Big Echo

Critical SF

Buzz

by Rudy Rucker

First published in New Blood, December, 1981

A rock-concert. It’s Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Elvis is dripping sweat, bent over a white plastic J. C. Penney’s guitar. Superwimp! His amazingly deep and authoritative voice carries over the driving network of electric sound. “Waitin’ to de eyund of de woruld / waitin’ to de eyund o de woruld / waitin’ to de eyund odee world, deeyur Lord / I sincerely hope you’re comin’ ‘cause you cerntly started something.” NnnMmmMMmmMMMmMMMP NnnnMmmmMMmMMmMMMP. His rhythm guitarist shambles about, opening and closing his mouth like a chimpanzee eating a cigarette butt. The bassman looks like the equipment manager for a football team, all dressed in chinos and a yellow oxford-cloth button-down. But at the end of the song he jumps up and lands in a split.

The camera draws back and we see the audience. A sparse crowd here in this Mannheim concert-hall. Maybe three hundred people. A few of the greaser-hippies the Germans call “rrockerrs,” some punk-girls with black lips, punk-boys with short red and green hair, but mostly just average-type sales clerks and students.

“You’re a dismal bunch of punks,” Elvis says, not unkindly. People are smoking cigarettes. A little knot of GIs shares a hash-pipe.

The camera closes in on a slight, red-haired youth at the right edge of the crowd. On the sound track, Elvis starts one of his smeared-notes songs from Get Happy. The red-haired youth fiddles with his tape-recorder. Close shot of the turning reels. The reels speed up, the music too, an excited drone. Tape ends, flap flap flap, and everyone’s leaving the concert hall.

We follow the red-haired youth out onto the street. He’s alone, carrying his big tape-player on a strap slung over one shoulder. He wears black Levis and a shiny brown leather jacket. His skin is luminously pale, his hair short and spiky, his fingers long and mobile. A street-car screeches to a gggkgreeeeeeessht halt and he climbs into its yellow-green light.

Cut. The next evening. Shot of the red-haired youth handling an ancient glass vase. He sits by a window in a one-room apartment, the fragile cylindrical vessel in his hands. Close shot on the vase.

The glass is cloudy, old-looking and shimmering here and there with metal oxides deposited over what must have been centuries of burial. The surface is etched with thousands of tiny lines. The lines wrap around and around the cylinder. It is as if after having been blown, the vase was put on a lathe and shaved down. A diamond knife in some turner’s hand has etched a single groove around the vase from top to bottom.

Medium shot of red-haired youth walking across his apartment. One whole wall is books, one wall a workbench. Electronic components, computer circuitry. Orange light from the setting sun slopes in.

He flicks on his tape-deck. A man screaming in rising bursts and then a great rush of tight, happy sound. Blondie’s “I’m Not Living in the Real World.”

The red-haired youth busies himself with his tools, mounting the vase into some kind of machine. When Debbie’s voice croons, “Didn’t I ever tell you I was gone?” he hits a button, snaring the phrase on a tape-loop. Eternal repeat on that: “Didn’t I ever tell you I was gone? Didn’t I ever tell you I was gone? Didn’t I ever tell you I was gone?”

There’s a whole console of buttons set into the back of the workbench. He hits another and overdubs a loop of live E. C. sneering, “Now I try to stay amused. Now I try to stay amused. Now I try to stay amused.”

More buttons, and more voices coming on, all on top of each other. Jagger: “Do the hip-shake, babe. Do the hip-shake, babe. Do the hip-shake, babe.” The Zap: “The torture never stops. The torture never stops. The torture never stops.” Marley: “Wake up and turn I loose. Wake up and turn I loose. Wake up and turn I loose.” Nina Hagen: “Ich glotz Tay-Fow. Ich glotz Tay-Fow. Ich glotz Tay-Fow.” Johnny Rotten: “And we don’t care. And we don’t care. And we don’t care.” More Jagger: “I’m always hearin’ voices in the street. I’m always hearin’ voices in the street. I’m always hearin’ voices in the street.” And more others, more and more cutting in and speeded up, making a…wild, high buzz, you understand.

But it won’t fly yet. Something’s missing. The vase! He’s got the vase mounted on a sort of lathe, and he’s setting a phonograph needle down on the spinning glass, dropping the needle down into the groove as if it were one of Thomas Alva Edison’s cylindrical phonograph records.

