March 25, 2009 at 8:41 am | Posted in The Knave | Leave a comment

A xylophone (also spelled zylophone by those who don’t care how wurds ahr speld) is a percussion instrument similar to the piano, but rather than using a keyboard to cause hammers to strike metal strings, the player uses two small mallets to strike graduated lengths of wood (not to be confused with the metallophone, which uses metal bars and is exclusively used by robots and toddlers having temper tantrums).  Formed from the Greek roots xylo- meaning “wood” and -phone meaning “sound”, the xylophone was originally invented to answer the age old question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? 


4000 years ago this question occurred to the Chinese Emperor Shao Kang, the sixth ruler of the Xia Dynasty.  He had recently restored the dynasty by defeating the tyrannical Han Zhuo and his sons Han Jiao and Han Yi (a third son, Han Solo, was busy in a galaxy far, far away, worrying whether or not the actor cast to play him in his biopic could truly capture his Chinese-ness—ultimately he decided that since the film was not to be made until a long, long time hence, he would have plenty of opportunities to convince the Hollywood studios that an Asian could be the leading man in an action film even if there wasn’t going to be any kung fu).  The emperor was remembering all of the good times he had spent with his father Si Xiang, who had died prior to Shao Kang’s birth.  His minister, Mi, was visiting him in the city of Shangqiu and asked him if he remembered his father’s fondness for asking questions that wasted everybody’s time. Shao Kang did remember and decided to pay homage to his ancestor by finally answering one of his dad’s inane questions.


For the next five years, Shao Kang ordered his army to pursue various strategies. One contingent would go into forests, cut down trees and run away very fast.  Another group would spread themselves throughout a forest, waiting for a tree to fall, while pretending not to actually be there.  A third group attempted to teach monkeys to cut down trees and report the results, but the answer was always a combination of feces and masturbation.  Another attempt turned out even more disastrously when the solders attempted the same training with tigers, especially when they decided withholding food from the animals would be a good training technique.  Eventually, all of this became a drain on the imperial coffers and so Shao Kang ordered a smaller, cheaper way be found to conduct the search for the answer to the ultimate question of sound, a tree, and if the latter falling makes the former even when no one is around to hear it.


Since trees are made of wood, wooden bars of various sizes were mounted on a frame to represent trees.  Falling is basically equivalent to hitting something, namely the ground, so this was replaced by the use of mallets (it had been quickly discovered that smashing the mounted wooden bars on the floor and then asking for more was not productive).  The end result was the xylophone.  Shao Kang decreed that the different pitches produced by the instrument must logically be the sounds that would be heard if trees of various heights fell in the woods with no one around to hear them.  This was proven by the fact that whenever anyone was around to hear a tree fall in the woods, it never ever sounded like a xylophone.  The question answered once and for all, Shao Kang finished out his reign and the world did not waste its time on such nonsense again until the 18th Century A.C.E. when a ponce named George Berkeley brought it up during a nasty whiskey drunk, right before excusing himself to make sweet love to a sheep. – The Knave

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