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The Mysteries of His System
The Verses in His Life
A Love Story
Liberation Through Listening in the Gap
An Audio Play for Any Number of Performers
Wherein Audie and Prudence Find Mr. Bell and Continue Their Search for a New System
At A Show in the Made Man Motel
by Barry Grant
From the midst of that radiance, the natural sound of Reality, reverberating like a thousand thunders simultaneously sounding, will come. That is the natural sound of thine own real self. Be not daunted thereby, nor terrified, nor awed.
--The Tibetan Book of the Dead
Perfect System I
The body of a middle-aged man sits slack and silent in a directorís chair in a room in the Made Man Motel. A fractured 78 from a boxed set of the Tchaikovsky Fourth, Koussevitzky with the Boston Symphony, lies on the floor below a dangling hand. A great slab of a loudspeaker adjoins a wall. A lavender corona emanates from its upper region. Ochreous-glowing electronics halo its base. A gentle crrrch, clk, crrrch, clk crrrch, clk floats from a turntable.
Prudence: Gasping. Turn off the system and open the window! Hurry, Audie!
Audie: Prue, you know you canít start just pulling plugs. Coughing. Proper system shutdown begins with the amplification.
Audie: Gasping. Closes eyes and yanks a power cord. EEEEEEEEPOP! Aih! Opens window.
Prudence: Audie, get me the copy of Liberation from my satchel.
Audie: Steals a moment to lift the tone arm off the turntable, dumps the contents of the satchel on the floor, grabs a cardboardĖbound chapbook. Here.
Prudence: Speaking directly into Bellís right ear. A man and a woman skip down a hall and skid to a stop before a sign on a wall next to a door. The door is on a long corridor in the Made Man Motel. The sign says, Fine Sound Technology. The sign names an exhibitor at A Show, where the man and the woman have come in search of their friend, Mr. Bell, and a new system for the man. The manís name is Audie. The womanís name is Prudence. We know them. In Audieís voice. I heard the chanting! Something about reality. Botching reality? In her own voice. Several notches closer to reality, Audie. I heard it clearly. In Audieís voice. Maybe thatís it. In her own voice. Looks up. In Audieís voice. Whatís going on? Whoís chanting? Whereís the sound coming from? In her own voice. Pauses. In Audieís voice. The voices hang in the air, kind of coloring it, like a Feldman piece. In her own voice. Itís a mystery.
Mr. Bell: Urg. Urrrrgggg. Huh! A perfect system!
Audie: Excited. Where? What system?
Mr. Bell: Leaping to his feet. A perfect system!
Audie: Tell us, please! What system?
Mr. Bell: Singing, eyes rolled up in their sockets.
No tube sound
No phase distortion
No amplitude distortion
No group delay distortion
No intermodulation distortion
No transistor sound
No off-axis flares
No breakup modes
No resonance modes
No spurious midrange energy
No swayback in the presence region
Flat frequency response from 0 Hz to infinity
A soundstage as deep and wide as the universe
Audie: Awed. Perfect.
Bell falls backwards onto a pile of flyers strewn across a bed.
Audie: Mr. Bell!
Mr. Bell: Slowly sitting up. WhaaaÖ? Who are you? What happened?
Prudence: Iím Prudence.
Audie: Iím Audie.
Prudence: Weíre members of the One World Free Vegetarianism Foundation.
Audie: ďRice and Beans for a One World Dream.Ē You sent us Mono is the One.
Prudence: We were worried for you and came to A Show to help.
Audie: And maybe find a new system.
Mr. Bell: Thank you, my friends. Thank you. Please sit down. Audie and Prudence sit on the bed on either side of Bell.
Mr. Bell: Yes, yes, I remember. A One World member name of Howard donated some old mono tube equipment, a turntable, a gas plasma speaker, and, uh, a copy of Johnsenís Wood Effect. Wanted to give something to the Foundation. Said it was all he had left after a mean divorce. The Foundation was foundering. Iíd never heard tubes before. I became obsessed with the glorious sound I was hearing. Then I opened up Johnsen. He writes about the sound of 78s, properly played. I was done for! I spent the rest of the Foundationís money and all of my money on tracking down classic 78s. Then I came to A Show to save the world with monaural sound. What was I thinking?
