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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #384
Desert Jitters
David Gunn

Blanche Bengaze was a world-class pianist who specialized in new music. She had premiered dozens of contemporary works in all styles, contextualizations and algorithmic configurations. She had performed from Carnegie Hall to Branson, Missouri, from La Scala to Sea World--wherever she felt she could reach out to an unenlightened audience and grab its attention. But now she reached out to grab hold of a craggy outcropping and pull herself up onto the top of the mesa. She paused to catch her breath. She had been climbing up the declivitous trail for hours and had lost her footing more than once, so the safety of a relatively flat expanse was welcome indeed. Much as the sight that greeted her was not. Ahead stretched miles and miles of relentless desert, extending all the way to a jagged ridgeline in the distance. The wind blew cold and raw from the north, and she hunkered down behind some rocks for protection. Reaching into her daypack, she dug out the directions to the recital hall where her concert was supposed to take place. Her manager had cautioned Blanche that the location was a bit off the beaten path, but this was ridiculous! Carefully reviewing the instructions, Blanche was satisfied that she had followed them accurately, with the possible exception of #10, "proceed for some miles." Some? How many was some? By the time her car had run out of gas, its trip odometer had recorded 360 miles. She had walked only another mile before she had run out of road and begun her harrowing climb up this trail.

Blanche stared anxiously across the harsh, scrubby landscape. The more intently she gazed, the more the approaching miragelike figure took on the physical characteristics of Grog, her piano tuner. Tall and thin with a shock of blazing red hair, he reminded her of one of the century plants that dotted this high desert plateau. A fierce gust of wind sprang up suddenly, peppering her with sharp grains of silt, and she had to avert her face. When she turned back, the Groglike image was nowhere to be seen. In his place, however, were what looked like scores of people marching Indian file towards her. Each was carrying a folding lawn chair, though it was hard to be sure because their images floated in and out of focus, sometimes dissolving into a hazy fog.

Blanche gently wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her tunic, and again the picture that her mind registered changed. Now the black rock outcropping in front of her was clearly her trusty Bosendorfer, and the patch of ground on which she was huddled was her four-way adjustable piano bench. Her subconscious fought to reestablish a connection to reality, but it couldn't quite make the link. In the sky overhead, a solitary vulture circled. She felt the hostile gaze from its suppurating eyes and immediately thought of the critic, Ruffini, who was compelled to write choleric commentaries that denounced anything she ever played.

A rattlesnake materialized at her feet, rattling and hissing. Blanche recoiled, but there was nowhere for an ophidiophobic to hide. Trembling with fear, she tried to stare down the snake. Abruptly, the hissing turned into a stage whisper, "pst pst!" She was hurtled back to reality like a locomotive in a china closet. "Pst pst!" whispered her stage manager frantically again. Now she remembered. She was on stage at the Wollensak Arts Center in Wharton, Maine preparing to play ... oh yes!, Bea Phillips' 19th Piano Sonata, "The Churlish Rascal." She glanced into the audience, sighed as she spotted Ruffini in the second row, and began to play.

The dissonances caromed off of the soundboard like caltrops on stained glass. Fissures formed in the ceiling plaster where the harsh reverberations pooled. Many audience members held their ears and cringed; others wept in fear. Even Ruffini appeared wan and shaken. Little plumes of smoke arose from Blanche's fingertips as she hammered away at the piece. They ached as if little grapples had been inserted under her nails.

Nearly every performance was like this for Blanche Bengaze. She escaped her pre-concert jitters by mentally retreating into an equally forbidding desertscape. If not for the appearance of the snake, she might be there still, though time limitations imposed on this 384th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar's essay would have soon curtailed her existential tomfoolery, anyway, the better to accommodate the empirical machinations of Kalvos.