“Drifting” is a notion from the 2013 movie Pacific Rim. In the movie, the world is under attack by giant godzilla-inspired monsters, called kaiju, from another dimension. The most effective way to combat these proves to be the construction and operation of massive robotics called jaegers. These mechs are controlled via neural uplink to two or more pilots within the body of the robot – the neural stress proved too much for one pilot alone. These pilots have to mentally synchronize with each other to operate one mech fluidly and effectively. This synchronization is referred to as “drifting,” or “the drift.”
The Pacific Rim wiki contributes the following:
“The process of Drifting is a type of Mind Meld that requires the pilots to share memories, instinct and emotions. Drifting allows them to act as one and control the very movement of the Jaeger itself, one pilot controlling the “right hemisphere”, the other the “left hemisphere”. Rangers who pilot on the right side of the Jaeger are considered the dominant pilot.”
This process results in subtle impressions of personality traits transferred from one pilot to their partner, and a muted ghost of the drifting effect remains even after they leave the jaeger behind.
This is all very fun and juicy for a whole lot of lovely relationship dynamics and fun AUs taking the concept in all sorts of different emotional directions. But I am taking the time and space to explain all this because for a while I have considered sharing a stand partner for long enough establishes a sort of drift compatibility.
Playing orchestral music with your stand partner is an exercise in mutual contribution and compromise. Particularly when you sit in a front stand, in leadership positions. As I experienced for three years of high school, the assistant concertmaster must defer to the concertmaster in terms of bowing, articulation, and dynamics, just as the right-hemisphere jaeger pilot is considered “dominant”, but when the concertmaster falters, they rely on their co-concertmaster to catch them with the correct rhythm or an established fingering in a difficult technical spot. They learn how to exaggerate together, how to play with abundant and quite unnecessary flourish, or how to play emotionlessly and hunched in, in protest or despair. They establish a rhythm of page turns, of marking their music, of looking at each other when something amusing happens in another section, of exchanging confused and alarmed glances when they get lost.
Justin was my stand partner for three years, and over those three years, we acquired a musical rapport unlike anything else I’ve ever had. There’s just no other way you can get such a high level of instinctive, empathetic intuition in a musical setting with another person. I knew how to follow Justin when he sped way up as a joke, I knew how to glance at him when I messed up, or when he did. I knew when we were about to stop playing to laugh. I knew how to imitate his tone – if we were moving way more than we needed to, sliding around and elongating our vibrato, I had a setting for that, a mode for each of his modes.
I still channel him, this year now that he’s graduated – my own version of ghost drifting. I play a g major chord at the end of any scale we play to warm up as a class, because he isn’t there to do it. I slide up an octave sometimes, like we might do together, or trill when I feel like it. I channel him in my solos. I channel him in my silent rebellions against the conductor, the way I slouch in my chair sometimes, the way I call out encouragement to other people as they play.
This year, I’ve been concertmaster. Which means that I only follow the conductor, and the other section leaders. It cannot be my responsibility to mold my playing against the shape of my stand partner’s. I have to set the tempo, I have to set dynamics, I have to be bold and confident. I have a responsibility to lead, and to compromise, but in the midst of playing it is their responsibility to follow me.
And so I miss that sensation of having my drift partner alongside me, of being able to read someone else’s signals and surf on the wave of their musicality. All this to say, my music is a collage of impressions from other people. Sometimes I channel Uzuki in my movements and my intensity, sometimes my Dad, often times other players in a present chamber music engagement, but most of all, in orchestra at school, I find myself synchronizing in accordance with Justin’s impression on my music and my memory.