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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #188
Musical Unsaleables
David Gunn

Distilled to its unadulterated essence, as opposed to that essence which still has big chunks of adult fly bait in it, a piece of music is a product, a commodity, an item of merchandise. And, like products from other retail disciplines, its primary purpose in life is to be successfully marketed. While melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre, algorithmic novelty and compositional continuity are all important in the aesthetics of arranged sounds, the commercial functions involved in transferring the tune -- or goods -- from producer to consumer are just as crucial. It's a symbiotic association in the industry. If, on the road to implementation, one part of the musical equation falters, the other jumps up, grabs the reins, and guides the piece across the finish line to prosperity. Sometimes the tune's metaphysical texture is the host and the marketing department is the parasite; sometimes its philosophical content is the blunderer, and the bloodsucking marketeers are the cavalry. And sometimes, all of the parts, through no fault of their own but rather due to a defect in the consuming public, add up to product failure. Focus groups schooled in Fibonacci call these compositional clinkers "unsaleables."

Reviewing actionable data, establishing problem ownership and accountability, keeping a priority focus on improvement mechanisms, and implementing pallet shrink wrapping to reduce the incidence of damage are all solutions which can help the music industry address the unsaleables issue. But these are all reactions, and knee-jerk ones at that. What the industry really needs are proactions -- practical pre-problem procedures. With sufficient investigation, paid for, as always, by substantial research grants and implemented by scientists with ties to the musical academic community, the tune business might be able to avoid unsaleable issues in the first place. Embarrassments such as the flatulaphone, an instrument invented for the 1970 oratorio, "Wind Breaker," which graphically depicted a day in the life of a flatus-filled Belgian gascon, might never see the light of day. Given more than a cursory pre-publication glance, the Stephen Hawking edition of Steve Reich's "Clapping Music" also would have likely been scrapped. Perhaps we could have avoided seeing Waylon Jennings miscast as the troubled twelve-tone troubadour, Flambeau, in Alberto Ginastera's opera, "Bomarzo Oriange." John Cage's "Complete Collection of Gospel Music," Igor Sikorsky's "Le Sacre du Helicopters," and Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Tunnel" are other examples of musical unsaleables that might have fared better with input from target audience marketing surveys.

Similarly, technology, for whatever reason, sometimes gets a little out of control, ceases to respond to the bidding of the technologist, and winds up creating a product destined for instant banishment to the ol' unsaleables scrapheap. Such a product is in our studio today and will be demonstrated live as part of the gala 188th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar. Originally designed, we are led to believe, to fill the niche between through-composed music and electroacoustic improvisation, this device takes the concept of musical unsaleables kicking and screaming -- or in this case, beeping and chirping -- to a new level, all the while charting new territory in the unfamiliar musical world of virtual gastronomics.

And who better to don a cloak of investigative reportage, especially when a snacky comestible may be involved, than Kalvos?