He had barely escaped with his life. If he hadn’t been on deck, he wouldn’t have. There was no warning—a few shouts, then the lurch and the deck had dropped from under his feet. He grabbed a life preserver, which looked more decorative than real, climbed over the railing, and jumped. All of this passed in a minute.
He thought he heard shouts as he swam away from the ship, but in the hours he was adrift in the dark he hadn’t seen anyone else. Since reaching shore, he had paced the same fifty yards relentlessly, searching the horizon for some sign. Nothing. No one.
Finally, in the early morning light, he saw something glinting in the surf and waded out to fetch it. It was a wine glass. He almost threw it to the ground, his anguish so great, the irony of a delicate wine glass surviving too piercing. But just in time, the glass made him think of drink, of water. He needed to find fresh water. He could not be more ill equipped to survive here, on his own.
He set the wine glass in the crook of a rock away from the surf and stacked some small rocks as a marker so he could find the glass again. Every movie image of deserted islands raced through his mind as he started off—poisonous snakes, unfriendly inhabitants. He would stay close to the beach, along the edge where the forest met shore.
Not far from where he had started, he thought he heard music. Holding still, he listened intently. It was the sound of water running over rocks. He followed the sound, which led him into the forest, and soon found the stream. Falling to his knees, he washed the salt from his face and drank deeply. He then followed the stream to where it dissipated into sand on the beach. After marking the place, he went to fetch his glass. On his way he saw a shiny, round object lying on the shore. It was a can of beans—its label still intact, it probably came from the ship. He picked it up, got his wine glass, and returned to where he would set up camp. He cast about for a sharp rock and started hacking his way into the can. Opening it just enough, he drank the beans from it. Exhausted, he sought a sheltered spot and went to sleep.
When he woke, he determined he should search the rest of the shore—maybe he wasn’t the only one. He put his glass safely away and rinsed and filled the bean can to carry some water. The island wasn’t large. It took him perhaps four hours to walk its circumference, calling to no avail. He was, indeed, alone. As he approached his point of origin, he saw something large and black on the shore. Rectangular. It couldn’t be, but it was—his thirty-two-track recorder. He carried it back to his camp.
He knew the recorder was ruined, but he wiped the sand off and set it on a relatively flat rock. Somehow having his equipment there buoyed his confidence. Along the wetted sand, he dug up some of the small clams he had seen burrowing there and put them in his can. Then he gathered dried leaves and twigs and, taking them and his wine glass onto the beach, he started his first fire. It was enough to pop the clam shells open, and he ate the clams with relish. He could do this, at least for now.
Over the next days, he ate clams and twice daily scoured his “side” of the island. One morning he found a can of artichokes, another a can of soup. He gathered dried leaves, twigs, and larger pieces of wood. He washed his clothes in the stream and dried them on the rocks.
One day, drinking water from his wine glass, gazing out at the horizon as he did relentlessly, he ran his finger around the rim and heard music other than his own voice. He spent the next hours playing with the wine glass, varying the water level. Over the next days, in the hours and hours between searching the shore, gathering fire materials, digging clams and chasing down sand crabs, he created every pitch he could with his wine glass. He put pebbles and shells in the glass to vary the timbre. He became adept at playing the rim—staccato, legato, different rhythms. Then one day, he started to record his masterpiece. He considered carefully how to use each of his thirty-two tracks.
He had become so absorbed in his project that it took him a few minutes to register the sound of something mechanical. But the sound finally penetrated his concentration, and he ran to the shore waving frantically at the small plane. It made a wide arc, flew overhead, and dropped a small package of provisions and a note that help was on the way.
The next morning, a boat arrived. He learned that most of the other passengers had made it to a nearby island and had been rescued a week earlier. When he carried his recorder and wine glass to the shore, the captain pointed out that the recorder was probably ruined but then just shrugged when his passenger insisted on bringing it aboard.
Days later, back home, he was the guest of honor at a party his friends had organized to celebrate his miraculous return. He arrived with his multitrack recorder, set it up, and told those gathered that they had to listen to what he’d done on the island. He flipped the switch and beamed while his friends stood about exchanging nervous glances in the silence.
Yet in the years that followed he became the most sought-after sound engineer in the business. He brought out tonal qualities that even musicians couldn’t hear in their own music.