Teach a pig to sing? One man had grander plans than that! [Writer's Cramp Winner 5-8-19]
|"Mozart is sunshine," Professor Michaelson declaimed. He lifted the wax vinyl disc with reverent hands over his brow so that the grooves caught and glinted in the morning light. One of the old Greeks, if chancing upon the tableaux, might have taken the Professor for a priest of Apollo, making an offering to the god of music.
But then, one of the old Greeks, if chancing on the tableaux, might have been more taken with the flying cars that raced across the sky outside the professor's window, or the columns of smoke that trailed the rocket buses as they lofted themselves toward the Moon.
(Flying cars and rocket buses. Yes, this is one of those kinds of stories. But not egregiously so. The entire thing will take place in Professor Michaelson's music solarium, which if it was outre was outre only for being entirely decorated in Louis Quinze style, and in containing a harpsichord in one corner, a harmonium in the other, and an antique sackbut in a glass case. (Let it also be noted that the Professor was not one to giggle when inviting his guests to examine "my sackbut," and he frowned on those who did.) He did have a flying car—who in those advanced days didn't?—but it was a necessity only, and the Professor employed a man to fly it while he contentedly fiddled with the music player in the back seat. But I think we'd better be done with these parentheticals, before we forget how the story opened, with the Professor lifting a music disc over his head and declaiming, Mozart is sunshine.)
"Dvorak," Steven retorted. His eyes glinted.
"I beg your pardon?" Professor Michaelson frowned and lowered the disc so as to study its label.
"Oh, I see!" His brow smoothed with relief. "You are alluding to the quotation. Dvorak, you mean it was, who said, Mozart is et cetera. I thought you were telling me I had picked up the wrong disc!"
Steven tilted his head deferentially. "It is my pleasure to correct you when you are wrong, Professor. But it is my still greater pleasure—"
His voice caught, as though a string in his throat had snapped. "You aren't going to tease me," he pleaded. "The Mozart!" He reached for the record.
The Professor smiled and slid the music disc into the automatic player. He settled onto a settee, and laid his head back upon a cushion and shut his eyes as the orchestral strings rose like a swan on silken wings.
"One of the piano concertos, certainly?" Steven said after a few bars had passed.
"Yes." A smile creased the Professor's lips, but his lids were shut tight. "Which one?"
"The one in A major."
"Your sense of pitch is impeccable. But characterize it, Steven!" The professor lifted his hands as the music swelled. "This one has no name. If Beethoven's fifth concerto is the 'Emperor', which one is this?"
Steven hesitated. "The A major."
The Professor lifted one lid to glare at his student. "Is it not enough I must teach you to appreciate music? Need I also teach you poetry?"
"I wish you would teach me to play."
"In time, and by my design," the Professor replied. He shut his eye and nestled into the settee. "As yet you simply quaff the music! My old students could do as much! They could guzzle it like beer, and vomit back the technicalities on their tests.
"But to catch the music, Steven—! To hold it! To squeeze from the air with only one's ear the glistening dewdrop that is each successive note—"
He lifted a forefinger as the piano entered, dropping bell-like notes.
"—and to string them together in the mind like pearls on a necklace— Ah!" He pinched at the air. "That is my ambition for you, Steven! To give you not just the ear for music, or the mind for it, but the soul!"
"You leave me abashed."
The Professor allowed himself a paternal smile, but the rest of the concerto passed with silence between them.
"But you do tempt me into making you a new sort of test," the Professor said when all was silence again. He pushed himself to his feet. "I have a new something I want you to judge. It's ... well, it's a sort of mechanical composer."
"That sounds like an oxymoron," Steven said.
"Yes, well." The Professor shuffled over to a cabinet. "There's only so much Mozart to be had out there, correct? I was thinking—it's an almost Promethean temptation, I know—but I was thinking how good it would be to have more of him. New compositions."
The Professor paused with a disc in his hands. "I did use the word 'mechanical', didn't I? Say, rather, in computational imitation." His manner turned shy. "The composing unit is still very much a prototype. But my hope is that, if I can isolate in my training sessions with you the essence of true musical appreciation, then perhaps I can imbue that fluency into a genuinely creative machine!"
"You are ambitious."
"So is my mechanical composer. Its first attempt—here!—was a piano sonata in the Mozartean style. What do you think?"
The disc began to play. The Professor watched his protege closely. When it was over, Steven said only, "It needs refinement."
"Undoubtedly. But do you think it shows promise?"
"No," Steven flatly declared.
The Professor pointed an accusing finger. "So you fail the test! That was Mozart! Young and raw, but the genius himself! You disdain it only because it is unfamiliar!"
"I have offended you."
Professor Michaelson seized Steven by the neck and wrenched his head clean off.
"The only thing worse than a merely mechanical composition," the Professor muttered as he drew a small screwdriver from his pocket and began to detach the electronic cortex from the skull of his prototype STandardized Eolan VENerator, "is a merely mechanical appreciation!"