Macro-close-up of the phonograph needle in the groove. The needle vibrates back and forth with the groove’s slow meanderings. There is a steady tone feeding out from the needle. The winging welter of the music-loops damps down and the vase-glass recording comes up. A rumble as from a voice underwater. A squeak. A rumble.

Zoom back to the red-haired youth. Weird eyes on this kid. He’s so young…how can he know so much? His hands crawl patiently over the equipment surrounding the vase. Dreamy smile. Again an indistinct rumble from the vase, this time more voice-like. The youth wags his head and makes another adjustment.

Cut back to macro-close-up of the phono needle. The groove twists back and forth, the needle follows, and we hear a voice talking clearly.

“Ah noko landee cleek-ka-sneep. Orbaahm. Deedle?”

Soft wah-wah-wah and the phono needle changes its appearance. We zoom slowly back…vase still spinning. But only half of the vase is etched yet, and the needle has turned into the tip of a diamond knife, held in the hand of a tan-brown man with ultra-black hair, an Egyptian craftsman etching the original groove into the vase. He is talking, and as he talks the vibrations travel down his arms and into the etching tool he holds…he’s recording his voice though he doesn’t know it.

Here in the flashback we see it all, the pedal-driven lathe, the blazing square of sun lying on the floor like sheet-iron, the play of muscles in the turner’s back, his big liquid eyes and purple lips. He speaks again.

“Ahna bogbog du smeepy flan.”

Suddenly we notice who he’s talking to.

Propped up in a corner of the one-room workshop is a…giant beetle. Totem? No…it’s alive, but injured. Straw-yellow ichor seeps from a rent in one side of the soft belly. With a sudden screech, the creature begins to sing.

The noise is dense, concentrated…quintessentially evil, welling out of the swiveling, jewel-like little head, all emerald, carnelian, lapis lazuli. Outside the door we see part of what might be a wrecked spaceship.

The alien knows what it’s doing, beaming its groaning twitter straight at the craftsman’s body. The timeless humming of the alien’s soul is being etched forever into the spinning glass.

Close shot of the glass, the flash-forward (soft haw-haw-haw) to red-haired youth. He’s still got all his tape-loops running, and now on top of it is the horrible, insistent, mind-picking flicker of the ancient alien death-song. It adds up to something…unheard of.

The youth starts back from the bench. A stool crashes down. The sound is out of control, roiling about the room in booming crests so crushingly loud you begin to see them gel. (A buzzer goes off under your seat nnnNNNBBZEEEEEEE, just like at The Tingler.)

Red-haired youth slapping at switches, smashing machinery with a crescent wrench, trying to stop it, Stop It, STOP STOP STOP…Vase shatters, youth’s pants split open from a huge milky-white hard-on. He pumps it frantically with one hand, flailing at instruments with the other; it’s too much, too loud, too far.

Wild, high, buzzing stacking way up now. We cut to an outside shot of youth’s building. Everything motionless for two heartbeats, then a window explodes out in slow motion, and he flies through, bleeding, ejaculating. Suddenly the soundtrack is slowed down, too, and the mad sound breaks into manageable pieces.

You can see into the apartment, the machinery is wrecked, a fire is starting, but the sound keeps on. It’s a self-perpetuating vortex pattern now, riding on the energy gradient of the day/night twilight zone. We can see the smoke twirling in significant patterns, and overlayered there are purple-to-ultraviolet moirés.

Camera pulls up to a hundred meters and we look down to see the paisley streamers flowing out on the gentle evening breeze. The youth is flaring like a sparkler, still falling, and on the sidewalk we see a man and his dog go up in light. Down the block we see it happen again, and again, and with each flash, the paisley moiré gets a little brighter, the sound a little stronger. Three little children run down the street, screaming, but unharmed.

Cut.

New Jersey. The refineries like giant chemistry labs. Ten-wheel trucks roar past. A solitary figure by the side of the Jersey Turnpike here at the Newark exit. Sunset.

He has colorless blond hair, steel glasses, wears baggy old clothes. White painter’s clothes. The drafts from the trucks’ passings flutter the loose fabric this way and that.

