Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ars Contra Tyrannus

Here's a somewhat special moment: a back to basics moment. I started blogging to write about music and got carried away with gaming instead. I do not wish to lose my sci-fi chi, but events can sometimes catapult you back to places you'd forgotten. This is one such case. For some reason I feel as though those of us who appreciate that magical spot at the end of the rainbow where we can feel welcome need some music to march to. We have a long walk ahead of us. In fact, a friend asked me to write some walking music for just that purpose.

I'm not really by nature a pop song composer. I'm a fugue and symphony guy, so I have to venture into slightly unfamiliar territory to do this. I've done a few before, but not whole heap tons of 'em.

So this last of week or so has been something of a learning experience. Not only have did I write that walking song, but I also made some demo-ish recordings of it and several other popular songs that have been sitting on the back burner. First, let me give you a glimpse inside the Empty Pocket Studios . . .

Please note carefully the expensive recording equipment dangling off the music stand. If it looks like something you might see someone wearing in your finer Midwestern truckstops, it is. It's the headset off my low-budget smarty phone. And the cymbal is the same frying pan lid I played when I was four or five and climbing in and out of my mom's kitchen cabinets. Yeah, the instruments are real enough, and yeah, they mostly cost more than a microphone, so maybe my priorities are misplaced, but . . . well . . . whoopsie daisy. Emptied my pockets buying things that make noise and had nothing left for things that detect noise.

So I started last week off making recordings of a couple of older things that I've wanted to render more presentable for one reason or other for a long time. The first was originally intended for a radio play that has, thus far, remained unproduced. It was somewhat easier, as I let my computer do all the complicated instrumental performance work and I just sang. The second was more adventurous as I decided I wanted to play it myself.  That's where the frying pan comes in. (It will be back later.) This one is a very odd bit of fan service: a song for a band called Mushrööm Klöwd.

 but we're here to talk about protest. I'll try to given them proper posts of their own later. Anyway, I'd been struggling with what to write her until I looked over at my wall. This is a painting from a friend of mine, Kerry Hirth, called "The Unfortunate Rake." (Which could well be me at several points in my life, but Kerry insists there's no symbolism to it. Fortunately, my progress has led me on a path that's at least tangential to Bedlam and not directly towards it.)

Kerry has an interesting way of sensing the world around her. She strongly associates colors and harmonies. She can see the colors in a piece of music. This is a form of what's called synesthesia. I don't want to get into the technical woods here, as it's complicated, not my specialty, and there's quite a bit of debate anyway. Suffice it to say, however, that while somewhat rare, that's quite a history of it among famous artists and musicians alike, and Kerry uses it as the basis of many of her paintings.

But I'm not one of those synesthetic artists. I appreciate where she's coming from, and I'm darned interested to see what she sees when she hears my music, but to me, it looks more like an odd rainbow, or perhaps an identifying code on a box car (since I also like railroad stuff) than music. And trains are music to my ears, actually. So that's not inappropriate. But it was the rainbow that struck me the other day. I looked at it and I thought rainbows. (This will come up again. I have a couple of rainbow projects in mind Oldhammerishly speaking.) And the line "The colors of the rainbow are hanging on my wall" indelibly lodged itself in my head. "The colors of the rainbow, don't ever let them fall." (To which point I suppose I ought to stop running around like a wild thing in my living room . . . but they're secured up there with the big nails, so hopefully that isn't too big a risk. And if a pair of ten pennies aren't enough I'll break out the railroad spikes.)

Anyway . . . 

So there it was, milling around in my noggin, the beginnings of a song about rainbows. That's always a good start. Of course, my wall was a little specific, so I worked to generalize the chorus a little better and wrote some verses for the specific stuff largely cribbed from the life stories of friends with some small artistic license: the raft episode was wholly local, I believe, and I know not the precise amount of shiny yellow that was provided to the smugglers. But the stories are mostly painted in pretty broad terms that would doubtless be similar to lots of folks. (Actually, the trawler business probably applies to several of my friends, come to think of it. Honestly, everything but the raft episode is pretty general, and that's the one I changed the most anyway.)

But without further ado, let me present to you the "Rainbow War Song":

. . . . .

The Colors of the Rainbow
D. Ackerman

When I was a young man I felt I walked alone,
A shining spot of color in a world of monochrome.
I fought to be my own man, to sing a different tone.
Little did I know then of the shining rainbow home.

