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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #316
Water Music
David Gunn

The internet ad was enough to make my meeting with fowlophile Beauregard Pomerantz of the 61st Mobile Duck Battalion of Bismuth, Delaware, moot: "Did you listen to the music in water?" queried the Sun Pride Company of Samutparakarn, Thailand website cookie. Before I could answer, a squadron of obstreperous sparrows landed in the nearby fen and began to voraciously peck at the gelatinous potash stew. They all pecked in eerie simultaneity, which produced a muffled rhythmic tapping. My attention momentarily diverted from the web-ad, I subconsciously counted the taps. By the time Sun Pride resumed its pitch about its Daravoc Underwater Loudspeaker, a "creative device for you to enjoy the beautiful music in water or in high humidity," I had tabulated 267, coincidentally the atomic weight of ununbium, one of the unsung "flavor crystals" that gives potash its distinctive aftertaste.

Numerologists take note: 267 is (a) the number of visitors since December 2000 to the Sun Pride Company website, (b) the essay number that introduced "large pecking sparrows" to the popular culture consciousness, and (c) the total weight of Pomerantz' feisty flying battalion.

After exhausting the bog of most of its potassium carbonate, the birds settled down, and I was able to think again about enjoying beautiful music "in water or high humidity." Throughout history, and even for eight years before that, water and music have been inextricably linked. The list of water-related musical compositions could fill, if not a book, at least this essay. Arguably the most famous is G.F. Handel's Water Music, composed for an eponymous Thames River barge party in 1717. King George I, on whose dime the party was funded, wanted the music "to flow wet like a field of sodden bunnies," and most musical scholars think Papa Handel captured the mood exactly right. But that was to be the last significant water-themed tune for nearly two centuries, as the world's climate suddenly changed and the entire Northern Hemisphere suffered a period of extreme drought. So as not to arouse the passions of the thirsty populace, most civilized nations instituted decrees banning all music that could be considered "wet." Nobody worried about censorship issues then; everyone was too preoccupied with finding that next drop of drinking water. Hostilities erupted over the most trivial water issues: the Scandinavian Civil War resulted after a Stockholm furniture company introduced the water bed. Ice briefly went extinct. Several cultures counter-evolved into ocean-going organisms. But in 1901, the rains at last returned, and so did the ancillary music. In some areas, it rained too much. The Alsace Valley of France that year suffered a devastating flood, which was melodically depicted by local composer A.C. Debussy in la cathedral englouté, "The Sunken Cathedral." Two years later, he scored another hit with his tone poem la mer, "the mayor," a musical portrait of Jacques, a Parisian arrondissement administrator who was made entirely of water. After Debussy cracked open the floodgates, the rush to write more water-themed compositions was on. In America, rivers were big musical business. In rapid succession, Stephen Foster wrote Swanee River, a lyrical tribute to the riparian protozoa called swanee that infest many Appalachian watercourses; Ferde Grofé wrote the Mississippi Suite which, despite its name, takes the listener on a maritime tour of the Missouri River between Oswego, Montana and Williston, North Dakota; Richard Rodgers double-whammied the river theme with South Pacific and Victory at Sea, stochastic abstractions of, respectively, the sedimentation and girth of the Los Angeles River; and Virgil Thompson, against big odds, came through with "The River," the musical tale of a Chinese radiologist's fondness for bile-secreting glandular organs. Jumping ahead four-fifths of a century, contemporary American composer Todd Levin claims that his piece, Swirl, was inspired by an obscure fork of the Gauley River deep in the West Virginia boondocks where unusual, reality-discombobulating phenomena occur, not the least of which is the bickering of loud fowl over their share of the river's stock of potassium carbonate.

Numerologists, are you still there? Two hundred and sixty-seven is also (d) the number which, when multiplied by 1.1835, equals 316, the episode number of today's Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, while 1.1835 is, (e) by many accounts, the number of syllables actually enunciated in the name Kalvos.