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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #496
The World's Biggest Instrument
David Gunn

The Great Loquatio was attempting for the third time to build the world's biggest instrument, having been peripherally involved in the two previous record-holding instruments. As a moppet, he had helped former Pentagon mathematician Leland Sprinkle build the Great Stalacpipe Organ in northern Virginia's Luray Caverns. In 1954, he and Leland began to search the labyrinthine underground passages for stalactites that matched specific musical pitches when tapped by rubber-tipped mallets. The process was very slow-going because they explored the enormous cave in almost total darkness. There wasn't any specific rule prohibiting lights; it's just that neither one ever thought to bring one. Anyway, by 1957 they had discovered 101 discrete tones from stalactites that were distributed over an area of 3½ acres. Even the organ console that activated the mallets was oversized. It measured nearly eight feet from the lefthandmost note to the righthandmost, providing a challenge for musicians accustomed to standard-sized keyboards.

The Great Stalacpipe Organ was the biggest musical instrument until 2001, when four Canadian architects each named Ted built the Silophone. Perhaps the word "built" is misleading. The Silophone was originally a grain storage facility in Montréal. In 2000, when the market dropped out of dried krill silage futures, the silo in which the entire Western Hemisphere's supply was stored was abandoned. Envisioning an alternative bed and breakfast location, les architectes de Ted purchased the silo for a pittance. But a new strict Canadian zoning regulation forbade persons "sleeping in any area previously occupied by krill." However, les architectes regrouped, drained the space of its arthropodal fodder, hung a couple of room air fresheners inside its now decidedly reverberant space, and called it the World's Biggest Instrument. And big it was, measuring 2 kilomiles long by 1½ kilomiles wide by nearly 5 kilomiles high. If one factored in the adjoining soft-serve ice cream stand and attendant parking lot, that size nearly doubled. Straightaway, the Great Loquatio visited the silo and volunteered to help change the air fresheners--anything to be affiliated with this latest world's biggest instrument. Eventually, he was allowed to help play it.

It worked this way. People from around the world emailed sound files to the four Teds, who then broadcast them into the cavernous interior of the Silophone. The amazing spatial acoustics--a result of reverberations off the leftover krill exoskeletons--transformed the sounds, which were then recorded and transmitted into space. The Teds speculate that this act is all that has been keeping a race of overtly hostile space aliens from attacking Earth. Bootleg recordings of the "music" that surfaced on alternative radio programs had the same affect on their listeners as it did the aliens. So Silophonic music disappeared from the airwaves before the entire radio audience followed suit.

The Great Loquatio stayed for three years, until the supply of air fresheners ran out. By then, he was ready for a new musical venue. And he had heard of a performance art collective called the Magma Carta that had begun to construct an even bigger musical instrument. Dubbed the Vulcannon, it filled the entire crater of the Fuego Volcano in south-central Guatemala. Steam and gaseous aspartame that escaped from fumaroles in the crater's floor were channeled into an "eruption chamber" that shot huge projectiles full of notes up into the air, where they burst in a phantasmagory of musical fireworks. And while the visible dimensions of the instrument were smaller than those of the Silophone, the Magma Cartans insisted that the geothermal component of the Vulcannon extended all the way to the Earth's core.

The instrument's size and volume were indeed awe-inspiring to the Great Loquatio, but no more so than its location. For Fuego was one of the world's most active volcanoes, having erupted more than 850 times over the course of 500 recorded years. As recently as October 1, Fuego had hurled incandescent lava bombs and ash plumes a hundred metrical units above its cone sill. And now, scarcely nine weeks later, Magma Carta was planning a giant musical extravaganza to coincide with this 496th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar. We had, of course, suggested that the 500th might be a more appropriate celebratory episode, but the Great Loquatio told us that, due to the quixotic nature of metamorphism plus a long-standing holiday reservation at a time share in Singapore, time was of the essence.

[It should be noted that the Great Loquatio has no affiliation, written or implied, with either Kalvos & Damian or the New Music Bazaar, and his appearance in today's story is purely coincidental.]

Fuego lies within a special Volcanic Time Zone, which is one-and-a-half lava-layers to the south of Eastern Standard Time. VTZ geo-chronometers must be recalibrated every fifty seconds to reflect any changes in the magmosity of the proximate earth's crust. Hence, synchronizing the Vulcannon event with today's on-air activities will not be easy. On the other hand, both the Great Stalacpipe Organ and the Silophone reside in the Eastern Standard Time zone, so their last-minute but welcome additions to the musical event should be less problematic. As of ten minutes ago when this episode commenced, we have received no word from either the Great Loquatio or Magma Carta. And Guatemalan spotters report no undue volcanogenic activity in the vicinity of Fuego. So we'll continue with our regular programming now, but break away when the musical fireworks begin.

Begin regular--for lack of a better word--programming; cue the highly irregular Kalvos.