The colors of the rainbow are standing proud and tall.
Each color of the rainbow, don't ever let one fall.
Let the people of the rainbow sing of peace and harmony
Know that if we march together our colors can be free.
Each person of the rainbow has a place inside the whole.
We will carry one another to reach our rainbow goal.

My friend, she was a young girl trapped inside a stranger's skin.
The preachers at the churches told her changing would be sin.
But she found the rainbow nation and she learned a different way.
The great big rainbow family had a different way to pray.


Let me tell you of my old friend and his tremendous craft;
To escape from fire and flooding he built himself a raft.
By the light of our great rainbow he sailed across the sea
To a land of milk and honey he builds with you and me.


The young woman fled the jungle where the war had taken hold.
She paid the price for transport with eight pieces made of gold.
In the belly of the trawler she was smuggled 'cross the sea
To the shining rainbow nation where her colors can be free.


. . . . .

There is, of course, an audio version recorded by some half competent singer and pianist. (Maybe even three quarters competent if he would ever practice, but he did not.) This is really just demonstration grade stuff, not actual performance grade. Empty Pocket is largely empty of sound equipment, so I didn't invest that much time in the recording. The idea is to get this piece at least out there so folks as need it can use it and perhaps add their own verses if they so choose.

Anyway, so that's my last week or so. Thank you for listening.

The Composer

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Once We Used Words

What if, lying abed, you did
Not dare speak?
Paralyzed by fear
I hold my thoughts.

Syllables burn up in
Searing white fire.
The feet tangle.
Two stand, but for
Three steps.

Directions lead where?
North, south, east, west?
Go down then

Hear language
Sight darkens.
Mouth loses
Voice, breath. Have care,
Teeth cut more than tongue.
Draw signs, see portents, repeat.
Ears communicate. Falsehoods balance
Others beside
Oxford know when this must end.

Without symbols signifying thought
Maybe chaos leaves humans
Equal animals

Descend lower.
Dissolved away like
All five undone.
Communication ceases

And both are love.

8 August 2016

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mapping Dreams

This is unlikely to come as a great shock to those even casually familiar with me, but let me say it: I'm a dreamer. Virtually everything that I have done with any enthusiasm over the course of my life has been an extension of those dreams. I've worked in theatre. I've written symphonies and short stories. I play games. Dreams even shape my travel, since I yearn to see those places that most inspire my own creativity. But perhaps most relevant to the story I've lately been telling on thisforum, I spend time crafting elaborate environments where the corporate dreams of myself and others can unfold. Sometimes this is expressed as models, which impulse is amply displayed in many previous posts. At other times it comprises scratchings on paper. I sketch out notes, character descriptions, lists of names, flowcharts depicting fictional organizations, family trees, and even maps . . .

The above is an example of the sort of thing I might draw quickly for use in a single game. I'm not going to call it a "disposable" map, as I never throw anything away, but it's one that doesn't require too much time or effort but still conveys the information needed. I can look at it and use it as a visual reference as I try to get my players lost in the world. Sometimes I might even show them.

For a moment I'm going to step outside my story and along pass one small piece of information: The Compser's Cartographic Works is back in business. In fact, if you've a map you'd particularly like for a game or your wall, drop me an e-mail. I'm accepting commissions. To skip the fluff and simply see what I can do take a look here.

But if you've the time I'd like to take you on a journey of imagination through a fairy world, its history, and about thirty years of my own life. Come with me to a place I call Abithar.

It's a lengthy trip and it starts in what could be either an unexpected place, or perhaps an entirely predictable one. If you're geeky, from the U.S., and of a certain age maybe your first map looked something like this . . .

What we have here is a dungeon map loosely inspired by Abu Simbel drawb on graph paper using standard elements taken from the D&D basic set that came in the red box. Ah, the musings of the ten year old mind. Mine was quite symmetrical but with just a touch of right-brain whimsy: note the little efficiency apartment at the back and the museum the players might visit if they survive a half dozen dragons, some trolls, three horned monsters, and so forth. (The little boy brain is a goofy place.)

Like most little boys, my first character was a "fighter," as recommended by the introductory solo adventure. In spite of TSR's nomenclature, I preferred to think of him as a knight. And knights need castles . . .

. . . and castles don't float in space . . .

. . . so I had a third map. Ultimately, an eleven-year-old's fantasticalized version of Cornwall was born from this original impulse.

