Playing directly upon the emotions, the new music was nectar - mixed with deadly poison. The harmful element could be filtered out. But if there was poison in a man's mind...
COLE SETTLED comfortably back in his seat as the multi-coloured lights of the city slid away behind him. The road highway was smooth as glass beneath the spinning wheels of the little solocar, and the motor hummed a gentle melody to the rhythm of the driving lights which rushed up out of the darkness and faded as the vehicles passed.
Once Cole grunted. Now the stars were visible, clear and high above him, and the great South Road was like a band of silver bespattered with hurrying points of brilliance. Yet the restful sense of pleasure that a night spin along the superb highway usually gave him was absent. His fingers were clenched around the steering wheel which moved smooth as oil to his touch. His legs were tensed, his eyes hard and cold. And behind them a score of questions hammered in his brain ; had hammered there ever since the Chief, up at the Newscast office, had given him this commission.
Leonovitch and Kreman and their new supersonic music was news, the Chief had said. But Cole knew there was more to it than that. He had trailed many a news story without this feeling of tenseness and fear. For there was fear, though he could not decide from what it rose. He did not fear Leonovitch, nor the Czech Kreman. Was it possible, he wondered, that he feared their strange new music ?
Into the tense calm which followed, when every eye was upon him, Leonovitch had dropped a remark which had been on everyone’s lips ever since. He had exhausted the emotion-stirring possibilities of ordinary music, he had said. He was on the track of a new kind of music, a music that would play directly upon the emotions. And until he had perfected it, Leoriovitch declared, he would compose no more, for his next composition would be scored for the new music.
The miles were spinning by, and Cole began to look for the branch he must take to reach the block where the two composers were working. Faint memories of the first performance of Leonovitch's stupendous Cosmic Nocturne came back to him as the great blue road sign loomed into view. If Leonovitch could arouse such emotion as had marked that performance with ordinary audible music, what would he be able to accomplish with his new semi-supersonic stuff! Although he had been but a youth in the Newscast Office in those days, Cole had not missed the repercussions of that fantastic composition. The Nocturne had been played by every symphony orchestra in the world, and its fame had girdled the earth like a gigantic wave, carrying Leonovitch to undying glory on its summit.
Into the tense calm which followed, when every eye was upon him, Leonovitch had dropped a remark which had been on eberyone's lips ever since. He had exhausted the emotion-stirring possibilities of ordinary music, he had siad. He was on the track of a new kind of music, a music that would play directly upon the emotions. And until he had perfected it, Leonovitch declared, he would compose no more, for his next composition would be scored for the new music.
Then Leonovitch had retired from the public eye, though not from the public interest. With him had gone the brilliant young composer Kreman, and it was known that they were working together on the new music and the special instrument that would be needed to produce it. The world had waited expectantly, and even now, two years afterwards, was still expectant. It had required only a hint from Leonovitch that his music and instrument were completed to send Cole hot-foot for a personal interview.
Turning by the sign, he sped down the deserted branch road and drew the car to a halt before the building which had been the centre of watchful attention since the composers had taken up residence there. Sliding back a panel in the vehicle, he got out, stretching his legs and looking, around him. The building loomed black and angular. At one side an illuminated parking area beckoned him, but he ignored it and made his way to the main entrance.
He thumbed a button set in the door panel and waited. All was silent but for the occasional swish of a vehicle upon the great South Road. Yet once he thought he heard- or felt- something from within. It was a kind of unnameable melody that seemed to spring into being in the back of his mind, stir his senses for a brief moment, then disappear, leaving him with a strange feeling of something lost.
Cole ruffled his hair in perplexity, then shrugged the thought away as a tiny screen beside the door sprang to life. A man’s head looked out at him. It was a massive head, with a great mane of undulating hair and black, deep-set eyes.
“ I am Leonovitch,” said the man. “ What do you want here ? ”
Cole held his badge before the screen. “ I am from the Newscast Office. The whole world is awaiting your new music. Could you give me a few minutes’ interview ? "
The miniature face chuckled, so that the long hair shook and the reproducer besides the door crackled. Then the head nodded, there was a click from the electric bolt and the door swung open. With a glance back at the solocar, Cole passed through. Though why he looked back he did not know.
HE WAS directed into a room on the second floor, and Leonovitch came forward to meet him. The musician looked older than Cole had expected; there were hundreds of tiny wrinkles about his mouth and eyes which the screen below had not disclosed.
“We are pleased to welcome you,” said the composer, his voice mellow and even. “ Meet my aide, Kreman.” He waved a hand towards a small dark man who had left his seat before an apparatus at the other end of the long room and was approaching slowly.
“ Charmed,” said the Czech, with a trace of hauteur, bowing slightly from the hips. “ We had not expected anyone would call so soon. Indeed, -I myself have only just learned that some indication had been given that our new music is perfected.”
There was a hint of bitterness in the words, and Cole’s eyes flashed to Leonovitch. The aged musician was unperturbed, although the faintest suggestion of a flush showed on Kreman’s face. Was there jealousy between the two Cole wondered, but he instantly dismissed the thought. Possibly Kreman was slightly annoyed because Leonovitch had not informed him that a statement on their progress was ready for the world.
