Letter to Kaladin, or a musing on the peculiarity of fiction

You should be able to understand the gist of this piece even if you haven’t read the Stormlight Archive; you just won’t get a few jokes and some of the more specific irony. But do be aware that there are some indirect and some small spoilers for The Way of Kings.

Dear Kaladin,

I would like to introduce you to somebody very important. His name is Brandon Sanderson, and he is the source of all your miseries.

Photo by Captain Demoux

Brandon was the one who killed Tien, and who made Amaram murder your spearmen. Brandon was the one who decided to bring Roshone to your hometown, and Brandon was the one to give Roshone the idea to force Tien into the army. Oh, and Brandon also killed Dunny, Maps, and Narm, and he’ll probably kill you too someday. Unfortunately, Brandon lives in an entirely different universe, so you can’t do anything about it. (But at least he’s darkeyed.)

You see, I hate to break it to you, Kaladin, but you’re actually a fictional character. You kind of don’t actually exist. Somebody made you up in his head and wrote down about it, and now little copies of you live in lots of people’s heads with slightly different physical features based on the age and gender of the person involved. (If you have trouble believing this, ask Hoid. He knows a lot of other very interesting things, too.) It’s sort of like a shared hallucination. Come on, isn’t that cool? You’re a shared hallucination! I can’t say that about myself. Anyways, so this guy Brandon Sanderson has a kind of overactive imagination, so one day he created you and decided to start making all those agonizing things happen to you because he was bored and besides, he needs to make money somehow and he didn’t want to be a surgeon.

The nice thing about being imaginary is that you’ve got an all-powerful creator watching over you who can turn your life around whenever he wants. For instance, you may be interested to know that in your original incarnation, you took the Blade and Plate of that Shardbearer you killed, and it was okay. In fact, you got to go to the Shattered Plains and have an entertaining time outdoing everyone in the army with your awesomeness while becoming best buddies with Adolin, then finally saving the Kholins from treachery in a whirlwind of magical Shardbearing coolness. But then Brandon decided that was too boring and made you an enslaved bridgeman instead. Now that particular example may not be particularly encouraging, but just think, Kaladin – if Brandon could make your life horrible just because he decided to, he could certainly make your life wonderful just as easily!

But you shouldn’t worry about it anyways, Kaladin. Your almost being driven to suicide was really all for the best. Because now you have a huge fan club over in this universe! Tens of thousands of people pay Brandon so they can watch you be “forced to forsake healing to fight in the most brutal war” and “struggle to save [your] men” as the advertisement on the back of the book says. Some of us use your woes for entertainment when we have to go on really long train rides and we can’t stand looking at the scenery and sitting on seats without nearly enough padding anymore. Others like to watch you narrowly escape death while they’re stuck in their houses because it’s raining so hard outside that they might actually get wet if they went out. I, for my part, had a lovely time reading the scene where you see Tien die while I was baking cornbread and had to sit and keep an eye on the oven temperature, because I own an awful oven that can’t even hold its temperature. (The cornbread turned out very nicely, by the way.)

But this might make it sound like we don’t really care about you or take you seriously. Oh, no! You can be sure that many of us care about you deeply. Some take your future welfare so seriously that they spend hours and hours thinking, writing and drawing about who you should marry. (I think you should go with Shallan, by the way.) Others are more concerned about your health, so they diagnose the exact mental and psychological disorders that you face and prescribe what you need to do to handle them. We also tend to get into arguments over these subjects, because after all, it’s extremely important to be right and to convince everyone else of what’s right so we can best help you. Who knows what terrible damage could be done to your soul if some idiots ship you with Syl!

Then there are the fans who admire your grit and determination and want to be like you, so they dress up as you and go to big meetings where they have to wait in really long lines for Brandon to write his name in copies of books he wrote about you. After all, he’s the one who gave you reasons to display your grit and determination. And then there are those of us who are so committed to you that we put Bridge Four sticker decals on our cars. Never mind that they decrease the resale value of those precious objects – as we sit and drive around the country in air conditioning, and as we stop at gas stations, rest stops with public bathrooms, and fast food chains, we are showing that we stand with Kaladin Stormblessed in his pain and suffering and his commitment to making the world a better place. Even better, we can pay Brandon to get hats with your slave brands on them so we can wear the hats and advertise our choice to be nerdy and cool whenever we want!

Kaladin, I am truly sorry for all you have gone through, and it really is a shame that Brandon had to do all that to you so he could make some money. Alas, happiness doesn’t sell. But I want you to remember, no matter what you go through – no matter who dies or who you fail, no matter who you lose or who betrays you, no matter what apocalypses, catastrophes, disasters, agonies come your way – you’ve entertained thousands of middle-class suburban nerds, not to mention a few urban ones, and they’re cheering for you. Cherish that, Kaladin. Don’t let anything get you down, because you’ve got a fan club. And after all, Brandon Sanderson’s going to die someday and leave you in peace.

