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A Non-Pep-Talk


The Curious Score

No. 4

I spent the weekend writing something completely unrelated to The Curious Tale, something I needed to get off my chest. Now it's four o'clock in the morning, and if I were prudent I would begin the process of winding down for the night. But I'm not prudent. Instead I'm going to try writing this week's Curious Tale Saturdays. It's already late as it is. If I could afford to take the week off, I would, but I need to hit that "charge" button on Patreon—my worst problems in life at the moment are financial—and I can't bring myself to do it if I don't at least have a Curious Tale Saturdays.

Lack of Creative Impulse & Crisis of Confidence

I did work on ATH itself this week, a little bit. My creative gas tank has been very low lately, between everything that's been going on—health problems, drama with my parents, and most of all my terrible financial situation. I've struggled to get any real traction in my creative writing. We're already coming up on the end of February and, even though I do have multiple pages of manuscript scenes to point to, I don't really feel like I've accomplished anything.

This is the kind of setback that writers must inevitably face from time to time. The causes may differ, but the end result is the same: some combination of a lack of creative impulse and a crisis of confidence. And when it really hits hard, it's severe enough that it weeds out most of the people who aren't true writers.

A "true" writer is one who writes even when there is no external incentive to do so—perhaps even when there are outright disincentives. A true writer is one who writes because they have to, because it is in their character. I'm one of those people, with the (digital) paper trail to prove it.

I'm writing this, for instance. I could write anything I wanted here. The odds are that nobody will actually read this thing during its initial release. I haven't gotten a single piece of feedback on anything in months, despite my requests. Most of my regular readers have told me that they only read my work intermittently, and often skim when they do. Part of my own contemporary crisis of confidence is that I haven't been able to get the external help that I need in setting my compass. That's because my circle of readers just isn't big enough. There's no one predisposed to read these articles and comment on them. And that of course reinforces the crisis of confidence.

It wasn't always this way. I used to write without giving a damn who read it. I always wanted more interaction than I got, but the low amount I got didn't bother me. That changed when I really started pushing this Curious Tale stuff: the website, the Regular Features, and so forth. I started seeking out more feedback, and getting bothered when I didn't get it. I guess that's not really a healthy way of going about business…perhaps intrinsically, or perhaps just situationally. It's made me think that I should probably stop asking for feedback, and spare myself the frustration of not getting any. I wrote this article in that mentality, and it felt rather liberating to do so.

I excel at being a writer, but I am terrible at showmateship. Yet 2016 is all about building an audience. Goodness knows how I'll get there. Amid my quest to build my career as a writer, I've been battered by personal crises for so long, on so many sides, that I've developed a strong Tolkienian fatalism: It's not that I've become pessimistic and can't foresee victory. It's that victory seems so far off that it's just…incomprehensible to me, at this time. The horizon is inscrutable. All I really have at the moment is perseverance.

The perseverance, at least, isn't going anywhere. After all, I'm a writer. I have to write. I have a built-in engine.

However, drive and efficiency are not the same thing, and right now, at the very time when I could sorely use a high productivity rate, my actual productivity is abysmal. (That's the perfect word for it.) Sure, I got a couple of scene fragments written this week, and likewise the week before it. But that's not really…efficient. It doesn't really change any of the dials. The only thing it does is allow me to truthfully say that I'm doing something.

I don't really have any sagely advice for you, if you should ever face such troubles as a writer. These crises are hard. All I can say is that, if you're a true writer, you'll keep going. It's nourishing and therapeutic, and it's a welcome refuge from life's problems. And if you're not a true writer, well, don't force it and worry about giving up on writing. If you don't have to do it, you don't need to do it.

Can I say anything creative though, anything of use, here in this space, this week? Sure. I can do that. Don't say I never did nothin' nice for ya. Let me rummage through my thoughts.

Curious Score No. 4: "The Old Stamp"

Tonight I'm wearing my Symphony of the Goddesses shirt with the Triforce on it, so how about a piece of music?

As a renaissance mate who focuses on writing but ultimately expresses himself across a wide variety of media, being creatively depressed in one area often causes my native energies to find other outlets.

The following piece is No. 4 thus far in The Curious Score, and is titled "The Old Stamp." I wrote it over the last three weeks.

In some ways it's not a very "serious" addition to the Score, but it's quite sincere. It features very little thematic or melodic development, but is instead a "garden of motifs" and a "timbral rainbow."

Due to my current living circumstances I don't have a good audio setup and had to balance this piece entirely on headphones. Thus I recommend headphones for your listening experience and also suggest that the overall sound isn't going to be as good as my previous three Curious Score entries.