“ Without doubt, you will wish to see our instrument,” said the elder man after a pause. He beckoned, and Cole followed him towards the apparatus which had struck his eye as he entered the room. “ The Ultraudion,” said Leonovitch with pride as they halted before the instrument. “ The greatest invention of modern times, and one which will become famous the world over.”
Cole glanced briefly at the apparatus. “You won’t mind if I radio our conversation straight back ? ” he asked, unslinging the small transceiver which was part of every newsman's equipment. He set it upon a table, keying the impulse which would set his recording unit back in the Newscast Office operating. At the same moment, the bone-vibrating personal receivers behind his ears hummed faintly. “ So you made it- good ! ” said the Chief 's voice. “ Get a good story, Cole.”
“ By all means,” agreed Leonovitch. “But if you want a demonstration do not expect that they will hear much of it at your office. Most of the Ultraudion’s output is supersonic; though notes within the audible range are used to increase the effect, it cannot be recorded or transmitted by radio. Possibly these limitations could he overcome in time, but at present only concert performances are possible."
Cole looked carefully at the instrument. He felt he could not take all of it in at once; it was so complicated, so totally different from anything he had ever seen. There was a kind of keyboard with three manuals rather like those of an organ. But between each note was a black sharp key, and behind these were yellow keys interposed between each sharp and natural.
"Those are quarter-tones,” said Kreman, coming up behind them. " The normal scale is too coarse.”
At each side of the manuals rested a panel with many hundreds of buttons; and, looking lower, Cole saw twenty great notes which he supposed were operated by the performer’s feet. Above the topmost keyboard a drum was slowly unwinding and Cole peered at the smooth paper moving across a rest before the seat. The music was obviously in manuscript form, modified and revised in ink and coloured pencil, and it was like nothing he had seen or imagined. There were four groups of staves, each with eleven lines instead of the usual five, and many of the marks upon them failed to convey anything to him. He turned to the musicians in bewilderment.
"Yes," said Leonovitch with a mellow smile. "The score is very complicated. It requires exceptional ability and much strenuous practice to become accustomed to it. Look at this, too."
He swung aside the lower manual and Cole saw a row of closely packed tubes, from each of which a connection sprouted to disappear into the rear of the instrument.
"The composition begins at the normal sonic level," explained Leonovitch. "As the atmosphere is created and developed higher frequencies are brought in, until many supersonic chords are used. In places, neuro-electric radiations are also employed. The playing is complicated by the fact that these radiations do not have any natural harmonics as do audible notes, so that the harmonics have to be created by the performer. Notes are coupled where possible, but even so the playing is not easy. But let me give you a demonstration.”
So abruptly that Cole started, Kreman stepped forward. “ I think it would be best not to,” he said nervously, his lips twitching as if with sudden agitation. Leonovitch looked at him in surprise. “ Why not? Our composition is completed for all practical purposes; and will not be altered again unless we find any more dangerous chords in it, which I doubt. It will be interesting to get Mr. Cole’s reactions."
HE TOOK HIS place at the wide, flat seat. Kreman seemed on the point of pursuing his objection, then shrugged and dropped his hands to his sides. Leonovitch looked back over his shoulder, his face wrinkled in thought and slightly yellow from the illumination which shone behind the side buttons.
“ This music is no light matter,” he said slowly. He paused, watching the score which he had set rolling back to its commencement. “ The listener is charmed into a world of fantastic unreality. It accomplishes by vibrations what opium accomplished as a drug, but more intensely. It is thrilling, exhilarating- and dangerous; It will be the rage of a population bored with safe living, craving new excitements.”
There was a click. The score had reached its beginning. It was headed with a single word- Fantasia.
“I shall not be able to stop in the middle of my performance,” said Leonovitch, reaching out his hands towards the keyboards. “ I shall be gripped, enchanted, and scarcely know I play. I follow the score automatically. It is impossible to play from memory because it is so enormously complicated and the lightest deviation from it may have unpleasant results.
He began to play, slowly at first. Deep in the bass a whimsical melody started to weave into being; running hither and thither with increasing chords as if beckoning the listener to follow down paths unknown. It grew and grew, echoing and reverberating like thunder flung back in a shower of sparks, as Leonovitch’s flashing fingers crept up into the treble and, after a moment, on to the second manual.
Cole listened entranced, feeling that something he did not understand was seizing him. The composer was bowed before the instrument, his mane of hair falling down over his cheeks, while the melody rose ever higher and enlarged, like a fantastic jig-saw puzzle settling into some mystical pattern which conveyed a meaning no words could express. The bass was fading, but Leonovitch’s hands were never still, and Cole felt a curious haunting feeling, intense but inexpressible, creeping into the back of his mind.
Chords were welling out from the Ultraudion which his ears could not hear; and as Leonovitch’s fingers flashed into a maze of appoggiaturas, Cole sensed pure emotion hammering into his nerves and brain. He was trembling, fascinated, thrilled - and afraid. He had not thought that anything like this could be: it was a passionate ecstasy which sent his every fibre into quivering response.
And still Leonovitch’s playing rose towards its climax as the relentlessly unwinding score passed across the rest. Cole felt he must cry out, must do something to stop him, yet he knew he could do nothing to break the exotic spell if his very life depended on it. Then, suddenly, a jarring discord fell into the pool of the music; breaking it into a thousand disjointed ripples. The dissonance shook Cole, and Leonovitch’s shoulders jerked as from an electric shock, but he regained control for a second, to flash into a brilliant series of cadenzas which halted the half-formed exclamation upon Cole’s lips. Then he stopped, and a deathly silence filled the chamber.
