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The Essay
Show #182
Monotograms, Pulmonary Hexachlorophene, and Other Types of Electrical Music
David Gunn

Last week, you'll remember, we began our exploration of "Electroacoustic Music: The Algonquin Hole Nemesis" by playing selections representative of its six major categories -- happy squid music, jittery cement mixes, thin blue limes, monotograms, short circuitboxes, balloonatunes, and pulmonary hexachlorophene. Any music that falls outside of the parameters which generously define these grades of music are by definition not electroacoustic. And what is that definition, you may ask? According to Baker's Big Book of Music, it is "the interaction or interconversion of electric and acoustic phenomena to make a racket that defies logic but which nevertheless gets recorded heaps more than, say, the elegantly witty songs of a local radio show co-host, who has agreed not to carp about the situation any more ... than is absolutely necessary."

Baker's Big Book knows better than to waste time on a detailed analysis of this sadly moribund genre, so that leaves it up to Kalvos & Damian's Research Junta to run 'em up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes them before they fall, phlegmatic, back to earth.

The most accessible member of the electroacoustical family is termed happy squid music, after its discoverer, a marine mollusk in the Salt Lake City Cephalopodium. In 1960, a team of Utah University scientists, working hard to suck dry a research grant that was due to terminate in a few hours, were listening to the local all-weather radio channel when a power failure at the station transmitter expunged the signal from the airwaves. After listening to the resultant static for a minute, the lesser sanguine of the two pitched the radio into the squid tank. The water-resistant speaker continued to broadcast the crackles, pops and snaps, now interspersed with an occasional burble. Moments before the radio short-circuited, the scientists noted a tangible increase in pleasure radiating from the tankful of squids. From that brief observation, they were able to dash off a brilliantly worded three-sentence addendum to the expiring grant and secure an emergency funding extension that exists to this day. Taken out of context, happy squid music bears as little resemblance to underwater static as do fogdogs to faithful leashes. This may explain why, year after year, it remains at the top of the auditory popularity charts.

Electroacoustic music that seems to have no purpose other than to take up sonic pixels in a universe already jam-packed with noise is known as thin blue limes, or "le flambeau oriange." The origin of the term is unknown and, like the style of music itself, utterly trivial.

Monotograms are the electroacoustic equivalent of touching base. They are even more trifling than thin blue limes, if that's possible, which it isn't. Monotograms often evoke the memory of a favorite pet distilled into the initials of a multinational conglomerate with ties to a certain Utah University research grant. No data, empirical or speculative, exists to explain this phenomenon.

Balloonatic music is named for dirigible pilot "Mad" Man Ray who, in 1958, was piloting his 500,000-cubic litre airship sedately over New York City. But a slow leak of helium into the craft's conning tower scrambled his mental faculties, and Man Ray went asphyxiatingly mad. Opening the throttle to Very Fast, he steered the gassy missile into the 88th floor of the Empire State Building, where it remains stuck to this day, a sobering reminder of the dangers of New York. Today's eponymous music sounds much like his dirigible did, hissing and crashing while the barmy driver whistles a tuneless tune.

Short circuitboxes are the rebuses of the electroacoustic world. They are musical representations of picture puzzles that have no perceptible solutions. This does not bother the typical listener, who has enough to worry about. On the other hand, scholars who do fret over the derivativeness of short circuitbox music often wind up with canonic ulcers, and deservedly so.

Jittery cement mixes have neither form nor structure for the listener to glom onto. They simply exist in a kind of free-will intellectual vacuum, ostensibly awaiting instructions from some other space-time continuum. Tendrils of fidgetry and rigidity radiate from the sounds, provoking both discomfiture and pulmonary hexachlorophene, previously thought to be a sub-genre of electroacoustic music, but now recognized as the dubious segue into the 182nd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, and especially that of its sleep-deprived curator, Kalvos.