Protagonist Musicians in SF, pt.8

TITLE: City of Dark Magic

AUTHOR: Magnus Flyte

YEAR: 2012


YES?—action takes place in the now, and there is neither advanced technology, nor any parts of the present that we wouldn’t recognize. It is quite speculative, as the present tries to come to turns with the science of the past, and how it still seems to work. Ultimately, the reference to Prague as the “city of dark magic” is potentially explaining because of miniature-yet-local time warps.

After her mentor dies mysteriously in Prague while studying Beethoven-related manuscripts and letters, Sarah Weston, a graduate student in musicology as well as a pianist, travels to Prague to complete her mentor’s work, to figure out why he died, and to try to avoid death herself. Along the way, she meets a dwarf who may have been Tycho Brahe’s assisstant, unocvers who Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved” really was, and falls in love with the heir to the throne of the royal house of Prague. She also comes to experience a drug that allows one to experience time in layers based upon whatever location she’s in, and as such witnesses the dealings of former occupants and passers-through, including performances by Beethoven and experiments by Brahe. She also manages to expose the nefarious plottings of a traitorous and murderous U.S. Senator with Presidential aspirations.

YES, great musical descriptions regarding technique, dynamics, harmonies, ensemble skills, tempi, etc. Sarah Weston is a teacher as well, giving lessons to a young and blind piano prodigy. In fact, Weston’s kind of musicianship (ear training, manuscript studies, paper writing, exhibit preparation) is presented in stark relief to that of the prodigy, who just seems to have unnatural and innate abilities. Part of the backdrop is the opening of a museum dedicated to the Royal collection, and Weston meets experts in the fields of weaponry, fashion, fabrics, blah blah blah, and the fact that the author chooses Weston above the the others as the focal point, elevates Music to my mind. 

Someone with a good ear, with heightened perceptual abilities. Someone whose typical day-to-day experiences are the connection of old papers to current people. Someone who accepts the magical yet also sets their noise to the grind-stone as a matter of course.  Beethoven is the link between Brahe and the present, so why not a musicologist?    It is also great that the musician-protagonist has multiple and complicated facets to her character.

YES, not pure SF, but there is enough science, and a lot of throwing different time periods into relief. Reads really quickly and easily—there’s a lot of humor, and a lot of sex, as well as a race against the clock within a plot of evil intrigue. Kind of like Dan Brown, perhaps, but better, funnier, and more believable.
© 2016 Peter J. Evans, theorist

Protagonist Musicians in SF, pt.7

TITLE: The Glass Harmonica
AUTHOR: Louise Marley
YEAR: 2000

YES—a bit in the future (2018) advances in medical technology, transportation, large-scale live-stream broadcasting. concert-hall projections and sound manipulation as a kind of medical therapy.

There are two young women who play the glass harmonica, Eilish (early teens?) who works with Benjamin Franklin in developing and promoting the instrument in London, 1760s, and Erin (mid-20s?) who plays a modern version of the instrument professionally to much acclaim, often playing compositions by her brother in the U.S. and England, 2018.  In the 1760s Eilish goes mad and dies, most likely due to lead poisoning.  She then ‘haunts’ the Erin, who then tries to figure out who the girl from the 1760s was.  At the same time, Erin’s brother Charlie, tries to cure his paralyzed legs via new aural therapy, where patients align psycho-acoustic beats to stimulate the body to rejuvenate damaged nerves.

YES, great musical descriptions regarding technique, dynamics, harmonies, ensemble skills, tempi, etc., mostly though Erin’s narrative.  Eilish has a good memory for tunes, advises Franklin regarding intonation, and also teaches a professional harpsichordist how to play the glass harmonica.

It’s all about the vibrations, stupid.  They account for the glass harmonica ethereal tone, (which was long rumored to drive people to madness if exposed to it for too long), how Eilish is able to haunt Erin, and how Charlie is eventually able to heal.  Plus being a musician opens differing doors for each of the protagonists—Eilish goes from being a impoverished waif to a respected member of Franklin’s household, while Erin can fly across the Atlantic at will, get access to different concert halls and gets a chance to play what we suppose if Eilish’s instrument though it is part of a museum exhibit.

YES, though listed in my library as “Young-Adult” this was quite an engaging read, well-written, well-aced, well-researched

© 2016 Peter J. Evans, theorist

Protagonist Musicians in SF, pt.6

TITLE: Year Zero
AUTHOR: Rob Reid
YEAR: 2012

YES—Essentially an alien contact story, with interfering aliens and their technology, methods of instantly moving from one part of the galaxy to another, life-like holographic projections, aliens of strange design and proportions, etc.