"This playing is not fit work for an old man," breathed Kreman.
Leonovitch was sagging over the manuals. His cheeks were the colour of muddy ashes and he scarcely seemed to be breathing. Cole, still shaken, put his arms around the aged composer and gently lifted him to the floor. After a moment his eyelids flickered. He looked around, then rested a while. At last he sat up, putting his hand to his forehead.
"That is strange,” he said. “ I thought we had removed everything dangerous from that passage,” He turned the score back slightly and began to examine it. “ Some phrases are too effective," he explained. “ They arouse such depths of feeling that the human frame cannot stand the emotional strain. Yet a particular chord does not necessarily affect different people in the same way. It is this passage with the diminished thirds. Yet I was sure I had rendered it safe.”
He stared at the score intently for a few seconds, then suddenly turned, his eyes flashing. “ Did you replace these notes, Kreman ? " he demanded, frowning so that his bushy brows were drawn into a thick black line. “ Only this morning I deleted them.”
Kreman shuffled uneasily. “ I think it a splendid phrase,” he said haltingly. " It seemed a shame to remove it."
Leonovitch growled under his breath. “ You know how it upset me whenever it was played, and that I could not tolerate it. We have been occupied for a month or more removing dangerous notes, however much they enhanced the composition, and there is no more reason for these to be replaced than any of the others. Consider the notes which almost drove you into hysterics- what would you say if I replaced them?"
THERE WAS A hard edge to Leonovitch's voice. Cole, looked from one to the other. Leonovitch was pale, but his character was stronger than that of the younger man; Kreman held his head high, but he was not wholly at ease. Perhaps he resented, even feared, the old composer's iron will and dominating personality.
This new music, Cole realised, was much more effective than he had anticipated. If it could make Leonovitch collapse or Kreman go into hysterics, what would it do to an audience hearing it for the first time? His own emotions had been a revelation; he was still tingling with the memory of them. But these notes . . . was it possible that Kreman had deliberately replaced them with the idea of discomforting Leonovitch ? Yet Kreman had not wanted him to demonstrate...
" Bring out the oscilloscope,” said Leonovitch sharply. Cole saw Kreman’s lips tighten suddenly; then, without a word, he turned and wheeled out the portable apparatus.
Leonovitch reseated himself before the Ultraudion and, reeling back the score, began slowly to play the chords again. As he came to the cadenza he stopped, holding down a number of notes which kept a curious and complicated pattern vibrating upon the oscilloscope's graded screen. He looked round at the screen, then abruptly released the notes, and the swelling vibration which had seemed to dance up and down Cole’s spine stopped.
“ It’s these diminished thirds beating together.” Leonovitch put a shaking hand to his brow. "That shows on the screen clearly - ”
“ It is a very effective, passage," insisted Kreman. “ Let me play - it does not affect me.”
Leonovitch’s head was bent in thought; he ignored the suggestion. “ It is the fundamental note at the bottom of the supersonic scale,” he decided at length. “ If I remove that there will be no harmonic to beat with the second fifth.”
“ As your fellow composer, my opinion should have some weight," observed Kreman precisely. “ And I feel that note should not be deleted. Indeed, did you allow me to play the composition it would not be necessary to remove it.”
Cole looked at Leonovitch. Had the replacing of that note been part of a subtle plan by Kreman to spoil the elder composer’s performance on the instrument ? Perhaps. But to what purpose? He had not known that Cole was going to call, and he must have altered the score before he came. Was it mere mischievous spite, born of the antagonism which plainly existed between them ? Or something more than that ?
Leonovitch only shook his head and made a slight change to the score. He began to play again, and this time went right through the passage without hesitation. When he had finished he turned with a smile to Cole, who had listened enthralled.
“ This has been one of our greatest difficulties. We find that certain combinations of notes, and musical phrases are most effective in arousing nervous excitement in particular individuals. It is rather strange, but once Kreman went almost into hysterics at a chord containing E and its augmented fifth, yet I was not affected in the least by it. Different chords and phrases, we have found, influence different people in different ways ; and it seems that some have the effect of increasing enormously any emotion which the listener is feeling at the moment. These phrases are especially valuable, of course, when the listener has already been roused to a feeling of pleasure by the music. That is one of the reasons why we start gently, at an audible level, to lay a foundation of pleasurable feelings.”
He rose from his seat. "Joy, rapture, pain and agony can all be so induced," he continued, facing Cole. “Perhaps even insanity and death, if certain phrases were repeated with sufficient emphasis. Each person seems particularly responsive to a certain basic fundamental on the scale, and so we are removing all those which appear dangerous."
As he concluded Leonovitch turned towards the door, and Cole saw that his interview was at an end. He slung the transceiver across his shoulder and took a last look around the long room. A news story based on their transmitted conversation would already be prepared in his office, but to that he wished to add his own personal observations.
“ What is that ? ” he asked, as his eyes encountered a large, covered object behind the Ultraudion. “ A power unit?" “ No,” said Kreman. “ It is an amplifier to boost the output of the instrument.”
Cole paused at the door. " And when do you intend to present your new music to the public? There will be a special concert, perhaps? Have you arranged anything yet?"
