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MUSICA ULTIMA by Jennifer Hor

Yawning widely and rubbing his eyes, feeling he'd just come alive into a horrible world, J shuffled into the kitchen. The flat-mate was already there sitting at the table, eating toast. He pointed to a small package at the end of the bench. "Postie brought it a little while ago for you." "Uh, thanks." J picked up the package and shuffled out of the kitchen back to his room. "See ya later," he mumbled to no-one in particular. He felt something crunch under his foot while making his way through the tiny passage between the bed and the cupboard toward the desk. "Shit!" He looked down and saw an empty CD case cracked in half. "Damn!" He picked up the case with his free hand and stuffed it into an already full wastepaper basket surrounded by crumpled paper balls. He looked at his crowded desk and pushed aside books and comics to make room for the package. Probably from that Musica Ultima guy, he thought. He sat down on the edge of the bed and fumbled with the adhesive tape before deciding he needed a pair of scissors. His gaze did several sweeps of the little towers of CDs, tapes and books before he found the scissors lying agape on top of a well-thumbed tome on World War II propaganda art. He cut through the tape and tore open the parcel bag. He tipped the bag and five CDs clattered onto the floor. As he thought, the Musica Ultima zine editor had sent them. A note fluttered out from the bag. He caught it, unfolded it and made out from the extravagant scrawl: Hello J! Here's a batch of CDs to listen to and review. I haven't yet set a deadline but it'll probably be some time in late October or early November so I can get the issue out before December. You've got a fair amount of time to listen to and digest these discs well! Please keep the reviews brief as there's a lot of stuff for all of us to get through. Don't forget those essential details: name of artist, title of CD, label, format, catalogue number and year of release. You can email the reviews or send them to my blog. Happy listening! Editor, Musica Ultima 1st September ____ He spread the CDs out on the floor before him. The last lot of CDs that editor had sent had been a load of garbage. That had been six months ago. Bet he keeps the best stuff for himself, J thought. He picked up one CD; it was by someone called Kon-Raad. J had seen reviews of KonRaad's last album on Musica Ultima and some other zines: the Musica Ultima review had slammed it but most of the other zines had raved about the jackhammer beats and police siren effects.
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MUSICA ULTIMA
BY JENNIFER HOR

Phooey, everything had police sirens these days! Then there were two CDs by a mysterious band, a synth-n-drums duo called Architecterra Incognita. A fourth CD with a glossy booklet proclaimed itself "the ultimate cutting-edge electronic-cum-conga dance music from Colombia!" yeah, yeah, sure, sure. J paused at the fifth CD. He picked it up and turned it round and round once, twice. The front and back sleeves were black. He opened the case and pulled out the front sleeve. Both sides completely black. He took out the disc. The upper side was black, all black. He turned it over to see the information around the little hole in the middle but there was none. He pulled out the plastic holder but the inside of the back sleeve was also black. What the heck has that guy given me? How am I supposed to review this? No title, no artist, no label, no number, no distributor nothing! Not even any fine print or contact details. J frowned as he put the disc's contents back together. He put the parcel bag into the overflowing wastepaper basket, put the scissors back on top of the art book and left the bedroom to go back to the kitchen. The flatmate had gone. He glanced at the clock. Half past nine and he hadn't had breakfast yet. Good thing I got the day off work today or the boss'd be hacking the front door down with an axe by now just to flay me alive! He checked the thermos. The flatmate had filled it with boiling water before leaving for work. J rummaged through the fridge and kitchen cupboards and found some break, cheese slices in plastic and a tin of baked beans. He had breakfast out of these ingredients, washed down with black coffee made from the thermos water, and went back to his room feeling more awake. He inspected the new CDs with a refreshed eye, especially the fifth, but found nothing he hadn't already seen on first examination. Originally he had planned to spend the morning at the cinema and then the afternoon in the public library but that plan could wait another day. Those Architectura Incognita CDs looked all right, he thought, the artwork looking real underground cartoony crude. Is the music any good? He took out one of the band's discs and slipped it into the player, pressed the "Play" tab and turned up the volume WAAAAHHH! dah-dump, dah-dump, dah-dah-dump-dump! The speakers shuddered with a raw and abrasive chainsaw rhythm. After twenty minutes of hearing the CD though, J found the music lacked direction and the musicians' playing seemed uninspired; it was as if they had played this kind of music far too many times and were now simply manipulating their analog synthesizers and fingering their guitars out of habit. The rhythms and textures were unvarying and there was no depth to the music. J skipped through the other tracks but they all turned out to be equally unadventurous. What a total waffle! I don't wanna hear any more of this Architect-whatever garbage! He tried to listen to the South American disc but from the jarring juxtaposition of monotonous Latin American and African rhythms with brittle techno and disco beats that the band that had made this CD was simply cashing in on widespread global interest on exotic electronic music and had made no attempt to meld the different genres together on each and every track. He tried to hear out the Kon-Raad release but the production on that one was too thin and the samples of meowing cats, motorcycles at rest at traffic lights and cars screeching as they hit cats, dogs and
