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The Golden Crane flies for Tarmon Gai'don.

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Adventures in Post-Story Analysis · 10:55pm Jul 18th, 2018

I released a new story a couple of weeks ago, and I’d like to actually go through with a follow-up blog this time, having started them for several stories before and then decided not to half way through.

This is the story, above is a pretty picture of Simone Simons, and everything after this point will contain spoilers.

So, why Simone, rather than a pony character? I did look for ponified drawings of her, but no such luck. But she’s relevant because she wrote the lyrics to this song:

Anyway, the reason I felt I really should follow through on publishing this blog is to address some historical inaccuracies. I think the detail of the real-world references in the story suggest they’re accurate and well-researched – and most of them are – but I think that makes it even more important I now highlight where they aren’t.

I spent a while looking into ballet, the Viennese waltz, the foxtrot, the tango, and a few others I rejected as not fitting the story. And I remembered reading about foot binding in China, and the lotus gait it produced, so I read through that again and got the image of the lily pond. And I brushed up on the three central Hindu deities, of course, suggesting Aria as Shiva (which fits quite well), Sonata as Vishnu (fits a bit – that’s why she gets attached to the civilisations they build and doesn’t want to leave them to burn: because she’s the preserver), and Adagio as Brahma (barely fits at all, and so not mentioned in the story). All of which link back to their multi-armed dance move in Battle.

However! Belly dancing, the classic image of Saudi Arabia a thousand years ago, and main pursuit of the Sultan’s harem?

Nope. Complete bollocks.

There are two schools of belly dancing. One is from Egypt, the other Turkey. We know it in the West as an exotic Middle-Eastern thing because the British used to own Egypt, which only really ended in 1952. So you can imagine the colonialist in the pith helmet being stationed there and coming back with tales of the taverns which surely inspired the Mos Eisley Cantina, of which belly dancing would no doubt be a central feature. And it may not go back to the 11th century, either. Wikipedia says:

Several Greek and Roman sources including Juvenal and Martial describe dancers from Asia Minor and Spain using undulating movements, playing castanets, and sinking to the floor with "quivering thighs", descriptions that are certainly suggestive of the movements that are today associated with belly dance. Later, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, European travellers in the Middle East such as Edward Lane and Flaubert wrote extensively of the dancers they saw there, including the Awalim and Ghawazee of Egypt.

It later points out that the modern belly dancing costume is said to have originated in Cairo’s nightclubs.

And Saudi Arabia itself has no mention of the word ‘harem’ on its page – it’s Turkey, again, most known for harems historically, and they much later than 1000 AD. And they weren’t exactly close to the Western depictions; being more a separate area of the home for women and boys, more about protection than servitude.

Not to mention, by the way, that the ‘Saddle Arabia’ horse pun doesn’t work in a siren historical context, since Arabia has only been officially Saudi since 1932.

For the belly dancing move described early on in Adagio’s dance, of wrists undulating sinuously above her head, I was thinking of Nataly Hay’s move 15 seconds into this video:

Ooh, and here’s another one! Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792, and could hear fairly normally until 1812, with his hearing almost gone by 1814. So his courtship would have been sometime after 1795, probably, when he premiered his first piano concerto. The Viennese waltz came to prominence very much around that time, with protests against it for being too intimate coming in 1797, and dance halls opening for it in 1807 and 1808.

So that bit is all fairly accurate with the story. However, European fashion during the end of the 18th century was boring. It became more about self-expression, and therefore comfort – which is great as an ideal, but in this case led to much plainer costumes than the previous era. Adagio doesn’t give much detail about the costumes of the time, but her thought of ‘tight-laced corsets and billowing skirts,’ while not inaccurate, is probably more associated with 30 or 40 years before that time, with its panniers and hooped skirts.

A three-way Viennese waltz I’d think would be very tricky if not impossible. The steps are identical, so both dancers rotate around a central point with each turn. In theory, that could be expanded out to three, with each turning 120 degrees instead of 180. In practice, I’d think very difficult.

Three-way foxtrotting, I’d hazard a guess, would be even closer to impossible. The steps are forwards and out to the side, so it’s set up for going in squares, making dividing it among three dancers very tough.

This is still mostly nonsense I’m spouting, by the way. The above two paragraphs are all true as far as I understand them, but I’m a long way from an expert. Anyone who knows that they’re doing with these dances could prove me completely wrong.

