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)
There are still a few songs to post from Contata. The next two songs, I wrote before Contata but held in reserve so that they would be a surprise:

The theme of the Contata song contest was לחיים (l'chayyim), which means "to life", so I wrote a Jewish song about genetic engineering. You may not know this, but Israel's thriving biotech sector goes way back. This song is about the very first Israeli biotech company — in fact, about the first Israeli biotech hostile takeover. It's a quirky tale of love, betrayal, genetic engineering, cattle rustling, and betrayal that's been handed down in my family for oh, about 3,500 years. I've taken the liberty of setting it to an appropriate-seeming tune, and here it is: "Sheep with Stripes" (mp3). And, by the way, Eyal reminds me that a ketunet passim really is just striped, and that "coat of many colors" is a 16th-century English innovation.

So, my concert at Contata followed the Tom Smith benefit concert, which finished up with Christine Lavin leading us all in a rousing rendition of Tom Paxton's "Peace Will Come", with both Toms listening in by cellphone. Yes, Tom Paxton was (virtually speaking) right there... fortunately or unfortunately, however, neither Tom was on the phone to hear the debut of "Stars on Our Heads", a filk of a similarly inspiring song that Tom Paxton co-wrote with Mark Elliott. I think both Toms would have been amused.

Now, it seems that every time there's a filk convention in New Jersey, someone has to sing "The Rolling Mills of New Jersey", which is a sort of ode to the mess that we've made of the place, as if that were New Jersey's fault. It's funny, sure, but some of my best friends are environmentalists who also happen to be proud to be from New Jersey, and they're kinda sick of it. So, in the wee hours of Sunday morning when I should have been asleep, I wrote an antidote: "The Living Earth of New Jersey". It's not all serious, though — the best antidote to a bad joke is a good one. See if you can catch the references.
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)
I've been filking my way through the Jewish calendar for a while now, and am pleased to announce that I am finally (according to some interpretations) done! There are two groups of Jewish holidays which could each be viewed as a single extended holiday, and I've now got one song for each group (and for the other major holidays) but not for each individual holiday within each group. (See below for the complete list.)

The song which completes the sequence is "Love Letter" (MP3), which picks up the biblical narrative at Pesach but is really about Shavuot. On Shavuot, we celebrate the revelation of the Torah at Sinai. The Jewish interpretive tradition likens G!d and Israel to lovers, the revelation at Sinai to a wedding, and the Torah to a marriage contract, and reads the Song of Songs as an allegory of this story (which it is, and...). It's touching, it's meaningful... but let's look at the particulars... )

Incidentally, yes, the tune is very similar to "Circle Story" (MP3), which is a coincidence but not an accident — compare the section of "Circle Story" covering the corresponding part of the calendar and you'll see why.

the list of Jewish holiday 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: (explorer)
I'm back from OVFF, where I had an awesome time about which maybe more later. I have no "new" songs (begun and finished at-con), but I finished a lot of almost-written material. Lyrics now, MP3s later this week when I have more throat and sleep added and linked in my next entry.

"Castle in the Sky" is based on the Miyazaki film of the same name, set to the haunting main title theme by Joe Hisaishi.

"Many Pikmin" is based on the adorable GameCube game Pikmin, in which you play a stranded astronaut who must repair his crashed ship with the help of hordes of cute animate radish-like organisms. A principal theme of the game is that pikmin must work in large teams to accomplish anything, so when I decided to write a song for the game, Leslie Fish's "Toast for Unsung Heroes" (which uses the union anthem "Step by Step" as its chorus) immediately came to mind. However, the cheerful, playful cuteness of Pikmin demanded a major key, so I put it in a major key... and it worked.

"Red Wings" is another video game song, covering (and using the music from) the opening sequence of Final Fantasy IV. This really wants to be recorded with a male chorus (hey, [ profile] scifantasy, [ profile] metaplasmus, I'm looking at you) and a lot of tympani.

"Starseed (Dust on the Wind)" was written and declared complete at Conterpoint. Although it wasn't my intention, and I wasn't working from it, it ended up going to the tune of the A-part of "Tanglewood Tree" by Dave Carter. Last night, after hearing an awesome rendition of TT performed by [ profile] cadhla, [ profile] tfabris and friends, I decided to try reworking "Starseed" so that it was actually a filk of "Tanglewood Tree", instead of just happening to have the same melody. This is the result — in my opinion, it's a vast improvement, and this is now the canonical version of "Starseed". edit: Added Tracy's duet part to the last verse.

"Snow Crashin'" is a wassailing song about Snow Crash. It was begun at OMGWTF:15am a few Philcons ago, and I don't properly remember whether it was [ profile] ccommack's fault or mine. (It may also be partially [ profile] ladymondegreen's and [ profile] batyatoon's fault.)

bnewman: (Default)
Two years ago, I was delayed coming home from Confluence by serious weather, and I didn't buy the Harry Potter book. I spent five hours in the airport terminal being kind of bored.

