bnewman: (explorer)
The songs mentioned in the last song roundup post are now linked from my songs index page. Someday, that page will get a complete overhaul, but not today...

I've also posted new MP3s of Divine Monkey and Ashrei Adam Matza Chochmah, with improved scansion. The "Divine Monkey" recording, in particular, corrects a scansion error that could be considered disrespectful, so in light of the sacred nature of the subject, I recommend replacing any copy of the old MP3 you may have lying around with the new one.
bnewman: (explorer)
SSH access to the server that hosts my website has been down for a bit, which means I can't update it, but I did upload a bunch of things before that happened, and HTTP access is up, so you can still read/listen to them — you just won't find them on my songs index page.

Let's start with some new recordings of old songs...


Red Wings )

The Code of the Goddess )

Dragon for Sale )

And now for some new songs...


Timelord of Gallifrey )

Tamari )

Professor Jones )

Operation Moonshine )

In the Beyond )

Flirting with Trees )

You Are Not Alone )
bnewman: (explorer)
This song is not new, but I don't think I've ever discussed it in depth in this journal, and with Pi Day upon us it seemed like a good time.

So why a Jewish song about π? The claim is out there that the Bible claims that π is equal to 3 — years ago, I saw it come up on two Internet communities, rec.music.filk and a Quaker pagan list, at about the same time. Mostly it's presented in the context of "look, the Bible is wrong about science!" (if you want to show that the Bible is wrong about science, there are of course better disproof-texts than this).

Years later, at the Havurah Institute, I had the opportunity to join a study session with Adam Levine on the topic of what the Jewish tradition really says about π, and — remembering those newsgroup conversations — I jumped at the chance. I was not disappointed. This article cites essentially the same sources as Adam's handout if you want to delve deeper.

Out of that study session came this song (mp3), which I finally had the opportunity to share with Adam at last summer's Havurah Institute, to his profound delight. I hope you will find it just as delightful.
bnewman: (explorer)
I had a great time at OVFF, and came out of the con with a great burst of energy that allowed me to get a lot of songwriting done — more songwriting than I've gotten done all at once for a long time. I finished some songs that had been partially written for a while, and I started some songs that are almost finished and which you will see soon. Here are the songs from this week that are ready to go...

AI Psycho Guilt for Two, Hitchhikin', My Lady Is an Apple Tree, Weiqi )

Several other songs remain in the pipeline and will hopefully be finished soon, and I also haven't given up on the project of posting older songs that I haven't gotten around to yet.
bnewman: (explorer)
And now, a handful of songs about movies, TV shows, and video games. Most of these songs have been on my website for a while, but I haven't yet gotten around to discussing them here. click for "Droids, Clones", "Shadow of the Colossus", "Thornberry Child", "The Dark World", "A Wanderer Still", and "Coroutine Declaration" )
bnewman: (damselfly)
As a songwriter, there are some subjects that I keep coming back to over and over again. One character for whom I have written a large number of songs over the years is Galadriel. There's just something about her — dignity, power, grace, kindness, an air of mystery... yeah, I totally have a crush on her. And I finally wrote a song about that, but first, a tour of my other Galadriel songs )

Galadriel! (mp3) is the song where I admit that I have a crush on the Lady of Lorien. Naturally, it's a parody of another song about having a crush on an elf, [livejournal.com profile] quadrivium's "Legolas!". I can't imitate her piano stylings, but I did brush up my blues shuffle and hopefully did some justice to the tune.

Finally, no discussion of Galadriel songs would be complete without mention of my favorite one by the Grateful Dead, Ripple... )
bnewman: (explorer)
From one of the same twisted minds that brought you the Snow Crash wassailing song comes a carol of the third kind, er, of three ships, "Close Encounters of Three Ships" (mp3), mashing up the carol of three ships you may already know with the story and musical theme from the classic science fiction film. Aren't they both about something wonderful that arrives in a way that is at the same time foretold and utterly unexpected? Also, the musical tag from Close Encounters just fits there so nicely, and I'm very pleased to have been able to keep the line "all the bells on Earth shall ring".
bnewman: (damselfly)
I wrote this song a long time ago, and never got around to posting it — I think I must have gone "I'll post this around Chanukah", and then "Waa, I'm too busy" (or "Waa, I am not recording another take of this tricky, tricky song"), and then "Oops, Chanukah's over, I'll post it next Chanukah" multiple times. So now I'm posting it, and hey, it's even still Chanukah!

