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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #520
Boomwhackers
David Gunn

Precisely at the stroke of midnight, Sergeant Major Reginald Nakers motions for his platoon to move out. With Corporal Cabasa in the lead, the twenty-one men creep stealthily through the dimly lighted barracks. The bunks are empty, but still the soldiers tread softly, as if each pillow were a sophisticated motion sensor. Cabasa charily pushes open the door to the canteen, sniffs the air, then dons his night vision goggles. He signals for the others to do the same. Now bathed in an eerie red glow, the room shows grim reminders of the horrific food fight that claimed the life of poor Bodhran just two hours ago--a heap of spattered spaghetti here, the still flaky crusts of a hundred cream pies flung in angry retaliation there. Cabasa waves the men forward. The floor is sticky with lime Jello mold that radiates a repellently sweet stench. It very nearly makes Private Dumbek sick. But, like a good solder, he fuses himself together and perseveres. A piteous groan--human--emanates from somewhere behind the Tang dispenser, but the men steadfastly ignore it. Their mission allows for no interruption of any kind.

At last the men reach the front door. As they pause beneath the glowering Exit sign, Cabasa cracks the door and peers outside. Carelessly, Dumbek leans against a nearby wall. It is covered with feta, moldy and fetid. He recoils, stumbles backwards into a morass of sweetbreads, and faints. The men have no choice but to leave him there. Maybe they can retrieve him on the way back from their mission. Maybe not. Cabasa gives the all-clear signal and pushes the door open. Unsheathing his weapon, he scuttles low across the courtyard. One at a time, the men follow. Bringing up the rear is Nakers. He, too, draws his weapon, then pauses to briefly stroke it. As always, its slightest touch thrills him, fills him with awe. No enemy stands a chance against so formidable, so powerful a weapon! Impulsively, he executes an exaggerated salute to the inventor, whoever and wherever he is. Then, composing himself, the Sergeant Major steps over Dumbek and dashes out the door to join his men.

The "whoever" that Nakers alludes to is Professor Warbler Hadley Blackmoor; the "wherever" is the Laboratory of Experimental Percussive Sciences at the University of Hummock-on-Smythe; and the weapon is ... the boomwhacker.

Boomwhackers started out life as lightweight, hollow plastic tubes, often multicolored, that were part of the percussion family of instruments. The name implied that they would produce booming, stentorian sounds. However, the opposite was true. They tied with rhythm sticks for the bottom feeder of an orchestra's percussion section, rarely producing a volume greater than a mezzo forte. But when Professor Blackmoor noticed them in concert one evening, he was struck by the tubes' vivid hues: garish reds and oranges clashed with bright blues and yellows. Why, they looked positively loud! After the performance, he borrowed two pair of boomwhackers and repaired to his laboratory, where he commenced a series of volume enhancement experiments.

According to the Second Law of Audio Mechanics, a human object "hears" when sound waves lapping against the coast of his or her ears are invited into the cochlea. There they are processed--or modulated--into frequencies that the brain renders into vibrations. The vibrations are absorbed into the bloodstream, where millions of platelets turn them back into sound that is perceptible to the host. Blackmoor, for reasons known only to him, assumed that the platelets would also somehow stimulate the volume control on the boomwhacker. So he began to carefully transfer platelets to the plastic tubes. He started with a single thrombocyte, and was up to 11,780 before funds for his two-year experiment ran out. None of these experiments made the slightest difference in his instrument's clamorousness, of course. However, before conceding defeat, Blackmoor sat down at his word processor and typed a twelve-word corollary to the Law: "A boomwhacker, when struck henceforth, will produce a most appallingly stentorian sound." And, because Science works in mysterious ways, that's what thenceforward happened. Furthermore, the boomwhacker was not only loud, but was injuriously so.

The men wait in the shadow of the imposingly ornate building for Sergeant Major Nakers to catch up. Then, together, they edge forward, careful to avoid the beam of the sweeping spotlight. Corporal Cabasa silently scrambles up a short flight of stairs to another door. A sign on it reads "Trocadero Concert Hall Stage. No Admittance." Ignoring the caveat, he jimmies the door open with his boomwhacker, one of many diverse tasks the instrument has taken on since Blackmoor's corollary. A pale green luminosity emanates from the interior of the building along with the sounds of an orchestra in full sonic regalia. Cabasa puts his finger to his lips and motions for his men to slip inside. They do so, silently as ninja warriors. Last to enter the building is Nakers, and he quietly closes the door behind him. He listens as the music crescendos into the penultimate theme of Tchaikovsky's Opus 49, the "1812 Overture." He knows the music well; he used to play it. In fact, he used to play it in this very building, back when he was the orchestra's principle percussionist. But then, one of the cannons he employed to augment the rowdy finale misfired and leveled the entire city council. And the next day, he was unemployed. So tonight was payback time. Thanks to the boomwhackers, he'd give the orchestra and spectators the mother of all finales.

Fifth and final theme. He nods to Cabasa. The corporal releases his boomwhackers safety; the other men follow suit. Assistant percussionist Lark A. Clobberworm presses the cannon stop on his electronic organ. It responds with a puny chuff. That's enough for Nakers, and he stands up and yells "boom!" Simultaneously, twenty-one boomwhackers are activated.

The ensuing tumult brings down the house--or at least the section of the balcony directly above the orchestra's board members, providing the Sergeant Major sweet revenge at last. However, he notices that the deafening booms are also taking their toll on his own troops, who are beginning to exhibit signs of hearsickness. He signals for them to retreat, but the sound waves have piled up so high that they blot out his gestures. Even stalwart Corporal Cabasa seems unresponsive. It's every man for himself, then, and he alone fights his way through the thick sea of sound to the door. Nakers pushes against it, but it's stuck. Now he, too, begins to flag. He bangs the boomwhacker weakly against the door, then slumps to the floor, mindful only of the wailing sirens in the distance.

There's probably a moral here, and it may even have something to do with the percussionist who is even now preparing to whack his wares on today's 520th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar. Then again, it could also just be the creative cream pie mindset of Kalvos.