May. 2nd, 2011

bnewman: (explorer)
I'm way behind on posting songs, but I'm working to catch up )

This newest song, however, I want to tell you about right now. I started writing it yesterday at MASSFILC and finished it today.

Remember the Hymn for a Festival of Sandcastles? That song was inspired by the ritual of a Tibetan Buddhist sand-painting which was created and then ceremonially destroyed at Swarthmore College as part of a cultural festival. Some day I want to actually host a festival of sandcastles... )

"Hymn" presents the festival as a meditation on impermanence as a truth that humans must wrestle with. It doesn't imply a cosmology beyond the simple fact that things end, certainly it doesn't introduce a fantastic setting. I always imagined it as a holiday belonging to our world that simply hadn't been done yet in that particular form. But then the idea of the festival came into contact with the idea of recursion, or of seeing small terrain features (like moss-covered rocks, or tidepools) as miniatures of larger landscapes, or scale-independent fractals, or At the Mountains of Madness, or something by Borges, or whatever, and the shape of the world from which the festival ultimately comes became clear to me.

The liturgy of the public event known as the Festival of Sandcastles makes no mention of any of the disturbing cosmological musings which follow. Little children learn nothing of them. Adults will not discuss them, even though they all know of them. It is teens who initiate their younger peers into the mystery, at the edge of adolescence where the playful life of a child meets with the capacity to take life's big questions seriously. In surreptitious retreats, they organize their own, secret Festivals of Sandcastles. Different stories are told, different songs sung, secrets taught that may only be spoken by firelight, on the beach, in the evening, when the tide has begun to come in and wash the sandcastles away, and even then only in whispers.

So, if you wish to learn, imagine yourself there. See the twilight, hear the breakers crashing, smell the wood smoke, feel the sand between your toes, taste the roasted marshmallows. Today you created a world with your hands. It was good fun, and good exercise, and you feel exhausted but refreshed in both body and mind. You created a world— and now, you realize, you are watching it die. At last you are ready to learn the secret mythology behind the Festival of Sandcastles. )

Read on for a more in-depth commentary on the secret... )

Coming into being at this moment in the history of our own world, this song is dedicated to the people of Japan, for whom the image of human civilization being swept out to sea like so many sandcastles is not a fairy tale. If it touches your heart, consider making a donation to support the ongoing relief effort.

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