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The Essay
Show #222
Automatique Écriture
David Gunn

There are many methods of writing music, from applying Lou Schoenberg’s serial killer technique, to manipulating I Ching hexagrams, to employing algorithms and blues, to ad-libbing polyphony on an autoharp, to sampling the kettledrum line of Ilya Murometz and putting it through a Vocoder. But perhaps the most misunderstood process is when the act occurs paranormally without any input from the composer. Musicmongers who practice this form of automatic writing claim that when they "compose," they merely watch disconnectedly while another entity, often of a light green pallor and carrying little in the way of identification, enters them and takes control of the composing mechanism. They’re no more responsible for what melodic lines come out or which way the accidentals are pointing than a marionette on the end of a string dangled by a Bunraku puppeteer is accountable for the tingle in a psychic’s teeth when he eats a Wheat Thin harvested from the magnetic center of a crop circle while watching The Love Suicides of Sonezaki. The composer could be mentally doodling on a Victoria’s Secret order form with the wet residue from a week-old lump of Cheez-Whiz while the existential force within -- often dubbed Mrs. Inspiration by music theory scholars -- is creating a sublimely perturbing little etude for dust mites. Videotape recordings of such composers at work bear this out. They tend to enter a trance state not unlike Montana. Their heads loll to one side and their tongues flap unchecked like a window slat in a class 4 hurricane. Often, a #2 Dixon pencil will materialize in the composer’s hand, around which the fingers involuntarily coil like a broken Slinky wrapped round the head of a Ouagadougou medicine man dressed up for Mboxi Day. Their faces flush like an American Standard, and the hairs on their napes stand up and approximate the follicle version of Sydenham’s chorea. Sometimes they froth at the mouth and act as if they’re having a religious experience, no matter the tune that results is as profane as a banshee polka. But occasionally the consequent music is exquisite, contemplative, stimulating, or better yet, marketable, in which case the composer wakes up with a channeling buzz strong enough to yank a set of graphite horseshoes off of an electromagnetized Clydesdale. At this point, he may want to have a chat with the voices in his head and find out if there’s an ulterior motive for his sudden spurt of autonomic creativity. But, as a rule, neither the little green wraiths nor the Bunraku puppeteers ever offer constructive commentary. They merely tug a little harder on the strings or turn up the vibrationary volume around the crop circles. Is it any wonder then why many of these automatunesmiths feel as if they’re trying to dog paddle the wrong way up a water slide filled with barracudas hungry for triads?

Yes, it is ... at least, to us -- us being, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, Kalvos & Damian’s New Music Bazaar, whose policy towards automatic writing is to just let it happen and deal with the consequences later. This very 222nd essay, for instance, was well on its way toward a vigorously satisfying investigation of payola in the new music industry and why there isn’t enough to go around anymore, when this writer was mugged by a muse and forced instead to blather about Cheez Whiz, dog paddles and Vocoders. And, no, it didn’t feel like a religious experience, but rather like a touch of the heaves, plus my fingertips got all bloody because I was going through the motions of typing on my Underwood when in reality I was sitting in front of a barrel cactus. So excuse me if my take on automatic writing and especially its spine-tingling consequences is perhaps a bit less forgiving than that of, say, Kalvos.