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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #300
The SS Napster
David Gunn

You may have heard recent news stories about something called Napster violating something called copyright laws. So, what is a Napster, what is a copyright law and, most importantly, who on earth cares? Well, Napster is an online music service that permits peer-to-peer file sharing. Think of it as a means of amicable intermusical communication. Utilizing apparati no more complex than a pocket calculator wired to a reel-to-reel tape recorder, Napster allows users to swap encoded tunes with one another without first going through the tedious process of exchanging legal tender for commercially recorded media. A copyright law is a big pile of words typed on an 8½x11 sheet of paper that nobody outside of a few judicial cults can comprehend. Copyright law is also an anagram of Owlgraph City, the significance of which will soon become clear. And the only people who care about the matter are theoretically not of this earth.

Named for a co-founder of the company who suffers from narcolepsy, Napster is based on a set of cosine-leery algorithms that are very hard to explain if, like me, you keep expecting an outburst of toe-tapping musical notes that form a pattern of regular pulsation -- and that's not the "full pulsation" restorative powers of drilling a hole in one’s head, or trepanation, discussed last month. Perhaps it can best be explained by using an analogy.

In the west-southwesternmost sector of the Pacific Ocean there floats a small island populated by drift net fisherpersons who have an affinity for music, all kinds of music. The islandites live in three coastal villages -- Village A, Village B, and Owlgraph City -- that have yet to ordain telecommunications towers, and so contact with the rest of the world is meager, indeed. One day, a lookout from Village A -- let's call him Errol Arm Blowback, for that is a traditional name on the island -- spots a ship approaching from afar. It is the SS Napster, a large ocean-going vessel with multiple bands on board playing tunes all day and all night. Errol Arm is very excited, for he can hear strains of the music, which runs the gamut from polkas to pointillism, from boogie to blancmange blues, wafting ashore. He leaps out of his sentree and races to the three villages, spreading the word. Representatives from Villages A and B gather at their respective piers to await the arrival of this entertainment bonanza. In the interim, they engage in the "file sharing" ritual, in which they toss nail files at each other from their two piers. It takes a fisherperson with a great arm to reach the opposing pier, but when that happens, both villages erupt in joyous "downloading" celebrations. These consists of cramming huge piles of fluffy indigenous duck feathers into cotton bags, then sewing them closed, often with ornamental stitchery. For, after fishing, pillow-making is the most important gainful activity on the island.

Meanwhile, as the great ship approaches the island, a colossal flock of non-nocturnal owls -- and there must be thousands of them! -- suddenly fills the sky, blotting out the sun. They do not appear to be rolling out the island welcome mat, as they proceed to dive-bomb the ship, hooting unmistakable avian warnings and dropping leaflets onto the startled crew. Unfortunately, in all the excitement, the birds also ooze post-digestive material onto the leaflets, soiling them beyond comprehension. Nevertheless, the boatmates take the hint and steer the Napster away from the island and back into more placid international waters.

The tenants of Villages A and B are shocked and dismayed, for they believe they have the right to hear the SS Napster's bands, as long as they are playing, anyway. But the Owlgraph City denizens are beholden to a higher, off-site authority called Aria which, unlike its friendly vocal solo namesake, stands for Autocratic Recording Industry of Americana, a pocketbook-oriented bunch of guys who fancy a more supply-and-demand oriented type of music distribution.

Well, to make a long analogy fit into the confining parameters of a radio show essay, the SS Napster again attempts to dock at the piers of Villages A and B but is repulsed by another owl-out assault from the Aria minions. Confusion reigns, and a satisfactory resolution to the controversy is nowhere to be seen, nor is it, alas, an integral part of this 300th -- three hundredth! -- episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, whose own built-in bafflement can be at least temporarily assuaged by the sharing of peerless ramblings from Kalvos.