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User:Cubist/Building the Perfect Beast

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Preceded by:
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Life in the Fast Lane Succeeded by:
So You Want to Be a Rock & Roll Star

Building the Perfect Beast

Author: Quentin "Cubist" Long
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Tales from the Blind Pig story universe

My name is Jubatus, and I think I've created a monster.

And it all started so innocuously, too…

Set the WABAC machine for a few months ago, when I, the non-singing terror of the Blind Pig Glee Club, actually did hook up with said group. I play instructor. What I do is ID vocal flaws and help the vocalist in question to overcome them. In theory, this should be Wanderer's job, as he's the big kahuna and has tons more vocal training and theory than I ever did, but that wolf couldn't teach his grandmother how to suck eggs. Me? I'm a technical writer—transferring data between brains is what I do for a living.

Between us, we make a fairly effective team.

Speaking of 'effective teams', I really ought to introduce the rest of the Glee Club. First off is Eltro Gannet, morphlocked buffalo-type SCAB. No horns or hooves, maybe some hair/fur action going. He's two and a half men wide; 10 men strong; and 20 men dignified. Basso profundo, the kind that makes James Earl Jones sound like a baritone. Gannet's voice is even deeper than mine used to be, and good enough that if I could still sing, I would be plotting his painful demise. I'm almost certain that he does have a sense of humor—it's just hard to tell, since he specializes in Subtle and Deadpan.

Constance is our token alto. SCABS made her a bumblebee. She's got a fair degree of control over her form, anything from complete bee-hood to mostly-norm and anywhere in between. Interestingly, she can also restrict the form-shift to any individual part of her body, or group thereof. No, I haven't asked her about the stinger. At her most human, all she's got is the markings up and down her torso, plus oversized compound eyes; I never cared for the 'big eye' thing in Japanese animation, and it doesn't look any better in real life. Yes, the world does look pretty damned weird from her point of view, and I sometimes wonder how much of her customary 'smiling airhead/ditz' behavior is due to that.

Wolfshead is a baritone. As the name implies, he's got the head of a wolf—but that's it. Everything below his jawline is human-normal, which means he's got a standard issue larynx feeding into the resonance chambers of his lupine sinus cavities. As a result, his voice has a very distinctive timbre. I like it; your mileage may vary. He's generally shy and retiring, so why did he hook up with the generally raucous Lupine Boys? He's got to have some kind of party animal in him, I just haven't seen it myself.

Then there's my dear friend Ringwolf; he's another Lupine Boy, and we get along as smoothly as a cat's tongue, he and I. It's probably because the first thing I ever said to him was that his enunciation sucked. Mind you, he did need to work on it. He's a tenor, maybe that explains his reaction. Externally speaking, all he's got to show for his SCABhood is ears, a tail, and overly sharp fingernails. His day job, telemarketing, involves making dozens of cold calls per hour, so it's kind of amusing that he gets so damned self-conscious when it comes to performing in the flesh.

Our soprano is Sunya, and SCABS got creative with her. I suppose you could call her a non-equine centaur: Below her waist, she's an oversized jaguar. Gorgeous green eyes, fur so black it almost looks blue, and ditto her hair, which grows into a sort of crewcut mane down her spine. She can add claws and fur ad libitum, not sure about any other form-shifting. Believe me, you haven't seen a prima donna attitude until you've seen one with a feline accent…

The last of the Glee Club's original vocalists is Wanderer, founder and leader of the Lupine Boys. You might expect that a shameless exhibitionist of a performer like him would be a ham, but he's a wolf, and the closest he can get to human isn't, particularly. At least he's bipedal with hands and a voice. I'm told that he regresses to pure animal-hood when he's tired, sick, or drunk. Haven't seen it, myself. Maybe someday. Baritone is his preferred range, pre-1970 Broadway show tunes his preferred repertoire, flamboyantly Elizabethan his preferred mode of affectation, optimistic his preferred attitude. I've given up trying to understand how he gets away with it.