“ Yes, we shall play in public,” smiled Leonovitch. " It is partly for that we have built the amplifier unit, though it was no easy problem to design an apparatus which would handle all the frequencies involved. Yes,” he repeated, drawing himself to his full height, “ I myself hope to give a concert at an early date. You will be notified, of course.”
COLE LEFT with the memory of the look which Leonovitch's last words had evoked from Kreman uppermost in his mind. As he switched on the solocar and turned back for the main highway he decided that the public presentation of the new music was the basis of the enmity between the two composers -or, at least, of the jealousy and resentment which Kreman felt for Leonovitch because he alone was to perform at the first concert. Obviously, Kreman considered himself the more fitted to stand the strain this would impose on the older man, who felt he was entitled to the privilege of demonstrating the new music for the first time. And Kreman feared that he, who regarded himself as more than a mere assistant of Leonovitch, would receive only a small part of the honour and glory. `
As for the music itself, it seemed a thing fraught with deadly possibilities. Cole understood, now, the strange sense of danger he had felt from the start. Queer, those hunches he had : they usually turned out right. But he mustn’t let this one run away with him. The music might be dangerous, but Leonovitch wasn't going to risk too much even if Kreman was inclined to be imprudent. Perhaps that was why the old composer was determined to have his own way.
Cole thought he knew the answer to Kreman’s attack of hysterics. If certain chords produced an intensification of the emotions of a listener at the moment they were played, and Kreman had been feeling piqued at Leonovitch's treatment of him, it might well have worked up to hysteria under the influence of the music. But, again, he was only speculating ; and any animosity between the two composers could form no part of his story. It made interesting gossip when he arrived back at the Newscast Office. Then he tried to forget it.
But the Ultraudion was big news, and Cole’s account of it caused a sensation. Before long inquiries were pouring in from people all eager for a new thrill. When could they hear the new music? they all wanted to know. But Cole could not tell them, nor did he wish to satisfy their curiosity. He felt somehow that it would prove a perilous delight, and was scarcely anxious to encourage it, for he knew that he himself had succumbed to its allure. Several times the temptation to call on Leonovitch and ask for another demonstration proved almost too much for him to resist, but, cursing his weakness, he fought down the craving and forced himself to concentrate on other work.
Once came a rumour that Govemment circles were considering a move to ban the music as dangerous, but it could not be confirmed and seemed only the product of a wish by those who stood to lose by the competition it might offer orthodox amusements. Then a group of entertainment promoters announced that they had Leonovitch’s signature at the foot of a contract and that arrangements were being made for the first public performance.
“ Entertainment! ” Cole grunted when the news came in. “ I’d just as soon dole out opium, myself."
The Chief looked at him keenly across his great, shining desk. “Better look after it, anyway,” he said. “And I’ll want you to cover the concert, of course from the general news angle, that is.”
Cole left him with a brief nod, and made his way out of the city. There were too many rumours in the air, and the only way to get accurate information was to see the composers themselves.
As he was ushered into their apartment he heard the voice of Leonovitch raised assertively. “ I shall play- and that is final ! " Catching sight of Cole, he hastily softened his grim expression. “ Ah! Mr. Cole- come right in,” he invited, without embarrassment. But Kreman looked up uncomfortably, paused in his pacing back and forth.
"We were just having a little argument," Leonovitch smiled. He deliberately ignored Kreman’s cautionary gestures, and went on expansively : “ There is a difference of opinion between us as to who should give the first performance on the Ultraudion. Mr. Kreman has been of tremendous assistance to me in developing the new music and perfecting our instrument, but I feel that the public will expect me, its originator, to introduce the music to them. He will have ample opportunity to give other concerts, of course, but I think it only proper that the first should be my own,”
His light, conversational tone seemed to goad the younger man. He muttered something under his breath, scowling, then burst out fiercely: “ You want all the bouquets for yourself- I know! Yet I could give a better performance than you --you have to admit that. It will be a great strain for you, and if you fail the consequences will be ruinous for us both--”
“ You exaggerate, Kreman,” Leonovitch said chidingly. “I shall not fail. We have removed all the dangerous chords- and they would be just as dangerous for you as for me. He smiled at Cole. " Pray excuse my young friend. He is ambitious- that is good. But he is a little impatient, and that is not so good. He will learn.”
Kreman fumed, his dark eyes glowering at the old composer as he struggled to find words to equal this rebuff. Then, aware of Cole’s eyes on him, he made a sudden gesture of resignation, turned on his heel and strode quickly from the room. Leonovitch sighed heavily as he waved Cole to a chair.
"Kreman thinks he can play the Fantasia better than I,” he said thoughtfully, but that isn’t true - it is just an excuse. I am much older than he, but I am quite up to the performance and I feel I should not shirk it. After all, it is really my music . . .”
Cole looked around the long room. He saw that the Ultraudion had been partly dismantled and that several sections of the apparatus stood on either side.
“ This first performance will be momentous,” said Leonovitch, with an enthusiasm that sounded somewhat forced, Then his frown returned. “This attitude of Kreman’s is rather trying,” he confessed. “ I suppose it is only natural that he should want to give the first performance, but I feel he is being a little unreasonable. And this is no time for hostility between us.”
“You think he will make trouble ? " asked Cole.