Audie: The speakers must have had a leak. The ozone had been addling your brain even before you set up at A Show. I think we got here just in time.
Prudence: We did.
Audie: When you came to, you sang about what you had heard. A perfect system. You said it was perfect.
Mr. Bell: The last I remember is a chorus of stabbing brasses.
Audie: Stabbing brasses! You donít remember a perfect system?
Prudence: You heard the sound of your self. At least what you could understand as your self. Youíll be fine, but you werenít ready to escape the wheel.
Mr. Bell: Iím happy for that!
Audie: To himself. Not ready? It sounded perfect.
Audie: Prue, we found Bell, just as you said we would. And now heís OK, though his only possessions appear to be a tattered tweed suit, a toxic system, and a carton of old 78s. Pause. I know what Johnsen said, Mr. Bell, but are 78s really that good? Their spindle holes are often off-center and speeds often wrong; theyíre brittle and noisy; their frequency range is attenuated. And if you can find a turntable and stylus to play them, try to find a preamp with the right equalization curve! And just as youíve sat down to listen, youíve got to get up to turn the thing over.
Mr. Bell: Truth of timbre. Tremendous solidity and dynamics. Amazing impact. Great beauty and naturalness. Thatís what 78s give you. Just as Johnsen says.
Audie: To himself. Have I been listening to the wrong medium? Is that why I am unhappy with my system? But Stockhausen, Ashley, Cage, and all of my other heroes never recorded 78s. Must I develop a taste for opera highlights, oompah music, and duck calls in order to be happy with my system? Pause. And what about wire recordings, cylinders, reel-to-reel, and elcasets? And do we really know whatís on WAV, AIFF, AU, FLAC, TTA, APE, WMA, Wavpack, Apple Lossless, and Shorten files? Has anyone tried tweaking a hard drive? Have I come this far only to find I must start over at the beginning? Sigh.
rounder, wetter, more mellow
Mr. Bell: You young folks hear that? Been voices in the air for days.
Audie: Weíve heard them. Though it always seemed to be the same voice. This one is different.
Prudence: It is! And itís much louder than the others. I think the source is nearby. Care to join us Mr. Bell?
Mr. Bell: I would indeed. Though Iím very hungry. Know where I can get a bite?
Audie: We passed the Double Blind Cafť a while back, but even the vendor doesnít know what heís selling.
Prudence: Reaching into her satchel. Would you like a fresh aubergine and onion sandwich?
Perfect System II
Audie, Prudence, and Mr. Bell enter the main hallway of the Made Man Motel, hands cupped Ďround ears, tracking, tracking, tracking the mysterious voices, searching for their source.
Prudence: Itís getting louder!
plumbs the deepest of depths
Audie: Yes! Another voice! Itís this way. Come on!
not unlike what I hear
Audie: This is it!
Audie and Prudence and Mr. Bell stop in front of a door. Next to the door is a sign.
The sign says, Whole Records.
Pitchman: Turns off a recording; walks towards visitors, hands outstretched. Welcome friends. Welcome to Whole Records.
Audie: Where are the voices?
Mr. Bell: Been hearing them for days.
Prudence: At first we thought they were plainchant.
Pitchman: Ah. Those voices. Great for business. Thereís something very odd about the acoustics in this place. Have you noticed? The halls are amazing.
Audie: We noticed.
Pitchman: Well, thereís something else. Odd scraps of sounds from this room broadcast throughout most of the building, almost without distortion. How it happens is a mystery.
Mr. Bell: Why no music? What kind of records are you selling?
Pitchman: Whole Records, my friends. Whole Records. Please, sit down. Motions. Whole Records, where perception and reality are one.
Audie: The end of acoustic dualism!
Pitchman: Yes. So youíve read Grantowksi? A pioneer. Essential. Our work takes his to its logical end. A system is indeed properly a sound producing system, as he argues. But he was wrong about the sound sourceórecordings created to be realized only in playback.
Audie: I thought so!