The Real Story of Chanukah (mp3) (possibly an overly ambitious title) covers several key points about the holiday:
  • The military history comemmorated by Chanukah, and its political fallout, were more problematic that is usually acknowledged.
  • Nevertheless, we (Jews) are still here in part because of those events.
  • The whole thing about the miraculous conservation of oil is wholly fictional.
  • Nevertheless it is an essential feature of the meaning of the holiday.
  • (Not least because it helps tie Chanukah to universal themes that everyone else is also celebrating at this time of year.)
  • FRIED FOOD
Mainly, I wanted another Chanukah song because Chanukah songs are supposed to be peppy and festive, and my first attempt (Dedication (mp3)), which uses the Chanukah story as more of a psycho-spiritual metaphor, came out far too contemplative and edgy. My goal for "Real Story" was to create a song that is peppy and festive while still acknowledging the problematic facets of the story.

And speaking of fried food, I am planning to host a deep-fried party, again, finally, some time between Chanukah and Christmas.
bnewman: (explorer)
Wow, it's been a long time since I posted a batch of songs here — more than 2.5 very eventful years, about which I have said more elsewhere. During that time I have written fewer songs than I might wish (I am afraid this is a side effect of being sane), but I have written some, and I also have a huge backlog of songs written, perhaps posted to my songs page, but not mentioned or discussed here. I will post them in several batches, to give you all plenty of time to comment, because I miss getting comments on my songs.

So, without further ado, some songs )

Enjoy!
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.
bnewman: (Default)
Groundhog Day, which looks towards the end of winter, is a worn-down leftover of Imbolc, the Celtic pagan festival which celebrates lambing (η: according to one [possibly incorrect — see comments] folk etymology, the name has something to do with milk), the first rising of sap in the trees, the first stirrings of life under the soil in preparation for the spring to come. Maybe that's happening where you are... or maybe you're snowed in like the Boston area. Imbolc is sacred to (and sometimes called by the name of) Brigid, Celtic goddess of the hearth, the forge, healing, and the bardic arts.

Groundhog Day is also a delightfully strange, magical realist, romantic comedy movie, in which a disgruntled weatherman somehow lives the same day over and over again, until he gets it right.

What, besides being notionally associated with the same calendar date, do these two things have in common? I'm glad you asked. Both holiday and film are ultimately about the unfreezing of what has been frozen, the stirring of life in a world — or a heart — emerging from winter's blanket of snow to turn towards the returning sun again.

Many bright blessings of the day. More songs and updates coming soon.
bnewman: (explorer)
I'd like to get my Quaker science fiction action/adventure musical, Walk in the Day, into shape to be actually performed at various events in the next year or so. I'll need several different kinds of help from a lot of people, including of course a complete (and most likely distinct) cast for each event.

Here's the plan.

cut for plan )

If you're interested in helping out in any of these capacities, please comment here. This is for real this time. I'm really looking forward to making Walk in the Day happen with your help.
bnewman: (explorer)
The other day, the following songs came up consecutively on party shuffle: "Danger and Desire" (track 10 on the linked album) and "Hardware Store". And this seemed perfect, because it perfectly captured the essence of what I was doing at the time:

MineCraft is an indie computer game that places you in a world of giant voxels and leaves you to survive with nothing but your wits and what you can wrest from the low-resolution earth. It's currently in open alpha testing, and thus feature-unstable but mostly perfectly playable. There is multiplayer support for both public and private servers which will eventually actually work. It's clever and addictive and really, really nifty, and it's become something of a viral hit. Well, consider yourselves sneezed on. (Wait, that didn't come out how I meant it to...)

I don't know what the timeframe is on MineCraft going from alpha to beta (and from half-price to full-price), but I'd love for people I know to get the game and create community servers where we can build Castle SWIL, or the Mines of Moria, or whatever, and work together to defend our holdings from the creatures of the night... oh, yeah, there are zombies.

MineCraft currently costs 10 euros.
bnewman: (explorer)
As mentioned before, I'd like to arrange a performance of "Walk in the Day" at Conflikt. looking for editing help )

what's up with the bad guys )

possible new song )

meerkats )
bnewman: (explorer)
Guess what I did this week? I wrote a one-act science fiction action/adventure musical about Quaker peacemakers and Space Marine engineers working together to save adorable fierce furry nocturnal aliens from extinction on a desert planet.

Yes, that musical. Yes, all of it. Last you heard, if you've been following this journal, there were four songs in this song-cycle. Now there are fourteen (the secret: a lot of repeated leitmotifs), linked together by about eight pages of prose dialogue. I know a lot more about the characters than I did before, and a lot more about the plot. Which is good, 'cause it's done.