“ Oh, no ! ” Leonovitch laughed at the idea. “ He is headstrong, jealous perhaps, but not vindictive. It is just that- well, it is a pity that in the hour of our triumph-”
He spread his fine hands, shrugged his broad shoulders as if to dismiss the matter from his mind. Cole took his cue and changed the subject.
"You have rendered your composition safe for public performance ?”
“As safe as we can- yes. We have made tests on many different subjects. But, naturally, we cannot be sure that in a large audience there may not be other natures which will be affected by different fundamentals from those we have removed. We cannot be certain until the time. But it is the element of danger that has made the public so eager to hear the music, and the authorities have decided not to interfere. I do not think there will be any trouble. I am looking forward to a very successful debut for the music.”
He sounded genuinely optimistic, now. Cole left, after transmitting further comments from Leonovitch, with the impression that if he was at all concerned about the attitude of Kreman, he was determined not to let it weigh upon his expectations of another personal triumph.
COLE FOUND the days preceding the concert full of incident. There was a mad, competitive scramble to secure seats for the performance, although prices were set at a figure which would have swallowed up several months of his salary. With the tickets all gone, bargaining began and crowds swarmed the locality of the concert hall until police dispersed them. There were fresh rumours that no more concerts would be allowed after this one, and small fortunes were offered for a place in the hall. Yet it was all too evident that the new music would surely develop into a craze which would touch all humanity.
The setting up of the Ultraudion in the concert hall, together with its amplifier, proved of great interest to Cole. He was allowed to watch the installation by Leonovitch, who fussed around the instrument, testing and re-testing every unit again and again. Kreman was there sometimes, and Cole saw that a look of sullen resignation had settled upon his podgy face. He prowled around the amplifying unit, which almost filled the orchestral pit, and watched the feeders being connected from the instrument which stood upon a raised dais.
Cole noted that the radiating element of the amplifier stood upon a cone-shaped arrangement of metal rods. It was a reflector, Kreman explained, to prevent any of the radiations travelling downwards and being lost. They would spread outwards to fill the hall and upwards to the higher seats, but in the basement beneath the stage only the sonic frequencies would penetrate.
At last the night of the concert came. Long before the hour it was due to commence the great hall was filled to the doors. The streets outside were riotous with milling crowds; with difficulty Cole and his colleague Markel, who was to assist him, forced their way through the mob. They had been allocated an upper box from which they looked down into the great auditorium. The crowd was tense and unusually silent. Faces showed white in the subdued lighting which filtered down from the broad, domed ceiling above.
And on a high dais before them gleamed the Ultraudion. Cole regarded it with a feeling not far short of awe, This marvellous instrument, like the music it would produce, was one of the few really new things in the modern world of blase machinery; and for the first time he realised the full implications of this.
This was more than the comrnencement of a new era in entertainment. Hadn’t composers, poets and writers sought to stir their audiences’ feelings ever since word was first penned ? And now man had found a way of playing directly upon the listeners’ emotions, as if the human frame was a harp on which a musician with the rare gifts of Leonovitch could draw melodies of pain, passion and ecstasy as he wished. It was superb, extra-human; and the response it would arouse in this packed concourse of people; as it carried them through depths of feeling unnameable into worlds no words could picture, would reverbrate around the world.
That Kreman had cause for his jealousy was suddenly clear. It would be an utterly selfless creature that could foreswear the praise, worship almost, before, which Leonovitch alone would bow his leonine head.
Outside his box Cole met the concert’s promoter, harassed but beaming. “This is tremendous ! ” he enthused. “ If we had another fifty thousand seats we could sell them all in half an hour, I have never known such crowds! ”
He hurried down the corridor to the lift which would take him to the rear of the stage. Cole followed more leisurely. As he reached the bottom there was a sudden burst of applause from the hall and, peering through the wings, he saws Leonovitch on the stage, bowing and smiling towards the audience. Before he performed the new music he was going to make an explanatory statement- about it, he had said.
The applause died down, and Cole listened as the old composer’s amplified voice began to sound through the vast hall, telling of the development of the Ultraudion. He made passing reference to the assistance he had received from Kreman, but no more. To the accompaniment of further applause he bowed his way off, and Cole stepped forward to meet him. His cheeks were flushed. with inner excitement, but he was coolly self-possessed as he returned the news- man’s greeting.
“ They are very enthusiastic,” he said with a happy smile. “This is the greatest day of my life.”
"And Kreman?" Cole could not resist the question.
Leonovitch waved his hands deprecatingly, “That is all over and done with. His mood has passed. He went so far as to threaten me, once, because I would not let him play instead of me. But he finally agreed to accept my decision, and nothing more has been said.” He smiled again. “ But now I must go. The performance starts in a few minutes.”
He hurried past Cole towards his dressing room. Cole made his way back to the box; where Markel was just putting down his spy-glass as he entered. “Just been taking a look at friend Kreman,” he said brazenly. “ In that box on the other side-there. Came in just as you went out. Not many seem to have noticed him, though.
COLE ONLY grunted. He hadn’t told Markel all he knew of the back-ground situation, for fear he might want to make a story out of the rift between the composers when there was little to justify it. It was of no significance against the immense importance of their dual achievement; and now, with Leonovitch’s assurance that all was well between them, he wanted to forget it. But Markel had been thinking.
