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The Essay
Show #519
David Gunn

Visitors to the Museum of Jackhammers were accustomed to cacophony. But even they found the noises that this evening emanated from the Trocadero Concert Hall next door uncomfortably loud. To the brave patrons inside, the sound was utterly deafening. The musical selection to which they had willingly subjected themselves was the premiere of Claude Bruyant-Homme's "La fort-bruit symphonie," the Symphony of Racket. It was scored for augmented orchestra - 260 instrumentalists, including a 43-person percussion squad overseeing six kettledrums, a chromatic set of anvils, fifty steel plates, eight sirens, two cannons, a jet aircraft engine in C sharp and a volcano. In fact, the structure of the symphony was classic sonata-volcano form: an introductory exposition led to a development section, followed by a recapitulation and concluding with the coda-like eruption. And while the decibel level during the first three sections averaged a comparatively tolerable 150, it jumped to 220 when the coda kicked in. At such an intensity, sound is actually visible to anyone who is able to remain conscious. Fearing litigation from attendees whose hearing was impaired by the stentorian onslaught, the Trocadero's otorhinolaryngologist flitted amongst the spectators pressing dimethyl siloxane into their ear cavities to keep the loudest tones at bay. The musicians on stage who were perpetrating the racket, of course, had long ago developed immunities to loud sounds. Or any sounds, for that matter. And then, Conductor Lübeckett cued a stagehand to roll back the ceiling. La symphonie was about to get a whole lot louder.

The orchestra continued to blare, shriek, pound and thump as the ceiling retracted slowly and somewhat unwillingly into the surrounding crawl space. All of the furor was just too much for an archaeopteryx that had been roosting in the rafters. With an irked squawk, it abandoned its nest and flew away, frustrating a paleoornithologist in the audience who had been tracking the primordial bird for years. But the attention of those patrons still conscious was now drawn to the dirigible that was slowly descending from the sky like a giant wiener inexorably drawn to its hometown bun. When it was twenty-five feet over the orchestra, the airship stopped and hovered. The tension was almost as palpable as the coda which, from the standpoint of the building's foundation, had turned ugly. Conductor Lübeckett gave another signal and there dropped from the dirigible a hundred brightly colored ropes. Simultaneously, the doors to the gondola opened and out poured a hundred macaques in silvery lederhosen, twirling flaming batons. With bestial gutturalizations, they grabbed hold of the ropes and began to shinny down them. Together with the great slabs of sound exploding from the orchestra, it was a scene worthy of Beelzebub's Kitchen. But the best--a euphemism--was still to come. At another cue from the conductor, the macaques would fling their batons into the volcano--really a giant cauldron of liquid nitrogen--producing, if the nitrogen had been properly primed, the loudest B flat in symphonic history.

That is, of course, what was supposed to happen.

However, no sooner had Conductor Lübeckett raised his baton to signal the monkeys that time abruptly stopped. Throughout the concert hall, there was absolutely no sound, no motion. Even the flames on the batons had paused in mid-flicker. La fort-bruit symphonie seemed to have entered the interstices of its own bar lines and simply stopped. But what really happened was a phenomenon called hyperstasis.

To be sure, there are moments during the performance of any musical event when time seems to stand still. However, these are typically just instances of the performers and spectators simultaneously nodding off. Hyperstasis occurs when a sound is so loud that its vibrations actually alter the interrelationship of matter and energy, causing them both to take a time out. Only when the intensity of the subatomic sound particles dissipate do matter and energy begin to behave in a normal fashion. This, say the hyperstatisticians, corroborates the Eighth Law of Acoustics: "A very loud sound Hertz."

Because there is no known way to quantify an hyperstatic event, it remains theoretical. However, la symphonie's hyperstasis lasted precisely the length of time it took for the archaeopteryx to fly from the Trocadero Concert Hall to its new nesting grounds in a story that will be narrated on a future Saturday afternoon. At that time, time just as suddenly recommenced its inexorable continuum. The 220+ decibel sound waves emerged from la symphonie's interstices like a tsunami of tampons of mass destruction. Lübeckett's baton finished its downward plunge, and the macaques dutifully flung their batons into the volcano. The percussionist nearest the cauldron winced in anticipation of the ensuing tumult.

But it didn't happen. There was no deafening faux-volcanic eruption. The hyperstasis may have brought every other entity in the concert hall to a standstill, but the bucket of nitrogen had other ideas. An oxygen radical managed to latch onto the nitrogen and turn it into nitrous oxide. Laughing gas. To be sure, Lübeckett, Bruyant-Homme, and dozens of semi-conscious audience members weren't laughing. The whole point of la fort-bruit symphonie was its humdinger of a climax. Without that, the orchestra may as well have been somberly plucking its way through "A wimoweh."

Now, here's a coincidence. "A wimoweh" is an African song that translates as "the lion sleeps tonight." And who should be napping right here amidst his own interstices prior to the 519th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar on which he is featured guest but the redoubtable Eric Lyon! Fine. Let him sleep for now. But his wake-up call is not far off, nor is the official alarumist, Kalvos.