Pitchman: Playing Dockstader or Subotnick or Jliat or Guenther still leaves a gap. A gap that our revolutionaryinnovative approach to listening pleasure completely erases.
Mr. Bell: A gap? Sputtering. I play Tchaikovskyís Fourth or Beethovenís Fifth or Caruso on 78s, and I am one with the music!
Pitchman: Merely a subjective distortion. Our research shows that audiophiles are confused and frustrated by recorded music, that is, music. They simply donít know what they are hearing! Our research shows that audiophiles donít want to struggle and puzzle. Is that what a piano really sounds like? Is my system bass-shy? Are Joni Mitchellís sibilants really so strident? Audiophiles want to know exactly what they are hearing. They want the peace of wholeness. Whole Records gives them this peace. Whole Records closes the gap between acoustic experience and the perception of acoustic experience. And we deepen and enhance one of the fundamental pleasures of audiophile practice: Reading equipment reviews while listening to oneís system! How do we do it? We offer a library of state of the art recordings of world class professional audio reviewers reading their own equipment reviews! Itís a wholistic system of integrated listening pleasure! Ingenious!
Mr. Bell: Hogwash!
Pitchman: Audiophiles can choose several levels of wholistic listening experience, ranging from readings of single equipment reviews, to system reviews, to our highest level. We call it the Whole One! We bring our state of the art recording equipment and a professional reviewer to your house to record a review of your very own system! Perfection!
Audie: That is, uhh, ingenious, but, uhh, weíve got to move on.
Pitchman: Sure I canít interest you in, say, a review of your preamp or power cords? Audie shakes head. Ahh, well. At least take a copy of our Positive Feedback sampler. Classic reviews read by Robinson, Gordon, Pearsall, Neill, Nack, and, uh, the Clarks.
Prudence: Thanks, we only need one.
Mr. Bell: Scowling. Absolutely not!
sounds so real
Mr. Bell: Are the other exhibitors like this one? Do none of them like music?
Audie: Itís an amazing place, just as Dr. Johnson told us when we arrived. Did you notice that the Whole Records guy completely skirted the question of what equipment to use in recording reviews!
Mr. Bell: Hmm. Young folks, I think Iíd better get back to my room and start packing.
Prudence: What will you do now Mr. Bell?
Mr. Bell: Iíll start by getting my speaker fixed, thatís for sure. Man offered me a job at a used record store near my apartment. Think Iíll take it. After that, well, I might reconstitute the One World Free Vegetarianism Foundation as the One World Free Vegetarianism and Sonic Ecstasy Foundation. Rice and beans alone wonít bring world peace. Gotta have joy too.
Audie: ďRice and Beans and 78 Revolutions Per Minute for a One World Dream!Ē
Mr. Bell: Hmm. Well, yes. Thank you my friends for finding me and saving me. Iím a lucky man.
Prudence: Youíre welcome, dear Mr. Bell.
Audie: Yes, youíre welcome. It was all Prudenceís idea.
Mr. Bell: Kisses Prudence on the right cheek. Thank you my dear, thank you. ĎTill we meet again!
disappear from the chain
Audie: Lying locked in the legs of Prudence. Mr. Bell is well and his system will soon be well and, well, maybe his Foundation will bring peace and joy to us all, but, though I am not the man I was when we met, I am still a man in search of a new system. The hall ahead is dark, absent, to all appearances, of pitchmen and their products. We cannot return to Oz or Broadview or Fine Sounds or any of the other vendors we have visited. Not one of them answers my need. We seem, dear Prudence, bereft of new possibilities. A Show is, for our purposes, exhausted. And, my love, so am I. Rests head on Prudenceís shoulder.
Prudence: Tenderly. Audie. All is well. Runs the back of her hand gently across Audieís cheek. Audie beams. Listen.
Audie: Cocks head. A drone.
Prudence: A 60 hertz fundamental, Iíd say, just like on the night of our first kiss.
Audie: It is 60 hertz! How did you learn to talk like that?
Prudence: Iíve been listening! We have love, Audie. I believe, dear Audie, that down this dark passage, we will have luck too!
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