“ Funny he isn’t taking any part in the proceedings., Almost a back seat- should have thought the old boy would have had him up on the stage at least. Looks as though he wants to keep it a one-man show, all right. Must be pretty galling for Kreman. He doesn’t look too pleased about it- unless he’s had to pay to get in.”
Cole grinned. “ Sulking, eh ? ”
“ I’d call it something stronger than that. And who wouldn’t be sore, in his shoes, with Leonovitch hogging the plaudits of the multitude all to himself ? After all Kreman’s done towards it- He was on the job right up to this morning, fiddling about down there.” '
Cole felt something stir within him. “ You saw him- and Leonovitch ? ”
"No, the old boy wasn't here - too busy with receptions and what-not. But the Czech was here, making last- minute tests. I looked in to see what sort of arrangements they’d made for us, and saw him making adjustments to the reflectors, playing a note or two on the instrument, examining the score-”
“ The score? ” Cole hung on Markel’s casual words. “ Listen ! ” he shot out suddenly. “Think carefully- this is important. Did you- did you see him make any alterations to the score ? ”
Markel didn’t have to consider. “Why, yes, I did. Why ? ”
“ You’re sure of that?"
"Positive. I was in the box here, looking down at him. I had my glasses, saw him lean over and-”
“Did you see him to speak to ? ” Cole was on the edge of his seat, his face drawn and tense.
“ No, and he didn’t see me; I was only here a minute; I went down intending to speak to him, but I got tangled up with the manager and when I went to find Kreman he’d gone. There was nobody else around. He wasn’t here very long, from what the manager said.
Cole was on his feet. “ Stay here, Merkel. I’m going to stop this concert - if there’s time ! ”
“ Stop- In heaven’s name, why ? ”
But Cole was already striding along the corridor, making for the lift. All his uneasy fears had returned, to coalesce into a horrible feeling of certainty. Once before Kreman had altered the score, and the effect on Leonovitch had been disastrous. Why should he alter it again?
Was it possible he had added those basic, fundamental notes which had so affected the aged composer when he had demonstrated the Ultraudion to Cole, so that he would break down in the middle of his performance, perhaps even die from the emotional strain? The score was so tremendously complicated that Leonovitch would not know an addition had been made to it until it was too late- would not realise that deadly danger was slowly unwinding towards him across the music rest. Once he had started to play, he wouldn’t be able to stop . . .
As he left the lift, Cole was aware of an intense hush backstage. In the wings stood the manager, watching as Leonovitch seated himself at the Ultraudion. As Cole hurried forward he turned, frowning.
" Quiet, please ! Go back! ”
Cole clutched his immaculate sleeve. “ Stop the concert! Leonovitch must examine the score before he plays a note. There is danger-”
“ Quiet; please ! ” The manager urged him back from the wings towards a corridor. “ What are you babbling about? If you're trying to pull some stunt-”
" I tell you he rnustn’t play- not yet. It’s dangerous ! ” Cole was savagely insistent. But the manager waved him away.
"Danger? Nonsense! The music has been made perfectly safe--”
“ It was, perhaps- as safe as could be. But I believe that certain notes which are dangerous to Leonovitch have been replaced, I saw them fell him like a blow from an axe. And they may affect people in the audience too. Other dangerous phrases may have been put back. That music is nectar and poison all mixed up. Leonovitch has been taking out the poison, but-”
“ We can’t stop the concert now. If I did there’d be a riot,” The man’s eyes showed dawning doubt, but he feared something more than the possible effects of the music. “We must risk it-”
Even as he spoke, the first deep notes of the Fantasia began to reverbrate from the stage, making the foundations of the building tremble with their vibrant strength. The chords rose, weaving an intricate maze of sound out of which would be born those semisonic, neuro-electric radiations that would affect everyone in the audience to the centre of his being. Instantly he broke off, turned away from Cole and, as if lured by the swelling music, hurried towards his private box.
SEIZED BY A feeling of absolute impotence, Cole shrugged his shoulders, sighed, and made his way slowly back to his box. As he pushed open the door an enchanting melody surged into his ears, demanding his attention as it drove all else out of his mind. Markel did not even look up; his eyes were riveted on Leonovitch at the Ultraudion, his ears deaf to everything but the fascinating music that filled the hall. The audience below was as motionless as if carved from stone, the thousands of enraptured faces whitely upturned towards the dais where the master musician’s fingers flashed over the manuals.
Cole sank into his chair. It could not hurt to listen for a moment. Just a moment...
It was paradise. The music seemed to convey an understanding of things he had not imagined until now. He wished it could go on and on, and never cease, as his every nerve tingled in sympathy and his whole being seemed to float upwards like a bubble in sparkling wine. Leonovitch must play on and on. Forever. In all creation there could be nothing like this-
With a sudden, stifled cry, Cole sprang to his feet. His hands over his ears, he stumbled from the box, slammed the door behind him and stood panting with his back to it, forbidding himself to listen to that insidious music. It had been stealing away his reason! Markel had not even stirred at his hurried exit, and he himself had wanted to remain there, careless of everything but the music, until those deadly chords came. Then, perhaps, he would have wept- not because Leonovitch had been stricken but because the music had ended.
Fool that he was! He had to do something to stop the music. Or had he lingered too long? Seconds and minutes had all been one while the sweeping glories of Fantasia had lulled his senses. And now, what could he do?