The re-hashed idea that Aliens are overwhelmed by the Music of Earth, but the twist for this plot is that they owe us Royalties for billions of unliscensed plays throughout the perpetuity of the known universe.

No, there are no musician-protagonists, though bands and tunes of varying degrees of popularity are referenced. The protagonist is name Nick Carter.  The two alien interlopers are named Carly and Frampton, if that helps

Musicians are the generators of the commodity in question, and as such are not to be given a place in the story.

NO, though parts are funny, it reads largely as a thought-experiment for intellectual-property lawyers, full of the requisite inside jokes and navel-gazings, and as such can be skipped. Michael Gruber’s The Book of Air and Shadows is much more successful, and entertaining, in this regard. Though promoted as such, the humor and absurdity of this book come nowhere near the levels and zaniness of Douglas Adams.

© 2016 Peter J. Evans, theorist

Harold in Italy as a precursor to Film Noir

idée fixe
French cantus firmus

Harold is simple, unchanging, an innocent

am I the subject am I the observer

He witnesses a procession of Pilgrims
He witnesses a lover’s Serenade
He witnesses an Orgy of the Brigands
(nudge, nudge, wink, wink)

I am the subject I am the observer

As if that’s not proof enough, here’s videographic evidence

© 2016 Peter J. Evans, theorist

…after reading Part II of Don Quixote

…after reading Part II of Don Quixote

The first part is more widely known, with the famous adventures of the windmills, galley prisoners, wineskins, Sancho being tossed in the air…

The second book, I think, is less well known, the adventures less striking, the misdeeds not so numerous, but it is perhaps more ‘modern’ in feel than the first.  DQ awakes in his sick-bed to find that someone has written a book about him! People he meets in the second part… know the first part!

A list, in a somewhat random order:

  • Happy 400th Anniversary!!!
    (originally published in 1615)
  • Governmental policy of deporting Muslims? (more below)
  • The "student" as the catalyst/final decider
  • The nobel class:
    • How cruel they can be!
    • They sure do have a lot of free time and unlimited resources!
  • What is it like to be an accidental pop phenom?
  • Oh, to be almost finished writing the sequel to your book, when you learn that some unknown author has done it for you already!
  • Who is the author?
  • Who is the book?

In Book 1, the reader sees DQ as a crazy guy, inventing impossible situations to replace the mundane reality, “through a glass darkly”
In Book 2, the reader sees situations foisted upon DQ, though since they are staged by Duke and Duchess (and not the byproduct of DQ’s imagination) they are quite real.

The puppet show in the early chapters is actually kind of a pre-figuring of the treatment by Duke and Duchess. One of the characters wrongly attacked in Book 1 comes back to ‘attack’ DQ via unkind representation on the mini-stage. DQ violently attacks the stage, perhaps in order to silence the critics and various other mis-representations. He is afforded no such luxury with Duke and Duchess, who effectively never allow his third sally to ever get going.

Sancho Panza’s governance actually seems quite effective, even though it’s set up so that he should fall on his face. Attempts to humiliate Sancho are mean-spirited with considerable egg-on-the-face.

Of particular poignance is when Sancho meets Ricote, a Moorish man from his hometown who was forced to flee due to religious persecution.  Later, we learn that this man’s daughter, Ana Felix, is referred to herself as Christian Moorish and is to marry a Christian, with approval from her father, a kind of not-too-subtle “love conquers all” subtext.

In that regard, it is fascinating that Cervantes chooses Cide Hamete Benegeli as a lens through which to refract DQ… Is Cervantes hiding behind a foreigner, deflecting responsibility? Is the Moorish source wiser than the Castilian translator?  A Spanish treasure is actually of Moorish provenance?  

Two more things…

  • a la Tristram Shandy—will we ever know what happened in the Cave of Montesinos? DQ promises that he will tell Sancho (and us) later, but he never does…
  • a la Monty Python’s Cheese Shop Sketch—DQ and Sancho are flustered by an innkeeper who says he’s got the best and most plentiful food, and that they simply need to request what they desire, but it turns out the possibilities are quite severely limited!

© 2016 Peter J. Evans, theorist (though this post was started in 2015, believe me!)

Protagonist Musicians in SF, pt.5

TITLE: Cemetery World
AUTHOR: Clifford D. Simak
YEAR: 1972

YES—non-terrestrial colonization, time travel, robots etc.

