Sunday, April 23, 2006

One Of Our Submarines Is Missing

As I was leaving work on Thursday, I caught up with my boss, Evil PXE (computer term for “Pre-boot Execution Environment” and pronounced “Pixie”) and another co-worker who thanked me for the List of Lists. “I especially liked the one about Poets naming breakfast cereals," she said. Evil PXE gave me a funny look.

"Oh, the one I liked was why the Little Teapot wasn't popular in school." My friend laughed and Evil PXE gave me another confused glance. I continued in a flat voice," She was short. She was stout. She slept around and everyone knew it."

"What?" Evil PXE asked.

"It's a joke. From the song?" I demonstrated the movements, putting one hand on my hip, the other as the pouring spout. "I'm a little teapot, short and stout...?" He continued to stare at me. "And she was a slut."

"That's not in the song," he said.

My friend and I laughed. "That's why it's funny!" She made her goodbyes and left Evil PXE and I in the hallway.

"You know, you can come in tomorrow if you want to..."

"I'm taking the day off, remember? CrafterKat and I have tickets to Thomas Dolby tonight."

He laughed, "I know. Have a good time. Who is opening for them?"

"I don't know. Some group called The Pleasure Bots or something. Could be...interesting."

By the time I returned home, CrafterKat was in her concert clothes and Critter had secured a sleepover with a girlfriend up the street. We shuffled her out the door and then filled each other in our day as we drove over to the Aladdin Theater, a lovely old theater complete with balconies and ancient wall sconces.

"It starts at 8:00, right?" I nodded. "Who is opening for him?"

"Well, some little band I've never heard of. The Pleasure Robots? The Sex Bots? I don't know." I pictured guys in white vinyl behind an array of synthesizers with inflatable adult mannequins as backup singers.

We parked and found seats behind the mixing board. The stage had a multitude of syntehesizers piled in one corner and a screen in the back of the stage. A couple of Apple notebooks could be seen , waiting for musical input.

The lights dimmed and polite applause enveloped us. Two men entered carrying electric guitars and proceeded to the two notebook computers which were hooked up to a synthesizer each. They pressed a few buttons and 80's era synthesized pop music streamed forth.

For the next hour we heard the same song repeated over and over. Well, maybe not the exact same song. "They kind of sound like Big Country," said CrafterKat. "No, maybe ABC. No, maybe A-Ha." The men played guitars...barely. You could almost hear the chords from time to time above the synthesized beat.

The best parts, though, were when each man would stride to their notebook, nodding their heads in time with the music and glance from the keyboard to their music partner. Their telepathic conversation was something like:

Bot 1: I'm getting ready to hit 'Enter'. Are you ready to hit 'Enter'?
Bot 2: I've got my next beat programmed. Are you ready to hit 'Enter'?
Bot 1: I'm ready to hit 'Enter'. We totally rock.
Bot 2: Okay, let's hit 'Enter'. In one...
Bot 1: In two...
Bot 2: In three...
Both: (press the Enter button on their notebooks)
Bot 1: We totally rock.
Bot 2: Yeah, we rock!

CrafterKat couldn't take it anymore and went outside to check the merchandise table. When she returned I learned that not only did they have a CD available, but they have one CD with thirteen versions of the same song!

"Portland! Are you ready to dance now? This song was from our Psykosonik days!" The Portland audience gave polite applause but it didn't drown out the people who were discussing Thomas Dolby and drinking beer. But Bot 1 didn't seem to mind and misinterpreted, "Well, we definitely gotta come back to Portland more often!"

Finally, the opening band finished and we waited patiently for Thomas Dolby to enter. He did a few moments later, wearing a long buttoned-up overcoat and head gear. Remember Lando's pal in the Cloud City who had the computer fused to his brain? He had nothing on Mr. Dolby.

The lights dimmed as Dolby approached the array of synteshizers. The screen behind him lit up and we were suddenly swooping and diving across the keyboards, following his hand movements. The head gear he wore had cameras above either ear allowing us to watch as he crafted melodies. Amazing.

For ninety minutes, Dolby dazzled us with liquid melodies and snappy rhythms. He played his commercial successes (Europa and the Pirate Twins ), some of his favorites (I Live in a Suitcase) and gave insight to the lyrics of a few others. He spoke to the geeks in the audience about some of his toys ("This adjustable stand is used by lots of parishes!") and how he marvelled at new discoveries in science. One of earth's sattelites has, for instance, captured solar flares and recorded them in ones and zeroes. Dolby took those binary bits and encoded them into midi, playing the solar music for us and then dipped into Windpower.

He ended his performance with She Blinded Me with Science, his most recognizable song from the 80's. After much applause, he returned to the stage and admitted that he didn't have any other songs queued up for the concert. "But, this went over pretty well at one of the other gigs I did," and he proceeded to build a song for us. A few taps on one keyboard, set the tempo and then repeat. A rhythm introduced on a second machine, overlaying the first. It took well over five minutes before the first strands of Hyperactive floated through the tiny theater. We were mesmerized.

As he closed up for the night, he added a few words for the opening band. "Hey, what did you think of Basic Pleasure Model?" Polite applause. "They've not performed on stage in nine years!" CrafterKat and I laughed.

Later that weekend, as we prepared dinner to christen our new deck furniture with a nice stir fry, Critter asked, "Who did you see in concert?"

CrafterCat answered, "Thomas Dolby. He's a musician we like from the 80's."

She looked up from the noodles she spooned onto plates. "Is he a Beatle?"

Sigh. I guess one of our submarines is missing...