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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #433
Das Wozzeckende
David Gunn

Ruby Primavera sat in the back of the room pondering what she had just heard. She and six other adults--three men, two women and a succubus--were members of a focus group that a world-renowned symphonic music composer had convoked to critique his latest composition. It was a massive symphony, over an hour long, that called for 123 instruments, including a treble harpoon invented expressly for the piece. There was every indication that it would be a hugely successful opus because it offered something for every musical taste: big notes, little notes, tone clusters, arpeggiated triads, sonata form, aleatory, fauxbourdon, recitative, improvisation, atonality, as well as both pentatonic and Richter scales. However, the piece did lack one important component: an ending. The composer couldn't decide how to finish it off. He tried a slam-bang ending that featured eight bass drums playing fortississimo; a wholly quiet ending whose strains faded away like slowly freezing crickets; a quirky ending that incorporated a choir of nervously keening theremins; an accelerando ending that got so fast that some musicians spun off the stage, out of the concert hall and into space; a theatrical Homemaker Security ending in which armed police officers secured the stage, then arrested members of the orchestra with ties to ASCAP; a British ending in which a giant inflatable Queen of England floating piñata-like over the stage was gored by the conductor's baton, precipitating a shower of final notes that had been stored in the Queen seemingly since the days of Mary Tudor.

After listening to these endings, each preceded by a complete rendering of the rest of the symphony, Ruby's head was spinning like Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist. She felt as out of focus as a focus group constituent could be. There was simply too much musical information to process. She glanced again at the composer's questionnaire. It asked her to rate the endings for (a) rinforzandosis, (b) tuttibility, (c) flautophobia, (d) equatorial temperament, (e) fugalgolagnia, (f) decrescendopathy and (g) tubatude. To her it was inscrutable! And yet, everyone else seemed to have an opinion. Gushed one, "I liked the liquidity of the heckelphones counterpointing the rumpusy racket of the guiros!" Fumed another, "Since when did lousy pianolas merit a whole two minutes of extemporized whole notes?!" Hissed the succubus, "Oxiayala holado, od zodirome O coraxo das zodiladare raasyo."

Ruby put down the questionnaire and slipped out of the room. She wanted to hear from some of the musicians. The third and fourth oboists were standing by the stage door, gazing up. Ruby joined them and, following their gaze, noticed a clot of dots in the sky. "Wharton, Ruffini and Broca," said one; "our treble harpooners."

"Do either of you have ..." Ruby began, but before she could add "a favorite ending?" the two were seized by a squad of trench-coated constabulary and bundled protestingly away. Then she heard a commotion around the corner of the building and went to investigate. The tubist was standing over a dumpster (no, not Humpty), pouring hundreds of dead crickets from the bell of his instrument. Seeing her, he grumbled "I hope you don't vote for this ending!"

Returning to the now deserted concert hall, Ruby sat down in her appointed listening place, Row D, Seat 19. She had to admit that the absence of any music was the most pleasant sound she'd heard all day. Suddenly, she felt an eerie presence nearby that made her skin crawl, nearly halfway around her body. She turned round and looked into the bloodstained eyes of the composer. No matter he was an inch shorter than Ruby in net height, he still seemed to tower over her. His demeanor was as cold as his crickets; he smelled musty, like Mary Tudor's rumpled ruff.

"Have you reached a verdict?" His voice sizzled like smoldering human flesh. He momentarily brushed against her shoulder and the contact was like deregulated electroshock therapy.

"Y-yes. I mean, no!" she stammered. "I'm ... still thinking."

"Where is your questionnaire? You must fill it out!" The voice buzzed like bees enraged over a honey embargo, then turned abruptly left, sinister. "There is one ending I haven't yet tried. I call it 'The Wozzeck Ending.' Do you know the story?"

Ruby did. In the opera, Wozzeck shaves the captain, the captain mocks the doctor, the doctor conducts medical experiments on Wozzeck, who is beaten up by the drum major, who gives a pair of earrings to Marie, who is stabbed by Wozzeck, who drowns--not an ending she would be drawn to. The composer, however, seemed to have embraced it, as he had drawn a knife, held it threateningly over his head, and yelled "Ich nicht, Ruby, und kein Andrer auch nicht!"

Coincident with his uttered last word and before he could convey the knife to its intended target, a long-delayed echo from the last quadruple sforzando bass drum wallop of Ending No. 1 ricocheted back onto the stage, slammed into the composer, and knocked him out cold--colder even than the crickets.

A small voice that sounded not unlike an Official Lifelike Princess Of The Kingdom Doll then deadpanned "hop-hop, hop-hop, hop-hop."

Today's 433rd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar has several possible endings, too, not to mention another beginning ready to go should this one falter. A variety of midsections is also standing by, whose selection depends on the successful interaction among our special as-yet unnamed guest-of-the-day, your obedient servant, and the nearly always ready, or at least marginally willing, Kalvos.