Wild with the urgency of the situation, he ran down the corridor for the lift. In his mind was the dim idea that he could stop the music by disconnecting the power. But with dismay he realised that he did not know where the main switch or fuse box was located, and it might be in any of the dozens of rooms spread about the basement of the great building. If he had acted before, there might have been time to search. But now-
Feverishly he tried to estimate how long Leonovitch had already been playing, and to recall at what place in the composition came the fundamentals which had so affected him.. He couldn’t be sure of either, but he knew there were not many minutes to spare. Now that he had compelled himself to act, he had to act fast.
At the end of the corridor, backstage, he glimpsed the manager in his private box, the door of which was slightly ajar. The concert promoter was there, too, with his privileged party. They were all leaning forward in their rich plush seats, sitting stock-still, painfully intent on Leonovitch and the music. Even as he paused Cole felt the exotic melody creeping into his consciousness as it reached him through the opening, and rammed his fingers into his ears to ensure that it did not distract him again. Then he pushed open the door, nudged the manager with his elbow. If he could only make him see sense-
The man did not stir. Frantically Cole shook his arm; shouting into his ear above the cascading sounds which held him spellbound. Then he turned with a start, eyes blazing.
“Get out! Go away!” He thrust away Cole’s hand and turned back to stare at the Ultraudion, completely lost in its enchantments. Shaken by the passionate anger he had shown in that fleeting second, Cole left the box, closed the door behind him and hurried away before the temptation to stay and listen could divert him from his course. He must stop that music.
But how ?
SO SUDDENLY that he jumped, at that moment his receiver diaphragms began to vibrate against his mastoid bones, warning him that he was being contacted from the Newscast Office.
“ How are things going, Cole?” came the Chief’s voice. “ Neither you nor Markel have reported since he sent a message that the concert was starting. That was ten minutes ago. Long enough for you to give us something on the audience’s reactions to the music-”
Cole clicked the switch of his larynx microphone. “ Listen, Chief ! You can forget all that. There’s a bigger story in this. Kreman is trying to harm Leonovitch with his own music- perhaps to kill him. Unless I can stop it-” .
“ What! ” There was utter disbelief in the single word.
“ I’m the only one who realises what's going to happen in a few minutes. The music’s got Markel, as it’s got everybody but me. But there’s not time to explain now. I’ve got to find a way-”
Cole broke off as a sudden wave of appoggiaturas welled out through the wings into the corridor. They were familiar! They came only a couple of minutes before the chords which had overcome Leonovitch. As he turned his head to catch them, the transceiver, dangling from his belt swung against his side. And simultaneously there came to Cole the sudden inspiration he needed.
" Chief! I think I’ve got it. And you’ve got to help me. Quick! Switch your end through to a radio channel carrying the noisiest, zippiest jazz you can find!”
The Chief spluttered. “ Have you gone crazy ? That music- "
" Do it- quick! ” Cole was already racing for the lift that would take him down to the basement beneath the stage. “ Don’t ask questions now- just do as I say. There’s not a second to lose.”
There was a grunt, followed by a click. A long pause as he went down in the lift, which seemed to drop with excruciating slowness. Then, as he reached the basement, another click, and a bland voice was saying something about the “ Haiti Hotspots.” In a moment a jangle of raucous, jiving swing was crashing into his ear-drums so that he winced. Yet he murmured his relief as he started along the passage which led to the orchestral pit. The jittering cacophony of the Hotspots would serve admirably to protect his mind against the encroaching allurements of the music which sounded from the stage above..
Gaining the pit where the amplifier of the Ultraudion was fitted, he noticed an immediate decrease in the strength of the supersonic vibrations as he passed beneath the reflectors. But still some radiations reached him, and for an agonising second he fought against a strong desire to turn off the Hotspots and drink in the rippling delights of Leonovitch’s music. Then it passed, and he was determined once more. He had to stop the music.
The gleaming mass of the amplifier, with its maze of intricate connections, concealed him from the view of the audience ; though he knew that even if they saw him they would pay no attention to him, so intense were the emotions produced in them by the music. Despite the harsh rhythms which deafened him, Cole felt something twanging at his nerves and knew that the dangerous chords would soon come. Leonovitch seemed to hesitate for a bare instant; yet he would not stop, would not be able to anticipate the harmful phrases in the complicated score.
It had been a chord containing E and its augmented fifth that had driven Kreman into hysterics, Leonovitch had said. But how to find it in this maze of complicated connections ? Cole searched frantically, noting with relief that all the connecting points were clearly marked to facilitate reassembly. The great feeders which came from the Ultraudion and spread into a thousand separate wires seemed the point to start. Some carried audio frequencies, some the lower supersonic frequencies, and others the neuro-electric vibrations. And each was marked in minute letters so that it could be connected through to its proper channel.
He almost whooped when he came to a group of co-joined leads marked E. He wrenched them off, ignoring the possibility of shocks. Remembering each interval was a quarter-tone, he counted up to the augmented fifths and pulled the leads free also. Now he had to energise these particular amplifier units. Any frequency would do, he judged, if it was full of sidebands and harmonics. Grabbing the severed leads into a bunch, he looped them around his transceiver and pressed its switch to “ Send.” If a frequency-modulated transmitter with an internal aerial would not excite the units into operation, nothing would !