In front of his solar plexus, like a dish-antenna, he holds a piece of cardboard. “EXIT 9.” The lettering is dark and crooked.

There is a lull in the traffic now. He sets down his sign and lights a cigarette. Behind him we see the stark silhouette of a cracking tower, totem woven of five hundred pipes. In profile, he inhales deeply.

Something is bothering him. He brushes at his eyes…smoke? Insects? He throws down his thin cigarette and begins slapping at his head and shoulders. There is a wild, high buzzing. As the noise peaks, the hitchhiker melts into a blob of blinding light.

A semi rumbles past, brakes groaning, horn blasting fear. It says “PYRAMID” on the side.

Cut to the truck-driver’s face. Likable Italian kid, twenty, curly black hair, trying to keep his rig under control.

“Waxman,” he hollers to his sleeping partner. “Hey, Waxman! We gotta pull …”

The wild, high buzzing has not stopped, and now it builds to a new peak. The curly-haired driver’s face glows and runs like molten steel.

Aerial shot of the PYRAMID semi-tractor-trailer jack-knifing, rolling, bursting into flame. Wild, high buzzing, rhythmic, never repeating.

We continue to rise, looking down at the big pile-up. Cars and trucks keep coming. The passengers go up in little puffs of white light, flashbulbs popping off in the dinky-toy cars far, far below us, still rising, rising to look down at all America, one-quarter dark.

Time speeds up and we see the terminator, the edge of night, sweep across the country east to west. There is a jumping twinkle in the moving twilight zone, fleeting specks of light like phosphorescent plankton at some surf’s lapping line. Pht, pht, pht, pht, pht. The wild, high buzzing, far and faint.

We come back down in California, just before the terminator gets there. Across a beach and through the dish of a radio-telescope. The percussive sounds of a woman’s foot-steps hurrying down the hall. Clip clip clip clip. (Think of those little jolts traveling wavelike up her leg-flesh, up to her ripe ass and crinkly hole and fur-burger deluxe…just think about it!) Knock knock.

We see a door open. A fat man looks up. He wears a long-sleeved white plastic shirt with a pen in the pocket. He holds a sheaf of computer print-outs. The day’s last square of sunlight lies warm on his lap, and he’s been thinking about sex, but only says, “Yes, Dr. Schmid? What is it?”

The woman steps forward and leans over the desk. She’s dressed casually: jeans, tube-top, wedgies. Bushy-brown hair, all frizzed out. No lipstick on her full lips. We look at her from behind.

“It’s these readings, Professor Akwell.” She hands him a roll of paper with squiggles on it. “These peaks are utterly anomalous. It’s as if some vast pulse of energy swept across the country during the last three hours. See this? And this and this?”

The professor feeds the paper tape slowly through his fingers. “Do you have an audio conversion?”

“Not yet, but …”

“I’ll want to hear the fine-structure energy-analogue.”

“Of course.” She’s around behind the desk now, leaning over his shoulder. It is almost dark outside and, again, the wild, high buzzing mounts.

The professor swivels and looks up at her. Nice full braless breasts right at eye-level. His heart beating, ka-thumn ka-thumn. The buzzing coming and going, a syncopated sound with crests inside the troughs.

He pushes up her tube-top. She smiles and leans forward. He tongues and sucks at her hanging milky-white bubs, takes a stiff, dark-pink nipple in his mouth.

The buzzing peaks, but instead of vibrating away into pure dimension-Z energy, the professor and doctor are…dancing through it, lying down beside the CRASH desk-chair, spitty slippery slick peekaboo hair fanning out, and the deadly sound is just coking them up is all…my God, he’s built like a racehorse. She spreads and pushes back, their orgone energy tears at the buzzing, breaking it into Stones riffs: “Oh, Doctor please do the hip-shake, babe, I’m riding down your moonlight mile …”

But now we’re dollying out through the window, and up again. It’s almost dark outside and the buzzing is louder than ever, wilder and higher…it’s a multiplex sound with endlessly complex layers of information folded inside each other over and over. (Think of the sound an acid-tripping brain might make as chessmen slide off tilted tiles and wooden fingers fumble for the saves.)

Split-screen checker-board montage. In the black squares people flare into white energy, in the red squares they couple. We draw back and the tessellated plane warps into a sphere, Mother Earth, everyone coming or going at twilight’s touch.

