Posted 15 August 2017 - 01:33 PM
One of the PCs from my Planetary Romance campaign was, I supposed you'd call her, a geisha-assassin. She carried an electronic musical keyboard. Since music was part of her schtick, I thought I should come up with some background about the music of the planet Sard. I tied it in with the planet's pre-human inhabitants, the Monopods. -- DS
THE MUSICAL MONOPODS
It’s common knowledge that the Monopods were highly musical. Their languages were all tonal: Words changed their meanings depending on changes of pitch. Every time capsule contained lots of Monopod musical scores, and archeologists are quite sure the abstract, contrapuntal music held far greater meaning for Monopods than humans can perceive. The Monopods’ visual art also seems to incorporate musical concepts such as harmonic ratios, syncopation, counterpoint and polyrhythm.
Most of the time capsules held copies of a musical collection dubbed the Great Canon. A canon is an instrumental version of a round, like “Row, row, row your boat.” Different voices might play at different pitches or tempos, or the principal theme might be played backwards or inverted so low notes become high and high notes become low. The fugue is a looser form of canon.
Fugues and canons were the Monopods’ favorite musical form. As J. S. Bach showed, however, this extremely formal and mathematical form can also be a vehicle for intense and profound emotion. Bach’s supreme explorations of the form, The Art of the Fugue and The Musical Offering, had less than two dozen fugues each and none for more than six voices (the most achieved by any human composer). The Great Canon consists of 64 fugues, including one written for eight voices, a feat no human has equaled. Even more remarkably, the Great Canon shows the Monopods had emotions much like humans (which cannot be said for every alien race). Some sections of the Great Canon leave humans cold: They seem to portray emotional states humans don’t understand. Most parts, however, portray feelings humans can appreciate.
The Great Canon seems to be a musical exposition of Monopod life and history. Some of the fugues use a single theme, which remains the same throughout the entire sequence. Fugues with four or more voices add secondary themes.
The first eight fugues portray the rise of Monopod civilization. The first canon is entirely for percussion: “Bang the rocks together, guys.” It begins unsteadily, but ends as a confident, three-voice canon with rhythmic tricks that trip up careless players. The next six range from harsh, brutal evocations of war to a courtly dance. The eighth is a musical evocation of a factory assembly line, commemorating the start of industrial technology.
Canons nine through 55 vary widely. Some evoke particular emotions. Others seem to be pure exercises in musical structure, though even the most abstract are pleasant enough to hear. The 56th is the high point of the Great Canon, a majestic, eight-voice fugue that evokes the triumph of a great civilization that thinks it can last forever.
The last eight fugues portray the Monopods’ doom. The 57th canon takes the grand theme of the 56th and opposes it with a softly ominous theme that grows to overpower it — the approaching death-throes of Omicron(2) Eridani’s companion star. The succeeding fugues evoke the Monopods’ shock, struggle to save themselves, and rage at their failure. The 62nd canon is one of the grimmest musical portrayals of grief and despair known to humanity, while the 63rd is a pitiless funeral march. Tryka’s teachers told her stories of master musicians who used these fugues to drive enemies to suicide.
The final canon, however, is a lullaby of infinite gentleness. “Go to sleep,” it seems to say, “You’ve had a long day and it’s time to rest.” Though written for only two voices and melodically spare, some musicians say mastering the Sixty-Fourth is literally the work of a lifetime.
Tryka, of course, is completely familiar with the Great Canon and she can play most of them on her keyboard. (Fugues with four or more voices require multiple players, or a pipe organ or other instrument where the musician uses both hands and feet.) She learned the melody of the Sixty-Fourth when she was nine; when she was 16, she became a good enough musician to understand why her teachers said she can only master the Sixty-Fourth when she’s an old woman and has buried people she loved. Most audiences, however, do not ask for the last eight fugues in the Great Canon. Performances of the entire sequence take more than six hours and are understandably rare.
Musicologists argue whether the Great Canon had one author or several. The style seems too unified for a collection of works by separate composers, but how could anyone be such a genius as to write all 64? Some musicologists point out, though, that the Monopods placed far less emphasis on the solitary artist than humans have in the last several centuries. Very few Monopod books or works of art have their authors named. These scholars say it’s quite possible that Monopod artists were actually committees whose members merged their individual talents into a collective genius. A few scholars even speculate about psionic gestalt-minds and other exotic possibilities. The truth may never be known: The Monopods couldn’t fit everything about themselves into their time-capsule vaults, and some facts they simply took for granted and didn’t bother explaining — but of course, the Monopods had no experience with aliens. They didn’t know that when dealing with other intelligences, nothing is obvious.
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