After the cut, you'll find the complete script, and I recommend listening to the songs in context, but to ease your downloading, here's the complete list of songs (note that "Long, Bright Day" is three times longer and contains much more plot that the version posted last week):

[ edit: "Rules of War" has been expanded into "War vs. Peace/Open Your Eyes", which is a much deeper treatment of the just war vs. pacifism debate, please update your playlists accordingly. ]

mp3Called by the Shade
mp3Strange Rumors
mp3Speaking Lessons
mp3Long, Bright Day
mp3Science Lessons
mp3Shade
mp3Dark Moon Daughter
mp3Star-flecked Nights
mp3The Raid
mp3War vs. Peace/Open Your Eyes
mp3Peace vs. Peace
mp3The Escape
mp3Walk in the Day
mp3Meeting for Worship with Attention to Shade

This will be produced as an album, at some point — it's a single, self-contained album-sized work, so I have no worries about having future qualms about the exact selection of songs on it. I'd also love to stage it (like, really stage it), but that would require a Julie Taymor-like level of puppet design and an extremely creative lighting designer.

Meanwhile, if you would like to play any role (technical, vocal, or instrumental) in the production of an album, or if you would like to participate in an on-book cast (a recital, without blocking) at Swarthmore Alumni Weekend, Concertino, Pi-con, OVFF, GAFilk, Arisia, or Boskone, please let me know.

I'll also be posting some more expository notes in a separate entry to follow.

Complete script (long!) after the cut )
bnewman: (explorer)
Lately I've recorded a number of my songs that have been "published" for a while, but for which I have not previously posted a recording. There are also several songs that have been finished for a while, but which I hadn't posted because I thought I would set up a new version of my website first — and I still think I wil soon, but I've realized we'll all have more fun if I continue to post songs here meanwhile. On top of that, there are some actually new songs (besides the ones just posted). Here goes:

MP3s have been posted of the following previously-published songs: "The Galaxy is Silent", "Clockwork", "The Highwayman", and "Stars on Our Heads".

I've written two additional songs in the "Walk in the Day" song-cycle: "Long, Bright Day" (mp3) and "Dark Moon Daughter" (mp3). I've also posted a new MP3 of "Walk in the Day" featuring the new and better revised lyrics.

The Storytellers' World is my catch-all setting for high-fantasy ideas. Once, it was only that, without any other unifying theme, which means it tended to indiscriminately accumulate retreads of familiar high-fantasy tropes.

Since deciding to unify it with the idea that it is a world created by storytelling, I've tried to account for as many of those tropes as possible in ways that tie them in to the nature of the world. This isn't strictly essential, since of course any high-fantasy trope can be incorporated into the world as part of the content of a story, but it's more elegant to explain a trope in terms of the structure of the story if I can.

One of the tropes that got in there was the idea of elves, particularly the noble but inscrutable high elves, whom you can fall in among and then go home to realize later that time has done something wacky while you were away — a bit of a mix of the Tolkien sort and the Thomas the Rhymer sort. The song "Two Streams of Time" (mp3) explains what these beings are doing in the Storytellers' World, and what can happen to people who accept their hospitality unawares.

"Honeybird" is about sex the birds and the bees. Which, you know, is a really strange euphemism for what people need to know about sex, because pollination is very different from what people do. There are all kinds of biological implausibilities in this song, starting with the very premise of a sentient pollinatee who is discriminating in her choice of mate, but if there were such creatures, they would totally enjoy National Geographic articles about hummingbirds, and sing lusty ballads about the birds and the bees sex. Sorry, no MP3 yet, but the tune is another variation of the same one I've used for "Circle Story" and "Love Letter" — which fits, somehow.

Two more video game songs (to video game tunes):

For the adorable action/physics/puzzle game World of Goo (highly recommended), "Ode to the Bridge Builder" (mp3), based on the track of the same name (which is in turn a variation of "Amazing Grace") from the game's soundtrack, the music for the level of the same name, which is near the end of world 1 and thus included in the free demo. You can watch a (very skilled) play-through of this level here, which will illustrate a lot of the gameplay references in the song. Like "Many Pikmin", this is an anthem in praise of teamwork.

For the NES adventure game Blaster Master, "FROG!" tells the strange story of this strange but wonderful game — Jason's pet frog Fred has escaped, and... then he randomly gets thrown into a video game, basically. The tune (no MP3 yet) is from level 4 of the game, which does indeed involve "fighting through and endless maze of twisty little slimy tunnels searching for [your character's] giant, mutant frog".

Two songs about A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge, (possibly the best gee-whiz epic space opera adventure thriller ever written):

"Transcendence", the Fire Upon the Deep filk of Dar Williams's "The Ocean" which I said I wasn't going to write, so you should just listen to "The Ocean" and pretend I had filked it, has been written (⇐ spoiler warning). It's still very similar to Dar's original (moreso than any of my filks besides "The Vorlon Connection", which is identical to the original), so I feel ambivalent enough about posting a recording that I'm at least not going to do so right now.

