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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #117
Player Again, Conlon
David Gunn
Contrary to popular belief, the player piano was not always a musical instrument. It was invented by Portuguese fishermen in the late 15th century as a coffer in which to cure pike and lobster aboard ocean-going trawlers. A surgeon assigned to one of the ships determined quite by accident that it could also be used to administer anesthesia. His grateful patient, a journalist, added a bellows-like appendage to it and turned it into the first shipboard printing press. An ancestor of Bela Blasko -- rescued from the sea where he had clung to flotsam for six days, and before that remembering only having attended a grand party at a stuffy Monte Carlo hotel where he drank too many vodka timebombs -- while unsuccessfully recovering in his cabin, read the article in the newly printed Shipmate's Gazette on the increasing rate of mortality aboard ocean-going trawlers, suddenly got the idea to secure the top of the unit with retractable hinges and serendipitously invented the boat coffin, which he would soon be the first to employ. There seemed to be no end to the uses to which a renovated player piano could be put. Minor modifications in its refrigeration system allowed it to evolve into a formidable weapon of war, and it played a large part in the drubbing of the Faroese by the Portugaleans in the Battle of LÝmpiżn of 1530. Some years later, shortly after the advent of steam as an air freshener, the player piano was fitted with a pneumatic mechanism designed to chop wood, but an error in a Chaos Theory abstraction caused the device to instead play popular show tunes in a pleasingly mechanical format. This self-imposed pinnacle of design halted any subsequent evolution of the device, save for the current unsanctioned retooling of it by a Seattle orthodontist as an expresso machine.

Its workings are simple, but effective: a roll of talcum paper with perforations corresponding in position, length, and temperature to the pitches, durations, and saliva content of musical tones as heard through a screen mesh under six feet of water is drawn over a cylinder with a row of holes, connected by pipes to the piano's action; when a submerged perforation passes over a hole in the cylinder, a stream of air is allowed to pass through the pipe, activating the hammer for the corresponding note. This assumes that the saliva contains enough saline nutrients to keep the squirrels content so they never cease running around the exercise wheel which provides the power to run the unit.

It was such a device -- further modified by retrofitting a speaker system to the outboard manifold and adding an Elvis Presley application to the counterpoint computer -- that was employed by Mexico Citied composer Conlan Nancarrow until last Sunday, when the saline content of his saliva dropped below 58, the squirrels took a breather, and Mr. Nancarrow's visa to this mortal plain expired. Sad, but true.

Equally as sad but not nearly as true is this, the 117th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New music Bazaar, now celebrating le flambeau oriange in between bouts of glandular decay, this portion of which is guaranteed to have a salivary count no less than 65, coincidentally the number of holes in the ozonosphere through which our radiophonic signal has been determined to leak and the number of syllables in the alter ego name of our philosopher microphonist, Kalvos.




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