One thing I’m reasonably certain of, though, is that Adagio’s six pirouettes are quite possible, but only if you dip your foot back down between each one or two, to push off again to en pointe with new momentum. As seen here, about 40 seconds in:

The reference to the 14th Quartet was long-planned, but the musical history references to Aria and Sonata were found at the last minute. In musical terms, Aria and Sonata are both styles of piece. A Sonata is instrumental, where an Aria is ‘a self-contined piece for one voice, with or without instrumental or orchestral accompaniment.’ Hence, I think, Chrysalis’ This Day Aria, because it’s for one voice, even though performed by two characters. Adagio, on the other hand, is a musical direction indicating that a piece is to be played slowly. In classical compositions, movements are often named for their tempo markings, as this also usually conveys the character of the piece. The most famous example being Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

This means, in practice, that there are several notable examples of movements named Adagio. Whereas Sonata and Aria are usually more like titles in conjunction with another descriptor (Piano Sonata No. 14, for example, or ‘the aria from Madame Butterfly’). Happily, Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute contains one of the most famous of all arias, sung by the Queen of the Night. Classic FM described it as ‘the first one most people think of when asked, ‘what’s that one really difficult soprano aria?’ ’

And it’s really quite a thing (the really impressive bit is about 40 seconds in):

So, while it’s properly called by the rather metal title of Hell’s Vengeance Boils in my Heart, it’s popularly known as The Queen of the Night Aria. Which seemed rather fitting for our beloved angry siren, both as a title and as something she might genuinely inspire, whether in the lewd terms that the story implies or the dark fairytale fantasy of the opera itself.

But Sonata needed something too. And I didn’t want to give her the Moonlight Sonata, because the night-time imagery is associated with Aria, and the composer with Adagio. I did consider stretching that last bit and saying that Sonata inspired the Hammerklavier Sonata, thinking it might be nice if Adagio’s lover wrote a piece for her sister as an afterthought. I did listen to it, and the beginning kind of did have a Sonata-Dusk-type feel with how it was chaotic but often cheerful. But that particular Sonata is anything but an afterthought. It’s 45-50 minutes long, and one of the hardest to play works in the classical piano repertoire. I don’t think that suits the character it shares a name with.

But then I remembered or reread a chapter title I came up with years ago for TSTMYLI, and wondered if that might work in this context. After a bit of thinking about it, I decided that yes, Sonata Form would be a very fitting tribute to her. I heard it said once that when giving presentations or teaching a classroom of children, you should begin by saying what you’re going to say, then say it, and then end with saying what you have said. An outline, an investigation, and a summary, basically. ‘Repeat things a lot so it goes through their thick skulls.’

And, musically, one could interpret Sonata Form as echoing that: an exposition section, then a development section, and ending with a recapitulation section. I could see that method of talking to Sonata; repeating over and over again so that she takes it on board, as being something people would pick up after being around her for a while. So it seemed a good thing for her to have inspired musically.

Perhaps this would be a good point for me to mention that I had an hour to kill in town when writing this, and so decided to get some food, and, while eating at the table in the fast food place, carry on writing from where I’d got to. Which means that a few paragraphs of the story were written in Taco Bell. Those paragraphs were of course the ones in which Sonata first appears in the story.

Adagio is also, I discovered, one of the two main styles of movement in ballet (referred to as ‘positions’), the other being allegro. Adagio refers to slow movements which glide smoothly from one to the next, so that’s how I had her dancing start out. Again, that gracefulness seemed a good thing for the siren to have inspired through history, and so it’s mentioned in the text that the steps bear her name.

There’s some tango in there towards the end, because it’s by far the most raw, sexually-charged of the dances I’ve ever seen:

And while it’s a struggle to find decent clips of it online, there is one tango that springs immediately to mind for me:

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a string quartet convey such passion like that before or since.

So I wanted to include an Aria and Sonata moment there, but if ‘passionate’ is the word of that dance, then it couldn’t end in any way other than Adagio stealing Aria away.

A couple of other Epica songs come up, too. The sublime Sancta Terra has the line ‘Forever wasn’t ever long enough:’

And, much more importantly for the story, the final chorus of Canvas Of Life comes up near the end:

Come on home. And I’ll sing you the song.

