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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #273
Musicam
David Gunn

A man in a television studio control booth sits before a sophisticated video console adjusting knobs, tweaking dials and playing Lava Music on a soda straw. He glances at a dog-nosed script, then abruptly makes the sign of an upside-down beehive with his hands. A subordinate cues the engineer, who flips a switch, and the monitors in the room come to life, inhaling electrons and exhaling little puffs of cathode rays. The air feed monitor shows a colorful field of lilies and zombocartumians, their fronds dancing a botanical fandango in the wind. Behind them, a mock volcano smolders like a laid-off gypsy fan dancer. Music up as the scene dissolves into the title credit -- "Musicam!" -- which in turn dissolves into live picture.

Camera 1 features distance shot of giant, weather-beaten cabbage, probably 30 feet across. As it zooms in, we discover that the vegetable is really a small, ramshackle house covered with green and purple vines. Cross-fade to camera 2, which features a close-up of the front door, then zooms out as, from stage left, a man on stilts enters the picture, acknowledges the camera with a curt wave, and strides to the door. Hopping off the stilts, he rings the bell, pushes open the door and enters. Cut to camera 3, house interior. Camera shows one large room, sparsely furnished. The wallpaper motif is of musical notestems careening in different directions, as if M.C. Escher had written a four-dimensional fugue. Diffuse light is provided by thousands of fireflies affixed to large sheets of Homosote® that are suspended from the ceiling. Five men and four women perch on a large beanbag sofa in the center of the room. On six small tables in front of them are unopened packets of pencils, tubular erasers and stacks of manuscript paper. A tap in the corner slowly drips water, presumably, onto a plate in the sink, creating an aggravating anti-rhythmic pulse. One of the men opts to take matters into his own hands and waltzes over to the basin. He grasps the tap handle tightly and turns. The handle comes off in his hand. One of the women gasps, then attempts to perform a Heimlich maneuver on herself. Roll credits.

Voice over: "It's Musicam, the show that intimately follows the lives of a band of composers as they try to coexist here in Harmony House. Viewers get a blow-by-blow real-time snapshot of the contemporary tunesmith at work; nothing is left to the imagination. For 20 days and 15 nights, the composers are locked in this house, deprived of comforts as basic as rehearsal pianos, music writing software and algorithm generators, exposed to the harsh natural elements of biased criticism of questionable merit. Viewers can watch them contemplate, stew, complain, pace, floss, procrastinate, find inspiration and sometimes even write music. But if the music's bad, you viewers can vote to have the composer silenced. Then a tribal council within the house decides how the act is carried out, and for this, the cameras are briefly turned off. However, if the music is good -- that is, if it appeals to the show's target audience -- then the composer is awarded points. At the end of the 20 days, the composer with the most points walks away with a $15,000 music commission from a highly respected symphonic organization whose name, if I mentioned it, you’d recognize in an instant. Composers can also acquire points by finding or catching food that is hidden around the house, offering music workshops, or by 'silencing' other composers."

Cut to camera 1, which shows a body shooting out of the house's chimney. Cut to camera 3 in the living room, which now features four men and four women, one of whom is adding a tick to a column, presumably hers, on a flipchart pad.

Voice over: "Points are also amassed by overcoming the day-to-day challenges of life in a confined space amongst potentially hostile colleagues."

Cut to camera 1, which shows a second body shooting out of the chimney. Cut to camera 3 in the living room, which now features three women and four men, one of whom is adding a tick to a different column on the flipchart.

Different voice over: "It's a MacDowell Colony with adversaries! It's Musicam!"

Music up. Cut to camera 2 zooming in on unstilted man as he comes through front door. Studio applause up. "Thank you, and welcome to the 273rd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, which is interrupting this edition of Musicam in order to give the contestants a brief respite while providing you, our listening audients, with some relief of your own. So for the next two hours, just sit back, take your feet off, and enjoy some unbridled Lava Music!"

Lava music up. Cut to camera 1 as it zooms back from house close-up to reveal the field of lilies and zombocartumians, the smoldering mock volcano, and a man pantomiming an upside down beehive who looks remarkably not unlike Kalvos.