Cut to a double bed with a sleeping couple. Pale, pale grey light outside. Faint buzzing. The woman sits up suddenly. Mashed frizzy hair, smallish breasts with perfect nipples. It’s Dr. Schmid! She shakes the dormant mound next to her, and Professor Akwell sits up, too, eyes gummy.

The light is growing, the buzzing too. Dr. Schmid flicks on the radio.

“It is kuzzz seventy to bzzzzzznt Earth’s adult population destroyed. Preliminary studies indicate that the deaths wheeeeeep dawn and dusk.”

“Do you hear that?” she cries, jumping out of bed and staring out the window. On a distant hillside a little flare of white light. “Quickly, dear!” She hops back in the bed.

Professor Akwell still rubbing his eyes. “I’m…I’m too tired.”

The radio is still crackling and talking. “Interviews with fweeep a striking uniformity. All those adults not destroyed by the Buzz were engaged in dzeeeent. Listeners are urgently advised to pair up and stick together. Orgasm zaaaaap only answer.”

Fingers trembling with haste, Dr. Schmid has pulled on tight stockings and a lacy black garter belt. The buzzing is so loud that the perfume bottles on her dresser are rattling. She falls back on a chair, her legs spread. “Hurry, hurry, oh please hurry!” A ray of sunlight slant into the room.

The professor shambles across the room and kneels down in front of her. Runs his hands around her stocking-tops, where the full buttocks bulge out like warm triple-scoops of vanilla ice cream. He squats lower and glues his mouth to her vagina.

Cut to prof’s-eye view of her body. Mystery-furze of black pubic hair in the foreground, thighs and black suspenders out to the sides, the taut buckler of her undulating belly, the swollen breasts sliding, nipples pointing this way and that, her pouting lips and heavy-lidded eyes.

She’s coming now; it’s fine for her, and part of the buzzing stutters into “Emotional Rescue,” but the professor barely has a hard-on, this early in the morning and still having to take a piss. He doesn’t come, and the buzzing takes him away, melting into hot light between those quivering thighs.

She screams and draws back. The light rolls across the floor like ball-lightning, singeing a trail into the carpet. And then something surprising happens. The light grows projections, begins to dim, and it’s…Professor Akwell saved by the love of a good woman?

No. It’s that red-haired youth from Mannheim. Naked and curled into a fetal position. He stands up and runs a hand across his forehead. Buzzing and music fading now, New York Dolls chanting: “Who are the Mystery Girls? Who are the Mystery Girls? Who are the Mystery Girls?”

Wo sind wir?” youth asks in German.

The woman is embarrassed and fumbles for her robe. “Who are you?”

Amerika?”

“Yes.” She stands, cheeks still pink with sex-flush. “This is America. But where did you come from?”

“I,” he fumbles for the English. “I am from Mannheim, Germany. I have make the Buzz. I am Uli.” Naked, but self-assured, Uli holds his hand out.

“Lola. Lola Schmid.” Gingerly she takes his hand. “But why have you done this? And how?”

Uli looks down at himself. “Do you have some jeans?”

“Yes …” She hands him the pair she was wearing yesterday. He wriggles into them, then slips on her discarded tube-top as well. He picks up one of her lipsticks and leans close to the mirror on her dresser.

Lola goes to her closet, turns her back to Uli and puts on a dress. Shot of inviting ass framed by black garter-straps. Then swish the dress is on, a light summer dress with little stars and nebulae printed yellow on white.

Cut to Uli and Lola having breakfast in Lola’s kitchen. In her clothes, and with his face made up, he looks…unsettling. A punky bachelor girl. He is talking, haltingly, and with many fluid hand-gestures.

“I have all the time been looking for the absolute rock. I snipped from here and there the all-best pieces and folded up mixed.” He meshes his fingers to illustrate. “So it was all right. It went. But always I was still feeling something missing.”

“Where did you find it, then?” Lola’s manner is bright, yet distant. You sense that she no longer quite believes in the reality unfolding around her.

“I was reading in a magazine that someone had the idea of treating turned antiquities as noise-plates.” His measured eyes stare at her, looking to see if she understands. One eye is blue, one green.