In the far future Earth has been relegated to the role of galactic Cemetery, but do people still live there? Fletcher Carson comes to try and capture the non-cemetery aspects of Earth for everyone to see, yet he runs afoul of the local authorities, gets chased by the local yokels, meets a girl, gets catapulted back and forth in time with the help of radioactively-activated super-ghouls, ummm…

NO, I was hoping for more from one who says he is a ‘compositor’, that is, one who makes compositions. Briefly described towards the beginning of the book, such compositions can be multi-media and multi-sensory events, meant to give an all-encompassing sense of a partciluar environment. As such, all he really does is have a grandiose idea to make the composition, then retrofits a machine to do all of the compositing for him once he arrives! The narrative veers off from there, and as such the compositing is never re-visited.

Hard to say, though perhaps Simak needed an idealistic dreamer with a vague reason for travelling and lots of free time as the protagonist. A businessman or scientist would not have put themslves into some of the binds the Carson finds himself in, nor would they have been open to most of the circumstances, or plot-driving decisions exhibited in the novel.

PERHAPS, not Simak’s strongest (cf. City) yet a good yarn, with some ineresting SF conceptualizations, though many would cringe at the corny lovestory. Reads quickly!

© 2015 Peter J. Evans, theorist

Protagonist Musicians in SF, part 4

TITLE: Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille
AUTHOR: Steven Brust
YEAR: 1990

YES—explosions, atomic  bombs, epidemiology, non-terrestrial colonization, time travel, etc.  There is also a Wild-West feel to the book, with most of the action (murders, bomb threats, shoot-outs, expository dialogue) being centered around the bar and its patrons. This is also reflected in the throwback weapons that the bar-folk arm themselves with, including revolvers, rifles, knives, etc.  As an additional anachronism, the bar-band specializes in Irish music!

Goodguys from the future devise a means to go back in time to try and find the rationale behind nuclear decimation of colonies by the Badguys.  The means is a bar that uses “hasn’t it always been there?” technology to blend in to the environs so the crew (and the house musicians) can both blend in and investigate.

YES-Protagonist plays the banjo, describes usages of different chords and scales, talks with others about instrumentation, phrase lengths, adjustments in vocal harmonies and tempos.

In terms of the unfolding of the plot, it’s good to have non-task specific people (compared to cooks, bartenders, etc.) with lots of free time in your group, allowing time and opportunity for socialization, intermingling, investigating, getting out into the local environs. Additionally, the musicians also attract other musicians as a kind of first contact. Eventually the Goodguys even grabb one from the Badguys when the shit starts to hit the fan. SPOILER: it turns out the our narrator-musician happens to be the lynchpin of the whole mission, in other words, the musician is actually the brains behind the scenes.

YES—Well writen, good use of characters, plot intrigue.  The writing has that 80s / 90s feel to it; not really cyberpunk, not really hard SF, not really post-PKD, and the action is pretty spread out, so a lot of the novel is people hanging out, playing music, making conversation, developing relationships, etc. This a good thing, as it acts as a foil for the last third of the novel where things start to get intense.

© 2015 Peter J. Evans, theorist

Zappa? …and Beyond!

For lack of a better word you could call Frank Zappa a


He made use of EVERYthing, all that came within reach.  In some ways he is a MAM dream come true.***

The seminal example is Lumpy Gravy, parts Varèse, Cage, Partch, R&B, surf music, theatre of the Absurd, concrète, électronique (and perhaps some Europeans too).

As a musical model, Zappa is great for teaching, as a demonstration of how influences can intertwine, how the rhizome can be noduled together, with great results and with great success.  However, the maximalists, having gathered together EVERYthing, leave little left for those who come after…

So, looking beyond Zappa, what comes next? What stones did Zappa unturn only slightly?

consider these examples:

1) “Promiscuous” from 1988

2)”Dumb All Over” from 1981

RAP, PUNK (?), POLITICS—were the Beastie Boys listening?

3) “Porn Wars” from 1985

COMPUTER MUSIC, SAMPLES, ASSEMBLAGE, POLITICAL, from senators to rock-stars. Was Public Enemy listening?

4) “Tinseltown Rebellion”

Is this PUNK? a commentary on LABELS? PASTICHE?