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the odd toddler reminded him of other mediocre CDs and tapes peddling the same music too numerous to remember. That Kon-Raad uses the same samples everyone else uses! What rubbish! All those reviews about his stuff being "irresistible" and a "shower of gorgeous sounds and samples woven into an enticing tapestry of textures" what a pile of rot! J felt so deflated, he was tempted to swipe everything on the desk right into the wastepaper basket and stomp on it all, bare feet or no bare feet. He went back to the kitchen. Quarter to twelve and he still hadn't done much at all. He was still wearing the clothes he had slept in. He found an apple in the fridge so he started eating it. He went into the tiny lounge-room, sat on the limp sofa and flicked through the TV guide. He wasn't interested in watching talk shows in which people confessed their bizarre personal hang-ups and fantasies to a bored presenter who would then refer the problems to a "psychologist" who would analyse the garbage and pronounce a verdict. Everything's a total bore, J thought. My job as a clerk in the insurance company's motor claims section is a total bore. Files full of people suing each other for hundreds or thousands of dollars because their cars got teeny-weeny scratches or their little fingers got bruised are a total bore. My boss being Hitler in drag and too much make-up is a total bore. She hates me more than she hates all the other idiot clerks. I can't sell any more drawings of jack-booted chickens torturing humans in tiny cages to my favourite science fiction magazines because they've got no more money and they're not publishing any more until times are better. TV is a bore: who wants to see idiots blathering about their problems when the whole world's going to ruin, who wants to watch fatso losers huff and puff through sadomasochistic exercise routines just to win prizes so they can go eat themselves into obesity again when everyone's wrecking the environment, polluting the air and the oceans and kids in poor countries are starving to death and governments are closing hospitals and schools so they can spend more money on tanks and bombs to blow up the starving kids in poor countries? Even music's getting to be a bore: too many zines, blogs and webzines blagging about how a CD or digital album by so-and-so is brilliant, just brilliant, everyone should have a copy, the music is so cutting-edge and then when you get it and play it, it's just so much crap to the nth degree. Where's the passion, where's the feeling, doesn't the artist care about anything any more? Too many poseurs, too many fancy-schmancy intellectual positions about some garbage postmodern artistic context and the artist's conscious opposition or support everyone was going through pretentious abstract yoga stuff to prove some meaningless point What's left in the world to care about any more? He sat for a while on the sofa staring into space before he realised his apple core was turning brown. He hurriedly went back to the kitchen to toss the core into the bin. He went back to his room and tidied it up a bit, taking the wastepaper bin and the paper balls out to the kitchen and putting all the rubbish into the different recycling boxes. He returned to his room yet again and surveyed his desk. He saw the all-black CD. Hmmm I'll check it again, maybe I missed
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something before. He inspected the sleeve, took the package apart but still didn't find anything that would identify the disc. Maybe something had fallen out of the bag? Maybe something was stuck inside the bag? He picked up the parcel bag and looked inside but saw nothing. Maybe something had fallen out of the case and the editor hadn't noticed it while packing the CDs inside? Well, can't do much about that. Go on, give the disc a spin. Mightn't be better than the others heard so far but couldn't be any worse. J slipped the disc inside the player and pressed "Play". He sat down on the bed to wait for the music. A tremendous thunder roared out of the speakers and hurled him across the room. The walls and ceilings flew apart from the explosion and a huge, swirling sandstorm, its grit scouring the paint off the walls, poured through the spaces that had opened up and slammed right into him. It stripped off his hair, sheared off his clothes, ripped the skin from his body, tore all the muscles and tendons from his limbs and skewered his body with a million sharp needles. Blood and internal organs streamed out into the storm, gone forever. Microscopic particles rushed through his head, pierced every brain cell, severed every synapse. His brain exploded and noise gushed through what remained of his skull. His bones were pulverised into fine powder and scattered. His testes burst and his penis vomited semen and blood and sound into the chaos that claimed his being totally. But hey, I'm still alive, he realised, I'm still alive. I'm part of the storm. This is what I really am. The