I asked Simone about that song a couple of years ago, and she pointed out that one of the ironies of metal is how you try to record a heavy album, and yet it’s the one ballad from it that everyone loves. The correct but still not exactly polite response is that that’s because it’s the track that stands out, through virtue of being different, where the rest tend to blur together. The other standout track from that amazing album is the other slow one, In All Conscience.

Anyway, speaking of singing the song! I like the idea that Immortal Melancholy is the song Adagio hears in her head and wants to express to the world. But obviously she doesn’t own a recording of that, so playing it through the speakers in order to dance to it doesn’t really work. So for that I chose the incomparable Violence and Variations, by Bear McCreary, from the soundtrack of Battlestar Galactica season 3.

The 2003 reimagining of Battlestar Galactica, as well as being one of the very best shows ever made, has by far the best TV soundtrack I’ve heard. It’s also groundbreaking in how it integrates with the show in season 3. I really can’t recommend it enough. Here is the title sequence, paralleled with ponies!

Seeing the Wonderbolts matched with the viper pilots makes me love them even more.

And the piece itself:

This is a very special piece of music. Its main harmonic pattern is to spend one bar in C major, and the next in C minor, playing an Ab chord. This gives it a constantly shifting feel which at first is dark and off-kilter, but by the end of it feels absolutely right.

So, in case anyone thought I was making up the dance and plot as I went along, regarding how it relates to the music, please allow me to reassure you:

I made notes.

The score is for the piano reduction rather than the string orchestra heard on the recording, but the melodies and harmonies should all be conveyed exactly the same. So you can see in the last two bars of the above page (bottom right corner) where the faster string part comes in when entering the third section of the song, and that made me think of Adagio slowly revolving, so that’s what I choreographed for her to do.

The main theme of the piece as described in the story starts in the last bar of the second line, and the modulation Adagio thinks of so fondly is bar 16-17, half way through the third line. The melody that makes her think of Arabia starts at bar 23, which you can see the music lists as the snake charmer comparison, but in the piano arrangement it’s a little tricky to see the waterfall resemblance described in the story. You can hear it, though!

The lone high note where Adagio notices that the sounds from the surrounding rooms has cut off is at the end of the second line here, and you can see the volume rising and falling through the two lines that follow, which Adagio compares to breathing.

There’s a famous quote from Mahler which is paraphrased in the story. The original quote is:

“For myself I know that, as long as I can summarize my experience in words, I would certainly not make any music about it.”

But the more common variation of it is:

“If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.”

And Adagio thinks it near the beginning of the story when dismissing poetry:

“If words alone could speak the truth she dreamed, what use would she have ever had for music?”

It has also been said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. And while that quote doesn’t come up in the story, it does have some relevance, highlighting how music and dance are both abstract in nature, and with music it is lyrics which tie it to specifics.

And both quotes lead me to the admission that I just don’t have the words to describe that violin countermelody in bars 88 and 90. If I had to convey it through a movement, it would be... well, six pirouettes! There is definitely a reason that’s the moment the title of the story appears.

The slower section, seen here starting in the last bar of the second line, fell naturally as the ideal place for Aria and Sonata to join, with the music being the same idea as before, but interpreted from a new angle (the musical system of the Variation, as mentioned in the piece’s title). It’s also the one bit where Bear McCreary’s piece meshes quite well with Epica’s. While Immortal Melancholy is slower, speeding it up to the 66 beats per minute of this section of Violence and Variations isn’t so large a change as to sound strange. The key needs changing, of course, but for those four lines the two fit together rather nicely. After that, the Bear McCreary piece is a bit too adventurous harmonically to fit with the Epica one as well as would be nice, and the Epica chorus needs its lines reshuffling slightly to work better with the structure.

You can sing the Epica song over the top of the whole Bear McCreary piece, by all means, but elsewhere you’ll have to change a bit more for it to sound right.

The recording on the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack then has a long, quiet and sparse section, but this didn’t fit with the Epica song or with the story, so I cut it from the track as portrayed in the story. Musically, the bits either side of the cut don’t fit together as well as I’d like, so the jump is noticeable, but I think it’s the best option for the situation. Maybe if I planned to record it, rather than just showing the sheet music, I’d need to come up with a more elegant workaround, but that might involve some composition on my part, and I was wanting to leave this piece pure and without my input, so that every bit of it could be heard on the original track via a Youtube link.

At the start of the fourth line of this page enters the melody described in the story as comforting. It’s actually a reprise of the main theme of another piece, and a particularly appropriate one for this story, as it’s called The Shape of Things to Come:

“Life has a melody, Gaius. A rhythm of notes which become your existence.”