5) “Stairway to Heaven” (reggae/ska style!!) from 1988


Another thing to take from these examples is the ‘jump-cut’, that is the sudden changes in tempo, key, mood, timbre, instrumentation, with little respect for the traditional ‘cadence’. Often, such cuts were created in the studio, as was found on much of the second side of 1981’s You Are What You Is, cuts which were then re-learned and then performed live

ZAPPA through the 80s had thoughts on the stench of Jazz, the emptiness of 80s Americana in general.

On a different note, he seemed to have some interesting connections and influences with the American Hardcore-Punk Scene, specifically the Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys, Henry Rollins, the Butthole Surfers and the Minutemen.


Yet in other ways, since humor is the backbone for most of his musical deeds, most people tend to judge him by that “humor” and many find it wanting: too off-color, it cuts too deep—anger, homophobia, anti-feminism, the sexual mis-deeds of his musicians and road crew…

© 2014 Peter J. Evans, theorist

Protagonist Musicians in SF, pt. 3

TITLE: Soul Music
AUTHOR: Terry Pratchett
YEAR: 1994

If by ‘S’ you mean ‘Science’ then no, but if you mean ‘Speculative’ then yes.  Pratchett’s DiscWorld is a stripped down version of our own, allowing him to superimpose select aspects of our world over his own, with much irony and hilarity ensuing.

This book is too intricate to blogly-summarize it well.   The protagonist, Imp Y Celyn, is a harpist who works hard, yet dreams of making it Big Time.  He does achieve the big time, but seemingly only for magical reasons (such is the modis operandi of the DiscWorld novels) and spends the bulk of the novel trying to understand what he’s doing or how things are happening.  The magic attracts the attention of Death’s granddaughter, etc.

YES-then-KINDA-then-REALLY NO!!!  Protagonist starts as an actual musician (harpist) who gains stardom not by his efforts but rather via a magical guitar which unwittingly propels him to rock stardom. At the end of the book he has forgotten everything and is now an apprentice to the local fish and chips seller.

Having a musician become a music-dumb rock star deepens the irony quite severely.  Do stars have talent? What is it that makes them stars? Who makes them stars?  What does it mean  to be a star?  Do you need talent to be a star?  Does talent get in the way of being a start?  Do you have the star-making talent to be a star?

YES—Funny, apt, valid, witty—the arc of the love story is great! There’s just not much music going on, but in this ironic take on music industry, itinerant musicians and superstardom, that’s pretty much the point—the music gets lost in the hype…

© 2014 Peter J. Evans, theorist



Let’s work with this template—

1) — starting with THE TONIC—how far can it be prolonged?

The black arrow typically represents contrapuntal motion towards the dominant.  The repeat reminds us indeed that we do return to THE TONIC….  However, the move from V to iii is jarring, an unexpected ‘cadencing’, therefore perhaps it is not a cadencing at all!?!?!?The motion to the iii after the repeat forces the listener to re-evaluate the motion towards the Dominant—was it the arrival of THE DOMINANT, or rather an extension of THE TONIC? This is change-of-hearing is reflected by the then-added green arrow and the underlying TONIC bracket.

2) — iii is then defined and re-affirmed by its dominant

but is it THE PREDOMINANT?  Here it certainly looks so…

3) — ending with THE DOMINANT—how far can it be prolonged?

Given the visual evidence (just the clarinet part!), the V bracket at the end of the charting seemed a possibility, though remote (see ?)—tonic 6/4, inverted IV chord, augmented sixth then Dominant again?  It was an effort to see if we could fit in with the template suggested by Ex.101a of Felix Salzer’s Structural Hearing—see the top line.

Though often regarding as simplistic, limiting, or at worst, unmusical, I find that Heinrich Schenker’s approach is quite inspiring, allowing for creativity, experimentation, even (thus this picture and this post!). Salzer’s presentation of Schenker’s approach is even more so, though it must always be kept in mind that reductive graphings can also be read in reverse as creative/additive possibilities.


After examining the score of the third movement of Brahms’ second clarinet&piano sonata, op.120, the I 6/4 after the V7 is indeed rooted (duh!).  However, the iii is a predominant through that tonic-which-now-should-be-rooted.  The fact that the passage continues until a more structurally progressive pre-dominant arrives in the form of a rooted IV (not inverted…) says that this is not but rather A predominant, and that 101a is not THE TEMPLATE but rather a nested prolongation to further elaborate the tonic prolongation… In other words, THE TONIC bracket should continue below the iii and continuing, essentially breaking THE DOMINANT bracket in half.

 © 2014 Peter J. Evans, theorist