This weekend, I was again delayed coming home from Confluence by serious weather. I bought the book, read it, and enjoyed it — and I didn't get bored waiting around the airport. Right choice. I won't comment on the book here (and don't you, either!).

Confluence was great. The featured filkers were Meg Davis and Kristoph Klover, who are amazing performers. I helped out with [ profile] batyatoon's concert, and got to do a lot of hanging out with people I've missed and have lots of interesting conversations. I also finished two songs )
bnewman: (explorer)
I wrote three songs at or in the penumbra of Conterpoint. Strangely enough, all of them are about self-replication. Two are featured here — the third is, while complete, not ready (or rather, I am not ready to present it).

"Starseed" (mp3) is set in my original Explorators universe, whence also "The Explorators' Hymn for the Makers", "The Great Explorer Zero", and (probably) "Wondering Starship". The Explorators are sentient, self-replicating machines sent into space ages ago by an extinct civilization on a mission of exploration — or, rather, they were. Like anything trying to self-replicate in a hostile environment, they've evolved. This song traces the complete life-cycle of a nanotechnologically-enhanced version of a kind of sessile Explorator known as a stargazer installation. A close reading of the lyrics will reveal many of the specific technologies I imagine to be involved.

"Blue Butterfly" (mp3) is based on an entirely true story, which I learned from David Attenborough's Life in the Undergrowth. File this under "truth is stranger than fiction". The alcon blue butterfly lays its eggs on the gentian plant. The caterpillar feeds on the gentian for a little while but, well before it is grown, drops off and lies helpless on the ground. At this point, it will likely be picked up by ants and carried back to their nest, because it smells exactly like one of the ants' own larvae. It will be fed and cared for by the ants as if it were one of their own, pupate in the ant nest, and emerge as an adult butterfly right out of the ant colony... unless, of course, it is found by a parasitic wasp. The wasp, unlike the ants, can identify the butterfly caterpillar, and can also release a pheromone which scrambles the ants' friend-or-foe detectors, causing them to attack one another. While the ants are in disarray, the wasp finds the nursury and lays an egg on the caterpillar. The caterpillar makes a perfectly normal chrysalis, but what comes out of it is a wasp! There's something almost like a Child ballad (Caterpillar ballad?) about the whole treacherous mess.
bnewman: (damselfly)
I could talk about real life. Real life is being really crazy just now — and please send [ 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: (explorer)
In Hebrew liturgy, G!d is not infrequently referred to as a "rock" — a strong place, a solid foundation. The psalmist in particular ofter addresses G!d as "my rock". Some time last year, a certain Shabbat song with the refrain "rock from whose [bounty] we have eaten" got me thinking about my favorite rock, which is my refuge, my foundation, and, indeed, the rock from whose bounty I eat.

Yesterday, following a long and fascinating conversation with [ profile] debka_notion, preparations for songleading for student-led Reform services this morning (which had the tune in my head), and having recently reread Jewish with Feeling, in which Reb. Zalman talks about more or less exactly this image, I wrote this filk of the last four verses of Psalm 92:

"צור השלישי" (Tzur Hashlishi/The Third Rock from the Sun)

אמיץ כעוף יעלה בכח כעמוד אש מאחוריו
כבר לבבו בתוך הכוכבים ובשמים חלומותיו
עוד יראון מן היריח תכשיט כחול וירוק לפניהם
הצור השלישי משמש הוא צורי ולא עולתה בו

G DG D Em / CG DEm Am D / G C D Bm /[1. C Am G D :/[2. C Am GD G

Amitz ka'of ya'aleh, bako'ach ka'amud esh me'achorav.
K'var levavo betoch hakochavim, uvashamayim chalomotav.
Od yir'un min ha'y'riach tachshit kachol v'yarok lif'neihem.
Hatzur hashlishi mishemesh hu — tzuri, velo avlata bo.

(The bold shall rise up like a bird, with power like a pillar of fire behind him.
Already his heart is among the stars, and his dreams in heaven.
From the moon they shall yet see a blue and green jewel before them.
It is the third rock from the sun — my rock, in which there is no flaw.)

[ edit: minor changes to the Hebrew incorporating some of the suggestions here, posted MP3 ]
bnewman: (damselfly)
[ profile] catsittingstill's "Annie's Luck" (based on a B5 RPG character) always makes me cry. Poor Annie! And poor Psi-Cop, whatever his name is. He obviously has regrets about the way the Psi-Corps handles things. Maybe, if he got a suitable kick in the pants, he would find it within himself to work to change the system from the inside...

His name, by the way, after checking with [ profile] catsittingstill to make sure he didn't have a name already, is Howard, and now he has his own song.


Jun. 26th, 2006 10:08 am
bnewman: (explorer)
A new crop of songs for your enjoyment, all unveiled at Concertino.

