concert halls, where conversations are preserved in the walls and floors, and “sound sweeps” use sonovacs to clean up the past, often at the request of those fearing blackmail or noise pollution. Madame Gioconda, the aging and discarded opera star, and Mangon, a mute “sound sweep” enjoy an unlikely friendship, one Mangon desperately hopes is real, as he loves the decaying but once magnificent diva. When Gioconda finds a way for Mangon to help her reclaim her fame through a comeback performance, Mangon feels the depth of her trust in him and suddenly regains his voice. The night before her comeback, a rival asks Mangon to “sound sweep” her during the performance for her own good, as she doesn’t realize that her voice has lost its beauty. Mangon refuses, still loyal, and tries to reach her, but she has packed up her apartment and abandoned him in anticipation of her impending success. A brutal message of sound has been left in the wall for him to “read”: “GO AWAY YOU UGLY CHILD! NEVER TRY TO SEE ME AGAIN!” Mangon attends her performance as planned, but he destroys his sonovac so that her caterwalling will be heard by all.
Comments: Read in Best of the Best (which lists the publication date as both 1959 and 1960 and does not hyphenate the name). Themes of music, disability, memory, noise, silence, intimacy. Gioconda is perhaps a Miss Havisham update. Another metaphor for memory; compare with “Slow Glass” or “Static.” See “Stereoscopic Urbanism” at Simonsellers.com for a discussion of Ballard’s depiction of the “built environment” in this and other stories.
Wikipedia: “Trevor Horn has said that his lyrics of ‘Video Killed the Radio Star‘ by The Buggles were inspired by this story of a world without music. Irish Band ‘Band on an Island’ named their debut album after the short story, and the inlay sleeve features a picture of an old theatre inspired by its opera singing character.”
Author: Wikipedia: “James Graham “J. G.” Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) was an English novelist, short story writer, and prominent member of the New Wave movement in science fiction” and the author of Crash. There are several blogs devoted to Ballard’s fiction, including Ballardian and J. G. Ballard’s short stories.