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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #500
The Day of the Leopard
David Gunn

It was a momentous, even historic event, but not for the main reason anticipated. The radio program was celebrating its 5,000th consecutive weekly broadcast. The same two humans had been hosting it for a little over ninety-six years and were at last beginning to run out of coherent programmatic themes. The show, whose name had long since been either forgotten or abandoned, focused on music, specifically new music. During its lengthy run, the show had explored every conceivable aspect of organized sound--tonality, color, height, weight, texture, virtue, lugubriousness, arability, biodegradability, coagulability, dilatability, evaporability, flammability, impenetrability, marketability, permutability, reliability, spreadability, transmutability, vitrifiability and aroma, just to name half of one year's topics.

Sometimes, the hosts performed intricate experiments on the music. One time they crammed an eleven-hour-long electroacoustic composition into a wallet and placed it on a table in the local mall's food court. At first glance, the music looked like a wad of crisp new five dollar bills. Given the type of denizen the food court attracted, odds were that it--the music, not the food court--would be swiftly pinched. However, the musical mélange steadily seeped from amplified pores in the wallet and the "acoustical event" seemed to keep any wanna-be larcenists at bay. The experiment ended at the ten-hour mark when a hard-of-hearing mysophobiac swept it into the trash bin. Another time they attempted to conduct a test of the Emergency Broadcast System--except the word "broadcast" was malapropped as "broadax," and suddenly the station was awash with quarrelsome men and women attacking one another with heavy axes, their blades clanking furiously against each other and creating an intriguing acoustic event. The triage that followed was another matter, however.

Occasionally, the show hosts mixed music, and played more than one piece at a time. Once they got thirteen discrete recordings going simultaneously before the station's output board overloaded and reverted to the EBS' two-tone Attention Signal, after which there was not an appreciable decrease of listenership.

Other experiments included the fractional distillation of an aleatoric composition using Sonata Form and camphor; employing Mrs. Blanche Burdach, a medium, to finish the last soundtrack of Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004); creating an art song based on the interaction of Roget's International Thesaurus, Third Edition, with dark matter; placing prerecorded compact discs in the radio station's microwave oven and baking on high for anywhere from three to 335 seconds; and seeing how much music could be crammed inside a telephone booth, an experiment that ended prematurely coincident with the confiscation of Vermont's last telephone booth. Musical experiments during the 80th and 81st year in particular set new standards for weirdness, partly due to an excess of B vitamins in the diets of the hosts. But this show, they thought, demanded something special. No mere live concert or music composed especially for the occasion or even a large toothsome celebratory cake would do. No, the 5,000th show called for nothing less than a leopard.

Leopards are large, ferocious cats famous for their rosette patterned coats, long tails and acute dislike of Vermont winter climes, and the animal that had been procured for the program ably demonstrated all three attributes. But now what? They could place the leopard in a box with a composer to see what, if any, musical event developed. Unfortunately, the radio station was not zoned for carnage. The college abattoir in the adjoining building was, however the lack of an engineer with a strong stomach made a remote feed from there infeasible. Well, they could put the leopard in the box, then add music, both in written and audible forms. This they did. The great beast ignored the audible sounds but ate the scores which, the hosts later determined, tasted a little like chicken. A caller suggested recording the leopard's roar and mixing it with some of the dark matter left over from the thesaurus experiment. However, having just eaten, the now lethargic cat instead settled down for a nap. Mrs. Burdach, who correctly intuited that the hosts would in desperation telephone her, said that the animal's guttural snore was a secondary theme from "The Rhonchus Among Us," a film score that a patently decomposed Jerry Goldsmith was currently composing.

Somnolent or not, the leopard-in-the-box was wheeled into the broadcast studio. A microphone was inserted through the window along with a vial of camphor and a 2 gigahertz radio wave. The leopard didn't respond. A fragment of the eleven-hour-long electroacoustic composition was added. Still nothing, though there was an unconfirmed report of a confrontation between two broadax-wielding trenchermen at the local food court. Snippets of the previous 4,999 radio shows coated with poultry-flavored Shake 'n Bake were tossed into the box, and at last the leopard reacted: it vanished. In its place was a wallet crammed with five dollar bills.

The 5,000th show went on anyway, with the occasional piece of obscure but new music escaping from the broadcast studio into the radiophonic ether. No one phoned in his or her congratulations, although Mrs. Burdach did call again to ask about her honorarium. The hosts signed off, still lacking a helpful subsidy from an arts endowment organization. There followed a 5,001st show and even a 5,002nd, but after that, both the history and future of the radio program get murky, owing to a molecular reaction of the camphor to the Shake 'n Bake.

Cainotophobiacs, beware! This 500th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar is not for you! It is, however, for nearly everyone else in the non-popinjay radiophonic universe, even the two unnamed hosts of that unnamed long-running radio program, neither of which has the slightest resemblance, it must be said, to either Damian or Kalvos.