sound is me. I am the sound. I am the force. This is my world. This is my universe. It's my being. I'm at one with the cosmos. And I'm not afraid. Why should I be? My body has gone but the sound , the force, the universe remains. The elements that made my body are now the hydrogen clouds that drift through space. They are the seeds of galaxies in which solar systems are born and where they die. My blood circulation system now consists of wormholes through which phalanxes of alien spacecraft will travel from one part of the universe to the other. My nerves are the radio signals that bear greetings and news from one civilization to another. My sperm is the life force that forms amino acids on comets that will bear them to young planets where they will birth life in primordial rocks far beneath the planets' surface. I observe all these things happening all at once suns and planets form, volcanoes spew lava as the continents are born, oceans swarm with unicellular organisms and bacteria that form symbiotic relationships with them in millions of years' time, I see fantastic behemoths roaming vast deserts of supercontinents I see alien beings evolve that have language, create alphabets, build cities, fly machines and annihilate one another in ceaseless intergalactic wars with weapons of awesome firepower derived from my essence I observe all these phenomena that happen all at once and across the aeons. I feel sadness for them all, I feel their pain but I also feel their happiness at being alive and I am glad for them, that they love my gift. Sound flows through me, from me into them, from them back to me: it is the force that powers us all and keeps us alive. I spread the sonic fluid everywhere, it throbs through my being, it rushes out and
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foams and gives life to all my thoughts and creations this is I, this is my being, this is my home, here is where I belong always. J opened his eyes. The room was quiet. The CD had finished. The ceiling, the walls, the windows, the furniture, the piles of books and music all were firmly in their place as they had always been. What happened to me? What did I just do? I know that I put the CD into the player and pressed "Play" and then what happened? I sure feel great though! That CD it was incredible! It just felt it felt I don't know what to say J felt tingly all over. He sat up, rubbing his eyes and noticing that his arms were flushed in appearance. His felt warm. "Shit!" he suddenly exclaimed when he felt his pants: they were wet and sticky. All I need, he thought. He got off the bed, turned the CD player and rummaged in the drawers next to the bed for a pair of cargo pants. He took the dirty pants to the bathroom and threw them into the laundry basket labeled with his name. What's the time? I feel a bit puckish. J went to the kitchen to check the clock. Nearly three! No wonder he felt so hungry. He wondered if the sandwich shop down the road was still making lunches a Lebanese roll might do. J went back to his room, stuffed his pocket with his keys and wallet and went out of the apartment and down the street to get something to eat. Two hours later he was back, his stomach full with falafel and tabbouleh salad and a big library book on Salvador Dali's paintings under his arm. Today wasn't such a waste after all, he thought. J went to his room and checked the CD player. The black unnamed disc was still inside. He looked at it reverently. Who cares what it is or who made it? It's brilliant, fucking brilliant, that's what it is, that's all I care about now. The greatest music-listening experience I've ever had. I want to play it again He heard the front door slam and the flat-mate swearing under his breath at having tripped over the loose tile again. The flat-mate didn't share J's taste in music. J put the disc back into its allblack case. Tomorrow evening then, he thought, when I get back home from work and the flat-mate goes to see his girlfriend's family. I'll play you again! I promise! J kissed the case. It was half past six in the evening when J got home from work. I hate running around after files other people lose, he was thinking. Like a bloody headless chicken, that's what I am. J went into the bathroom and saw the little puddles on the bathroom floor. As usual, the flat-mate had been in a hurry so he could catch the train and get to the girlfriend's house in time for dinner with her folks, and had left a mess. J cleaned up the floor and the bathroom sink with a hand-towel. The guy wasn't too bad and he sometimes brought food home. He checked the answering machine for messages. There were none. He didn't feel hungry. He went into his room and noticed the black CD on his desk. The other CDs he had from Musica Ultima and everything he had in his collection didn't matter any more; none of them matched this
