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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #544
House Music
David Gunn

House music is a style of electronic dance music that evolved out of tunes written for, and later by, houses. During the fiscally restrained 1970s, audiences were no longer willing to shell out upwards of six bucks to sit through an hour and a half of musical entertainment, preferring to keep their leisure time dollars stapled to the insides of their pants pockets. Many composers withered and died; however, the more savvy of them followed the money, taking their spectacles to the spectators. The non-pop contingent in particular renounced the traditional concert hall venue and moved into homes, offices and abattoirs. Some tunesmiths embraced these new milieus by incorporating the buildings' component parts into their compositions. Zito Zankel, for example, scored his "Abattoir Study No. 78" for piano, double bass, viscera tongs and anechoic draining chamber. Max Roachclip wrote an entire operetta utilizing only indigenous office equipment: two typewriters, a stapler, a mimeograph machine, an electric pencil sharpener, a treadle-powered water cooler and 27 sopranos. And while music that features domicile materials can be traced all the way back to Charles Ives' "The Houseatonic at Stockbridge," circa 1921, it positively thrived in the 1970s. Concerto for Baseboards, Cellar Door Jamb Session, The Chair Rail Rag, Song of the Wainscoting, Trio for Frames, Sashes and Rafters, The Window Mass and the Anechoic Draining Chamber Symphony are just a few of the many inventive compositions from that era that relied on house parts. But equally important was the performer: a successful concert hinged on more than a working hinge. Perfect pitch often had to take a back seat to woodworking skills. A musician who couldn't properly tune a joist had to cede performance rights to a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.

House music continued to evolve in the 1980s as composers experimented with housebreaking music, which typically involved several sheets of manuscript paper, a spray can of Pee B-Goneģ and a Chihuahua. A less successful offshoot was housewares music, because the presence of casseroles, sautť pans, steam irons, vacuum cleaners and front-loading washers more often than not prompted the composer to transfer to the much more lucrative domestic service industry.

In 1995, Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei revolutionized the housing industry by inventing sentient lodging. Peiís initial goal was to help his absent-minded brother-in-law, who frequently locked himself out of his house. Peiís la maison interactive allowed a forgetful homeowner to converse with his or her domicile, which, after a gentle scolding, would unlock the door. Usually. But as so often happens with initially modest innovations, other minds soon devised radical applications for it. One of them -- i.e. the other mind, not the Chihuahua -- belonged to composer John "Cagefree" Eggz. For years, Dr. Eggz had been an advocate of music for inanimate objects. He tirelessly championed tunes for tricycle wheels, rocks, bowls of frozen avocados, leopard spots, tweezers and anechoic draining chambers. It was therefore only a small leap for him to devise an artificially intelligent music module that processed electroacoustic data through the house's interactive sprinkler system. By pasting a variety of music samples into the module, Dr Eggz taught it to "compose."

At first, that was a relative term, for the "music" sounded more like a furnace catching fire or an attic fan overheating or a stairway collapsing from termite blight than it did, say, "The Poltergeist Polka." But the module learned. And gradually, its electroacoustical events became musically interesting. House concerts followed. The attendees were almost always other houses, and how they were able to move about without damaging their foundations is still a mystery.

House music of 2008 has evolved into yet another format. Gone are the Chihuahuas, the housewares, the jamb sessions, even the anechoic draining chambers. Instead, we have music that is ... oh, but I needn't confuse you with a lot of compositional mumbo-jumbo, not when we have a quintessential house music composer on todayís program who can confuse you all by himself! Thatís right. For the next two hours: house music. In the house -- of Kalvos and Damian.