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The Essay
Show #219
Order v. Chaos
David Gunn

Chaos, as every pupil in Mrs. Farnsworth's fifth grade class knows, is the disordered state of unformed matter and infinite space that existed before the universe got smooth. That's why little Larry Ptang, who instead guessed that it was the natural integument of sofas found in the tropics, was remanded to the after school study hall of Dr. Deleterium for ten weeks. Once his bruises healed and his hair grew back, he was again permitted in the classroom so long as he didn't breathe the air. And that's how he grew accustomed to wearing scuba gear at an early age and subsequently became a celebrated deep sea diver ... until he got caught in a chaotic underwater vortex off the coast of Bemidji. Having long since forgotten the practical application of chaos theory that Mrs. Farnsworth drilled into her students' heads, often with an 18-inch auger, poor Larry drowned. Chaos theory, of course, provides a framework for understanding irregular or erratic fluctuations in nature, like underwater vortexes or adobe hats. It is speculated that, had Larry been wearing an adobe hat, he would have survived the terrible submarine turbulence. An adobe hat is to chaos what a vacuum is to order -- and that's a Hoover type of vacuum, not the space-a-bit-lean-in-the-matter-department type. According to Mrs. Farnsworth, the study of chaotic systems was essential if her pupils were to understand the principles of order that underlie the patterns of all real systems, such as adobe hats. Or music.

Music, however, is an example of order in chaos. It is composed of so many interacting elements that it is tremendously sensitive to even the tiniest factor. For example, the wet wind produced by a French horn player clearing her spit valve during rehearsal of the Farafangana Orchestra Ltd. of Madagascar on June 3, 1997 will utimately affect the attentiveness of Lyman Yarnelli as he awaits his cue to take a string bass solo in the Mosquito Lounge of the Pandora Box Riverside Casino in Hattiesburg, Mississippi later today. A sophisticated computer model suggests that if the French horn player clears her valve during the 48-measures of tacit that open Smythe's Concerto for Lammergeier and Orchestra, Lyman will come in a beat late, vamp solely on a low B-flat, and not have the wherewithal to explore any melodic variations; but if she waits until the flute-only coda of Pemmicania, a suite for band by someone known only as Composer D141, Lyman will enter on time and play a riff so squirrelly that afterwards the audience will be examining itself for brain damage. This would normally be proof beyond doubt that complicated dynamical systems are determined by their causes, proof that would even have Mrs. Farnsworth sitting up and playing scubatag. But there's a fly in the orderly ointment, and that fly is called Frau Fractal. Fractal the Fly, when it isn't dribbling pathogens onto uncovered nachos or sucking the life blood from a tapir stuck in a tar pit, is a unique pattern left behind by the unpredictable movements of the world in motion -- the confusion of a spit valve, the discord of an adobe hat, the chaos of nonlinear phenomena. And when these fractals bump up against complex dynamical systems such as music or bowling, a critical point is passed and their logical and predictable natures turn chaotic, like trying to fit the Sargasso Sea in a Gerber No-Spill baby cup.

The ancient Babylonians -- that is, those over 80 years old -- tell of a mythical hero, Marduk, who slays Tiamat, the cacophonous Mother of All, and transforms her into the order of heaven and earth. Although that was the extent of their mythology, it apparently was enough of a constructive allegory to keep their civilization near the top of the World's Best Cultures list for four consecutive millennia. However, what the Babs failed to mention was what happened next. Chaos, in the form of Mrs. Farnsworth's evil twin, Fiona, sticks the remains of Tiamat in a regenerative cryogenics chamber and revives her. Together, they seek out Marduk, who, following his murderous deed, vanished into a cosmic witness protection program. After years of searching, a tip leads them to Madagascar, and to a rehearsal of the precursor of the Farafangana Orchestra Ltd. where, during a lengthy baton cadenza -- in which the conductor prances about with his musical wand like a lunatic fencer with a hangover -- the woman playing the adobehorn empties her spit valve, and out of the bell serendipitously pops the former hero himself! Imagine what kind of solo Lyman would play now! Suddenly the linear world becomes nonlinear; order is converted into chaos; Marduk is given a pair of cement shoes, jammed into a no-spill baby cup, and sent on a voyage to the bottom of the Sargasso Sea; and chaos theory is replaced by its evil twin, Music Theory.

To liken music theory to chaos is to have one's fractiously fractal finger firmly on the caffeined pulse of this 219th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, a radically complex system in itself whose incrementally analytic linearity regularly has chaologists chewing on their trouser cuffs, if only to somehow affect the initial dynamical response of Kalvos.