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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #202
Coughmongering
David Gunn

The poster appeared on the west wall of the Düsseldorf Conzert Musique Shed shortly before noon. The west wall faced a dimly foreboding alleyway across from which loomed a munitions factory that spewed plumes of dimethylaminoethodycyanophosphine oxide into the air each morning, regularly causing the local bird population to plummet, and severely curtailing the number of voluntary passers-by. Thus, it was not the best place to plaster a performance announcement. And yet, by 1pm, the concert had sold out all 1,120 seats plus 1,560 more standing room only. But this was no ordinary power rock trio, ocarina octet or even chamber string band. No, the only group whose legions of fanatic aficionados seemed to come out of the woodwork on a moment's notice when everybody else was feasting on cellulose was the infamous L'Ensemble du Fromage en Doute. Their one-show only concert was scheduled for 8:00 sharp, but by 6:35 every seat was filled, each standing room site was being stood on. An expectant susurrus filtered through the recital hall like a ravenous shark through a swarm of harp seals. At precisely 8:05, the house lights dimmed and members of "le cheese," all dressed in concert finery, strode onto the stage and took their seats which were arranged in a semicircle around a giant white cauldron whence wisps of dimethylaminoethodycyanophosphine oxide issued.

The musicians raised their instruments, and paused; the audience was expectantly quiet back. And then, from the rear of the balcony came a barely audible cough. The bazouki player winced, losing concentration. Down came the instruments. Two thousand pairs of eyes turned around in their sockets and glowered at the hacker, who pulled an anechoic bag over his head and shrank down into his seat. Decorum soon returned, and the musicians again assumed their compositional confrontation pose ... which was again interrupted, this time by a fit of hiccups from the fifth row center. The embarrassed audient got up to leave, but a sudden glottal spasm pitched her into the lap of a bulbous trapper from Crete, knocking the breath out of him. Gasping, he huffed and gulped, and then began to sneeze uncontrollably in a rhythm that mirrored that of the food fight scene in The Rite of Spring. The North German Sanitarium Tuberculosis Ward out-patients who made up the bulk of row AA simultaneously experienced a medication failure, and suddenly a chorus of wheezing, sniffling and snuffling erupted contrapuntally from the rear of the hall. A stagehand who'd been under the weather for so long he'd received an honorary degree from the Nederlander School of Implied Meteorology then began to hack up phlegm the colors of which would've made Roy Lichtenstein blush. The balcony hacker, still muffled by the pouch over her head, began to cough again. The bag expanded, then burst, spewing billions of throaty particulate matter into the recital hall's circulation system. Soon, everybody, including "le cheese," was noisily expelling air from their lungs in a desperate attempt to clear their respiratory passages.

From such a humble beginning did the act of premeditated coughing in concert arise. And now, at nearly any concert, recital or public performance one attends can be found a professional hacker, a person skilled in the art of coughing on cue. Depending on mood or surroundings, coughmasters may employ different styles, from the loud, seemingly uncontrollable belly hack to the mesmerizing rhythmic wheeze to the sneeze spray-for-distance. And, unwilling to lose control of a concert situation, composers have gotten into the act, too. Here's a bit from Mauricio Kagel's Improvisation Ajoutée for Organ in which he skillfully utilizes a coughmaster in the audience. (excerpt)

Mauricio Kagel, getting into the Coughing-in-Concert act, an event which otherwise has no bearing on this 202nd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, as will soon be made abundantly clear by this station's own sneezer extraordinaire, Kalvos.