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The Essay
Show #217
Extreme Musicians
David Gunn

Some people like to take chances. In fact, they thrive on personal peril. They just canít seem to get through a day without risking life and limbic system. They need a shot of epinephrine, a common hormone found around the house that is released into the bloodstream in response to physical or mental stress. They need that high speed surge of blood glucose rattling through their veins. They are junkies for that olí adrenaline rush. And, letís face it, watching a croquet match among octogenarians or listening to a poet read 60 pages from her anthology on angst or even attending an Enya kazoo recital simply runs out of steam after the first hour or so. So they look for another stimulus. They jaywalk. They ignore police commands to stop. They stare at the sun. They donít watch between-meal treats. They BASE jump.

BASE is an acronym for Building, Antennae, Span and Earth, the fixed objects from which BASE jumps are made. BASE jumpers may just act like self-indulgent, affluent boobs intent on personal gratification, but theyíre actually crazier than coots. I mean, in what other discipline does one measure fulfillment in terms of a "thud factor?" Now if these reckless adventurers would just stick to the sporting arena, we wouldnít give a hoot. However, this over-the-edge attitude has seeped into the consciousness of the contemporary composer, giving rise to the extreme musician.

Extreme musicians arenít content to compose at a piano; a walk in the woods does more to dull their senses than to sharpen them. Inspiration comes to them only through the filter of intense psychological stimulation. Thus, if the piano was suspended tenuously by floss over a pond full of piranhas, or if the woods had suddenly caught fire, the extreme composer would stand a much better chance of awakening the muse within him or her.

For years, though, this mania was considered extremely bad public relations, and extreme musicians hid in their closets, afraid to reveal their seemingly uncontrollable inclinations. For example, who would have thought that Reinhold Gliere, belying his placid academic demeanor, got his most creative sparks when he was shackled to a leopard at the Moscow Conservatory? Speaking of sparks, extreme composer Percy Grainger virtually invented the American avant-garde after heíd been "introduced" to the electric cattle prod by some leather-clad companions. And John Cage wrote his seminal book "Silence" during the summer that he was entombed within the bellows of the Coney Island Amusement Park calliope.

Nowadays, extreme composers collect their thoughts while leaping off cliffs, surfing tsunamis, bungee jumping into volcanoes, rail-sledding bullet trains. They seek out muggers. They prepare their own blowfish chowders. They do their own plumbing and maintain their own leach fields. They fear neither the constraints of serialism nor the melodic traps of minimalism. Given enough of a rise in their blood pressure, they are not even afraid of the major triad. Some extreme composers even live in Minnesota, for crying out loud.

Sergeant Major Balthasar Babcock, senior administrative officer of the Royal Fusiliers Battalion at Lorry Upon Kent, a figure who has been borrowed from a future Kalvos & Damianís New Music Bazaar radio program and who appears in this 217th episode under duress, once had -- or really, will have -- this to say about extreme musicians. Likening the renown of their compositions to a rubber bicycle wheel infested with spiteful crawling insect larva, he somewhat incomprehensively said -- or, rather, will say -- "Fame is the tire in bitchy worms," an oblique reference to Time is the Fire in Which We Burn, itself a composition by extreme musician Scott L. Miller of Minnesota who, by the most amazing of coincidences, is scheduled to be a guest on todayís show, the likelihood of which can best be ascertained from Kalvos.