Speaking of A Fire Upon the Deep, I've also finally (er, back in September) written a song for my favorite character in that book, the alien pack entity known as Peregrine. Like "So High, So Low", which is my song for the alien protagonist of A Deepness in the Sky, "Wandering Pilgrim Soul" (mp3) is mainly a character study but tied to a particular moment in the story, in this case near the beginning.

Jewish songs:

Two new Jewish songs were just posted, but you saw those already.

Even before those, I've had enough Jewish songs to make up an album for some time. I've known what the title of the album was going to be for some time, because I had come up with a great title for a Jewish filk album. I didn't know if there was going to be a title track, though...

And then, back in September, it all came together, as it seems to with me, with the insight that two stories are the same: the evil empire, the call, the quest in service of that redeeming power which binds the universe together — and not only those things, but also, and foremost, the desert (and it is the same desert!) — and so, out of that insight, I'm pleased to present "Yehudi Mind Tricks" (mp3 — note the musical reference in the chorus). Enjoy, and may the Force be with you!
bnewman: (firefly)

As you may have noticed, my spiritual life is an eclectic patchwork — there's a solid core to it (although even that is a patchwork), but in general, when I see something I like, if I can find a way to make it fit, I will.

Through my relationship with [livejournal.com profile] fiddledragon, one of the religions I have collected parts of is that of Bryn Mawr College, a Wisdom cult which I've mentioned before. One of the major festivals of this cult is May Day, which is observed on the Sunday closest to May 1st (i.e. today — happy May Day!).

May Day celebrates the completion of the school year and honors the graduating seniors. One of the traditions assocated with May Day is that of "May Day gifts", which are legacies which must remain at the college and are thus passed from a senior to the underclasswoman of her choice. While I'm not a Bryn Mawr alumna (obviously), my experience of those Bryn Mawr traditions which I have attended has been an inspiration to me, and I want to give something back. Or maybe I'm just feeling creative and enjoying my own cleverness. Anyway, here's the first of two "open source" May Day gifts:

The BMC school song is "Σοφιας" (Sophias), a hymn to Wisdom, and it had occurred to me that, hey, we have that idea in Judaism, too, and maybe I could translate "Σοφιας" into Hebrew. However, [livejournal.com profile] fiddledragon forbade me to do so, and since it is her tradition and not mine, I have abided by her decision.

On the other hand, we have that idea in Judaism, too... maybe I don't have to translate this one from Greek? Where have I seen... right, pretty much the whole Book of Proverbs! scans to "Greensleeves", after the cut )

bnewman: (damselfly)

I've been meaning to write something on this topic for a long time, and the universe, being wise, conspired to get it written today. I davened today in a clearing in the woods behind Avery Park in Newtonville, on my way to my Pilates class. Apple trees are blossoming all over, and Newton is full of them. And the dance between my Jewish and pagan identities and practices is in full swing. It must be spring! (Happy May Day!)

The Jewish practice of going out into nature to pray doesn't really need an apology from me — Reb. Nachman said it much better — but this is a topic that's dear to me, and it seemed like a good case for one of those perky essay-songs in which I explain my worldview in rhyming stanzas. Indeed, if that chord sequence hiding under the talking blues line sounds familiar, it's because you may have heard it before. Right, or you might not have, because I didn't put up an MP3 of that song until quite recently, so there you go.

And here you go:

"B'Tzibbur"
lyrics and music by Benjamin Newman

Lots of lyrics and footnotes after the cut )

bnewman: (explorer)
My, it's been a long time. There have been a number of exciting things that happened that I meant to post something about, and then didn't. Someday, maybe, I will. I've been preoccupied, and I've been thinking that any day now I'll redo my website, and have been holding off updating my current website for that reason.

Setting all that aside, here's a post on the topic of pseudofilks, or cryptofilks, or whatever you want to call these things...

Often, when writing a song parody, I'll keep a line from the original song intact. Sometimes, that line motivated the parody in the first place. Other times, it comes as a surprise, even to me. Usually, the context of the filk changes the meaning of the line in a way that's particularly ironic, poignant, or otherwise powerful or punchliney. I mentioned a number of these at a song-parody-writing panel at Arisia.

And then there are the songs where, once I realize the twist that makes the parody work, the region of lyrics that can be kept, albeit with a changed meaning, grows and grows until it swallows the whole song. All the lyrics exactly the same. Then what? How do you perform such a filk — what establishes the context that changes the meaning, that makes the difference between the filk and the original song? These oddities are what I'm calling "pseudofilks".

The possibility of having a beloved song ruined for you forever minor, implicit spoilers for Babylon 5, and major spoilers for A Fire Upon the Deep follow after the cut )
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