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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #279
Sitting In Judgment
David Gunn

Herb, Nancy, Sean, Arturo, Cyanora and Beano sat in 19th century windowboxes around a corduroy-covered table listening to music. The music issued from a single adobe speaker in the center of the room that was connected to a monaural Magnecorder reel-to-reel tape recorder. The machine probably hadn't been cleaned for a while, because the wow in the playback approached 50 rems. As the sound from the speaker crackled and hummed, sending sympathetic vibrations to the very core of a 1/3,550,000th scale model of the earth on display in the adjoining foyer, Herb turned his attention to the small hole he was worrying in his left shirtsleeve with his thumbnail. Nancy was attempting to subvocalize the music, but in a manner perhaps better suited to a long dead alien culture. Sean seemed to be more concerned with gastroenteritis brought on by his wolfing down a rancid calamari muffin, and he swayed and moaned precisely out-of-time to the tune. Arturo clearly was enjoying himself, tapping his foot spiritedly to the rhythm, or at least to a rhythm that briefly manifested earlier in the piece. Cyanora was listening intently to something, but her eyes followed an unseen object as it snaked around the perimeter of the room. Abruptly, she unhooked her chair tether, shot up to the ceiling and lunged for an incorporeal ... something. Then she air-paddled back down to her chair, patently giddy. Beano, on the other hand, looked calm and thoughtful, as anyone might who had survived the ravages of the freon chair at the Saskatoon Ontological Wellness Clinic. As the music plumbed unexpectedly porcine depths, he withdrew sparklingly effervescent crumbs from his blazer pocket and methodically deposited them in neat little piles on the table in front of him.

The music considered safely alighting on a cadence, thought better of it, and proceeded into new and risky acoustic territory. Suddenly Nancy stood up, clutched at her ears and violently shook her head. Her beehive hairdo unraveled, sending clots of tie-dyed hair follicles flying off in every direction except magnetic north. Sean ducked, but Arturo caught a hefty wad on the chin, sending him reeling towards the Magnecorder. Herb grabbed him as he staggered past, but Arturo uttered a loud porcine squawk of convolution that vaguely mimicked the music and Herb let him go. The momentary handhold, however, was enough to deflect Arturo away from the playback equipment and on into the foyer, where the 11¾-foot-in-diameter earth biorama had switched from sleepy night mode to lifelike volcanic activity. Nancy leaned over to one side and tapped above her ear, as if water had lodged behind her tympanum. But instead of water dribbling out, there trickled little rivulets of the recorded music, piling up on one another in a manner not unlike Beano's sparkly crumbs, if a bit more cacophonous.

Cyanora, meanwhile, was leaning over the table trying to read a latte mug-stained score page which presumably depicted an artist's conception of the recorded music, but as the notes proceeded to spontaneously combust, she had time only to douse the flames with the leftover latte. Sean, thinking he recognized a pattern of continental drift in the ceiling tiles, began to unfasten his own chairbelt so he could float up to have a closer look, when he was restrained by Beano. The musical shaman shook his head at a metronome marking that roughly approximated that of the music -- if heard through the shell of a marinated crustacean -- and pointed to the tape recorder. The Magnecorder, overly excited to have the momentary attention of at least a couple of people, suddenly seized up, breaking the tape.

The unexpected silence brought the six arts council jury committee members to their relative senses, and they settled back down in their windowboxes, simultaneously reaching for the mayonnaise jar on the table in front of them. Each withdrew a folded slip of paper, with which the jar was overflowing. Nancy opened hers first and read it. "Indulgently self-loathing," she said, and she checked the respective box on a flipchart that hung, in spite of its own better judgment, on the wall. "Aspiring to mediocrity," read Sean from his paper slip. He, too, located a corresponding box on the chart and checked it. Arturo's "challengingly derivative," Beano's "promulgating an utterly false sense of competence," and Herb's "the essence of forgettability" each had a representative box on the flipchart, and each juror dutifully checked it. But when Cyanora withdrew a slip that read "send on to next level," the others were nonplused. How could they recommend a piece that 83.3 percent of the committee had just panned?

In the end, they couldn't. "Put it back and draw another one," suggested Herb. Cyanora did so, and her subsequent slip read "a tragicomedy of squandered opportunities." Everyone in the room -- with the exception of a still-snaking-around-the-room something -- beamed as Cyanora checked the last box on the flipchart. "Form letter," said Nancy, and Arturo, scraping the last vestiges of magma from his pantaloons, accessed the mail merge program on the review panel's ancient word processor. "Only three typos this time," cautioned Sean. "That last one with 13 was simply over the top." The others nodded in agreement, though Nancy quietly stifled a chuckle.

"While this news may come as a disappointment to you," Sean read, "you should know that the competition was very strong." In spite of his arts council training, he smirked at the platitude. The others couldn't hold back any longer then, and they broke out in raucous, cackling laughter.

The adjudicators' high spirits and form letters lasted well into the night, even though the tape recorder remained silent and Cyanora continued to keep a nervous eye out for an unseen moving object. Beano, in a moment of zany reflection, had to admit to himself that he preferred the safe anonymity of sitting in judgment to the ontological abstractness of sitting in a freon chair -- much as this 279th episode of Kalvos & Damians' New Music Bazaar favors the in situ seat at the sitomaniacal feet of Kalvos.