Finally there's me, Jubatus. I haven't sung for a while. Morphlocked by preference; I'm 95% pure cheetah, and if I am able to pump that up to 100%, I don't want to know. When I'm not playing instructor, which is good chunk of the time, I play something else: Percussion. The first couple of sessions I had my laptop running KeyBard with the Zildjian plug-in module, but now I'm rataplanning away on a set of Tsukowa-Roland drumpads. Fully programmable in every sense of the word. I'm not using more than a fraction of their potential, which is sad in a way. On the other hand, I simply don't need any more than that fraction, and you won't catch me artsy-fartsing up a tune merely because my tools allow me to. Let's just say I've got room to grow if I ever do need it.

So once I started helping Wanderer on the instructional end of things, the vocal quality went up sharply—and they weren't half bad to begin with. Word gets around, and we end up with more gigs, some of them even paid gigs. That's good, and what's better is when our first horse, Dr. Bob Stein, joined us. Yeah, that Dr. Bob Stein. He is a world-renowned scientist and all that, but he's also a damn fine baritone. I kid you not; we're talking eight years with the Virginia Opera, okay? Who knew?

If you ask me, I think Wanderer only let the Doc sit in the first time because he didn't want to say 'no' to one of the most respected SCABS researchers on the face of the planet. Like I said, who knew?

But I digress. As you might expect, we started getting serious media coverage once the Doc signed on. And media coverage begat even more gigs (and box office), which begat even more media coverage, and so on, worlds without end, amen. And somewhere in there, an otter by name of Peregrine Quinn Dobhran joined up—I'm not sure of the details, you'd have to ask Perry or Wanderer—to add his low baritone vocals to the mix. His keyboard chops ain't bad either, but we don't do that. He's more than a little temperamental. Not that I have any standing to criticize on that ground, of course…

In case you're not keeping track, that brings us up to a total of nine musicians in this motley crew. And with a mob that size, the logistics of transportation, if nothing else, can get sticky. Enter: an equine SCAB named Greyflank, stage left, bearing with him invaluable experience with all things backstage-related. He's as queer as a three-dollar bill, and not just in sexual preference, but by Thespis, he knows his stuff. You ask me, a large part of our success is directly attributable to Grey's work on publicity and bookings, and his connections in the biz, and God knows what else. He's a natural target for two—count 'em, two—different groups of bigots (homophobes and SCABS-bashers), which even I can't bring myself to laugh about unless I really work at it. I tried to set up a betting pool for the day Grey first hits on Wanderer, but amazingly enough, no one else seemed to be interested…

Logistics, by the way, is how come I'm the only non-vocalist we've got. Every instrument you don't carry with you is an instrument you don't have to tune, or keep track of, or insure, and that makes life much easier, thanks.

Now, as I've already said, Wanderer is heavily into 20th Century show tunes, and the group's repertoire reflected that. Not any more. Oh, we still do numbers from Mame and My Fair Lady and such, but now they're maybe 15% of our material, not the 90-odd% they were before I came along. Can't say I'm the only one who suggests new tunes, just the single most profligate suggestor. Wanderer's vetoed a fair number of my ideas (for instance, I still think we could knock 'em dead with Who Are the Brain Police), and he's been doubtful about others (Helter Skelter is a tune he didn't even want to try until I played him the Bobs' a capella arrangement), but on the whole, I really can't complain. And neither can the wolf, because we're now getting a decidedly larger audience than we used to. You just wouldn't believe how much wider a segment of the concert-going public you can attract when you start performing a wider variety of music.

If you've been paying attention, you'll notice that I haven't mentioned our sound man. That's because we didn't really have one, not at first. I tripled as engineer for a while, and I'm fast enough that I could get away with commuting between stage and mixing board even during our performances. But I wasn't comfortable with wearing three hats (the other two being instructor and percussion, if you'll recall), so I was happy to delegate this job to Greyflank when he came on board. Bad move; Grey's technical expertise (he's a rigger, he's a gaffer, you name it) is not accompanied by any kind of musical talent, and a sound man needs at least a little of both. So we made it a rotating position for a few weeks, and it turned out that Ringwolf is actually the best engineer we had, so we stuck him with the job. That did mean we had to put the mixer up on stage with us, but it worked.