Abithar was an imaginative collage of every piece of fiction I'd read at that point. Places were stolen from Lloyd Alexander, Anne McCaffrey, Susan Cooper, and T. H. White, among a great many others, and dropped into my rescaled land. American boys generally have no real conception of the actual size or geography of England, so thar be mountains and dark ancient forests and many many times the acreage. The size has fluctuated a bit, alternately growing and shriking. The road distance from Abithar to Caer Dathyl, (or Dafyl, in later editions) has varied from about four hundred miles to perhaps six hundred, which is a bit larger than the two hundred driving miles between the approximately corresponding Kelynack and Bristol. Despite the coastline I eventually came to conceive of Abithar as a roughly England sized part of an approximately Japan sized country. 

For a time, I was content to draw inside these new lines. I made castles for my friends, I connected Abithar Halls to the outside world via Portsmouth and a few bridges, and I began to flesh out the other towns.

There was initially some ambiguity to the location of Abithar. It started in the South of England, but moved briefly to The Forgotten Realms, where it acquired a few new placenames and landforms.

At about this time the humble knight disappeared from the story, replaced by his son, who was perhaps my last bone-fide D&D character. As my own role changed from that of a player into the game's master the character was rewritten as king of a new realm.

One of my several complaints with the Forgotten Realms was that there simply weren't enough maps. I wanted more. The sixteen year old me set about charting my own corner of the world with tremendous care. (The careful observer will note the forms of the original village in the center of the growing city immediately below.)

Frighteningly enough, there are more. This is a good sample from the period, but I was a busy little beaver. I mapped out large cities and tiny crossroads alike. By this point Tolkien had made his influence much more known in my fantasy imaginings and while the placenames from other sources were retained you might notice his ghost hanging over a few cities. Simultaneously England crept into churches and castles alike. In the meantime, I was growing increasingly unhappy with the setting. The graduation to high school afforded me with both better research materials and more artistic, historical, and geological sophistication. A bit of sketching one day and some experiments with continents breaking up and drifting about propelled on a variety of oceanic spreading centers led me to the realization that I didn't need anyone else's landforms.

Thus the humble castle had grown to an entire globe. All that remained was to refine the new world. Names would change. New maps would be crafted. A few minor elements might even move around. Obviously interruptions would eventually be necessary to shrink the ocean extremities and fit a flat vision onto a round dream. But the basic shapes of the world and even much of its contents were now set, so I moved on to crafting its history and ultimately fitting Abithar properly into it.

And there Abithar sat for some time. In college version 1.1 I probably did more role-playing than any time before or since. Consequently I got a lot less done. Eventually a fatal error in the programing left me without a regular role-playing group, but still longing for a fantasy fix. I turned back to my own maps. I now had a big fat college research library available, and several friends who had done time in the SCA. Lined paper and crude sketches no longer seemed appropriate, so I began revising, rescaling, and generally artsifying Abithar.

This last is still ongoing. As I work on it you, dear reader, are invited to commission your own gaming map. For a quite low low introductory price I'd like to try my hand at making a map for you, suitable for hanging on your wall or handing out to your players. The place names and land forms can be very much to your taste. It can be as simple as a pen and ink line drawing or as complicated as an isometric view or even a painting. Interested parties are requested to e-mail:

Uninterested parties are given my sincerest apologies for the rough ride. All are given my thanks for their patience. I hope you have found something here to your liking.

The Composer

Friday, October 31, 2014

Gas Powered Perambulations

Please bear with me as I take one of my occasional breathers from the world of modeling and delve back into other subjects almost as far removed from poetry and the symphonic, but still closely entwined with art.

A bit of background to catch up my newer readers: my wife is from Vietnam so I have recently had the pleasure of periodic travel to East Asia. While there I've spent most of my time in  a lovely vibrant town once called Saigon and now officially designated Ho Chi Minh City. I've come to the conclusion that one of the more characteristic things about any given place is the way we get around. Ho Chi Minh is quite unlike most other places I've been. (And I've covered some distance in my short life, touching the soil of forty-seven states, nine countries, and three continents. Typically for at least 24 hours and in many cases quite a bit more than that.)  The US is a car country defined by fancy highways of almost exorbitant length, with a few significant exceptions. (And even the exceptions have their share of pavement.) Europe, with less space for roadways and more people per square klick, is remarkably multi-modal.