Immediately, there was a deep burbling rumble which surged out of the amplifier with such volume that Cole felt no sense but that of hearing existed, and the jazz faded into nothingness beside it. It swelled, and from somewhere far above him came a high-pitched scream followed by a jabber of hysterical speech. Dropping the leads, he sprang to the shining rails separating the pit from the hall as another shrill cry rang out and the Ultraudion faded into silence. Up in his box, Kreman was screaming again and again, holding his hands to his head. In the hall there was a sudden murmur of voices, a rustle of movement. On the dais, Leonovitch had risen from his seat at the instrument and was standing mute with astonishment.
COLE SWITCHED off his transceiver, and the Hotspots abruptly ceased their din. Unwinding the severed amplifier leads from about his set, he retraced his steps back under the stage. As he went up in the lift he turned on his set again, swore as the strains of Jiving Sweetheart Sue battered his eardrums, and pressed his “ Stop sending ” button.
“ Listen, Chief,” he warned, “ and you’ll get your story.”
Cole found Leonovitch in the wings, white-faced and shaken. With him was the concert promoter, looking worried and a little scared. His big hands moved nervously.
“Those screams - terrible, terrible! The man must have become suddenly demented. Yet it is a pity you could not have gone on playing. I can’t understand it.”
Leonovitch could only mumble incoherently as he passed a hand dazedly across his perspiring brow. As Cole came forward a look of relief came into his eyes, as if he welcomed the appearance of one who would readily understand -or who might be able to enlighten him.
“ If he had gone on,” said Cole, “ he wouldn’t have got much further- and he wouldn’t be standing here now. He might have died, thanks to Kreman. Instead of which-”
“ Kreman is dead! ” It was the hall manager, who had suddenly come up behind them. “ He went into hysterics, with results that proved fatal. A burst lood vessel . . .”
The old musician’s eyelids flickered. He gave a little gasp and swayed dizzily, Cole saved him from falling, helped him to a nearby settee. He sat down weakly, smoothed his long hair with trembling fingers as he struggled to compose himself.
The manager, more concerned with his own urgent affairs, was tugging at the promoters sleeve. "Please come and make an announcement, give the audience some sort of explanation. Tell them that Leonovitch cannot go on- that the instrument is faulty.. I think they will disperse quietly. They have had their money’s worth ”
Hastily they departed. Cole sat down beside Leonovitch, who was gazing blankly into the wings. He tumed at Cole’s light touch on his arm and forced a brave smile.
“Kreman had interfered with the score,” the newsman explained. “ Only this morning he added those notes which previously affected you so much. He wanted you to break down, to revenge himself on you for not letting him play. He may even have hoped for your death. If you had gone on and those notes were repeated with sufficient emphasis, you’d have killed yourself."
The old man nodded. He looked older than ever, now. “I know,” he said gravely. “ After I had been playing for some time I felt somehow that the score had been altered, but I could not stop. The desire to play, to go on and on with the music, was much stronger than the fear of what might happen. But I knew by the way I was affected, just before Kreman - screamed - that those dangerous notes had been replaced. Yet I still can’t believe it- that he should harbour such vicious feelings against me. I thought -" His lips trembled, and he could not continue.
“That he died himself is evidence enough that he did,” Cole said. “ When I found out that Kreman had been altering the score at the last minute, I tried to get them to stop the concert so that you could make sure it was safe to play. But it was too late. Yet I was convinced there was danger- that Kreman was out not only to wreck your performance but to cause your death. Underneath that sullen resignation of his was a burning resentment, an intense hatred. which even the music couldn't drive out of his mind. In fact, it made it all the stronger.”
He paused as the promoter’s amplified voice came through the wings, reassuring the wondering audience, urging them to leave. There would be another concert, perhaps, but the music was still in the experimental stage. The playing was an ordeal . . .
"I only intended to make him hysterical- to cry out, which would be enough to make you stop playing. I went into the pit and excited all the E and augmented fifths with my transceiver unit. I remembered they were the chords which sent him into hysterics before, because it seemed they were the ones which were the most effective in increasing any emotion the listener was already feeling. And Kreman, at that time, was already getting angry with you- hence the hysterics when he got worked up by the music.”
Leonovitch, with returning strength, was listening carefully, nodding his head in verification. He had already reached the conclusions which Cole was putting into words; it was no surprise to learn that he was responsible for the sudden dramatic end to the concert. He shifted himself on the settee, looked straight at Cole, and his voice grew more sure as he said :
“To Kreman alone of the thousands in the hall, those notes proved fatal.. The rest felt only an intensification of the rapture the music had already produced in them -some, perhaps, to a point where they might soon have lost control of themselves. But Kreman’s mental state was already unbalanced and he was feeling, not ecstasy, but animosity and murderous intent towards me. The chords increased those feelings to such an extent that they caused his hysterical outburst. Before, it was just a fit of tantrums. But this time, with his mind so full of concentrated venom it had no room for any other emotion, the attack was so violent that it killed him,”
He stretched out his hand, grasped Cole’s shoulder. “ You saved my life. I’m grateful "
But Cole was already feeling for the switch that would reverse his transceiver and give the Chief a chance to say, “ Thanks, Cole! That’s a great story.”
Francis G. Rayer.
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