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The Essay
Show #127
The F Region
David Gunn
During the 1950s, there existed on nearly every musical instrument which had evolved in western culture an area known as the F Region that rendered the instrument virtually unplayable. It was a phenomenon that flew in the face of reason, not to mention the laws of physics, acoustics, and even palmistry. A team of research scientists comfortably supported by a large grant from the Guild of American Orchestra Managers was unable to pinpoint the problem, and finally released a position paper which concluded that it was "just one of those things." The lavishly paid scientists did discover that the area tended to migrate and never stayed in one location long enough for a performer to identify it and cope with its difficulties -- which was to say, avoid it. Over the course of an instrument's natural life, the F Region moved from ten to 70 times or more. A percussionist from the Julliard Summer Music Camp documented 110 separate F Regions on one of her tympani in 1955 alone. She kept track of its course as it meandered over the head, bowl and pedals of the instrument. She claimed that it was outlining a giant letter R, but colleagues who also witnessed the dead spots saw no such continuity. Because the mysterious affliction occurred at the height of the Cold War and didn't appear to affect instruments from the Soviet Bloc countries, the suspicion that it was a communist plot was widespread. Unknown at the time was the fact that Iron Curtain musicians were likewise experiencing debilitating instrumental phenomena. Bassoons were spontaneously combusting; viola bridges were warping to an angle of exactly 15 degrees; saxophone reeds were hardening to the point of petrification; conductors' batons, no matter their material composition, were growing to dangerously unwieldy lengths. Naturally, the Leninists attributed the musical sabotage to Western capitalistic skulduggery. But, like their counterparts, they could manufacture only the most apocryphal proof. Still, hemispheric tensions inexorably increased.

In 1960, a clarinetist from Oslo, miffed that his instrument would no longer sound a concert C, flung his clarinet into a vat of boiling sea water. The instrument disappeared beneath the surface, then shot up out of the water, seemingly of its own volition, and began to emit a horrific concert C wail. When the Oslonian extracted the clarinet from the vat, the wailing stopped, as did the ability to play a concert C note. When he plunked it back into the hot water, the concert C howl returned. When scientists learned of this accidental cause and effect experiment, they eagerly lined up huge grants for new research. Thousands of musical instruments were dipped in boiling water and other research fluids, copious notes were taken and typed, reports were issued and then debated on the radio. The inescapable conclusion was that the boiling process worked in some cases, and not in others.

And then, on a cool April afternoon in 1961, a translucent object the size of New Delhi suddenly materialized in front of the sun, emitted what psychic musicologists have termed "the Lamb Shift," and then vanished. And with it disappeared all traces of instrumental F Regions the world over, leading in turn to a curtailment of precious research funding.

Is there a lesson to be learned here? No. There is only the 127th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, the occasional deportment of which leads some of our listening audient to assume that it is the radiophonic embodiment of the F Region and its younger sibling, Le Flambeau Oriange, a lesson never learned but nevertheless frequently taught by Kalvos.

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