Richard Powers’ “ Modulation” is about a mysterious, unhackablemusicvirus that is taking over and controlling the minds of the people it comes in contact with.
Out of nowhere this virus comes about and starts to spread vigorously through cyberspace, eating up computer software systems around the world. Not only is this virus spreading to computer systems and to data bases, but it starts spreading through people’s minds. Toshi, Marta, Jan, and Mitchell are the main characters in this story and all are unified throughout by this music virus. Powers tells how each character deals with the virus and how it affects them internally. Toshi, thrilled off of hacking through cyberspace, finally met his match when the RIAA hired him to work for their company. They thought by hiring the man that hacked through their system could defeat such a virus as this one. Toshi, in awe by this unknown music virus, is being beaten internally because it is the one thing he himself cannot beat, but at the same time this scares him because he does not know what it is capable of.
The virus was something Toshi had never seen or heard before. It was a new type of music, so haunting and powerful that it imbedded inside his brain. Marta, a reporter reporting on the war in Iraq, hears this catchy tune she had never heard before. It sticks in her head as if it was like an “ earworm” of some sort. This tune she keeps hearing is like a sickness she cannot get rid of. It starts eating at her mind like a virus eats at a computer hard drive. The only way Marta is at ease is when she hears the catchy tune again.
The music virus not only sickens her, but also relieves her; making the tune the perfect medication. Not only is it a virus trying to destroy, but it also serves as a firewall against itself. Jan, a recently retired music professor, is searching for something he has never heard before. He wants something new and reinvented to offer society so he can change how people look at music. He believes all music should be free and his life passion is discovering world music. As soon as he hears the music virus he knows it is what he had been searching for. This tune was so refined and new, he had never heard such a tune before.
After listening to this he knew his lifelong goal had been met. His search for a new and different type of music had been complete. He could now die a happy man. On another note, Mitchell, a music composer, found himself threatened by the music virus. His compositions were starting to sound like the infamous tune. No matter what he did he could not get the catchy tune out of his head. His performance was in danger as he could not produce anything but what was ingrained in his mind by the virus.
He soon realizes he can use this threat as an opportunity to achieve greatness in his compositions and as a composer. All of the characters that Powers uses in his short story are unified by this sick, unhackable music virus that has only one motive: to spread. Each character deals with the virus to the best of their ability and tries not to let this innovative type of music control and get the best of them in times of vulnerability. Powers tells the readers how each character in the story deals with the music virus, how it affects them internally and how they try to overcome it.