And that's how matters stood up until five Wednesday evenings ago.

We came in for the usual Wednesday rehearsal, and discovered a large package, one meter square by 1.5 long, on the piano bench. One of the Lupine Boys said to Wanderer, "UPS delivered it around 3 pm. I think it's yours."

"Well-a-day! 'Tis more than passing strange… Aye, the intended recipient indeed be the Blind Pig Glee Club, in care of the Blind Pig Gin Mill."

"Return address?" I asked.

"The source whence this came would appear to be a Chicagoan gentleman, one 'Mixman 3000' by name," Wanderer said, puzzled.

Bingo. So he did respond. "No problem," I said. "He's a Chi-town DJ. I spread the word we were looking for an engineer, and I guess he responded to my message." I upshifted, moved in and used a claw to neatly open the package, downshifted. I opened the lid. "Of course, he could've just sent an e-mail. Let's see what—huh?"

t' t' tum p' t' tah t' tm pm p' tah! t' t' tum p' t' tah t' tm pm p' tah!

A percussion riff rumbled forth from inside the package, whose contents drifted up into the air. It was vaguely rectangular, with mass quantities of knobs and sliders and gauges on its largest flat surface—a floating sound board, in other words—and animated neon-type visual effects surrounded it. The riff kept rolling as the thing rotated around a vertical axis, giving the entire bar a good look at it.

t' t' tum p' t' tah t' tm pm p' tah! t' t' tum p' t' tah t' tm pm p' tah!

It settled down to a couple centimeters above the piano. The shifting neon stabilized to create a blue/gold/red image of a human DJ working the board. A bass guitar line started a beat or two before the lyrics:

"Well ya got a little problem—on the stage

"An' it's gotta be fixed 'fore you're all the rage!

"Ya need a solution an' ya want it today?" Here the instruments stopped dead.

"Just listen to the wisdom of—M3K!" Now the accompaniment picked up again.

"I'm a mixer—A fixer—An electronic trick- ster

"What I can do makes other soundmen run off feelin' sick, sure!

"Ya sought it—I got it—There ain't no more to say—" The accompaniment changed to a descending flurry of drum hits.

"The answer you are seeking, is—M3K!"

The neon image smiled, spread its hands, looked around expectantly. There was a patter of applause; most of the bar's patrons wore surprised expressions. "Let me guess: I went a little over the top, didn't I?"

"Ah… yes, I believe that would be a cogent and accurate summary," Wanderer said. "However, as a demonstration of your proficiency, I cannot gainsay the efficacy of your performance."

One of the image's eyes twinkled. Literally, like a cheap special effect. "So I'm in?"

"Mayhap. Perchance a sort of trial session might be in order?"

"In other words," I said, "let's see how you do with material that's not 1980s rap."

"No problem at all," the board replied. A drawer slid open, revealing several small wireless microphones with velcro tabs to hold them onto fur. "As you can see, I came prepared. Go ahead and plug in here, Jube." An LED flashed near one of the sockets on the back panel.

So I hooked up my drum set, and the rest of the crew did the usual routine with their mikes, and before too long we got into a Swingle Singers arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach—Wise and Foolish Virgins, I think it was. Sounded pretty good. And then it was Don't Rain on My Parade, and The Longest Time, and The Thunder Rolls with Wanderer's rewritten lyrics, and Helter Skelter, and Stars and Stripes Forever, and…

Could've gone on longer, but Wanderer killed it at 2 hours—no sense letting the voices nuke their throats for a tryout. And when we stopped, we got the most damn applause ever from this gang of drunks.

So here we are, possibly the most exotic musical group of all time: Three wolves; two cats; one horse, otter, bee, and buffalo; a dead sound engineer; and we even drafted a horse as roadie/gaffer/Lord High Everything Else. We've got a number of downloadable cuts on the Net, we're working on an album, we've got plenty of local gigs, and we just might go nationwide.

Oh, and you can stop calling us the Blind Pig Glee Club. That name just doesn't fit any more. We're the Strikebreakers.

Only possible name for the group, really.

I mean, what else can you call a bunch of filthy, stinking, good-for-nothing SCABs?