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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #484
Double-ble Vision-ision
David Gunn

Edgar Edgar glanced in the backstage mirror, straightened his tie and idly brushed a stray hair behind his ear. Satisfied, he nodded to the technician. The house lights dimmed, the stage lights glowed commensurately brighter and the susurrus from the theatergoers abruptly abated. Edgar cleared his throat, pasted a thin smile onto his face and strode onto the stage. The audience applauded warmly, and he bowed to them. Then he shook the conductor's hand and bowed to the musicians, who nodded back in obvious approval. But as he peered into the sea of vague faces that comprised the audience, Edgar Edgar suddenly experienced what performers the world over have long dreaded--he completely forgot what he was doing up there. Dazed, he took a step backwards and bumped into a hard, heavy object. A piano. He stared at it. Did that mean he was a pianist? He held up his left hand and studied it, turning it this way and that, looking for the long and lean fingers typical of a keyboard prodigy. A nervous murmur began to spread through the audience. The conductor tapped his baton in his palm, and Edgar instinctively sat down on the piano bench. It was cool and hard and didn't feel at all familiar. The piano's music rack in front of him was blank and accurately reflected his state of mind. He fiddled with the elevation knobs on the sides of the bench until the conductor quietly cleared his throat. His baton was raised. For what? Edgar's brow suddenly itched and he nervously scratched it. The conductor took the gesture as a sign of readiness and immediately began the piece.

Col legno strings quietly haunted the lowest reaches of the contrabasses and celli. A contrabassoon chuffed a plaintive melody, which was echoed by a disembodied celesta. It was eerie and made Edgar's skin crawl nearly halfway around his torso, and he had to tightly squeeze his arms against his sides to keep his latissimus dorsi from migrating to his chin. He tried to concentrate as the rebec and theremin entered in parallel sevenths. A vasco da gamba attempted to enter at the subdominant, failed, and sailed on to India, colliding briefly en route with a sackbut as it wove an intricate, contrapuntal cocoon around the contrabassoon. The effect was quite interesting, but Edgar was certain he'd never heard it before. Now the French horns and tuba added demonic trills that shook him to the core. It was strange, unnerving music, and Edgar didn't want any part of it.

And naturally, at that very moment, the conductor whirled around ferociously and cued him.

At times of profound anxiety, Homo sapiens is capable of prodigious feats. A young girl is trapped underneath a car--her mother single-handedly lifts the two-ton vehicle to free her. A father is threatened with incarceration--in the nick of time he miraculously comes up with the alimony payment. Such was the case when the baton was pointed at Edgar. To him, it looked like a fer-de-lance ready to strike. And, for whatever reason, he was able to make time stop.

The last-played notes of the piece echoed in Edgar's mind as he stared uncomprehendingly at the immobile conductor, whose baton was still aimed menacingly at him. The musicians and their instruments, too, were all frozen as if in a three-dimensional still life. And no noise at all emanated from the sea of vague faces that was the audience. Experimentally, Edgar pressed a key on the piano. He pressed it gently, and at first he didn't hear anything. So he pressed it harder. Still nothing. He slammed his palm down on the keys. Aha! A sound at last! But at once a chill spilled down Edgar's spine. For the sound he heard wasn't of a piano tone cluster. Rather it was the sound of slowly approaching footfalls.

The sound precipitated the intrusion of a sliver of recent memory: he had been relentlessly pursued. But by whom? Or, more accurately, by what? Of one thing he was certain--the pursuer had been adversarial. Again the sound of footfalls, closer now. And was that the sound of something dragging? Yes, like a large, wet bag of fetters.

No. Like a tail. A scaly, prehensile tail.

As his anxiety level shot up thirty firkins, another remembrance tendril broke through his memory buffer and Edgar saw the tail affixed to the ... the thing that was chasing him. He sat down on the piano bench and grasped his head, kneading his eye sockets with his knuckles until they precipitated flashes of green and blue light. The accompanying smell of ozone and the faint grumble of thunder in his cochlea suggested an impending brainstorm, but by now Edgar was too rattled to grasp any cogent thoughts.

Almost imperceptibly, one of the percussionists put down his cymbals so he could scratch an itchy nose. So as not to disturb the tableau, his movement was infinitely slow. Alas, it was too slow, for before he could stop himself, the itch triggered a sneeze, and the cymbal slipped out of his hand and crashed loudly to the floor.

Edgar howled in fright and spun around, his eyes scanning the stage in search of the sound. A cellist tried inconspicuously to wriggle the fingers of her left hand that had fallen asleep. The movement registered on Edgar's peripheral vision, but then he heard once more the scraping behind him, louder still, and he straightaway twisted in that direction. There was nothing there. Was he losing his mind? The lights began to dim, and he wondered if his vision was failing, too.

Backstage, the technician watched in dismay as the light box self-destructed. His last minute hot-wiring of the ancillary circuit had fused, and he could no longer override the default settings. As the stage lights faded, the house lights came up correspondingly--revealing a theaterful of ventriloquism dummies in various states of disrepair.

And while Edgar Edgar might not really have stopped time, the moment he had imagined seeing the conductor point a pit viper at him, a real fer-de-lance began to crawl out of its nest inside the bell of the tuba.

What is going on here?! Suffice it to say that there are way more loose ends than a single Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar recap paragraph--case in point, the one assigned to this 484th episode--can satisfactorily tie up. So tune in again next time for what may or may not be the thrilling dénouement. If you can't wait that long, stay on the line and your call will be taken by the next available Kalvos.