Sunday, February 03, 2008

Alaska Avant-Garde

Having decided it was time that I leaven my (quasi)* cabindwelling life with a little cultcha, I went to a percussion recital the other night up at the U. The big draw about it? It was free.

It was also put on by a new term-funded** music professor who comes to Alaska with an impressive resume. What I know about modern music you could put on the head of a pin with room to spare, but even I could tell this was going to be very “avant-garde".

Despite being a music philistine, I liked two pieces very much, and a third –where only the body, the whole body and nothing but the body was the percussion instrument – was interesting to say the least, but a fourth could have been a viable substitute for waterboarding.

Certainly, no hint of the aural torture about to come was evident – it was merely a very hefty triangle suspended on a tall stand with two microphones strategically placed. Yes, the lowly triangle: best known as the instrument assigned to the most uncoordinated and musically inept kids in the school band. Those of you used to associating little tinker-bell sounds with a triangle, well, let me tell you, the thing is capable of a whole lot more in a register better fit for bats.

As he belabored the triangle with a sharp, rather sinister-looking metal stick, it began emitting the most irritating, high-pitched humming/buzzing I have ever heard. In a flash, I was one with the canine universe – why dogs howl at sirens a mystery no more. It seemed nothing could possibly relieve the unrelenting pressure building in my ears except to throw back my head and let loose one of my best sled dog howls.

Welcome to avant-garde, Alaskan style.

*qualifier: While I don’t live in a cabin per se (it’s a regular little suburban one storey small box) because I have a toilet, running water, and a washer/dryer, in many respects I have yet to shake most of the cabindwelling life off of me – my paltry faculty salary dictates that I still shower at the gym, to as to conserve water and electricity costs, I can’t use my 4-wheel drive currently as I have one odd-sized tire because I can’t afford to replace all four at once, and I have quite a few out buildings constructed solely of material scrounged at the dump.

**U-speak for “you aren’t tenure-track, thus we can pay you for shit and reduce your funding opportunities while extracting all of the same committee, teaching, publication and research commitments out of you as tenure-track”. I know of what I speak because I too occupy this ninth circle of academic hell. Not quite as deep in the shits, though as adjuncts – at least we get to use the word “faculty” when self-describing.

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