Updates & Changes

A month ago, I rewrote some category descriptions, moved some things around, updated some information, applied a new theme (finally getting a WordPress child theme working), and…well…that was it. I haven’t posted anything since. In the past I’ve generally tried to post something every week, but that hasn’t been happening for the last month and I don’t think it’ll happen in the future. I’m at a point now in most of my pursuits where I have the skill and confidence to take on bigger projects…projects that don’t as quickly produce presentable results. For instance, I’ve been working on a new imaginary planet for several weeks, developing its geography and climate, and now have this beautiful map to show you:

What, you can't read it?

What, you can’t read it?

So I’m thinking that in the future I will be posting less often, but I’ll hopefully be posting better and larger things when I do. At the moment I’m working on multiple arrangements and songs I’ve written, a story that is rapidly approaching novella size, the planet portrayed in that somewhat busy map (my first world with magic in it!), and a tutorial with lots of pretty screenshots. So I have not disappeared! I am still committed to working on and presenting here my various creative projects.

Other Places You Can Find Me on the Internet

I may not have a Facebook account, or a Twitter account, or a Pinterest account, or a LinkedIn account, or an Instagram account, or anything else very trendy, but there are a few other places on the Internet where I do have a presence:

  • On Ravelry, I’m knitnatty. This is a site for knitters and crocheters, so I keep some notes there about knitting projects I’m working on or planning. Emphasis on SOME notes – I don’t keep track of everything I should.
  • On Amazon, I’m sheesania. I post my longer and more intelligent book reviews there, but I don’t buy anything, keep wish lists, or do anything else on that account.
  • On Goodreads, I’m sheesania. I pretty diligently keep track of the books I’m reading on my own there. I also post book reviews, including some too short, too subjective, or too strange to post here or on Amazon.
  • On the Holy Worlds forum, I’m…also sheesania. This is a forum for Christian fantasy and science fiction writers, and it is one of the best forum communities I’ve come across: small, diverse, friendly, intelligent. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve posted there about writing, worldbuilding and Christianity, as well as the occasional tidbit about Sheesania, that is not posted here.

A vacation

My family recently flew to the United States, where we’ll be taking a break for the next two months. I’m going to be busy seeing friends, visiting colleges (!), and reading piles of books, so I won’t be posting regularly for the next two months. (Indeed, my posts have already been getting erratic, since I’ve been busy finishing up schoolwork and packing.) However, I’m still writing a (very long!) review of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire, and I’ve been working on Arandui language and culture. So I might still post during my vacation, but don’t expect anything.

For now, though, let me leave you with a very exciting preview of a song I’m working on.

See you in December!

Memory in G Major

Most of the songs I write begin when I’m humming absently while doing math or reading a book. I’ll make something up for a little while, then find myself transitioning into a real song I know, and then start to improvise based on it, and then find myself transitioning into another song, and so on. Occasionally I make up a tune that sticks for some reason in my head, and then it becomes a theme that pops up now and then as I’m humming much like those real songs do.

“Memory in G Major” is something of a conglomeration of these different themes. The main theme suddenly appeared one day while I was playing around on the piano. It feels faintly familiar, but I can’t quite place it; it’s probably something I made up some time ago, or something based on a song I heard once. Then the second theme, which appears in four quite different forms, is actually the same as the second theme in “An Inciting Incident in E Minor“. It’s an old theme that’s been floating around my head for some time; I think I made it up, but I certainly can’t remember when. One variation of this theme is the same as the central motif in “An Experimentation with Chords in D“. And then there are several other little tunes and motives in there that I’ve played with many times before.

I suppose calling this song a “memory” fits because it’s made up of lots of little memories of themes and motifs and tunes. Yet I’m not quite sure that’s the title for it. I think the song has a strong feeling to it, but I can’t put my finger on what it is…just like I can’t recall the origins of all the themes in it, I guess.

Anyways, much like my other songs, it’s not very impressive…but like my other songs, I love it nevertheless. Below I have a recording of me playing it, as well as some sheet music I wrote up for it. I hope you enjoy it.

