The Engagement Room – Chapter 2 – Shaman Balagan

Link To Chapter 1

* Balagan – Yiddish word for chaos, disorder.

Ron and Micha were walking on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv.

Micha was excited: “We’ve made some good numbers on the last Engagement Room session, three thousand users watching the feed live, a shit load of comments and interactions… more than a hundred requests for the next session…,” he wiped the sweat off his forehead.

“We’ve had fans send out proof of purchase of the last single, so we can toss a random six for the next time.  You know Ron, you should be a bit more active,  when you’re in the room live and online, engage with the fans, people really dig this interaction shit in virtual reality…”

“I’ve got a great idea,” Ron said. “While we’re at it, we should all take off our clothes and start having sex.  Imagine what that will do to our visualizations….”

“Yeah yeah…very funny…,”  Micha was used to this kind of sarcasm. “You know, you are really underestimating this platform, this thing is getting big, and it’s doing you some real good, so don’t  take this lightly…”   

“I am not underestimating it, bro. I just think that as an artist and a musician my time is better spent working on my music, rather than meeting virtual assholes on the internet.”

“Yeah, well. Why don’t you just take your time machine and go back to the seventies where you could lock yourself up in the studio at the label’s expense and…”   Micha went on his usual rant  –  the state of the industry and the evolving challenges, unsustainable practices, bla bla bla.

It was a hot early summer day in Tel Aviv, the boulevard was crowded, and life was good. Ron was on the verge of the big break, after a few European and world tours, constantly performing and producing.

They arrived at the venue.  “Don’t forget to speak about the Engagement Room lottery during the concert,” Micha said. “We want some local faces in there if possible.”

Ron went to get the soundcheck started. He and the band decided to make some changes to the running order, to leave more room for improvisation.

Night came and the venue was packed. A surreal energy permeated the club. The musicians were hyped and feeling great. The first half of the concert just raced through time and felt like an instant. The band was sweating and banging hard on stage, the crowd was singing all the songs and Ron was on fire. On the middle eight of the song “Frantik” they created a rhythm break for a guitar solo, and Ron barged in like a hurricane. The frets were like butter under his fingers, the bendings lifted him to ecstasy, and each note was epic and melodic like it was destiny to pluck each tune in perfect harmonic tension.

A massive battery of lights projected a strong white shower on him, while the band gradually faded out and he was playing alone in his planned guitar solo break. Feeling the blues and banging on a single bent note, his eyes became used to the light and he felt more and more immersed in it. The crowd and stage started to fade away, and his echoing guitar note became blurred and lingered in the background, whiteness warped him and a familiar vision slowly emerged.

He was in the desert again, the same Chihuahuan desert from the Engagement Room yesterday’s session. Four empty chairs were there. On his right side, the black headed girl messing with the plant. Next to her, still on those funny beach chairs, was a man in his forties. At a first glance, the looked like a cowboy, because of the hat he was wearing. Yet his outfit was a collage of cultural elements: Italian boots, Bavarian leather pants, a Soviet army jacket, complete with decorations and war medals, and an American cowboy hat.  

In front of him was some sort of a model. A big diapason, like a metal fork, was stuck in the ground. Around him, small metal balls were circulating in a gravitational movement, little copper tubes finding place amid them, in a slow, random looking dance. The multicultural cowboy was the conductor of this bizarre dance, every slow movement of his, every gesture, every wave of his hand influenced the energy flow of his totem, and the expression of his face revealed his enthusiasm and concentration, a mixture of calm and oppressed rage. He and the girl seemed comfortable with one another, each being at peace with the presence of the other.

Ron’s gradual intrusion remained unnoticed at first, but then, a slight movement of the head showed that the cowboy became aware of his presence. He turned slowly and his familiar face and friendly eyes were welcoming and warm. A sense of chaos waved through his totem, which he willingly allowed while studying the newcomer’s face. A sense of instability became present, and through the echo of his lingering guitar note, Ron could hear the cowboy speaking, without even opening his mouth:  “With fusion, death is only an adventure.”

Shirley stared at a glass filled with blue fluid and ice, some stupid cocktail the barman managed to convince her she liked. She was pissed at a colleague that sidelined her from a project she was supposed to lead.

“That bitch!  All that bullshit about data workflow not being part of production QC… I shouldn’t have trusted her from the start.”  Pissed as she was she just entered a venue on her way home, a place her friend Gil used to talk about. Staring at her drink, she could not ignore the unusual performance on stage. A man with a guitar in his hand, swinging back and forth like a disturbed child, his fingers producing a single annoying feedback, the rest of the band staring at him and each other with an uneasy glare.

Throughout a packed venue a dense crowd was seized by uncertainty and doubt. Living in a country so often plagued by violence and hate, they have embraced the cult of evasion, a religion of alcohol and oblivion, of drugs and hardcore. Yet even these tenacious warriors on their sacred path of distraction could not escape the collective feeling of despair that was cast upon them that night, having witnessed something gone terribly wrong.

  “Pssst….bro…you ok…?” Ron heard noises from behind him, the whiteness around him was dissolving, he was regaining consciousness. Being the pro he was, he quickly recovered. “One, two, three, four…” Drums and bass marked the break and the whole band was back on track.

Later in the dressing room, Ron was alone, packing his stuff. It was a quick post gig, no fans no friends no bullshit. The musicians went on to party somewhere, Ron wasn’t in the mood and no one insisted. Nobody talked about his fugue state, but he could understand from the looks that his mental health was being questioned. He didn’t give a fuck. He just wanted to get out of there. Funny enough, his manager was still there.

“Hey!”… he came through the door, slightly drunk, with that same puzzled look on his face, that sort of ‘how crazy are you’ look…

“Hey…” Ron responded, not in the mood to chat. “I’m out… see you…”

“Don’t forget the Engagement Room tomorrow….” Micha said, “I’m coming to pick you up at eight thirty…”

“Pick me up?” Ron was confused, “why can’t I do it from home, like last time?”

“This is a more complex session, we’re going to a special virtual reality installment out of town…”


Link To Chapter 1