bnewman: (firefly)
(being a tempting taste of a Harry Potter fanfic currently under construction, based on an idea developed by [livejournal.com profile] orawnzva, [livejournal.com profile] fiddledragon, and [livejournal.com profile] batshua)

Hogwarts, two years before Harry Potter's return, sorting day:

"Sly... no, wait..." I could feel the hat searching my mind, my heart, tasting me. "Your desire for power is great, but your heart is as sweet as your name, Melissa."

The whole school held its breath.

"HUFFLEPUFF!"

The Slytherins gasped. The Hufflepuffs murmured in distress. And then time stopped. I saw my father — what was my father doing there?! — speaking harshly with Professor Snape, but everyone and everything else was frozen. When he had finished with Snape, father turned to the assembled students and raised his wand. His anger was terrifying. I still don't know what kind of spell he cast — was it a memory charm, a compulsion, a curse? "This never happened!" he cried, actually losing his composure as I had never once seen him do in public. Finally, almost as an afterthought, he turned to me. "You are no daughter of mine!" And then he vanished.

Time resumed. The Hufflepuffs cheered, all but one, an older student with brightly colored hair, who made no sound but whose eyes fixed me with an almost frightening look of grim, protective determination. The Slytherins seemed unperturbed. And I would later discover that most students would thereafter claim not to have clearly heard the name by which I was called up to be sorted.

Very well, father. A Hufflepuff stands for loyalty, and you have betrayed me, while I have merely been myself. As you have renounced me, I renounce you, and your name, and your bad faith. From this day forward I will be a honey-fairy princess, all sweetness and light. I will put on yellow and black stripes. I will make real friends, loyal, warm-hearted, and true. I will enjoy my classes. I will bake cookies. And I will wait, patiently, for the day when I can summon my loyal friends to my side to swarm and destroy you. For remember that the honeybee fills its hive not only with sweetness and light, but with venom.

— Melissa Melfée
bnewman: (firefly)
The rite of the Apple of Concord is a spell for achieving balance among the different areas of one's life. It represents a tikkun of the Greek myth of the Apple of Discord — you know, the one that started the Trojan war? Within the circle, participants re-enact the story, but this time a more sensible Paris does the right thing, war is averted, and everyone lives happily ever after.

You will need a large, crisp yellow apple... )
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: (damselfly)
Not those silly, cute Santa elves — real Elves. Think about it. Recall the scene of the departure from Lorien in The Fellowship of the Ring, and recall the Father Christmas scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The gifts are of the same kind — sacred treasures to help in the struggle of light against darkness, the tools we need to be light in the world. Those are always the best gifts. What gifts are you hoping to receive from the Elves at this season to help you do your part to make the world a better place?
bnewman: (firefly)
I don't write about Good and Evil very much — I tend to be more of the It's All Relative school. But Good and Evil do exist, and Heaven and Hell are very real as well, as close as the cartoon angel and devil on your shoulders. This Friday, real, unalloyed Evil, as petty and pitiful as it may be, will be coming to Brandeis University. I speak of a contingent from Westboro Baptist Church — yes, them, the so-called "Christians" who, without knowing anything about you, already hate you because you are different from them. I won't dignify them with a hyperlink.

The Brandeis community has, of course, organized a response. Wisely, it will not be a direct counter-protest, but a celebration of our community's shared values. Community members have pledged money to Keshet, an advocacy group for LGBT Jews, in proportion to the duration of the WBC protest. And Hillel is organizing a Harry Potter themed Shabbat dinner, I assume for the express purpose of pissing off the WBC. Good!

But, for me, as a Jew, as a fan, and as an enchanter, there's more to it than that. Harry Potter and the Torah both teach us that our words matter. G!d created the world with speech, and saw that it was good. We, too, can create the world as we speak — when we say "Thank you," or "I love you," and most of all when we articulate in speech our vision of the world we hope for, and invite others to join us in making it a reality. This is true of all speech, not just some special category of magical speech, but ancient Jewish wizards did, in light of this, seal their spells with the declaration "I create as I speak" — אברא כאדברא — Abara k'adabra. Abracadabra!

We create as we speak. But we can also destroy — this, also, we learn from the Torah and from Harry Potter. Jewish tradition speaks of לשון הרע/lashon hara, the evil tongue. Hateful speech that stings and demeans can poison souls and destroy lives, even kill. The line between creation and destruction may seem stark and clear, but it is very thin, as thin as one stroke of a pen, the one stroke that turns ר/resh into ד/dalet: "I destroy as I speak" — אבדא כאדברא — Avada k'adabra. Avada kedavra, words that kill.

