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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #446
The Dint of Moore
David Gunn

What is it about the Castelli Gallery, all of a sudden? First Jerome, and now, a week later, Borraka B. Cromwell finds himself in that same East 79th Street establishment. The Warhol soup can beckons, but he resists. So, too, do Red Grooms' New York Subway characters--seated as always--but Cromwell finds them of only passing interest. However, the giant Henry Moore sculpture of "Dogs Playing Poker"--ahh, now that is a piece worthy of some serious introspection! It's so lifelike! From the quixotic expression on the face of the dealer dog to the communal pan of kibble and helium in the middle of the table, Moore achieved a level of hyperrealism few sculptors could match. Every fifty-five minutes, the pan levitates from the table, just as it must have done in real life. At the same time, an animatronic dogfish leaps out of the adjacent water closet, nabs a pellet of kibble in midair, then disappears amongst Grooms' subway riders, all while a recording of the dogs yodeling in four-part harmony emanates from a speaker in the helium. No matter a large sign bordered by chaser lights in front of the exhibit specifically warns against it, many gallery visitors burst into applause after the not quite hourly entertainment. Research has shown that the sudden decibelevel increase inherent in clapping can trigger unusual chemical reactions in helium. On this Saturday before Boxing Day, the chief applauder is a former mayor of Flint, Michigan. Because he spent so much time in that city, the ex-mayor's body had assimilated an abnormal quantity of the indigenous quartz that gave the place its name. So when he clapped, sparks flew from his hands and landed on the helium, causing the typically inert gas to spring into action. The result was good for Applied Science, but bad for Borraka B. Cromwell, who next found himself sprawled uncomfortably under the Yodeling Tree in Hkakabo Razi National Park in the Cofkab, or the COuntry Formerly Known As Burma.

Myanmar--a/k/a the Cofkab--has a central core of lowlands that are watered by the Irrawaddy and Sittang Rivers. The rest of the country is dominated by rugged mountains, highlands and elands. In the north, near the border with China, is the Hkakabo Razi National Park. Besides being home to the renowned Yodeling Tree, the park is also rich in helium deposits, which are mined year-round from fleets of dirigibles. One of these airships is even now hovering uncomfortably close to Borraka, who is in turn uncomfortably sprawled beneath the Yodeling Tree. His discomfort is not due to any physical malady, but rather because of the sound the tree--a Pennsylvania Dutch elm--is making. Wind blowing through the serrated leaves produces a rapidly fluctuating pitch shift that sounds a bit like a singer oscillating between chest voice and falsetto. A yodel. (Coincidentally, the tree's sap closely resembles in taste and texture the filling of the eponymous American snack cake.) But the tree is not the sole source of the unnerving sound. The foothills of Hkakabo Razi are loaded with aluminum. The metal appears just below the surface in stratums--or sidings--and is easily harvested by a guild of Myanmarians who are called Sidemen. Like thousands of non-union workers before them, the Sidemen tend to utter sounds when they work. And because of their proximity to the elm tree, they yodel. Or try to. They are trying now, and Borraka B. Cromwell would be the first to grade their attempt as "unsuccessful."

Unsuccessful also describes the elands' attempts to graze on the helium. When the more aggressive airships aren't acting overly protective over "their" deposits, the helium itself, once extracted, is simply prone to floating up and out of the elands' grasp. To Borraka, the frustration of the antelopes is palpable, even audible. It sounds a little like chicken ... and not unlike the recording that accompanies the poker playing dog sculpture a little more than halfway around the world away.

Three Sidemen peel up a long, shimmery strip of aluminum, and their yodeling instantly turns pointillistic. Milton Babbitt stuck headfirst in an alpenhorn comes to mind. Another Myanmarian laborer chimes in with an introspectively yodeled tone row, and the cacophonic counterpoint is enough to chase away two of the dirigibles. It has the opposite effect on the helium, however, which reverses its upward trajectory and returns to listen. It hovers over and then alights on the branches of the Yodeling Tree, whose wind-driven song abruptly takes on an Alvin and the Chipmunks character.

Having witnessed similar digressions from the fundamental laws of nature during his tenure in other stories, Borraka B. Cromwell hypothesizes that the yodeling-helium-eland interaction will have a butterfly effect on events back at the Castelli Gallery. Sure enough, at that moment, among the audients applauding the leap of the animatronic dogfish into the subway car denizens is the King of Rock 'n Roll, his activity limited somewhat by the velvet towel on which he finds himself two-dimensionally emblazoned.

The harvesting of a major protactinium deposit a day later by Hkakabo Razi miners clad in pelts from the now lighter-than-air elands has triggered similar consequences on this 445th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, such as turning the can of Dinty Moore that Andy Warhol almost didn't reject thirty-nine years ago into a kibble-kibitzing likeness of Kalvos.