a place from which they need never have returned

“But of all the birds resting in the trees along the Tiber at the end of October, none was half the flier, half the sounder, half the whistler, or half the darter of the swallow.  The swallows flew in great circles, picking up speed, and rising like leaves in a whirlwind.  The ascended like madness, climbing up and up, until they flew among the higher and thicker clouds, in a soft and rosy walls of which they would disappear and from which they suddenly burst in surprise.  Though you could barely see them—at those altitudes they were only spots  and flecks that vanished as readily as they came into view, as if they were merely the coloration of the sky—it was very clear that in the high altitudes they encountered something of extraordinary beauty and import, which is why they strained so hard to rise and stayed so long.

Coursing from cloud to cloud, in roseate light, they had escaped, they knew the pure and abstract and were freed from everything saved light, force, and proportion.  The waves of air high above the clouds were more hypnotic than waves in the sea.  The light was a burst of pink and gold, and the color of the sky ran from China blue to the pale white that held the sun.

And yet, though they were taken by the wind, and flew like golden confetti in the clouds, and might have stayed, they descended, they came down, they whistled like rockets as they fell toward the ground.  They chose to return, as if they had no choice, and what struck Alessandro above all was the consummate and decisive beauty of their fall.  It was not a hopeless fall, for as they shot downward they fought the air, and, ascending momentarily with great strain, they sailed off to left or right, and circled about on the plateau they had marked, before another dizzying drop, another spreading of wings, and another partial ascension.

They seemed to fly faster than the imagination could imagine.  They turned with breathtaking force.  They made perfect curves.  The air sang with their passage.

And when they were finished, these small birds that had been flecks of gold airborne on light and wind in a place from which they need never have returned, they settled gently in the dark spaces among the branches, and here, at the end, they sang a simple and beautiful song.” — Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War


the splash, the organ, and the swell of the heart


By the graciousness of the instructor, I was allowed to sit in on a video game music class a few years ago. As neither a musician nor an engineer, it became clear pretty quickly that what I had to offer to my classmates was minimal. Interestingly, though, there was a universal loathing for–when the discussion of video game music composers necessarily expanded to include those who compose for other mediums, as well–Hans Zimmer, specifically his more recent work like the score for Inception. At the time, Interstellar had not yet come out, but I suspect that the class feeling about its score would have been as pronounced as those they had about Inception‘s. Their major gripe was about the “bwah bwah” sound–those very much slowed-down notes from the Edith Pilaf song; the rendering of them into loud, thundering noise.

What would you rather it be? I wondered. Probably something more delicate. Something reproduceable; something you can play without a shit ton of production. (At least, the musicians would have preferred this–technique over technology was a common theme.) But I wonder about the use of noise. Whether or not it’s technically impressive, does it do something for us, as viewers or players, that a more delicate sound does not?

Take the Interstellar soundtrack. You have to fish through a great many different renditions of the main theme to find the one that builds to the right point and then gives way to the noise–versus dropping off into somber silence–but Where We Are Going does it here:

The theater where I first saw the movie was loud. So much so that I thought, sitting, there, that surely the volume was a function of the theater having incorrect sound levels, not that it had been intended by the composer. But I also thought, at the end of each four-note ascension, please keep going, please let this go higher and louder…YES! That splash of warmth. Even when it became painful, and where the fluttering organ became subsumed under the “bwaaaaaah!” Even then.

Because I think there is something of value in the dissolution of melody there. Yes, I know, there is something akin in this to the way bad writers describe the utterly predictable “dissolution of self” at the climax of sex scenes. But that’s not what’s happening here. We don’t cease to be in the racket. We aren’t swept away into the black hole’s horizon. I, for one–as the rocket launches and this theme plays, and Murph thumps to the front porch too late to say goodbye to her dad, and as Michael Cain commands us to rage against the dying of the light–was an utter sniffling mess, very much not dissolved but wishing I was, so as not to risk being seen totally losing it in a theater. So we may remain, and all our pesky emotions along with us, but the theme implodes, overcome by real and deafening noise. And that is welcome. At least for me. To judge by the number of hits and remixes that this soundtrack gets on YouTube, I’m not alone.

