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The Essay
Show #417
The Audible Red Tide
David Gunn

Recently, the US Department of Historical Revisionism released a report entitled "The High Tech Trashing of Asia." The report documented millions of cases in which American e-waste--such as old computers, Victrolas and mimeographs--was being dumped into China, Burma and Iowa. There laborers scavenged them for parts, oblivious to the innumerable toxic hazards they were exposing themselves to. Yesterday, ASCAP--the American Society of Composers After Piston--reported that its agents had uncovered a similar practice that sent obsolete electronic music to third and fourth world countries. Music that under normal circumstances wound up in musty old university tape archives or at the bottom of sampled microtonal scrap heaps was now showing up in countries that had little use for it. In March, for example, a huge clot of misaligned sine waves turned up in Afghanistan. Starved for music of any kind, which their former Taliban rulers prohibited, the people at first embraced the sounds. Soon, however, the inherent dullness of the waveforms shone through, and the Afghanistanians covertly shipped them elsewhere.

One batch of particularly appalling acoustoelectric music from the University of Hummock-on-Smythe Undergraduate Hymnody Programme was encased in lead ingots, which in turn were sealed in 55-gallon steel drums. Mislabeled "architectural designs," the drums were stowed aboard a container vessel destined for "Middle of Desert, Burkina Faso." But midway across the English Channel, heavy seas that must have weighed 13,000 tons ripped two of the containers from their moorings. The drums fell to the floor, burst open, and spewed the awful sounds all over the lower decks. A couple of crew jumped overboard to escape the cacophony. Others, who had had time to don protective earplugs, bravely pulled the broken containers out of the hold and heaved them over the side of the ship. Fearing the other fifty dozen drums might rupture at any time--due to a scheduling blunder, the ship's entire corps of pilots was on break and the vessel was taking on water fast--the crewmen hurled them overboard, too. The drums bobbed in the channel water like insane animatronic ducks in a pennyroyal arcade as the ship slid warily away into the dark and stormy night. Like an audible red tide, the drums proved to be toxic to sea life, too. From krill to coelacanths, zebrafish to anchovies, the fish in the neighborhood of the U-of-H-on-S acoustoelectronica's deleterious frequencies went permanently belly-up.

But the real trouble began when the music reached the Azores. It washed ashore on the beach that fronted the Hotel Ponta Delgada, where a convention of otorhinolaryngologists was in session. The lecture entitled "Embracing Nosal Polyps" was just getting to the good part that featured a live demonstration by Lulu the Gland Lady when the discordant sounds washed over the audience like a tsunami of ravenous earwigs. Complaining of übertinnitus-like symptoms, the conventioneers rushed higgledy-piggledy around the hall pulling out their ears. Fortunately, a mouthwasherwoman had the presence of mind to ring for the Azores Hazardous Music Squad, which promptly arrived in full ear-protective gear. Detecting a severe degradation in clement timbres in the immediate vicinity, the team leader ordered the drums be sprayed with Clangoreze, an experimental substance that was often toxic in its own right. Comprised of equal parts of C major triad, white noise, black noise, and Julio Iglesias singing "My Way," the saccharine amalgam gradually mitigated the noxious noises and saved the hearing of a handful of audients.

The story would seem to have a happy ending, however anecdotal evidence suggests that, even now, some of the e-music waste is mutating, and the ensuing strains are virulent beyond remediation. The reports, of course, are always unsubstantiated and usually quickly quashed--the powerful electronical music industry is loath to admit its products are anything but safe and salubrious. Even ASCAP, whose funding is partly underwritten by acoustoelectronia, has had to tread carefully. Its scathing account was printed only in Pashto and quietly released at 1 am yesterday atop Mount Pelée in Martinique. By noon today, the report had been withdrawn, with no subsequent reference to it anywhere.

But Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar is not afraid to refer to it or any other potentially injurious music. On today's 417th episode, for example, we'll not only talk about blatantly noisy music, we may even play it! So listeners with tender hearpores beware. The audible red tide is at hand. So, too, is Kalvos.