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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #242
Subway Music
David Gunn

While nothing apparently happened to the world's computer systems last week when the Gregorian calendar switched from odd to even digits, the American music industry awoke to big changes, indeed. Almost immediately, distinctly different styles of music were detected in different parts of the country: prawn music from Baton Rouge, latte music from Seattle, smog music from Los Angeles, kneecap music from Chicago, deductible music from Hartford, gravy music from Dallas-Fort Worth, nose music from the Indiana Groves section of Indianapolis. But by far the most easily identifiable style of regional music came from New York -- subway music. For our listeners whose Y2K problems extend to an ignorance of the genre, a subway is an underground urban electric railroad normally filled to bursting with a mass of humanity. From a musical standpoint, a subway provides both a wealth of acoustic events from which to draw compositional ideas and a venue in which to perform them. The hundreds of depots, linking tunnels, train sheds and graveyards, elevators and stairways offer a huge subterranean world for the composer to exploit. And for his palette, the artist can select from a wealth of indigenous sounds. The train itself spans the gamut from screeching brakes, squealing wheels and shrieking whistles to the gentle ticking of the ventilation system. They offer the very best in Doppler sound effects as they pass one another at close quarters, plus the rhythmic clink-clank of shunting over rail expansion joints is the hypnotic equal of any pulse music. The car provides an abundance of ready-made audients and performers alike. Muttering psychopaths, spittle-caked mendicants and gaze-averting witness protection program enrollees could easily form the core cast of an off-Broadway musical.

In fact, it's already in the works. We here at Kalvos & Damianís New Music Bazaar hope to get this new or nearly-new millennium off to a good start by producing an as-yet untitled chamber work set in the sonorous catacombs of the New York subway system. Hereís the plot. A man and a woman who don't initially know one another both board the southbound MJ train at the Fresh Pond Road station in Queens. At Myrtle Avenue, the man transfers to the westbound LL train. The woman remains aboard the MJ to the Bridge-Jay Street terminus, where she changes to the uptown A train. At the Bedford Avenue station, a terrorist boards the first car of the LL train and immediately detonates a pipe bomb, which rips a hole in both the car and the tunnel wall. Fortunately, nobody except the terrorist is killed, but the wall breaches, causing a rupture in the bubble that keeps the overhead East River out. As cold wet water pours into the subway car, the A train reaches the 14th Street station in Manhattan, where the woman transfers to an eastbound LL train. At First Avenue, another terrorist boards the train and sets off yet another pipe bomb just as the train crosses under the East River, with similarly disruptive results. End of Act 1. And here are some initial sketches of the piece. (recording)

Untitled Subway Music, just one way this 242nd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar will try to keep you apprised of musical tastes in the new or almost-new millennium. For another, here's Kalvos.