The sheet music

An Inciting Incident in E Minor

This almost-six-minute song marks my second wild venture into the world of instrumental composition. I first wrote it for a piano, a D pennywhistle, and a low A pennywhistle (a version that’s currently in F# minor). But then I recently arranged it for piano, D pennywhistle, and cello, and decided that version was superior and therefore definitive. In this song I experiment a bit with modulating between keys and including notes outside of the key signature (how bold!), and I’m also a little more adventurous in my harmony than I’ve been before. This being said, I do not think my harmony is adventurous by objective standards; the pennywhistle and the cello, for instance, spend a great deal of their time switching off, and one hand of the piano spends it days just playing simple chords over and over. And in general, I really don’t know what I’m doing. I know a few basic things about what chords are and what intervals are supposed to be consonant or dissonant…but I certainly have very, very little in the way of training in composition or even in just plain music theory. I have only my ears, a piano, a pennywhistle and some music notation software. As usual, I would happily accept constructive criticism or any other help with my songwriting if you are willing to give it.

I call this song “An Inciting Incident in E Minor,” and there’s a bit of a story behind it. A woman (the pennywhistle) and a man (the cello) are fighting (the key of E minor), even though they can both see how they might be able to be happy together again (G major). What they don’t realize is that there’s something far more sinister (B major, represented by its emissary the B major chord) that’s looming over them, something that they should be working together to combat. I imagine this song being the first part (the first movement?) of a larger work – it is, after all, only the inciting incident. The second part would be about the woman and her backstory; the third part would be about the man and his backstory; and finally the fourth part would be about them confronting the key of B major. I already know about both their backstories (because who doesn’t have backstories worked out for the instruments in their compositions, right?), but I doubt I would be able to write the fourth part anytime soon with all its harmonic instability and key mushiness. I already have a germ of an idea for the second part, though.

So here is a recording of my song and the sheet music for it. Unfortunately, I don’t own a low A pennywhistle and I don’t play or own a cello, so at the moment I can’t record an actual performance of it. I’m hoping to eventually get my hands on a low A pennywhistle and record the two-pennywhistles version, but I doubt I’ll be able to record the version with the pennywhistle and cello unless a friend of mine that plays cello wants to learn it. So for now you’ll have to make do with an MIDI version of this song. Below I have an MP3 recording of the song as synthesized on my computer, and I also have a link for downloading the original MIDI file if you want to synthesize it yourself. Finally, you can download the sheet music if you want. And if anybody is interested in the version with two pennywhistles, please comment or contact me, and I would be happy to post it or send it to you!

The MIDI file
The sheet music

I won Camp NaNo!

2014-Winner-Facebook-CoverThis month I’ve faced many trials: stubborn narrators, confusing symbolism, disobedient characters, writer’s block, fear that what I’m writing is rather boring, and most of all, tricky questions of font choice. But in the end I managed to write 30,000 words as I challenged myself to at the start of July. In fact, I wrote 30,135 words, and I did it in only 25 days!

My resulting draft is only the beginning of the novel – there’s still a lot more to go – and it has a lot of problems. I need to do some major rethinking about how I’m going to present some aspects of the story, and I need to wrangle my narrator into shape, too – he sounds much too young and much too gloomy. (I have discovered that it is very wearing for me to write a story that’s so serious all the time.) But I still like the idea, and I feel like my draft has some promise. There are scenes in there that I’m proud of, even if they’re kind of awkward right now.

So can I read it?? you ask. Not yet! Not nearly yet! This is probably the most unpolished draft I’ve ever written, but I’m proud of that fact – I generally find it very difficult to put something bad down on paper, but this NaNo I managed to keep going, keep writing, keep pressing on even when I wasn’t completely sure that last paragraph actually had anything to do with anything. However, I’m hoping to keep working on this story, and if I manage to finish it and get it into decent shape, perhaps you will be able to read it.

Anyways, now that I’ve finished Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ll return to posting something here at least every week. As always, if there’s something you’re particularly interested in hearing me write about – something about Sheesania, something about books, something about religion, whatever – let me know.

Moral Dilemmas and Human Weakness

Warning: This essay brings up quite a few questions, but it doesn’t really give any clear-cut answers. So if you hate it when an author does that to you, don’t read it! Also, I’m writing to a Christian audience that already believes we should, more or less, take the Bible literally. So I’m not going to take time arguing for why to believe this; I’m just going to assume that you do already and work from there. Of course, even if you don’t believe in Biblical literalism, you might still enjoy the essay.

Imagine that you are a Christian living in the Netherlands under Nazi occupation. You have compassion on the Jews there that are suffering under the Nazis, so, wishing to help the poor and oppressed as the Bible charges you to, you hide a Jewish family in your home. Now imagine a group of Nazi secret police show up at your door one day and ask flat-out, “Are there any Jews in this house?” Well, yes, there are. But are you going to tell them and so compromise the safety of the people you are trying to protect? Or will you lie? You could try to avoid the question or answer it in a misleading way – for instance, you could say, “No, there are no Jews here,” reasoning to yourself that “here” doesn’t necessarily mean the whole house. But if the police are being careful, they will keep pressing until you have to give a straight answer or else reveal that you’re trying to hide something. And you may not be able to think of a cleverly misleading response in the heat of the moment. So what should you do? Lie and presumably save a life? Or tell the truth and presumably condemn a life?