Lola shakes her head and Uli tries again. “I robbed an Egyptian vase from the museum.” He picks up an empty juice-glass and turns it on its side. As he continues talking, he rolls the glass with one hand and touches it delicately with a pencil. “There was a little groove ringed around and around. The Egyptian worker a long time ago made noise and his knife trembled. My phonographic stylus turned the trembling back into voice. A song not his. A very strange song.”

Uli falls silent. Lola finds and lights a cigarette. Finally Uli continues.

“I whited-out…and yet here I am back. I think everyone will melt into light and everyone will come back. We all must tour the Hall of the Martian Kings.”

“I don’t want to. Sex is better. And why do you speak of Martians?”

“It was like this. I mixed the sounds together. It stacked up and became too big. From the window out I must go. And this is the surprising point, that I never hit the street. Instead …

Wah-wah-wah and melt to flashback.

Uli-eye view of falling towards street. Neatly arranged German cobblestones rushing up at you. A dog gazing up too surprised to run. Wild, high buzzing.

Suddenly a section of the cobblestones swings open like two double doors. Blinding light streams out and you fall through the street and into the light. Everything is glowing from ultraviolet on up to X-ray-colored. Also an on/off strobing in the film here, giving things red jumpy edges.

The music-loops are subtracted from the buzzing and now you hear only the pure, solemn twitter of the Martian death-song. Camera dollies along the endless bright corridor. Huge translucent statues of scarab-beetles line the sides like suits of armor. The floor is tessellated in snaky curves, there are doors doors doors.

You see Uli’s hand reach out and turn a doorknob, then whiiisssk! Back in Lola’s kitchen.

“The song from the vase,” Uli is saying, “It is perhaps the soul of the Martian civilization. We are free now to go in and out from door to door.”

Lola shakes her head. “Not me.”

Cut. Lola’s bed, sunset. The buzzing is building. Lola is on all fours, wearing only the garter belt. Uli is crouched behind her, his hand spreading her cheeks, his face pressed into her crack. She moans and pushes back.

Wild, high buzzing closer now. Uli kneels and we see Lola’s sweet, inviting asshole puckered out like Clara Bow’s mouth. Uli rubs spit on his long white cock and drives it in, holding her hips and pulling her against him. They come, screaming. The buzzing fades.

Cut. Dawn. Uli sleeping in Lola’s bed. A shaft of sunlight flicks onto the wall. Faint buzzing. Lola sits up with a grunt of fear. Moving quickly, she turns and squats over Uli’s face, rubbing her cunt against his slack features. He half wakes.

“Go gone, Lola. Back to the Hall is best.”

No!” She is kneeling over his mouth, naked, facing the camera. “Do it, Uli! Do it to me!” He is passive, uninterested.

Lola mashes her breasts with her left hand, rubs her clitoris with two fingers of her right. The buzzing is louder and louder.

“More,” Lola moans, “It’s not enough. You’ve got to …”

She begins to piss. This is enough. Her face puffs and glazes and she comes, taking some of the buzzing into Linton Kwesi Johnson: “Smash their brains in, smash their brains in, smash their brains in.”

But Uli…Uli lets the sound take him away again; he’s a hissing white mound at the foot of the bed. Once again, as with Professor Akwell, the light dims and re-forms into a new shape …”Baby it’s you, baby it’s you, baby it’s you.”

Enjoy yourself.


Note on “Buzz”

Written in Spring, 1981.

New Blood, December, 1981.

New Blood was a magazine run by Michael Wojczuk and Niko Murray out of Boulder, Colorado. I met them in the summer of 1981 when I had a two-week gig giving a short course at the Naropa Institute of Boulder. New Blood always had a vigorous punky feel to it, and I was happy to have two of my stories in their pages. It was great in Boulder—I got to take a hot tub with Allen Ginsberg, smoke pot with Gregory Corso, and give a copy of White Light to William Burroughs.

“Buzz” is the most cyberpunk of my early stories. My wife and I really did see Elvis Costello play in Mannheim, by the way, it wasn’t far from Heidelberg.

I took the scientific idea for “Buzz” from Peter K. Lewin, “Preliminary Studies in the Extraction of Human Sounds Engraved Accidentally into Ancient Vessels,” Speculations in Science And Technology, #3, August, 1980.


To see what Rudy is up to these days, check out his blog at www.rudyrucker.com/blog