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mysterious unnamed CD for sheer energy and joy. Ecstasy, that's it, sheer ecstasy. I want that again, he knew. I need it again. My life was nothing before this CD, he realized. My life is nothing now and it will remain nothing without this CD. I don't care. I don't care about anything else. I don't have to care. What is to care about, anyway? My parents are drunken bums who always fight. They never cared about me or my brothers and sisters. Kids at school picked on me because I was small for my age, they never cared. Teachers picked on me because I disagreed with the garbage they were putting out. People at work only want to screw you if they can get away with it because you're a junior. They screw money out of the customers and the customers screw the staff for what they can get out of them. Managers screw everyone so they can get that promotion and a fatter paycheck. The flat-mate only cares about screwing his girlfriend and her folks for food and money. The guy at Musica Ultima only wants good reviews about lousy CDs because he doesn't wanna be out of step with all the other zines. Only thing that matters in the world is this this CD. That's the only thing worth caring about. He picked up the black CD, caressed it reverently, opened the case and took out the disc. He slipped it into the player and pressed the "Play" tab. Then he lay down on the bed, looking up at the ceiling briefly, and closed his eyes. Now he was a rushing tornado, infinitely greater than any tornado ever experienced by any human being on Earth, laying waste to everything before him. Trees, fences, buildings, animals, hills, plateaux, mountains he swallowed them up in his giant maw, crushed and ground everything in his gizzard and excreted the fragments in the dead silences behind him. He ploughed up roads, lifting up layers of bitumen and tossing the pieces skyward. He plunged into petrol tankers and exploded them terribly. Huge oily clouds and fires ballooned in the skies. He advanced into the cities and mowed down entire blocks of buildings and bridges and ripped up elaborate freeway networks. Windows shattered, steel structures twisted in agony, underground cables were torn screaming with electricity from their concrete cocoons. Cars were thrown about and flung over moraines of asphalt and hills of debris where roads and footpaths once traced neat patterns. Buildings were lifted clean off their foundations, bridges were pulverized, trees and city monuments were smashed into tiny pieces and scattered across the ruins. He was soon spent he felt a brief moment of stillness something was rumbling within him. Now he was the giant landmass Pangaea, feeling the birth pains of the offspring that would rend him apart. Hot fires ignited deep within his bowels. Fissures and abysses began tearing him up, his arms and legs stretched and tugged hard at their sockets. He screamed in agony and the tectonic plates began their epic voyages; the howling echoed and shuddered through the rocks, shaking the planet with earthquakes. The rumbling within his being grew louder and louder until it drove him numb with pain. He screamed again and volcanoes gushed lava. The skies groaned with him, storm clouds raced over the heaving land, lightning twisted and danced over mountain tops.
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All through the ages, he throbbed and poured his life into his wayward children as they ploughed through the oceans. Mountains and volcanoes rose from his flesh, canyons and abysses etched themselves in his skin, landscapes and climates shifted constantly and left their scars through his shattered body. Another pause What was happening now? Where was the music taking him? Now he was in the rising, surging wall of water slamming into tall cliffs and grounding them implacably into tiny silicon particles that he would later wash up onto the shores to create beaches, only to pound them and reclaim them back into his oceans during storms. Blocks of solid granite cowered and retreated from his blows. He sucked up the fresh waters brought from the mountains by rivers and creatures from microscopic plankton and algae to the monstrous mosasaurs and then to giant whales cruised through his currents. He felt himself growing warm his creatures all died and he rose into the hot atmosphere he was being drawn towards the Sun that was now absorbing the Earth. Now he was the Sun and looked down on the planet convulsing in its death throes of earthquakes, volcanism and the splitting mantle. He took pit and engulfed the planet. It allowed him to absorb it in his embraces. He knew he too would eventually die and be swallowed up by space he would be absorbed back into the womb where all universes are born he looked forward to that ultimate destiny, that ultimate time, that ultimate annihilation because from that nothingness, new life would be born Wow, he thought, that was so different from the first time! But how could that be? He wiped his forehead and realised he was breathing heavily and covered in perspiration. His clothes clung sticky to his body. Heck! What was happening to me all that time? He tried to get up and his entire body felt rubbery. His pelvis could remember thrusting and contracting sensations. He had to wait until his legs felt solid again and then got up to check the disc. Yep, it's the same CD but the music was completely different, I swear! But it was still great! I feel like I've been on the most incredible rollercoaster ride in my life! But I feel different from what I felt yesterday uh, what did I feel yesterday? J tried to recall what he had felt and his cells briefly recalled the scouring sandstorm sensation and shuddered before the feeling was lost forever. He heard the front door slam, "Hey, hey!" the flat-mate yelled, "you home there? I got some food back from Emmy's place! Her mum cooked Indian again! She's given me two containers of stuff if you want some!" J put the disc away in its case. ""Yeah, I'm home!" he called back, "what did you have tonight?" "Different things", the flat-mate replied, "We had goat curry, dhal it's all here if you want it." "Thanks!" J felt his stomach rumble. At least, he thought, the food would keep him going until the next time he could listen to that all-black disc again.
