Self Modulation

Upon leaving her home studio, which, to be honest, was a walk-in closet, one side still taken up by clothes, Alison found her boyfriend Dylan weaving a placemat out of a bundle of her blue and yellow patch cables.

She snatched it out of his hands. “I’ve been looking for those.”

“What are you doing? I wasn’t finished.”

Dylan hadn’t showered since declaring he was using self isolation to finally wean his body off its dependency on soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste, and dental floss.

“What about toilet paper?” Alison had suggested. “That’s a kind of floss, isn’t it?”

That was ten days ago. Thankfully, he had ignored her quip about the toilet paper. However, after the fourth day he had started promising that at any moment his increasing body odour would fade away as the pH level of his skin returned to its natural level and healthy microbes re-colonised his crevices. That hadn’t happened.

“Perhaps you need to wean your body off beer and hot pockets?” Alison had said in the hope that change might lead to him stinking less and, maybe, weighing less. He’d really packed on the pounds since he started working from home.

“I can’t. I bought sixteen cases of Corona when they slashed the price, and the chest freezer is still full of boxes and boxes of high protein fajita hot pockets.”

He was living on the things and they were adding a hint of cumin to the funk a straight water shower couldn’t wash away. Sleeping next to him was like sleeping downwind from a Taco Bell dumpster.

“Why can’t you let me finish the placemat?”

“Because I need the cables. Haven’t you got work to do?”

“Nah. I’ve updated the spreadsheet. I’m free until Wednesday.”

Alison went back to her closet-studio, unweaving the cables, planning in her head which modules she needed to patch in to get the effect she wanted.

She sat on the upholstered stool in front of her modular synthesizer. It was a grid of knobs, meters and sockets, with multi-coloured patch cords running in all directions, carrying signals between the modules that created and controlled the soundscape she was building.

Touching with a toe a single key on the small keyboard on the floor at her feet, a cascade of sound spilled out of the speakers dangling from the hanger rod above the synthesizer. With the wash of sound came a wave of stink.

“That’s not bad,” said Dylan, squeezing in beside her, a beer in one hand, the remains of a hot pocket in the other. “What’s this knob do?”

He stuffed the last of the hot pocket in his mouth and reached out between the cables to twist a random knob back and forth. A sprinkle of notes, like glass bells, rose and fell.

“That’s quite nice, isn’t it?”

She slapped his greasy hand away. “That’s because I built it that way.”

“Ah. Where’s this meant to go?”

He grabbed a cable dangling from a vintage signal generator and held up the silver jack at its end.

“That is going…”

“How about here? Hey? Watch this?”

He used the end of the jacket to lift up his t-shirt, not wanting to risk spilling his beer, revealing his hairy belly and the deep pit of his navel.

“God no! Not my cable!”

He plunged the tip of the jack into his navel. It disappeared up to the plastic cuff. He released it and it stayed in place.

“Ta-da!” he said proudly and took a swig of beer.

The sounds changed, shifted deeper, their timbre softened. The stench of unshowered man-child, the cumin, the oniony musk, was replaced with a floral scent that sawtoothed between jasmine and honeysuckle.

“Fascinating,” said Alison, and deftly patched in another module. As she turned the knobs on its faceplate the music disappeared and Dylan expanded, bumping his head against the ceiling, nearly pushing her off the stool. She turned the knob the other way and he shrank back to normal height, then kept shrinking.

“I’m feeling a bit weird,” he said. “Maybe I should take this out…”

She slapped his hand away from the cable and returned him to what seemed to be normal size.

“Just one more second,” she said, and patched in an octave doubler. A second Dylan appeared, overlapping the first. She adjusted knobs and sliders until he stood next to the original.


She pulled the cables out of their navels and the music returned, the smell of Dylan along with it, now doubly strong.

“This soundscape is quite intriguing,” said the new Dylan in a voice that was deep and resonant. “It’s like a Philip Glass composition folded in upon itself.”

Alison blushed. It was the nicest thing a Dylan, or anyone, had ever said about her music.

“What the heck am I talking about?” said the original Dylan, looking at his beer like it was to blame.

New Dylan sniffed the air and then his armpit.

“I think the terrible smell in this room is me. I must go shower. And when I return you must walk me through your composition process, and this,” he swept his arm over Alison’s synthesizer, “astounding contraption.”

He pushed past old Dylan and left the closet. Old Dylan followed him, raising his beer.

“Hold up!” he called. “Haven’t you heard about self-cleansing?”