Banks, Raymond E. – “Christmas Trombone” (1954)
In which music is now produced for the most part not by humans, but by cones made up of “wafer-thin discs of Venusian heavy water” which sift together music from a quarter million musicians, “all dissonance matched out by the peculiar properties” of the discs. One intrepid soul refuses to give up the old ways before this march of progress, though – Shorty “had always made his own music, always would,” and that means he is constantly in trouble for “peace-disturbing” for playing his trombone and bothering people, who wish that he would just stick to his day job of repairing aircars. The singing cones have pervaded seemingly all public and private spaces, and the most impressive around is the one in the Church of All-Comers – not a “factory job stuffed with water discs,” but a real cone from Venus, eight feet high – “This cone was a foot-high mound on Venus the night Christ was born in Bethlehem, Shorty. It’s been on Earth now for twenty years, adding only the purest and best church music to its being.”
Shorty knows that his music is what has always set him apart and made him special (instead of “merely” a mechanic), and he has refused to record it for a cone for that reason – until, inspired on Christmas day and having alienated everyone around him, he goes up a nearby mountain and blows his “perfect uniqueness” out on his trombone – “It had been inside and he knew it, but nobody else did-now they did. There was no need to play anymore.” It then becomes a Christmas tradition for everyone with the means to get there to come here the Christmas Trombone recording, and Shorty is the happiest air mechanic around.
A weirder take on the impact of modernity and the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, to be sure, but it’s easy to forget that the transition to musical recordings was a tough one for some musicians – there were at least two strikes in the 1940s by the American Federation of Musicians seeking more favorable treatment from the record companies that were replacing live musicians with “canned music.”