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Which was not until the weekend as it turned out: the next couple of days, he was run off his feet with orders and he had to work back late with last-minute requests for papers, boxes, old client claims, a misplaced letter that no-one knew about until the customer turned up half an hour before closing time and then when he got home, his sister phoned to say Dad had got drunk again and beaten the neighbour's dog and the police had arrested him I just don't want anything to do with people, no, never again, he decided On Saturday the flat-mate left early to see Emmy again so J had the place to himself the whole day. Usually he would spend his weekends drawing cartoons to send to science fiction zines or work on some music he'd been composing on the PC or if his cousin who lived down the road next to the sandwich shop phoned him, they'd go see a movie together but this time he simply had to hear that CD again. As for the other music he was supposed to listen to well, what about it? Everything I've heard in my life doesn't come anywhere near this CD with no name, no artist, no label, no details. You could put all the world's thrash, speed, death, grind and black metal bands together and they wouldn't touch this CD at all. Put all the noise, industrial and Japanese psych guitar bands together and they'd be pissing in the wind compared to this CD. I could throw out my entire collection and spend the rest of my life just hearing this CD. That's what I'll do. J eagerly pulled out the disc from the black case and put it into the machine. He pressed "Play", turned up the volume, fell back on the bed facing up with his arms stretched out and shut his eyes. He waited for the music to engulf him once again. Several hours later when the sun was setting, the flat-mate and Emmy entered the apartment. "Hey, J! You home?" the flat-mate yelled, "I brought Emmy here, hope you don't mind!" A very still silence greeted the couple. "Maybe he's gone out,' Emmy said. "No, he's in," the flat-mate replied, "he would've deadlocked this door if he'd gone out." He led Emmy into the tiny lounge-room and towards J's room. "Maybe he's having a snooze. I'll have a look. He usually works all day on his cartoons. Don't know how he does it without a break. Let's see." The flat-mate opened the door and peered in. He saw J lying on his back on the bed, his arms flung out wide with the palms facing up. J's legs were stretched out and the body was absolutely straight and looking stiff. J's face was suffused with an expression of such rapture, the flat-mate felt the hairs on his neck rise up and grow cool. "Is he asleep?" Emmy peered into the room. She giggled when she saw J though she didn't know why." Oh, my goodness he looks just like like Jesus!" "Um, yeah." The flat-mate shifted from one foot to the other nervously. He glanced around the room and saw the bright red light on the CD player, a tiny sun in the middle of the charcoal grey of the machine. "Hey, he left the player on. The music's sent him to sleep. Must have been really boring!" He reached out to the player and flipped the switch to "Off".

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Inside the machine, a tiny voice screamed in agony for some time before dying and fading away. "No, I haven't heard from that guy J since I sent him those CDs three months ago," the Music Ultima editor was saying to his friend. "He hasn't got much time left the deadline's in another couple of weeks, the first of November. I sent notes to all the reviewers and he's the only one who hasn't acknowledged that he received the CDs or done anything with them." "What did you send him?" the friend asked. The editor looked down at his crumpled notes. "Let's see now yes, I sent him that electro-dance compilation from a label in Buenos Aires, a Kon-Raad release, two live recordings by an improvising Australian duo called Architecterra Incognita and a CD all the way from Nagasaki in Japan by an artist or artists who wouldn't put their names on it. Even the label wouldn't put its name on it. The return address simply said 'Black Hole'. Funny kind of package. For all I know that could have been the artist's name or the label's name. Maybe the CD's called 'Black Hole'. There wasn't even any description inside the package as to what the music was supposed to be. Weird, dontcha think?" "Gosh, with a name like 'Black Hole', maybe that CD's sucked in your reviewer," the friend chortled. The editor smiled at the feeble joke. END Approximately 4,800 words

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