The Blue Box Effect


The choice is yours

You, the reader, should stop now, because the following entry is not a message for you, but rather a reminder for me of the beaches that my natural enthusiasm would leave me perched upon, waterless and looking for where I’ve gone wrong. Save yourself…proceed no further unless you too tend to eat the heart from that which you love, piece by piece, until in looking around you realize that there is nothing left of your sense of choice but the blood on your teeth.  A bit dramatic?……mmmmyea…could be.

IN college I was, like everyone else my age, in a punk band for a short time. There were four of us; all quiet, and all decidedly uncool when not sheltered behind our axes, sticks, and electronica. Initially we played a series of small parties, clumping around a drum set in tight spaces in the corner of a back bedroom.  In order to best forget that we were publicly audible we faced each other, heads down and thrashing.  We were loud, and we could feel the power of our union growing as we ignored the party around us… right up to the inevitable instant when the cops pulled our plugs about five minutes into the show.  I was always startled when the sound suddenly stopped, and I found that we were corporal and no longer hiding behind a wall of sound.

It was probably for the best, as we’d no idea yet how to play our instruments.  Still… we loved it, and we practiced relentlessly in a tomb of mattresses propped against our drummers walls, and the music that came out of us (warts and all) carried with it our personal oppressions, fears and terrors and put them into the light; a tangible thing hanging in the air, then dispersing like the clouds that they were.  I left practice drained, but light; a soul less burdened by the papery ghosts of my past, so we kept playing, and we got tighter, and we started to have a sound that was uniquely ours, and soon the flaws were a kind of honesty bearing witness to the fact that this was not the sublimity of perfection, but an exorcism dark corners.  In short, we became a kind of performance art taking place nightly, but shown to nobody but ourselves…a black box of emotional release.

Our primary trick was something that The Pixies would soon make more explicit; namely start songs quietly, then explode.  Looking forward, our sound seemed to rely on an increased capacity for density and volume, and lacking any notable musical skills we needed some amplification to grant us artistic leverage.  Being broke (and the necessary tools expensive) our geekiest member obtained a schematic of a couple of effects pedals we could not otherwise afford and began building several new toys housed together in an ankle-high plastic box.  When it was done he proudly presented it to us, a simple blue box with a number of receptacles for amplifier jacks, and three unmarked pedals.  About this box he mentioned only that some liberties had been taken with the plans, and that the result was…interesting.  We plugged in, the whole band (including drums) running through the box and started playing one of our more punchy songs.  The geek looked at us with the superiority of someone who is uniquely aware of the radness that will soon follow, his foot hovering nervously over the pedal.  He watched us in this way for a bit, and then as the power of the song kicked into gear he hit the middle button, and the world exploded.

I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry, but I knew we’d found our hook.

If I were to describe it I would say this; the box turned all sound into a collage, seemingly linking portions of signal from drums, base, guitars and voice into one tonally harmonious wave form, but it sounded like these spliced loops were being burned alive, eternally dying, and then being reborn only to die horribly again seconds later.  Sometimes it would pick something out of the fray and repeat it, echoing and ever more distant with each lap.  It also pulsed with the base drum…well…usually…sometimes the rhythm seemed to die horribly, then suddenly rise up again from the wreckage.  It was huge, it was scary, and no matter what we did it was perfectly fucking sublime.

The first time we applied the blue box at a show the heads of all fifty people present snapped up in unison, the incessantly bobbing craniums of the metal-inclined momentarily stilled upright.   It was as though we had appeared from thin air to replace the previous lackards, and the mob was visibly wowed. The box was on for only 10 seconds before we went back to our regular approach, but all eyes were fixed on-stage for the rest of the night, and people had this “you guys fucking rock” look about them, as though they were all in on something that the rest of the world was sadly deprived of.  We shrugged it off at first, but the next show seemed unnaturally crowded, and when our set ended, half the people simply walked out, leaving the headliner with a trickle of their normal adoration.  Soon some bigger venues were calling us, and the crowds began to spill onto the street, some people bearing homemade shirts with the moniker “blue box” sprayed across their fronts.   This was not our designated band name, but we hadn’t the heart to buck our newfound champions, so we just shut up and played.

We took turns controlling the box, our personalities coming forward with the timing of the button’s click. The drummer would turn it on and leave it there.  The geek turned the box into a comedy show.  One night I was in control and I stepped forward, foot over the pedal, and I looked up at the crowd to taunt them, and saw them lean forward…they were hanging on my move, and they wanted it.  Being generally pesky in nature, I waited until the last song, having teased them (and myself) for 12 songs, and then hit the button.  All that anticipation and power poured into the authority of the box, and we of the room buckled on our knees gasping for air before the onslaught.  After the song was over I couldn’t stop sobbing, and I wasn’t alone.  Others were screaming, or laughing hysterically.  A dude with nails driven through his nose and forearms came over to us and shook our hands as if we had just closed a business deal on the 18th green.  We were artists.  We were making art.  People saw it, felt it, and us, and despite all the emotions contained there they didn’t run screaming…or least not from us.  After the show the band was eventually left to ourselves, and packing up the truck in an alleyway we said nothing as we smiled at one another….happy and empowered.  We liked it… all of it…and we were hooked.

But this is not the end of the story, and this does not culminate with a positive review,  or even an amiable parting of ways.  In subsequent shows a triggering of the blue box seemed the solution to every question, and lacking the complexity and beauty of a narrative, the chaos the box provided was merely a loud sound.  With no tension afoot, the box carried no hidden message,  and this lack of depth vexed us, and we pursued the emotional hole by hitting it even more….rats hitting a pedal…moths to a flame.  In this cycle of masturbation we quickly became as bored as our better fans, and with the interplay of scarcity, desire and creativity now severed we coolly disbanded, a beauty never to breathe again.

The making of this music…the purging of everything inside us upon the geography adjacent strangers…will assumedly remain the most cleansing and gorgeous contribution of TDM’s grand tour of life, and from time to time one can catch him staring quietly into the grace of those few moments, and wondering, how could we abandon our blood for a mere shot of rye?  Then he recalls that the pattern repeats in his life as readily as it does for any other addict of love and other chemicals, and the better question rises: how could we not?  How could we not panic and forget that our intent was not the intoxication of quantity and volume 11? How could we not wish these feelings of consequence to continue onward and without end for all of our available days? How does one not fail to balance the weight of a passion(s) with the weightlessness of dependence?

And now we are back in the moment, and college, and classes, and the time it takes to do nothing but dream are more or less done and dusted.  Spring is here.  TDM has two sick bikes, and when he has time he rides them where the maps and tea leaves tell him he should.  There is something to it…the talons are set, and (goddess help him) the dude is trying so hard to remember that his passion need not be present in every fucking moment for the worship to continue to bloom until the end of his days.



The end and stuff


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