"Clockwork", based on a disturbing picture book by Philip Pullman.
"Plush Cthulhu", to a familiar tune, based on the works of Howard Philips Lovecraft and associated cute, cuddly aaaaagh! — this is all [ profile] reldnahkram's fault.
"Well of Inspiration", about the mystical journey of an aspiring bard. You do have to get a little wet.
And, last but not least... "Not All Who Wander Are Lost in Space" — I swear, I came up with the plot first. Really.

No MP3s yet, but hopefully soon.
bnewman: (explorer)
from [ profile] jere7my and [ profile] reldnahkram

Whip out your music program, click the random button, and pick out 10 songs. Alter the name by turning it into a convoluted, wordy synonym. For example: Silent Night = Nocturnal Time Completely Lacking Noise. When someone guesses the title correctly, italicize the convoluted one and put the real title and the person who figured it out.

  1. The Fabric Banner That Belongs to Us

  2. The Nearest Star Approaches This Place
    "Here Comes the Sun", Beatles, [ profile] reldnahkram

  3. Azure Overhead Open Expanse of Immense Extent

  4. Be Identical to a Large African Cat with a Mane
    "Be a Lion", The Wiz, [ profile] gallian

  5. A Young Male Child in Conjunction with the Leaping Amphibian Which Belongs to Him
    "A Boy and His Frog", Tom Smith, [ profile] gallian

  6. The Large Body of Running Water at which Location the Aforementioned Female Person Takes Nightly Rest
    "The River, Where She Sleeps", Dave Carter, [ profile] spiritdance

  7. The Female Sovereign over Everyone Whose Practice It Is to Systematically Mislead Others
    "The Queen of All Deceivers", Allison Lonsdale, [ profile] fiddledragon

  8. Deeds Involving the Creation of Derivative Works Which Comment Upon the Original Work
    "Acts of Parody", Bob Kanefsky, [ profile] spiritdance

  9. Religious Song Pertaining to a Joyous Celebration Involving Ornate Fortresses Made of Fine Crystals of Silicon Dioxide
    "Hymn for a Festival of Sandcastles", me, [ profile] fiddledragon

  10. Unavailability of Space for Temporary Storage of a Motor Vehicle
bnewman: (damselfly)
It's been one of those weeks... inspirational... transformative... challenging...

I haven't gotten a lick of homework done.

If you're familiar with my repertoire, you know that I'm in the habit of writing songs that can be about more than one thing, depending on how you look at them. And if you're familiar with the Hebrew Bible, you know that I'm not the first to do such a thing. A far better poet has come before me, with a song whose rich ambiguity has puzzled lovers, sages and mystics since time immemorial — all that I can do is comment.

I didn't have Jonathan Turner's "Second-Hand Songs" in mind for the tune when I began writing this, but the lyrics insisted, and I had to admit that they were right.

To all my Jewish friends, shabbat shalom, and to all my friends at censored, have a wonderful censored. ;-)
bnewman: (explorer)
John H. Conway's Game of Life, that is... or is it?

I explained my take on this to [ profile] batshua recently, but it's been my take on it for quite some time, and it's worth a song (MP3). Abstruse technical jargon has been omitted for the sake of the novice, but the wise will, I think, know exactly where — besides cellular automata theory, of course — this is coming from.

I have, since I knew enough to notice, always been struck by the way in which these concepts show themselves so readily in even the simplest worlds we can construct. For me, this stands in stark contrast to the abstrusion with which they have traditionally been presented. It also suggests to me that those people who claim that the world, being mysterious and sacred, therefore can't be made of math, perhaps ought to learn some more math before leaping to such a conclusion.


Feb. 22nd, 2006 11:13 pm
bnewman: (Default)
was mostly spent hanging out with someone 300 miles away.

When I wasn't IMing with [ profile] fiddledragon, I was filking or talking with [ profile] tarkrai, [ profile] folkmew, or [ profile] bercilakslady. This was a very good con for open filking, with many excellent performers. The concerts were also wonderful — especially [ profile] folkmew's, which spoke right to where I was, leading off with "Give Yourself to Love" and remaining perfect throughout. Thank you.

During [ profile] tarkrai's concert — also excellent throughout — I shticked while he performed my Pegasus-nominated "Dragon for Sale". Meanwhile, huddled around a cellphone in Pennsylvania, [ profile] fiddledragon, [ profile] ccommack, [ profile] sinsofthedove, [ profile] crystalpyramid, and company couldn't quite make out the words, but it's the thought that counts, right?

In addition to debuting recent songs already posted in this journal, a number of instafilks happened. One is going to grow into a complete song, and so will not be presented until it is done, but, as for the others... )


Feb. 21st, 2006 06:01 pm
bnewman: (Default)
She is Time, too.

Per [ profile] folkmew's suggestion and [ profile] madfilkentist's inpiration, I've added a Crone verse to "The Code of the Goddess". Both lyrics and MP3 have been updated.
bnewman: (explorer)
please read the lyrics or listen to the MP3 before reading further... )
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