Concerto in Four Movements.

I did a crazy project for my Music Theory 3 final in college. It has become quite famous/imfamous. I happened upon this great retelling of the story told by an eyewitness, Curtis Gilbert. Here’s what he had to say:


Extended Mac Memories (Taking the shape of a long story):
Go into the men’s bathroom in Macalester’s music department. Open the door to stall number two. There, etched in the stone slab wall is a phrase that will mean very little to most people. But I know what it means. It says I was there when N8 puked. I wasn t the one who defaced the toilet stall, but I was there when Nate “N8” Duke puked…. in class… on purpose.

The class was Music Theory III — contemporary theory — and the reason was… Well, I’m not sure anyone could answer that, probably not even N8, himself. But I can tell you what I saw.

The assignment was to write a piece of experimental music. If there were any guidelines, I don’t remember what they were. Most of us wrote something comprised of weird noises, dissonant harmonies, funny time signatures and the like. It wasn’t the kind of stuff you’d tap your foot to, and I’d wager that no one in the class remembers their own composition, let alone anyone else’s, except of course N8’s.

N8, who graduated a year before us and may very well still spell his name like that, performed solo that day. His piece was in four movements, each labeled with a single word starting with the letter ‘B.’

Movement 1 – Board: “Board” was for keyboard, a little battery-powered Casio with a Latin-flavored demonstration tune. Press a button and the keyboard would begin playing the cheerful bosa nova in an endless loop. N8 entered the classroom, set the keyboard on a table in front of him and pressed the button. The demo began to play. This concluded the first movement.

Movement 2 – Bananas: N8 produced a bunch of bananas, five or so, from a brown paper sack at his feet. One by one, he peeled and devoured them. All five were gone in under two minutes. So ended the second movement.

Movement 3 – Beer: At this point in the story, it’s important to note that N8 did not drink alcohol. He was a straight-edge heavy metal kid from Indiana, and so in Movement Three, N8 produced from his bag one six-pack of O’Doul’s non-alcoholic beer. N8 cracked the first O’Doul’s, tipped his head back and downed it. He paused, took a breath and opened a second one. It was gone like the first. N8 did not look well. He opened beer number three and put the can to his lips. He didn’t drink. He realized that Movement Three would have to end prematurely.

Movement 4 – Bile: N8 picked up the nearest wastebasket, and it came in a rush. The board chirped its merry tune as the bananas and beer spilled out in a smooth, foamy milk-white column. The fourth movement was over, and with it, the piece.

N8 took his seat, and we discussed the composition. Our professor said it reminded her of a commentary on bulimia. I remarked that the vomit wasn’t nearly as gross-looking as it might have been. I think I even said it was “pretty.” N8 got a ‘B’ on the assignment. As far as I know, he has not given an encore performance.


I wrote him the following email to clear a few things up:


1. I actually got an A on the project. I wrote out sheet music for this piece which consisted of four measures. A whole note for “board” in the first, two whole notes for “board” and “bananas” in the second, three whole notes for “board”, “bananas”, and “beer”, and four whole notes for “board”, “bananas”, “beer”, and “bile”. I also remember being called into Jan Gilbert’s “office” to discuss my piece. She told me that a lot of other profs were very angry about the whole thing and they they would have failed me. She also asked me if I’d like to tour around to elementary schools and perform the piece to raise awareness for anorexia. Seriously. I told her that if she set it up, I’d do it…but she never got back to me.

2. I have yet to perform the peice again. However, I was approached by a few mac students and asked if they might perform it at a talent show. I said yes. Click here and scroll down to the bottom.

Another funny thing is that my now former roommate was at a party talking it up with a few other folk, and they got to talking about crazy stories from college. She hear this story about a guy puking for a music class and couldn’t wait to come home and tell me all about it. She was pretty excited to hear that not only was I the one in the story, but I also had it on video. Anyone who would like to watch it is more than welcome to either a) come over to my place or b) help me transfer a VHS tape into some sort of file that I can post on youtube.


2 Responses to “Concerto in Four Movements.”

  1. Brie Says:

    I can’t help you get it onto your machine, but this is a plea for anyone who can: if anything ever needed to be on YouTube, it is this video.

    Your response to Jan as she says how you addressed the concepts of bulimia was one of the more incredible moments of my life.

  2. n8duke Says:

    Thanks, Brie….Curtis may have a lead on getting this up on youtube. Keep ’em crossed.

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