This is the second story I’ve written in the steampunky world of a mechanikae uprising. It explores some of the same issues as the previous story, “The Clockworks of Hanyang” and I won’t post a lengthy discussion of its themes, but instead will simply note things that might be of interest to one who has read it:
- The title is indeed inspired by the piece of music that the mechanika in Erik Satie’s room ponders. Satie, 19th century French composer, wrote the piece as a rebuke to critics who complained that his music was “formless” (meanwhile also mocking the cheesiness of artists who continued to paint still life portraits of fruit when the visual arts had grown so far beyond the form). Like my story, Satie’s composition had seven sections, each somewhat distinct from the others and with a connection that is more subterranean and suggestive than direct:
- The music that appears in section 5 is indeed the music dreamed by the lone mechanika in section 4. It is, however, much more inspired by the work of Conlon Nancarrow than by anything Satie wrote — though Satie’s double-piano was part of the original impetus to imagine a dual-keyboard player piano. Still, Nancarrow is the touchstone, especially the horrifyingly brilliant and mechanikal (ie. inhuman) “Study 21 for Player Piano”:
- Here’s the sheet music for the mechanika’s dream music as a PDF.Go ahead and download it, share it with friends, it’s pretty much unplayable by humans. But if you want to hear it, here’s an MP3 of how it would actually sound if it were ever performed by an ensemble — for they would not perform it in a solo manner, but rather using an army of semi-sentient player pianos.
- Yes, yes, you did indeed spot a reference to the first Ray Bradbury story I ever read… of course that’s what it is. It’s telling that the story has inspired so many riffs and things online. This is one of my favorites.
- I could not have written section 7 if my friend Ian hadn’t brought me to the Australian National Museum in Canberra, and the Ainu museum in Sapporo. It could as easily have been Wanuskewin near my hometown. As I struggled to say in Korean this morning, “Humans are beautiful, but they are terrible too.”
- You cannot imagine how much I wanted to write a scene in the Bavarian-run, mechanika-powered city brewhouse of Plzeň. Maybe in the next Lasher story?
(Added 21 July 2011): Oh, one more thing:
- This story (and the other one I’ve written in the same world) definitely was informed by Christopher Benfy’s The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan, about which I posted some of my thoughts here. There’s something to the sense of dread and fear regarding modernity and the future that infected both a number of “Gilded Age” Americans and both institutional and intellectual circles in Meiji Japan, which definitely also shows up in these tales. Plus it tells the story of how and why so many people thought there were canals on the moon (Percival Lowell, the astronomer, was also a Japan aficionado), and about the first attempted signal to Martians — from a hot air balloon, of all things.
“The robots overthrow humanity and create their own world. Very little of the human world remains. Been done before? Oh, yes. But so elegantly? Less often… a true multimedia work… RECOMMENDED.” — Lois Tilton @ Locus