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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #418
12 Monkeys
David Gunn

Dateline, England: Researchers at Plymouth University reported this week that six primates left alone with a computer attacked the machine and failed to produce a single word. It was an attempt to corroborate the long held conviction that an infinite number of monkeys, if placed before an infinite number of typewriters, would eventually type at random Shakespeare's Hamlet--or at least the part in Act V, Scene 1 where the prince talks to a skull he’s dribbling down court. Hamlet seems to lose track of time as he goes on about lips and gibes, and soon the shot clock has wound down to five seconds. At the top of the key he's double-teamed by Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, and he forces up an off balance shot at the buzzer. The skull miraculously touches nothing but net. With the game tied, Laertes immediately calls time out. He sends in Horatio to spell an obviously winded Polonius, and Claudius counters by inserting Fortinbras, prince of Norway. Bernardo takes the inbound pass, but doesn't see Reynaldo posted up behind him and, as he crashes into him, he's called for a charge. Anyway, it's that part of the play that an infinite number of monkeys given an infinite amount of time supposedly would one day type. Instead, these monkeys typed a lot of Ss and took turns urinating and defecating on the keyboard and also bashing it with stones--not unlike the behavior of some grouchy temp workers at the Klondike Motor Inn in Atlantic City. And, while I'm willing to let bygones be begonias, I would appreciate it if the management took care of my dry cleaning bill. In any event, the experiment was funded by an arts council, which declared it a huge success and quickly sold the rights for a movie starring Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter and Charlton Heston.

A similar experiment was conducted last year at the University of Hummock-on-Smythe's Simiantorium in Southwesternmost Lincolnshire. It involved a dozen monkeys, but in place of a computer, the primates were given a piano. Since hitting a key produced an instantaneous audible response, the researchers hoped that the monkeys would eventually press keys that effected, for them, gratifying sounds. It can be argued that "gratifying sounds" are in the ears of the beholder, but it can also be argued that Laertes should have left Polonius in, since he towered over Horatio and would have been a better match against Ophelia for the jump ball that ultimately decided the game.

The Simiantorium was a long, narrow room, 15'x40', on the top floor of the Algonquin Post Laboratory. The walls were covered with banana-scented scratch and sniff patches, most of which had been scraped and nosaled beyond recognition, and the feces-hued floor was littered with molybdenum crystals. A dozen gel-cushions protruded from the floor that closely matched the ischial callosities--or "bum pads"--of the monkeys. Sometimes the mandrill sat on one; mostly, the perches were assiduously shunned. The piano, an upright Everett of Boston, was wheeled into the room by a technician who bore a striking resemblance to a large, brooding marmoset. Eleven of the twelve monkeys approached the piano tentatively--the lone macaque seemed to prefer bashing the remains of the computer in the corner of the room. The technician returned with the piano stool, but the lead female guenon bared her teeth at him while making a rude gesture with an AK-47 Kalashnikov, so he submissively withdrew. Immediately, the baboons began to groom it, prizing off the top and plucking lice from its soundboard. One capuchin climbed inside and began to yank on the strings. The ensuing strumming sound at first alarmed the monkeys, and they all ran away howling in protest. But gradually, curiosity drew them back to the big, wooden quadrilateral that smelled vaguely of a research grant. This time, the two chimpanzees--yes yes, they’re technically apes, not monkeys--sniffed at and poked the keys, producing the sound of a tentative tone cluster. The mandrill grunted in evident approval so the chimps hit the keys again. And again. More tone clusters, followed by the hint of an algorithmic melody. The baboons groomed the soundboard again, and the capuchins returned to their string-pulling. The macaque abandoned the computer and joined in hammering on the piano's upper octaves. Soon, all twelve primates were pounding, scraping, thumping, smacking, delousing and, yes, urinating on and defecating in the Everett of Boston, which responded by issuing a veritable cacophony of cross-rhythmed polytonality. Thanks to the technician, who tape-recorded it, we can play an excerpt of "Monkeylargo." [excerpt 1]

Even more secrets are revealed when part of it is played backwards. [excerpt 2]

In the end, the monkeys destroyed the piano with a small nuclear device, pushed its remains into the corner of the room with the computer, and continued to refuse to sit on the bum pads--which is about as good as performance art gets in Southwesternmost Lincolnshire.

Now I'm sure many of you are wondering (a) how can a movie studio make a film when two of its three headliners are dead?, and (b) why didn’t Claudius pull Gertrude out of the game to cool her down when she was flagged with two consecutive technical fouls? These answers and more will be answered, if not during this 418th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, then later when the U of H-on-S's research junta has collated its Simiantorium studies. Till then, please direct all questions, answers, repartees and guest composers to Kalvos.