Science Fiction Poetry Association — The Music is Always On
The Music Is Always On
by Bryant O’Hara
The frostbite dies away once the bass drops. These old ARP 2600s run pretty smooth when the temperature’s below 50. This is the day the big data dump from the Europa probes goes on-line. My hands warm as I caress dials and twist static out of a patch cable. The ARP provides the seed rhythm; my algorithms water that seed with data and grow beats, lyrics and compositions. Fragments of music blossom into hits like bosons shot out of a superconducting supercollider; they are as short-lived as they are hot.
And there is more to come,
for the music is always on.
Ever since Jo Effington mashed up the Arecibo observatory’s decades-long data stream into the world’s longest drum-n-bass composition, every musical hacker with a freak on for radio astronomy, getting teary when they watch Cosmos, has been clogging up the Internet with songs that literally take a lifetime to listen to.
And here’s the tricked-out, somehow not quite played-out, old-hat thing: these songs evolve. The ones that hit the top of the charts—most of those actually take days to sink into you. That is the new music—that is the music of lives that are now very, very long. Somewhere in this world there is a musician/hacker that will take all your social data and turn it into a soundtrack. And it will never end. And the biofeedback-based symphonies are making a comeback after a brief flash in the late 2010s.
Our lives are so noisy, so funky—so downright god-damned dance-able, you can take the electric slide straight into the grave. The goth set even came up with software that monitors your rate of decay and mixes the chemical data with AI-sampled video clips. Illegal as hell, but still, your corpse can not only look beautiful, but sound beautiful.
My friend the guitarist hung up his axe after 30 years of touring. Not because he was old (god, who cares about that nowadays). Just wanted some peace and quiet, he said. So he went to a mountaintop to turn down the volume.
It is a bit loud down here,
and the music is always on.
We call them The Birds, the young ones. They have a new language that sounds like a vocoded modem missing the bands needed to sound like human speech. Data passes between them in packets picked up on their personal networks. Most of it is encrypted, as far as we old folks are concerned—nothing but noise leaks out. Fragments of data get translated as something like bird calls, hence the name.
In colors that slide off the human spectrum, The Birds gather in subway tunnels. One among them, staggering like a zombie, opens her mouth. Squawks and electric screeches transform into something that is still not speech, but a torrent of words as if from an aphasic gangsta rapper catching the holy ghost in the middle of evening prayers. The Birds don’t exactly follow her, but merely begin their own drunken counterpoint.
It cycles in the tunnels,
in the tunnels.
The music is always on.
Trapped in the logos, these kids occasionally sync up with each other, and for a moment they are angels in a hoodoo choir, where the rhythm rides them until a security drone tranqs the MC. As fast-acting medication kicks in, the voices lap back from the tidal pull. Without the drones, the flock would infect those with poor barriers—and the beat would go on.
Our internal wifi can still hear the seed rhythm that kicked off the outbreak of song. You have to be disconnected—no, you have be dead nowadays for it to really be quiet.
We the very old wonder what The Birds do when the power goes out.
They say little then, though we know they are not mute.
Perhaps they do it just to piss off the old folks.
Perhaps, underneath all that noise,
they are whispering to each other.
It is hard to tell.
The music is always on.