Asia, particularly South and East Asia, make Europe seem only slightly more densely populated than the moon. I expect most people have seen pictures of Asian traffic; the solid walls of people on the streets of Mumbai, the miles long parking lots leading into Beijing, the trains breathing pressurized human life in and out of Tokyo. Ho Chi Minh isn't quite like any of these. There are no trains to speak of. There is but one highway (though a second is under construction) and it isn't as yet a parking lot. And no one seems to walk much of anywhere. (I'm a little surprised people walk from their bedroom to their front door, but the houses are small and vertical and motor vehicles don't do stairs well.) So what is Saigon traffic? Motorbikes: mopeds, scooters, crotch-rockets, even the occasional cruiser. It seems as though all the bikes at Sturgis have been hit with a shrink ray and gotten very jiggy populating the streets and lanes of a large, but surprisingly compact Southern Florida style paradise by the millions. It may be the largest collection of two-stroke love on earth. And of course everyone is honking or beeping at all times, traffic laws are fluid, and signals are scarce. In short, it . . . is . . . FUN!

Some minor temporal liberties have been taken, but I hope this gives you a flavor of where I'm going. It's a fun town, Saigon, a great place to relax, eat, visit friends and family. It's a busy, bustling place where a lot of people work and play hard. It makes for a truly memorable power-assisted walk in the park.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Work, websites, and piano concerti

My most loyal followers might note that I am, as usual, overdue for the annual fleet review. I am sad to say that this will continue for a little while longer, but do not fear, ships will assemble in the harbor very soon. But first, a bit as to why this has not yet occurred. (After all, the Grand Empress just had her first jubilee. It is that time.)

Ships have lately taken a back seat to music . . . or at least thoughts about thinking about music. Or perhaps more accurately fury at a website lost. For somewhat over twenty years I, your humble composer, have been a minor functionary at the local ShowMe University Inc. I was mostly retained for the sake of hanging heavy things in the air once or twice a year. Well, said University has revamped their HR procedures. They used to purge the rolls of employees who had not worked for one calendar year. Now they do it every six months. One rigger who works twice, or maybe once a year never got the memo.

So I found myself without benefit of the free (though less than completely convenient) web-hosting services I'd enjo . . . excuse me, used for the last eight years or so. I have been reconstructing my website in the wilds of the internet, away from sheltered academic surrounds. In short, I am back. It took some real effort to get here, and there will no doubt be one or two bugs to work out, but I'm back. I may not be completely finished with my U career, since they do still need to hang heavy things twice (or once) a year, but the terms of any engagement will henceforward be different, more interesting. Indeed, more rewarding. And I will maintain my website elsewhere. More fun anyway. I pay a little for the privilege, but I have more freedom and better access. It's hard to complain now that the work is more or less done.

So if you can stand a little music, take a poke around my new demesne. I had long meant to talk about music on this blog and do so only rarely. I even have good reason to do so presently. I'm releasing the first elements of a Piano Concerto into the world on my new works page. This is yet another piece whose thematic material came to me in the shower one day. I like to think of it as Rachmaninov meets minimalism. Sort of. With luck it's one of my more approachable pieces. In any case, I hope that you might enjoy it.

The Composer

Friday, November 15, 2013

A brief poetic distraction . . .

Several years ago I wrote a poem while in transit between one place and another. At least, I believe that's when I wrote it. You see, I got home, edited it some, and promptly lost it. Well, I finally found it, edited it some more and appended the date when I think I wrote it. I hope the date doesn't make it fiction, but even if it does I still think it's one of my better travel poems. Without further ado I bring you:

Information Dance

Color. The
Air is a confusion of
Esters bunch in pressure waves as
Frequencies collide. One
Wave transmits another, permits
Passage, but

Photons skim past the
Rarefied stuff of
In the same
Space other ideas find
Above us

Grand algebraic
Dragons bound among fluid clouds of chaos
Transposing genes through
Non-Euclidian space,
Fermenting synaptic construction and
Matching, giving
Passage while
Changing like
Two particles in a

In this vast cosmic
Radiation of information
Our own attachments
Are both
Distinct and

Next to unity
Beethoven measures the same as

9 December 2011

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A bit off topic but oh so important . . .

Here's a little photo-essay that explains a few things.

(The baby is unrelated. Well, not unrelated, exactly, but not ours.)

This is a little overdue, but hopefully it gets the point across. Thank you.