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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #558
Drupe Therapy
David Gunn

One cold November night a hundred and one years ago, a man sat at a table in the middle of a dry pond contemplating an olive. As olives go, it was perfectly ordinary, except for the vestigial wings sprouting from three of its corners. It also tended to fade in and out of focus, but when it was in focus, the olive appeared to be black. Dark black. Blacker, even, than the magic to which it owed its existence. Plus, it was one of those rare olives, called "blammos," that occasionally explode when they attain consciousness. So perhaps it wasnít so ordinary after all. Well, then the man whose olive was the object of his contemplation was entirely ordinary. After all, he had no wings, he didnít fade in and out of focus, and he hadnít detonated. Not yet, anyway. What he had done, however, was to communicate with the olive on a very primitive level. He hissed; the olive hissed back. He rubbed his elbow; the olive wriggled one of its wings. He hummed a whole tone scale; and the olive, no matter it was physically incapable of humming, reproduced the scale a semitone higher. An impossibility, you say? Not at all. You see, in only a few weeks, the olive would change from a small, edible drupe into the larval stage of Olive A. Messiaen, a French music monger.

There is precedent for a stone fruit turning into a composer. Luigi Cherubini was descended from a bowl of cherries, and Harry was a peach long before he became a Partch. The transmogrification of the olive to Olive A. Messiaen was notable only because it took place in the middle of a dry pond. Interspecific transformations involving whole tone scales typically occur in environments that feature sodden climes. But if we examine the pond more closely, we see that it isnít dry after all. Scattered higgledy-piggledy across the bed are small pockets of ooze from which lichen-encrusted rocks protrude. Pull out any one of them and youíll likely find the underside coated with slime mold. And if thereís a better place for a composer to take root, Science hasnít yet discovered it.

Composers started showing up in slimy ecosystems in the late 1800s, as deciduous logs and leaf mold gradually replaced caves as suitable -- and, indeed, desirable -- living quarters for them. Hamilton Harty, Nikolay Medtner, Hilding Rosenberg, Cyril Scott and others sprang seemingly spontaneously into existence in surroundings shunned by earlier tunesmiths. It would be unfair to say that their compositions reflected these environs. However, we never said we were fair, and there must be some reason that none of those four is at the top of many music aficionados "Best in Show" lists.

But back to the olive. Having been sufficiently contemplated by the man sitting at the table, it retreated deep within itself to begin its lugubrious makeover into French-human form. A month later, Olive A. spontaneously combusted in the womb of Cťcile Sauvage, and the rest, as they say, is historical revisionism.

Although Messiaenís forebears can be traced to a copse in the eastern Mediterranean Basin, the same cannot be said of the other composers on todayís concert. In fact, weíre not even sure theyíre descended from fleshy fruit. Peter Hamlin, Chan Ka Nin, Zachary Cooper -- these names donít exactly ring a bell in the date and apricot cosmos. They do, however, ring the bell on the door of a house attached to this radiophonic broadcast. And we, Kalvos and Damian, are in the house. Right now. The door is already open, so we invite you, the assembled audients, to join us and the aforementioned musical facilitators in the house.