"The Old Stamp" showcases my favorite musical obsession: the back-and-forth swaying of a Gaelic key shift. This is a lifelong musical obsession of mine that far predates The Curious Tale. We're talking Ravel levels of fixation. It appears very frequently in my work. In The Curious Tale it is most strongly centered on Silence Terlais (as if that surprises anyone), but it also shows up in many other places.

This piece also showcases a number of Curious Tale motifs. The piano that you hear at the very beginning is a variation of the Traveling Theme (more on that in a moment) and at the same time is a direct homage to and restatement of the very interesting theme from the Oxenfree soundtrack piece titled "20 Days Past." In that piece, a fascinating melodic idea* is introduced, but is never developed or completed by the composer, and it was just begging me to complete it. So I did!

(* Fascinating melodic idea: Of course, that's because it just so happens to be an (unintentional) variation on my own Traveling Theme, which is complete, and which is probably why it resonated with me so well.)

You'll also notice in "20 Days Past" the aforementioned Gaelic key shift (along with the strongest statement of the melodic idea), around 2'50".

Anyhow, I took the Oxenfree "variation" and gave it its own unique completion, thus creating a true complete variation on the Traveling Theme.

The Traveling Theme

Along with its variation, the Traveling Theme itself also prominently features in "The Old Stamp." It's a short and simple theme that lends itself to many different pieces of music. Here is the Traveling Theme in its core form:

"Three Elementary Variations on the Traveling Theme"

Now you will be able to recognize it when it appears in future installments of The Curious Score.

The Traveling Theme represents change in the world of Relance, specifically the momentum of change as opposed to the substance of change. I first created it during a mutual composing exercise with my (sadly former) friend Michael around 2008 or so. Because of its simplicity it is a very easy theme to create variations upon, but the literal theme itself is also interesting, with a lot of energy to it.

Not unlike the aforementioned Gaelic key shift, the Traveling Theme is centered on Silence and is actually melodically a member of her musical block. But in terms of the story, the Traveling Theme is bigger than Silence and is classified under the Relance block. It appears anywhere that a certain kind of change is occurring in the world.

What is this "certain kind of change"? The true answer would be too much of a spoiler, but a good stand-in answer is that the Traveling Theme can be thought of as an instance of one or more characters exploring and fulfilling part of their potential. This is significant because Relance itself is closely tied to the concept of potential.

The Old Stamp

Even though the Traveling Theme variant gets its melodic completion in this piece, the piece as a whole has virtually no thematic or melodic development: just a continual restatement of multiple motifs—a veritable "motif garden" as I call it. You won't recognize these various motifs for what they are, of course, because you've never heard them before and don't know what they're associated with! No worries; association isn't necessary to enjoy the piece. I won't even bother to identify them here. Simply know that the best way to digest this piece is to recognize that there are many different motifs present. Don't try to synthesize them for insights as to a larger whole, because there is no such thing. The only thing most of them really have in common is their compatibility with that Gaelic key shift.

In After The Hero, one of the themes of Book I (and beyond) is that special moment in life where you realize "I have to be the change I want to see." To borrow a popular example, it's that moment when Harry Potter realizes that his dad isn't going to show up to save him with his patronus—that it's actually Harry himself who creates it. It knocks the wind out of you to realize something like this in your own life. It takes a little bit of the mystique and magic out of the world. But the tradeoff is that you move that much closer to fulfilling your potential.

"The Old Stamp" doesn't refer (yet) to any one explicit sequence of events. When I wrote it I sort of imagined it as a montage where a number of different characters are separately having this realization that they're going to have to be the change they want to see: Silence, Benzan, Spade, Yoshtar, the Pabol Apprentice, and others.

The piece begins (and ends) in melancholy, but develops a strong festivity and joyousness in the middle.

The phrase itself, the old stamp, is no longer used in English, but at one time it referred metaphorically to the higher quality of something older as compared against its replacement. (E.g., "He was a musician of the old stamp.") In ATH its meaning is an implicit challenge to the characters it touches. It asks the question: Can you live up to your hopes, and to the weight of history? Can you make your own patronus as strong as your bygone heroes would have done?

The artistic intentions of this piece are not deliberately related to my present personal circumstances; I would discourage you from connecting those admittedly temptingly obvious dots. Sometimes the most obvious explanations are not correct. This piece of music significantly transcends my own current woes. That said, it's fair to propose that I would benefit from comparing my personal circumstances against the artistic intentions.

I would like to have done more work on the piece, more development, yadda yadda, but I can revise it in the future if I want. In the meantime, it's finished.

I love that breathy Cadenza flute sample. The xylophone is suspiciously compelling too.

The Curious Score
No. 4

"The Old Stamp"

O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!