A Strange Concert

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(1382 words)

Sandy and Brandt, both futurist novelists, attended the annual conference in Amsterdam.   

“Things seem to be in flux,” Brandt said, “and we’ve got to go see what the future holds.”

“What do you mean?” she asked

“I can’t say exactly.”

“You’re a writer.  You’d better figure that one out.” 

They had been friendly for years and were suddenly both single after respective breakups.   They took their seats together for the last few performances on the last night of the three-day event.  The malaise of a writer’s convention was fading under the cool, wet rush of lots and lots of booze. 

“Drink up.  Yeah, that’s it,” Sandy said, putting her hand under his gin and tonic as he took a sip. 

“Look at you,” he said after finishing the drink, eyes watering.  A waiter immediately took another order.

“Lights, please,” Ludwig Von Schtilphrammenhammer said as he mounted the rostrum in his black tuxedo.  The room held the relic effects of a secretive society-like atmosphere.  The average age in attendance must have been 65—the age holding 75% of the worlds accumulated wealth.

“Woah, check out this maestro,” Sandy said.

Whatever its significant shortcomings had been, and they were many, no expense had been spared this expo.  Apparently, the market for high, futurist fiction was very good at the high end and next to non-existent at the low one. Backers with the money, means, initiative, and connections to put the myriad ideas of these thinker’s plans into action were always in the wings.  The venue was historic, the food prime, and the atmosphere that of your early 20th century, high, political theater—which in Amsterdam is run of the mill.

It was the ornate, architecturally-dated, aristocratic section of town where things are never what they seem.  There were a dozen pubs here older than America.  Herr Ludwig had the stage and a giant cinema size screen was raised behind him.

“We are but moisture in the hand of God—God’s anxiety, if you will,” he began, to everyone’s discomfort and substantial boredom.  He stood there staring, saying nothing until you could feel the nervous squirm and some laughter, mainly from newbies like Sandy and Brandt who’d traded a set of NFL tickets with his realtor to come to this. 

Herr Ludwig, they’d heard, was one of the industry’s great bores but his talks, nonetheless, were always packed—his ideas ruthlessly pilfered from year to year.  Most of the audience was jacked on Dutch, dark-roast or cognac, or both.  He was known for being heavy on sensation, light on coherence.  In any case, they’d soon be in the red-light district whose coffee houses awaited the packed throng. 

“Don’t be fooled, ladies and gentlemen.  The internet remains, unless you live like the romantics with your head sunk firmly in the beach, the thing changing everything. I want to remind you this evening that it is still brand new.  That is the nature of my talk, to tell you this, simply.  To reintroduce you to this phenomenon for good, for advancing forward into space.

“The modern internet is brand, spanking new—25 years—we still have the training wheels on, I assure you.  But you need context. We are human. In 1440, you know, they invented the printing press—the Dutch did, or was the French, or the Germans?  Does it matter who invented it?  No, of course not, that falls under the factual column—irrelevance.  What matters is the context, of course—that 25 years after they invented the printing press, which changed the course of history like a river collapsing away from an ox-bow, it was 1465.  The Teutonic Knights were riding around Prussia.  Spain was called a Kingdom and they were submitting plans to Pope Sixtus IV for an annex to the Vatican to be called the Sistine Chapel. 

“That’s where we are today regarding the greatest leap forward in the technological history of mankind—25 years removed.  Columbus hasn’t even crossed the pond yet.”

Brandt and Sindy looked bemusedly at one another as he looked directly at them, because they were Americans, Brandt supposed. 

“Why point this out?  Because of the general malaise you brought to convention this year.  You are depressed because your average five-year-old with his paws on an iPhone can find just about any fact ever asserted and, likely, faster than you can.  When information is that cheap it becomes worthless.  Forget about facts.  They are worthless.  Inspiration is the new currency.  Inspiration has replaced information. 

“Consciously, we obsess over tragedy, perceived political corruption, perceived scandal.  Meanwhile the intelligence of AI grows and we are like school children bickering over a ball.”

Herr Stilphrammenhammer, in his black tux, paced behind the rostrum, strangely, between rants, like a boxer.

“The eternal moment is upon you, futurists.”

Brandt was very uncomfortable and had a bone to pick with his realtor, now. 

“What do I mean by that?  I know some of you know what I mean by that.  Don’t you know you’ve always been here, outside of time?  Maybe you need some mushrooms.  Three blocks down West St., on right,” he said to some laughter.

“The mind is the final frontier.  Mr. Tesla, the new one, I can’t remember his name, said, very mysteriously but and also very convincingly and menacingly, on that podcast they’re all listening to now that humanity’s “id”, a la Freud—all our deepest, highest and darkest wants, our desires, everything—is being uploaded to an online database, one Google search at a time.  We are breathing life into the beast that will consume us if we do not grow up.”

“Let’s go,” Brandt said.   

“No, wait,” Sandy replied, staring at the stage.

“Steven Hawkings tried saying it for three decades but lost the thread somewhere in the data.  Time is not what it seems. Light inside of you, does not experience time, this is simple physics, we know.  This is just another way of saying you were always here.  Existence is not ‘happening’ at all.  It is.  Things are.  It happened, sure.  The earth, we know, was fungus for a billion years and then dinosaurs, and soon after, we’re here and so were your parents and grandparents, but it did not take any ‘time.’  Just poof, you know—the moment.

“With history, we walk naked in the light.  It is time to participate or be shot to hell and left behind.  The future is on a line where minds bend toward heaven.  We have left the age of information.  It is over.  Caput.  Hail the age of inspiration!

“For me that inspiration lives inside of music, the universal language which comes to us from beyond this planet.”

He dimmed the lights to play a YouTube video for them. 

The lights were raised on him again, black all around.

“For a century mankind has been speaking to each other in different tongues from disparate places—the way the bow and arrow was invented in isolation around the same time the globe over.  This next song is practically the same song as before. Maybe you can see this or feel it.”

“I won’t try to describe what you just heard.  I believe it is not of this earth.  But let’s take it back down to earth.

“I’ll leave you with the recording of a genius, simple in spirit.  This poet passed away one month after this performance.  I won’t try and convince you that that was part and parcel to that performance.  But please, I beg you, tell the story of our future.  You are the dreams of our planet made real. 

When the lights came on, he was gone.  Sandy and Bendt went straight to a coffee shop

“I don’t know that was strange.  He must know he’s a blowhard just as much as the politicians and media types he railed against,” Brandt said. 

Sandy wasn’t so sure.  We’re using it wrong, she thought. Media is dying but what will replace it?  Are we really just going to pretend it’s all hunky dory?

“She ordered two coffees. Pull up those songs. How about the acoustics in that place—Pavarotti quality. New meets old.”

They took a booth and listened to the songs over and over again for a few hours then took each other home.