This is a quote from the show, over which the piece plays. I mention it for two reasons. Firstly, it does seem very much related to this story, though I promise I had totally forgotten it until reminded by a Youtube comment on the video just now. And secondly, to me, the melody really does feel that way. Adagio describes it in the story as being like something eternal, that she knows in her bones; that’s how I feel about it. If I were to imagine a slow-motion montage of the fondest moments of my life, this is what would be playing in the background.

The version of the theme heard in Violence and Variations is lacking the high melody, and it’s played at about half the speed. Which makes it not quite so heartbreakingly beautiful, but perhaps all the more relaxed and welcoming, more fitting the reminiscing of the characters in that moment.

This is where the piano reduction doesn’t quite do the piece justice, not really able to convey how everything escalates given only two hands to work with.

I’ve been trying to keep this blog generally focused on interesting facts, rather than giving in to the narcissism of believing that anyone other than myself would be interested in the reasons behind the story decisions I made. But, if you’ll allow me to briefly stroke my own ego over a meagre two sentences:

The desert dunes would swallow any civilisation, sooner or later, once enough had passed through the neck of the hourglass. And, if the image of a face imprinted into those granules was the most permanence anyone could hope for, then she had left her trace—often in the form of that sand being mixed with blood, and bloody ashes.

I really like this bit. Mixing metaphors is usually a Sonata thing to do, but if you pitch it just right then it can be witty and inventive, and conjure up some rather striking imagery.

So, nipping that in the bud before self-indulgence can spread, I think that’s about all I have to say on this story.

Oh! One more thing! ...It might be strange to end the blog for such an Adagio-centric story by talking about Aria, but the latter gets less love than the other two to begin with, and she’s magnificent in her own way, so...

When I was writing this blog (so, much more recently than when the story was published), I was looking again at The Queen of the Night aria, and it led me to a one of those wonderful little moments where everything ties together, much like the thing mentioned in the author’s notes.

So, the story says:

A certain purple siren remained proud of the Queen of the Night aria, Adagio knew, and how hard she’d worked to earn that title from Wolfgang.

And above I said that it ‘seemed rather fitting for our beloved angry siren, both as a title and as something she might genuinely inspire, whether in the lewd terms that the story implies or the dark fairytale fantasy of the opera itself.’

But it suits her all the better upon Wikipedia’s disambiguation page pointing out that Queen of the Night is also the name of a couple of types of plant, both of which manage that most poetic of gothic virtues: only flowering at night. I am reminded of Aria’s words in Haunted Wasteland, singing to the waves on a moonlit beach:

“Serenity, tranquility, peacefulness – another might just as easily call that stillness loneliness.” Aria’s voice had a whispery kind of resonance, a gracefulness it hadn’t by daylight, as if it had picked up some depth and mystery from her singing. “But I think it’s beautiful.”

Between her darker colouring and her star motifs, Aria always struck me as the nocturnal one of the three. I know lots of people like to write her as exercise-happy, getting up at the crack of dawn to go running. But to me she was always the one who’d be in bed ‘til noon, then dragging herself up and refusing to function until pumped full of coffee. Sunlight and morning noises would be partly to blame for her bloodshot eyes and sour mood, and come nightfall she’d be enjoying the peace and quiet of having the house to herself while her sisters slumber.

So I think those two particular flowers are very fitting for her. For added bonus, one of them looks like some tentacled creature from the deep.

That’s not even half of it, though.

The thing that really matters, and ties it to Aria, is that that plant...

...is a cactus.

Comments ( 1 )

The thing that really matters, and ties it to Aria, is that that plant...

...is a cactus.


Of course it is :raritystarry:


Sorry, um... lots and lots of things here that I’m sure are interesting but are related to details I don’t remember very solidly from the story itself :twilightsheepish: I’ll appreciate them now, I’m sure, but perhaps more so if the story’s fresher in my head? All I remember of it is a blur of sad and happy and Dagi being sad and ohmygoodness so much dance/music porn :raritystarry: And also Aria and Adagio dancing with each other :rainbowkiss::heart:

But I was thinking I’d give the story another read through soon anyway (Waaay too happy today, so I need something sad and somber to siphon all that cloying sap away), so I’ll hopefully have another comment to drop here when I’m done :twilightsmile:

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