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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #516
David Gunn

Arnöö Haknabn walked tentatively onto the stage to the accompaniment of enthusiastic--though prerecorded--applause. He bowed to the audience, then turned to face the orchestra. However, the applause didn't cease. A malfunction in the clapophonic software kept the hand coming. Haknabn faced the audience and appeared to bow a second time, but really he was peering at the control schematic on the floor in front of the podium. He found the grid marked "Theater: Spectator Approval, Audio," reached down, and flicked the switch to off. Nothing happened. The applause continued unabated. In fact, it increased somewhat. In the upper reaches of the balcony, it even turned heated, and set off one of the smoke detectors. In response, a technician shuffled onto the stage, lugging the sarcophagus-shaped counterovation module. He brushed past Haknabn, ignoring him, and plugged the device into a socket in the floor grid. Immediately, the clapping ceased. The only sounds were the shrill piping of the smoke alarm and the giant animatronic parrot in the foyer that was mimicking the alarm. The technician leaned over and pressed a button on the side of the podium. The alarm mutated into a small fireworks display. Haknabn took this opportunity to peer into the theater to see who, or what, was in attendance. But a bright, ceiling-mounted spotlight shone down into his eyes just then, blinding him.

A Roman candle caromed off the mezzanine balustrade, sending someone--or something--running for cover. Then the pyrotechny shut down, too. The technician unplugged his module and at last acknowledged the conductor with a blasé thumbs-up gesture as he shambled back off stage--except that those certainly were no thumbs that protruded from the tips of his hands! Haknabn turned again to face the orchestra--or what under normal circumstances would be an orchestra. But normalcy had for the time being taken a holiday. Instead, Haknabn stood in front of a vast array of integrated circuits. Numbering in the tens of millions, they were arranged in a semicircle to resemble the contour of a symphony orchestra. Haknabn tried to make eye contact with them, but failed. However, when he detected a faint whir from some of the component electrodes he imagined he had their attention. Then he raised his baton high above his head and brought it down with an ambiguous, halfhearted gesture. If the integrated circuits were supposed to respond to his motion, they didn't. They never did. No matter Haknabn had for years studied vertical and lateral hand movements and had improved his baton-to-ictus ratio a hundredfold, he still couldn't elicit a response from his charges. He tried again, adding a fell swoop to his downward stroke. Still nothing. Haknabn elevated the baton for a final desperate downbeat, but the glint of the light reflecting off of the baton triggered the clapophonic software, and the theater once more erupted into sincere applause, this time accompanied by an ancillary hooting from the animatronic parrot. Dejected, he trundled off the stage, convinced that he'd never rise above the rank of semiconductor.

However, forces were already at work attempting to amend that conviction. Earlier that day, Lark A. Clobberworm, Professor of Conductivity, was in his laboratory at the University of Hummock-on-Smythe in southwesternmost Lincolnshire. With a practiced, steady hand, he carefully tweezered an integrated circuit from the tiny silicon hillock on which it had been grazing and placed it atop a glass slide. At once, the IC slithered towards the edge, trying to escape. But Clobberworm anticipated the move and calmly squirted a bead of tetravalent germanium in its path. The element is, of course, an intrinsic semiconductor, and the integrated circuit immediately bonded with it, emitting little twinkles of pleasure. Now Clobberworm slipped the slide under the microscope and peered at it through the lens. A typical integrated circuit is inanimate--it's merely an organized assembly of interconnected electrode components on a small, flat semiconductor chipmunk. But the IC that Clobberworm had under observation was vibrantly alive. In fact, its components appeared to be throwing a wild party. But Clobberworm suspected there was an order to the willy-nillyness. Sure enough, upon closer scrutiny, he found nearly a million crystalline microbes huddled in a semicircle--huddled because, according to a minuscule thermometer embedded in the slide, the temperature down there was a bracing 130 degrees Kelvin. In front of them all stood a teensy ceramic golem that in essence had no electrical resistance. Suddenly, a tiny tendril sprouted from its side. It slowly twisted and writhed, growing to half again the length of the golem. Clobberworm noted with delight that it was clutching an infinitesimal baton. It was, after all, a superconductor! Showing definite signs of sentience, the tendril raised the baton high above the golem, then brought it down with an authoritative downbeat. The microbes responded with an infinitesimal caterwaul that was clearly audible to Clobberworm. Satisfied, the conductivologist delicately tweezed the integrated circuit from the slide back onto the silicon hillock. The trick now was to hardwire the superconductor circuit into the semiconductor Haknabn.

And it really was a trick, a sleight of hand--or, more accurately, a slice of hand, for that's where the incision was made in Haknabn and the superconductor chipmunk inserted. But almost at once, Arnöö sensed a newfound confidence within himself.

The next day, he strode self-assuredly onto the stage, for once buoyed by the prerecorded applause. He bowed to the audience, then turned to face the orchestra. His right arm flew up, the baton briefly showering the stage with electric sparks. Then Haknabn assertively gave the Mother of All Downbeats.

Superconductors, of course, work best in environments below 138 degrees Kelvin. Higher temperatures cause any number of malfunctions. In the case of Haknabn--whose exhilaration had raised his body temperature to ten thousand times that mark--the superconductor somehow activated the animatronic parrot's feeding frenzy mechanism, resulting in an untold number of casualties in the theater plus a very dispirited Arnöö Haknabn.

And while it may be back to the drawing board for Clobberworm and his on-Smythe ilk, it's party time on this 516th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, for we have live in the studio a bona fide superconductor who will today demonstrate his equally formidable skills at supercomposition, which is especially helpful because the usually present Kalvos, alas, isn't.