This is what we're up against, the face of the Enemy. But ultimately, Harry Potter and the Torah both teach us, love is stronger than hate. When we stand together in love, G♥d is with us, helping us create a world of hope, tolerance, peace, and good will. So claim the power of your voice. Create the world as you speak — אברא כאדברא — Abracadabra! — just like magic. Because if we do that, together, we'll win.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have set before you this day life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your children may live. — Deuteronomy 30:19

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not. — John 1:5

Now, after writing Walk in the Day, I'm not sure how I feel about the diurnal assumptions embedded in that last quote. But we are diurnal animals, and that is our metaphor, and our Truth — it's the message of Chanukah, and it's the message of Advent (and Christmas after): The Light will return. Hate ultimately destroys itself. Love triumphs.

Prayers, spells, and all forms of positive energy are welcome in support of Brandeis's response, please direct such energy to the Brandeis community as a whole. Feel free to link to this post.
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: (Default)
This is all [livejournal.com profile] gfish's fault. Really...

See, Fishy posted this vignette about autonomous, self-reproducing steampunk clockwork vultures (really, niche-wise, clockwork crows). I thought that was really cool, but thought it didn't really pass as hard-steampunk — a clockwork brain powerful enough to control an autonomous agent that is going to survive in a hostile environment would have to be huge, and thus either stationary or built into a large vehicle like a train or major naval vessel. And then there's the bootstrapping problem: whatever it is, it has to have begun as something built by humans on purpose.

Well, that got me thinking, about what other components a survival-autonomous entity controlled by an even slightly realistic Babbage-class clockwork would have to include, and why anyone would want to create such a system (or a system that could become such a system)... and that grew into an idea for a sort of mashup of Wargames and Oliver Twist... and A Deepness in the Sky and Don Quixote and The Three Musketeers and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and...

Wait, a mashup of what?! )
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)
First, go check out Walk in the Day: the Musical — I'll wait.

edit: They're "Yrichii" now. Unlike the old name, this one is (a loose transliteration of) a native word, probably a word for "people" in the language of one of the larger city-states in the south, where contact was established first.

I'll be throwing explanatory notes and background information on the setting of Walk in the Day in here until I get around to setting up my new personal wiki. Since I love world building (all that plot, character, and theme stuff — just an excuse!), this could get long, so to spare your friends pages, I'm adding a cut. Click for more information about the Yrichii, their culture, and their homeworld. )
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: (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 )
bnewman: (Default)
Another pair of songs that could go with some narrative by way of explanation, although not original this time. Spoilers follow for 2001, Portal, and the general premise of Half-life and Half-life 2.

So, HAL and GLaDOS... have a lot in common. They're artificial intelligences assigned to scientific projects who ultimately demonstrate their commitment to scientific progress by killing (or trying to kill) the rest of the research team. They both have to be dismantled one personality module at a time by Our Plucky Protagonist. And they both sing catchy swan-songs that get stuck in your head (a point to which we'll return in a moment). It would seem natural to throw them together in some kind of crossover fanfic, and, indeed, it's been done.

That's a cute way to cross the characters, but it doesn't really do it for me — HAL and GLaDOS each come with a narrative context, a place, time, and science-fictional world. If we're going to write a crossover, let's really write a crossover. Luckily, this is almost trivial — while I've made some further adjustments, the basic idea is to just take the 2001 (probably excluding sequels) and Half-life (which includes Portal) continuities and concatenate them. This makes sense of the similarities between HAL and GLaDOS, ties together the topics of their respective research projects, and allows us to make an awful pun. Within this crossover context, I've filked both of their songs.

For those who just want to see the songs, here they are (lyrics only, for now): "Freaking Out" and "AI Psycho Guilt for Two". Further details of my crossover story follow the cut )
bnewman: (Default)
I seem to do a lot of my songwriting at and in the wake of conventions — I guess the creative juices get recharged, or something. Anyway, I have a lot of new songs to post, and in addition one song that was held in reserve so I could spring it out at Contata (which went over very nicely). Contrary to my earlier announcement, I will be posting them here, because proper handling of audio content on my new site requires a server upgrade that my hosts say will happen later this summer.

I'll be posting these in several batches because a number of them go together in groups that require some narrative framing. In this batch are two songs based on a short story, "Walk in the Day", which I'm hoping to get someone to write for me. You can listen to the songs, "Shade" (mp3) and "Walk in the Day" (mp3), first, or you can read the synopsis )
bnewman: (damselfly)
Over the last week or so, I have had a musical flood — I've written a number of new songs, extensively revised a few old songs, and recorded yet more songs to which I posted lyrics long ago. I've also posted a number of songs that aren't new-to-me, but which hadn't been posted previously.

The complete list of updates is on my songs page, without commentary. Note that this will probably be the last major update to that page, and also the last batch of songs to be announced on this journal, because this summer I will be moving my web presence to a new site and a new format, about which I will post at length after it happens. I will continue to use this LJ account for the purposes of reading and commenting on other people's journals.

