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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #248
David Gunn

One of the unsung positions here at the New Music Bazaar -- besides prone and glazed, of course -- is that of Research Junta ... better yet, a research junta with laryngitis. Like a teaching fellowship without any hope for advancement, the K&DRJ job asks for long hours in exchange for short pay and little in the way of recognition from his overseers, a/k/a us. That said, our junta -- and that's used here in a singular sense -- seems to derive perverse pleasure from delving into knotty musical issues in order to keep this program, though still behind the eight ball, ahead of the curve. One such curve popped up Möbius-like this past Wednesday, which happened to be my watch. To update a recent radiophonic playlist, I had to document the authenticity of a recording medium currently out of favor with elitist state-of-the-art audiophiles (i.e., us). It was an LP, which is pre-Digital Age shorthand for a long-playing 33 1/3 r.p.m. phonograph record (where r is the cosine of the run-out groove, p is the distance between pulse-code modulation signal spikes and m is the unknown variable). The label was Electric & Musical Industries, Limited, before it became EMI, and it still was imbued with the traditional English goat curd mucilage along the edges of the dust jacket. But what really got my attention was the note at the bottom of the liner notes: "The use of Emitex cleaning material (available from Record Dealers) will preserve this record and keep it free from dust." Emitex! I hadn't heard the name in decades and had hoped never to again, for I had learned firsthand that it wasn't simply a dust mote-away substance in a pretty blue bottle. As I watched the tone arm swing its faux-diamond stylus hypnotically back and forth across the turntable in search of a shellac-based acoustic life form, my mind reluctantly dredged up memories of my own encounter with Emitex.

It was the dawn of the 1970s. I was at university, attending vaporous lectures in basic ululation. One day after a particularly harrowing group howl, the professor threw up his hands into the auditorium ceiling tiles in frustration and threatened to flunk us all. He said we were hopeless, irremediable. Our wails were more like cetaceans than mournful moans. Naturally, we felt lousy, because many of our Selective Service futures -- or really, avoidance thereof -- depended on our remaining in the good graces of our collegiate mentors. But then his demeanor changed. Sounding every bit the provocateur, he said in a lowered voice that there was a way we could redeem our floundering studies. He apparently had his own research junta, Juanita, who discovered that, under certain conditions, the human vocal cords vibrated at a frequency that could peel the spots off of a dalmatian, a consequence of the very highest quality ululation. That certain condition was the ingestion of a cleansing liniment called Emitex.

Derived from the plasma of the teonanacatl mushroom of Mexico, Emitex was originally marketed as a lubricant for viola bows, but it covertly became better known for its psychotropic properties. Many a violist who played with her nose too close to the bridge often took on the comportment, aroma and dimensions of her instrument. My friend Becky was a case in point. While practicing the solo line in La danse de la viande from Stravinsky's Right as Rain on her freshly greased viola, her nose resting cavalierly on the Eb string, she began gradually to assume the contours and lacquered finish of her instrument. After an hour, she had totally transmogrified into a coniferous life form, her hair resembling needlelike foliage, her formerly prehensile hands turning into flaccid appendages from which drooped soft, woody cones. She could, however, still talk -- or, more accurately, ululate. Was this, then, to be our shape-shifting kismet in exchange for a passing grade?

Nine of us filed into the professor's lodgings that afternoon. He handed small blue wafers to each of us and told us that half of us had Emitex and half had placebos. We all ate our scholarly Eucharists at the same time, then sat around in tetrahedrons while our teacher watched us and took notes. To this day I don't know if I had the Emitex or the placebo. I only know that for several days thereafter I had fidgety dreams about paper pulp and chlorophyll, but I could keen in parallel fifths to the tune of a B+.

Today, I can neither wail realistically nor be mistaken for a stringed instrument; however I can turn this 248th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar over to the pizzicated palpabilities of Kalvos.