We are all looking at each other. It’s a bit awkward. There is a lot of water on the floor and the piano is still smoking. Last year I saw the Royal Philharmonic Bot Orchestra and they were fantastic. This is a much smaller affair. Just two ‘musicians’, and one technician to make it all work properly. I do feel sorry for him.
It started well, the piano and the cello-bot -is that what its called-I can never remember-at first they were called Bot-a cello’s I’m sure-but that was copyright-there was a lawsuit. Anyway the concert started with the Cello-bot and the piano-which did not have a bot but simply had some fancy software making it work- in time. It was lovely, although I always feel bot-music or music-bots or whatever they are called, lack the feeling of real humans playing. Mostly because real humans can stuff it up slightly and you would never know. If a bot goes a bit wrong, everything stops and they fix it and start again. It can make for a very long concert. Anyway it was going well and the tech sat there looking at his device and feeling, I would say from the smirk on his face, quite pleased with himself.
But about half way through, the cello-bot got stuck. It just stuck on the one note and kept playing it. It took me at least 4 beats to notice and I was one of the first. I don’t think there are any music connoisseurs left, everyone does electronic now. It is very expensive to buy and upkeep muso-bots, so I don’t blame anyone. It just got stuck on the one note, and then the noise became a sort of wheeze. As I said, being honest I am not sure many of us here know much about music, but it definitely wasn’t right. He was quite quick to come and fix it but unfortunately the piano played on and from that moment the piano and cello were out of sync. He tried to fix it using the lap top but it made it worse. The piano got faster. The cello got slower. It is very difficult to program this stuff unless you really know what you are doing. He admitted at the start he was a tech and not a musician. Perhaps I should have left then. I didn’t.
Anyway we all sat there and pretended not to notice as they were only a bit out of sync. Then the piano developed a small flame-which is a fancy way of saying, some of the wires caught fire at one end. It had been playing too fast and overheated. There was a trail of smoke and then- for a short time, a slightly alarming larger flame. That, of course triggered the sprinklers-water poured from the ceiling. Fortunately the audience didn’t get wet but the piano and the cello did and so did the floor. We, the audience, were sat up on a row of wooden benches-so novel these concerts-wooden benches. They were sat on some wooden tiers about 10 rows high at the highest point.
Once when a musician used to catch fire-wait no-that never happened. I don’t recall ever being at a concert where the musician caught fire. Now with bots-it does happen. What I was going to say was that once when a musician caught fire it wouldn’t have mattered but of course it would have, but in a very different way. Now they are bots and the bots are all plugged into the electricity. So there is the combination of water and electricity on the floor. And you can see electricity arcing around the bots, you can hear crackles and see sparks and it is not a good thing. Kind of like a low key light show at an old style concert but with an added element of danger.
Its fortunate the seating is raised and the under bits made of wood, although I think wet wood is a conductor so we are not completely safe. Tech-guy meanwhile is standing in the far corner on the stair, the first step of which is suspended fortuitously up off the floor. The cello-bot meanwhile plays on for a bit making a sort of whiny sound until there are some more sparks and it dies, ensuring there is definitely electrical current all over the water on that floor. Actually it looks like the whole unit might be alive with electricity. Meanwhile the piano is glowing slightly redder than anyone is comfortable with. At least the sprinklers have stopped working. We all sit quietly looking at each other. Not sure what to do. Tech guy is further away from us on the stairs over there, looking nervously at his device as if it will tell him the next course of action.
Then he is shouting at us not to move, he will call the fire brigade to rescue us. None of us want to walk out through the thin film of water that is covering quite a bit of the floor. But we can also see an escape route if we climb down the side of the seating. It looks doable. There is no water covering the floor to the side of the seating so we probably could sneak out. But it’s too late.
We can hear the sirens and I know we are all thinking the same thing. Let it be human fire squaddies that turn up. Unfortunately there are only two human fire squad members left in London and most of their time is spent on social media or on ‘paperwork’ although no paper is involved anymore.
Its unfortunate but amusing-we get fire bots. They come running in and ‘assess’ the situation. When I say ‘running’, I mean they ‘trundle’ in. Budget cuts mean low speed fire squads. There are four bots trundling along on wheels. They are like bins on wheels, awfully efficient when they run at full speed, but these all look low on charge because charging a fire unit is expensive. They seem to have got the situation right and you can see them deploying ladders between them so that we can walk across and exit. Each ladder plugs into the bot in front of it, like little lego men, all interconnected. Its not ideal though. Everybody is looking at everybody else, not all of us are up to this kind of ladder expedition and the ladders look a little flimsy.
Its times like this that my faith in humanity is restored. One very brave man opts to take the bot ladders so the rest of us don’t have to. The truth is the ladders don’t quite reach to the edge of the seating so he will have to jump, but he looks up to the job. Another woman examines the water and she is prepared to be the first to jump down and make contact with the floor. She jumps and lands easily and is not electrocuted. The floor is dry where the audience is sitting. The piano continues to glow but it is more orange than red. I don’t know if that is good or bad. The cello-bot crackles and is slumping forward.
The man jumps on to the bot ladder and we all watch as it shudders underneath his weight. Really I am lighter than he is and should have done it but I need to get back from my lunch hour. He will be there pretending to need the fire bots until everyone else is evacuated. He pretends to be in difficulty while others help everyone to climb down to where the first woman is and exit safely. I help a few people and then leave. I am ashamed to say we left the organiser. I assume he got out somehow. The man on the bot-ladder pretends to be struggling and almost falls off. I can’t help thinking he must have once worked in the theatre, he is making such a good job of being rescued. I want to ask for his number but now is not the time. He is just getting over the top of the first bot onto the second bot ladder and it seems inappropriate.
In the background the piano continues to glow and the cello-bot to crackle. It really never was like this in the past, these lunch time concerts used to be moments of peace and tranquillity. Next time I will remember to wear more comfortable clothes. On social media we all said how wonderful the concert was because you have to don’t you, otherwise they sue.