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The Essay
Show #94
The Portugalian Influence
David Gunn
While we here in northcentral Vermont look forward to the vernal equinox 12 days hence - - at which time all snow officially vanishes, cherry trees spontaneously blossom, and locusts begin their 17-year-long crop defoliation program -- the people of Portugal are not so fortunate. Trapped in a time zone which adamantly refuses to concede the changing of the seasons, the Portuguese must weather harsh, wintry conditions year-round, no matter the country's capital, Lisbon, lurks in the midst of a tropical rainforest. Even in July, when their Spanish neighbors a mere one-and-a-quarter Random House World Atlas inches away are sweltering under a hot sun, absorbing more radiant energy per capita than was released during the infamous 1983 Algonquin Hole Implosion Theory Experiment at the University of Newark, after which there was no longer a university for alumni to sink venture capital into, the poor Portuguese are still swaddled in woolen ponchos, duck down fezzes and adobe mittens, swigging hydrogen peroxide to keep their blood sugar temperature from dipping into the Kelvin range.

Poor the Portuguese may be in the Climate Department, but they are undeniably rich as far as the Bureau of Music goes, having bred some of the finest composers the world has ever neglected. Cheese Whiz -- I mean, chess whiz and closet composer Bobby Fischer is Portuguese, though you may never get him to admit it. His music derives from dumping bunches of notes onto a checkerboard, then applying abstruse mathematical formulas to get them off without employing rooks or bishops. It's difficult to describe, but it sounds a bit like a Waldorf salad trying to escape from a can. Ornette Coleman was Portuguese -- not the Ornette Coleman of jazz saxophone fame, but rather Ornette Coleman of the Coleman Camping Products Company of Lisbon Heights, Portugal. The lesser known Ornette studied gymnastics and counterpoint with Nadia Comaneci Boulanger during the day and worked for his company at night. It was inevitable that he would one day marry his two passions, so in 1969 he wrote the Concerto for Tent and Orchestra. While visually appealing -- the tent is assembled and taken down six times, with a virtuoso obbligato seventh during the coda -- it lacked any musical continuity. For one thing, there are only so many times an audient can respond favorably to a zipper sliding on its track. For another, the orchestra is instructed to remain tacit during the staking down of the tent, a process which occasionally takes five minutes. Coleman's only musical legacy is found in camping jargon -- gearheads refer to the bumbling assembly of a tent as portuguesing. A final composer who tended to disavow his Portuguese roots was Piet Mondrian. Better known as a painter of geometrically abstract house interiors, Piet studied orchestration briefly with Hector Berlioz and Mo Ravel during a lull in the Chicago Whiskers Six-Draw Tournament. After deducing from Mo's cunning dealer takes all cardplay that they were fellow Portuguesians, Piet hounded them until they showed him how to score a tinnitis-induced melody for chamber string band. But when he drew the barlines, their lack of angularity distracted him and he instead filled his pages of manuscript paper with nothing but obliquely cubist barlines, which later sold at auction for £32,000, five shillings.

And the shilling of new music is what we're all about here on Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, this portion of the 94th episode of which is being broadcast in Portuguese on a parallel bandwidth one-and-a-quarter world atlas inches to the left of 91.1 on your FM dial, the nominal home of Radiophonique Network le flambeau oriange, a Portuguese partnership with corporate offices in Delaware. But there'll be no partnership on today's show, except in the pluperfect sense, for Kalvos, or Damian, is in Hamsterdam, leaving the vast bulk of the programmatic chores to your obedient servant, a/k/a me.