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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #412
Who's Minding the Music?
David Gunn

Midnight. A dense, dark fog rolled from across the moor and seeped inexorably into the village. The main street, already unlighted and black as pitch, seemed to plunge into an even more caliginous measure of murkiness. The air chilled precipitously, causing the man crouching in the shadows to shiver and pull up the collar of his mackintosh. The dim glow from his cigarette illuminated a face creased with apprehension. The bell in the clock tower tolled twelve ... and then thirteen. The man drew one last nicotine-tinged breath, then crushed out his smoke. He was quite sure he hadnít been followed, but still he peered cautiously up and down the street before abandoning his sanctuary. Then he slipped soundlessly into the gloom, the muffled sound of footfalls on gravel occasionally breaking the Stygian silence. A circuitous itinerary at last brought him to a nondescript cottage that was set back from the others on the street. He skulked to the front window and tapped upon it. Immediately a lighted taper appeared on the other side of the glass, illuming his face. The hand holding it gestured sharply towards the front door, which simultaneously opened. The man looked about him one last time, then slipped inside. Only after the door was closed and a curtain draped over the window did Wardo Wharton turn on the light.

Along with Hillary Rosen, Mitch Glazier, Cary Sherman, Jay Berman and Jack Valenti, Wardo Wharton was a member of the Recording Industry Association of America's advisory board. Unlike the other five members, Wardo was convinced the organization was bad for the music business. He had tried to subvert congressional passage of the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act and the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act, but without success. And when he learned that the RIAA was plotting even more onerous restrictions on public access to recorded music, he had called a meeting of his anti-RIAA confederates to discuss possible countermoves. Naturally, it had to be clandestine.

Eight men and women were seated on sofas and chairs in the room. Each clutched an LP--that's long-playing phonograph record to those of you nurtured only on CDs. Wharton's secretive meetings always began by playing a record of the past that in some way influenced the future of the recording industry. For the prelude to tonight's tryst, he had asked his colleagues to bring "big" pieces of music. He hadn't been disappointed. The selections included the Pie Fight Scene from Boris Arapov's massive comic opera, "Hodja Nasreddin;" Pierre Bernard's electroacoustic decibel-busting "Piano d'ombre," in which a piano sounding board is bombed; Barney Childs' "Welcome to Whipperginny," whose nine percussionists each suffered permanent hearing loss following the recording session; Peter Maxwell Davies;' "The Martyrdom of St. Magnus," whose live recording captured the actual martyrization of four of the five vocal soloists. But in the end, Wharton selected the Bernstein rendition of Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony, the version that augmented the third movement--programmatically subtitled "What the animals in the forest tell me"--with amplified sounds of a pack of hyenas being attacked by eight monitor lizards. He slipped the record out of its album sleeve--as always delighting in the shiny licorice hue; the concentric grooves that spiraled in, in, in, then, at the very last second, out again; and the faint bouquet of pinedrops--and gently placed it on the record changer. In order to fit the entire symphony on one disc, the RIAA had demanded that the manufacturer increase the diameter of the LP from eleven and thirteen-sixteens inches to an even fifteen inches. This oversized disc--one of very few ever successfully marketed--was incompatible with all but a few high end record changers. Fortunately, Wardo Wharton had one.

With a polite whir, electromagnetic servomotors lowered the articulated tonearm from the ceiling. When it was an inch above the record, another servomechanism prized open a cover over a tiny recess in the arm and out popped a simulated cubic zirconia stylus, which alighted gently, respectfully, onto the run-in groove. The susurrus of the recording's pre-echo wafted expectantly through the room when the front door was suddenly pushed open and in strode Ivan Vasilievich. Ignoring the frightened stares from the others in the room, he marched over to the record player, grabbed the tonearm and yanked it off of the LP a split second before the speakers could tweet and woof the trombone's first note. For a moment, Wharton thought Vasilievich would smash the record, but instead, he delicately inserted it back into the album jacket. He unlocked a cabinet that had been built into the west wall of the room and placed the record therein, where it joined dozen of others. He relocked the cabinet, turned to Wardo, and wagged his finger in disapproval. "Nyet!," he scolded. He withdrew a dog-eared chart from a pocket in his dashiki, ran his finger along a grid line, then tapped it in satisfaction. He pocketed the chart and, from another pouch, withdrew a 45 RPM record and handed it to him. "Da!," he declared, nodding his head enthusiastically. "Pah sloo shah y-tyeh! Listen!" For Ivan Vasilievich was Wardo Wharton's personal Music Minder as assigned by the RIAA. Only he could prescribe what Wardo Wharton could listen to.

Resignedly, Wardo reset the servomotors to accommodate the smaller disc, then placed it upon the turntable. The tonearm descended, the stylus alighted upon the run-in groove, and the loudspeakers prepared to tweet and woof. Wharton, along with the others in the room, listened expectantly. But the music never came. The susurrant white noise of the run-in groove continued all the way through to the run-out groove, then reversed itself, riding the record's vinyl ridges like a Lilliputian carousel.

"Khah raw shee-y. Good!" said a smirking Ivan Vasilievich, and he marched to the door, opened it, and disappeared into the midnight dark.

And while we donít presume to dictate the music that you, our listening audients, listen to during the next 110 minutes, this 412th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar has been specially hand-crafted to appeal to the most eclectic of tastes, as will soon be illustrated by Kalvos.