[η: links fixed]

"Love Letter" (mp3) has gotten a major revision, with the third verse and its chorus ripped out and replaced with two new verses and choruses. This song was always intended, not just as one of those quirky songs in which Ben explains his world-view, but as a love song to the Holy One, as something you could earnestly pray. The original version started in a devotional mood, but then made a very abrupt transition to critical-thinking-land. This revision makes the transition much smoother, and the point-of-view character less canny, which helps to carry that devotional energy into the second half of the song. Of all the changes, the key may be "Please don't say you expect me to take this or leave it / 'cause I love you too much to say no." I don't think it's a coincidence that "Love Letter" didn't get properly finished until between Pesach and Shavuot.

click for even more songs )
bnewman: (damselfly)
Four Jewish songs — one is new, one was written back August but was kept under wraps until now for seasonal reasons, one was posted before but now has an MP3 up, and one has been in the MP3 directory on my website for some time and I simply neglected to mention it.

"My People's Story" (MP3) was inspired in large part by this post, and by a top-secret plan I'm working on which will be revealed in due time. It's about the journey of the Jewish people through history and layers (upon layers upon layers) of sacred text, up to and including these very songs, and beyond.

"Dedication" (MP3) is the Chanukah song I've been meaning to write — I actually wrote it at the NHC summer institute, but I've been saving it until this season. I've been writing my way around the Jewish year with songs that approach the story of each holiday in a certain way, but certain holidays had been eluding me, and, at about midnight on the last night of the institute, I finally figured out why. )

I've finally posted an MP3 of "Cracked", which was posted and discussed here. (Also, "The Ballad of Surf and Turf", also posted there, is finally linked from my main songs page.)

"Modim" is a musical setting of the thanksgiving prayer from the daily liturgy. This blessing has an awful lot of big words with many syllables. In order to make it all fit, I had to rearrange it a little, but this is basically the whole thing.
bnewman: (Default)
From The Annotated Alice, by Lewis Carroll with notes by Martin Gardner:
"O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"34

34A species of arctic duck that winters in northern Scotland is called the calloo after its evening call, "Calloo! Calloo!"

More likely, as readers Albert L. Blackwell and Mrs. Carlton S. Hyman each pointed out, Carroll had in mind two forms of a Greek word, kalos [καλος], meaning beautiful, good or fair. They would be pronounced as Carroll spells them, and would fit well the meaning of the line.

That's what I thought. And, yes, it was a frabjous day.
bnewman: (damselfly)
I could talk about real life. Real life is being really crazy just now — and please send [livejournal.com profile] fiddledragon more hugs — but I don't want to talk about real life. Or study database systems, apparently. I want to post songs. Lots of songs.

Some of these songs are new, some were sitting around nearly-written for a while but were only recently finished, and some are rather old but I only got around to posting them now. They run the gamut from epic quests to furry animals to religious devotion (to, would you believe, all three at once?), plus machine learning and rubber-band-powered airplanes. As usual, everything is linked from my songs page. The layout over there is a bit rough just now.

Divine Monkey )
El-ahrairah )
Solitary World )
The Messenger )
Toy Planes and Rubber Bands )
Free Spirit )
Galapagos (Mendel's Escape) )
Tit for Tat )
Tzur Hashlishi )
Ma'ariv Aravim and Yotzer Or )
The Niggun of Zelda )

In addition, I've posted MP3s of the much-requested "Jurassic Park Sunset and "Not All Who Wander Are Lost in Space".
bnewman: (damselfly)
In his essay "On Fairy Stories", J.R.R. Tolkien draws a distinction between "magic" and "enchantment". The distinction is subtle, and I don't have a copy handy, but very roughly, magic is about making things happen, and enchantment is about art, about making experiences happen (and is what elves do).

I don't know if I believe in magic.

I do know that I believe in enchantment.

Occasionally I'm reminded that I'm already pretty good at it, too.

See, I have this hobby. I seek out people who share my sense of wonder, I befriend them, and, when it seems to me that they are in need of spiritual sustenance, I say: "You know, your sense of wonder can be used as a spiritual life. The joy and meaning that you feel in nifty things, in beautiful things, and especially in sharing them, can support you just like any other kind of faith."

I try not to get too attached to the hope that someone's life will be changed by hearing this from me — after all, who am I, and what is my wisdom, compared to that of the truly wise? And then someone will thank me for sharing that vision with them, and I will remember what, exactly, I'm supposed to be doing here.
bnewman: (explorer)
A lot (mostly good) happened since I last posted, and lot more (holidays, homework, travel...) is about to happen, but it's late, and I'm in a hurry, so I'll just leave you all with this titlebunny:

"Indiana Jones and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

You know, Indiana Jones is frequently off searching for biblical artifacts, so it could totally work... assuming the coat of many colors hasn't been, you know, burned or eaten by moths at any point in the past 3500 years.
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