Why? Why is that dissolution so grand? Especially to someone with no great fondness for the gratuitous noise-making music genres? (I’m looking at you, thrash metal.) I’m going to read way too much into it here and suggest that, at least if you’re coming at it from a culture steeped in Judeo-Christian mythos, there is something fantastic about the sound linked, in everything from Sister Act to your grandmother’s funeral, to religiosity being destroyed by noise. That fluttering organ tried to articulate the majesty and grandeur of what was occurring in the plot, sure–the fat of the human race is at stake!–but it fails. Those pre-fabricated, constructed notions of life and death and what matters and what doesn’t fall apart, are obliterated, in the face of (spoilers!) human love. He does all this–careens into a black hole, loses almost his experience of his daughter’s whole life, to save her. And she figures out how to save humanity through missing him. Through his trying to tell himself to screw the plan, to stay there with her.

That affection is greater than any snoozy Sunday morning being told who to hate and who to adore, to the accompaniment of a wheezing organ. It is greater than the hero worship attendant upon people who profess to have the power to command that love, be it from a pulpit in a megachurch or a cathedral or a Kool-Aid-stocked bunker somewhere.

It is greater, too, than space. Finally there is something to hold up against the silent roar of that vacuum: that endless funeral; a black expanse lit only by the deaths of stars long gone. Wrapped in a blanket at a party on a dock several weeks ago, our star-savvy host looked up at the Milky Way and commented that stargazing was so much less depressing when done with other people. “You feel so much less alone.”

Yeah. You do. Your heart swells. You get to feel like you could deafen that void and the faltering, orchestrated explanations of its existence, just with the power of your love. Even if only for a moment.

solas as technoking : yet another reading of dai : trespasser

It’s that time again! You’ve raided Etsy for all those cool knicknacks that you hope will prompt subtle grins of approval from fellow Dragon Age players on the street, and you’ve read so many fanfics that you’re sure your head will burst if you read one more line about trailing fingers or questing tongues. What now, then?

It’s speculation time!

Cut for Dragon Age: Inquisition Trespasser DLC spoilers.

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solas as demiurge : a gnostic reading of dragon age: trespasser

Let’s face it, folks: we have a long, lonely few years until the next Dragon Age game. So what to do in the meantime, once you’ve bought all the merch there is to buy and slashed all the pairings there are to slash? Speculate, of course. Let’s begin!

First thing’s first: I’m not a gnostic or even a Christian. So these comparisons I’m going to make are necessarily those of an outsider. We know there were historical considerations taken into account during the formation of Thedas, sure — but how rooted those remain, now, or how far one can extrapolate them, is open to debate. So this is purely speculation for the sake of speculation, let’s be clear. I like history, I like games, and I don’t like the academy. That is about as far as this goes.

Now that that’s out of the way…

Cut for spoilers for Dragon Age: Trespasser DLC.

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but as the water filled my mouth it couldn’t wash the echoes out

The first time I heard this song was half-snatched through a nearby undergrad’s too-loud headphones as he watched the video on YouTube. I ducked out of my grad school class and used the bathroom wifi to look it up and listen to it in full. It was the first song of Florence + The Machine I’d heard, and it is still my favorite song of hers. It makes you feel like the caged animal you are; like if you howled there’d be other animals in other cages howling along with you.

But this version! Orchestral. Chills! It started autoplaying by accident after a remix of Spectrum. This link is cut to Drumming Song but YT has the whole concert. A full hour! From Ceremonials, too. Which I still love best as an album. I cannot be tempted with intimacy and lower production values. One has plenty of lonely hours to acquaint oneself with the finely-honed edges of life. Scream it, lady, loud and clear. We can be quiet later. Like the rest of our goddamn lives.