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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #486
David Gunn

Rosa Kakamedes settles into her allotted space--parquet circle left, row 2, D--and nods cordially to the familiar faces that glance up from the seats immediately around her. She shrugs off her mackinaw, extracts her reading glasses from a sheath in her adobe hat, and roots around in her portmanteau for the program. Just then, a buzzer sounds. She reaches up, opens a flap on the side of her hat, and withdraws a tumbler of freshly microwaved popcorn. The friendly aroma elicits glances of envy and at least one bout of borborygmus from her seatmates, but Rosa doggedly ignores them. She spills a kernel onto the floor, but before she can pick it up, it is assimilated by the carpet. Rosa slips on her glasses and examines the program. The concert is by the Ricochet Provincial Symphony, an avant-garde-leaning orchestra from Greenland. The cover shows a picture of all eighty members standing on an ice floe wrapped in a silken web of intrigue by Cristo, the Bulgarian landscape artist. She scratches the tiny patch affixed to the conductor's baton and sniffs. It smells like ... aspartame? protactinium? popcorn? Suddenly the woman to Rosa's right snatches a handful of puffed kernels from the tumbler, but in so doing she drops the stuffed Welsh corgi that she's lugged to the last nine concerts, ever since it placed fourth in the 2003 North American Taxidermy Championship. Unimpressed, the carpet immediately absorbs it. Serves her right, thinks Rosa, as she opens the program and turns to tonight's musical agenda.

She reads as far as "Heinrich Franz von" before a loud noise diverts her attention to the rear of the stage, where three percussionists are standing over a badly warped cymbal. The theater's popular instant replay feature shows the two men and the cyborg pulling on the cymbal, attempting to stretch it. And, indeed, the diameter of the cymbal is gradually increasing--one inch, two inches, three inches! But a shot of the upscale potlid from the slow-motion camera below shows a burgeoning stress fracture. One extra robust tug from the kettledrummer later, and the cymbal abruptly loses structural integrity.

Then it, too, swiftly disappears, assimilated by the floor. So why the orchestra members are able to tramp all over the stage en route to their chairs but incur no adverse reaction from the floor is a mystery.

Apparently, so, too, is the "A" that the oboist plays, for no one else in the orchestra is able to tune to it. All sorts of odd pitches reverberate through the hall. Some of them pique the interest of the pack of coonhounds backstage, and they commence baying in dog harmony. The A's from the Wagner tubas are so disparate, in fact, that a small incongruent universe spontaneously materializes between them. The conductor appears singularly unflapped over the wash of cacophony, for he ascends the dais confidently, bows to the audience, selects a baton from the humidor-bearing stagehand, and faces the orchestra, his face placidly reflecting the B major sensibility of the opening work. But as he silently taps his foot to get the initial tempo into his body, the surface of the dais grabs hold of his shoe and refuses to let go.

The conductor has endured worse concert conditions--the disaster in the slurry factory comes to mind--so he pluckily ignores the tingling in his foot and tosses the downbeat to the cellos and woodblock.

As the opening strains of Heinrich Franz von Biber's "Harmonia Artificioso Aromasa" flood the theater, every head of hair in the audience turns suddenly blue. And not just a single shade, either--the whole bluish spectrum is represented: ultramarine, cerulean, Navy, cobalt, peacock, robin's egg, cornflower, Brunswick and out-of-the. It seems that whenever Rosa attends a war-horse opera or classical music concert these days, her hair turns blue. When she listens to more adventuresome music, her hair reverts to its natural mauve coloration. The apparent cause and effect is not lost on Rosa, and she is hoping that the alleged avant-garde nature of the Ricochet Provincial Symphony will give her hair some solferino highlights. But here they are mucking about with some hoary old von Biber partita!

Not to worry. Coincident with the second recapitulation, the contrabassoon and theremin can't seem to agree on the dominant tone, and a harmonic skirmish breaks out between them. The tempo, too, begins to vacillate erratically, as the conductor's downbeats are compromised the farther his right foot sinks into the floor. A gust of wind from the wings snatches the music from the trumpet player's stand, so she improvises on the shopping list that is still taped to the stand. Simultaneously, all of the G strings on the violins snap, setting off the overhead fire retardant sprinkler system. The music rapidly deteriorates, exhibiting a fresh, new vitality that is reflected in the coiffure hues of the audience. Heliotrope, puce, saffron, emerald, dahlia, taupe, sorrel, scarlet, marigold, aquamarine, lavender, ginseng--the colors virtually explode upon the pates of the erstwhile blue-noggined spectators.

The explosion theme extends to the stage, as the entire percussion battery suddenly detonates. The chairs of the low brass and woodwinds are drawn inexorably into the ensuing crater. Some of the musicians leap free, but others continue to play even as they forever vanish from sight. A shrill glissando from the piccolo abruptly turns Rosa's hair solferino, and she dashes from the smoldering concert hall before a stray modulation can change the color again.

You, our faithfully blond, brunette and bulkheaded listeners, may color this episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar Tincture of 486, a bold and confident color that reflects the sentiments of today's featured interview as well as the folksy follicles on the pate of Kalvos.