The world is full of confusing moral questions like this. You might be able to somehow explain away the lying problem above – for instance, by citing the example of the Hebrew midwives that “feared God” who lied to Pharaoh when he asked why they were letting the Hebrew baby boys live. But even if you can deal with one question, there are many, many more that still remain. For instance, is it alright to kill an evil man – say, a ruler who is executing thousands of people without any justification – in order to save other people’s lives? Is it right under God’s law to abort a baby if, as far as you can see, both the mother and the baby will die if you don’t? What can you do to answer these difficult questions in a way that glorifies God and upholds His truth and law?

Many people argue that we must just follow the law literally and trust God to work out everything for good. After all, you can’t be completely sure that telling the truth to the secret police, or letting the evil ruler live, or not aborting the baby will end badly, because God can take care of those situations and make them work out for good. And even if things do turn out badly, God won’t hold you responsible according to this way of looking at things, since you did your part and obeyed the law in faith. When you decide to take things into your own hands and lie or kill or do something else against the law, on the other hand, you are not having faith in God, one could say. Rather, you’re relying on your own prediction of what bad thing will happen and your own judgment of what wrong thing is therefore right to do, and so trying to do good by your own strength. You could see it this way: God gave us a set of laws that serve as limits to what we can righteously do. If we cannot achieve a worthy goal – such a stopping the murderous activities of an evil ruler – within those limits, then evidently God doesn’t mean for us to achieve it. So instead we should in faith leave it to God to figure out another way to further good, whether that involves accomplishing the goal some other way or not. If we rather insist on reaching that goal, even though it requires breaking God’s law, we are, according to this view, arrogantly putting our judgment of what’s important to accomplish above the limits God has established.

The problem with this response is that it tells us to ignore our God-given common sense in order to stick to a literal law – a law that we may very well be misinterpreting in an effort to have faith in God without allowing ourselves to be led astray by our fallen intellect! Now, we are indeed fallen, and so our minds are corrupted and tend towards evil. But God gave us minds back in the day before the Fall, so there must be something good about them. And even now after the Fall, God very often appeals to our sense of logic and reason in the Bible – take Paul’s careful theological arguments in his epistles, for one. And we are to love Him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. So while we need to be careful to not let our minds get in the way of faith, we must also be careful to not let our concern with maintaining our faith to get in the way of using our minds for good. It is a delicate balance. The above response to moral dilemmas, now, encourages us to suppress our minds in an effort to have faith. Is this a time when we should be keeping our minds from obstructing our faith? It’s hard to know, for, as I said, it is a delicate balance.

Some other people fall on the opposite side of the balance and say that this business of following the law literally is ridiculous. We’ll cause much harm by taking everything literally, they say, missing the spirit of the law in order to follow the letter of the law. In this way they commendably try to prevent the foolish, empty legalism that God so often condemns in the Bible. But many of these people then throw out absolute morality altogether and say that good and evil is completely relative – sometimes killing someone is evil, and sometimes it’s good; sometimes lying is evil and sometimes it’s good; etc. – nothing is innately good or evil. And when you say that anything can be either right or wrong, it just depends on the context, eventually you have to ask, “Well, what makes something right or wrong in the first place?” But in this system there are no absolutes of rightness and wrongness…so is there really any right or wrong in the first place? If you take this relativistic morality to its natural extent, you end up having no right or wrong at all. And that definitely contradicts the Bible, which is full of moral judgments and statements of absolute truth. Relativism also puts our sinful minds in charge of what’s right and wrong, and ignores or at least sidelines what God has to say on the issue. So while the approach of following the Bible literally and blindly trusting God may be foolishly suppressing our minds, this approach elevates our reason to a point where we must dispose of absolute right and wrong altogether. Neither is fully satisfactory.

Still other people, not wanting to have the shortsightedness that seems to result from a strictly literal obedience, but also not wanting to succumb to relativism, try another route. They rank God’s commands by importance – for instance, they might rank “Do not murder” above “Speak the truth to each other” – and then say that when we are faced with a situation where two commands seem to conflict, the right thing to do is to disobey the lesser one in order to follow the higher one. But disobeying the lesser one is not wrong, since we are only obligated to pursue the greater good. Quoting Norman L. Geisler: “God does not blame us for what we could not avoid. Thus he exempts us from responsibility to follow the lower law in view of the overriding obligation to obey the higher law.” (From http://equip.org/articles/any-absolutes-absolutely-/) In this view, there are still absolutes, since there is an absolute hierarchy of laws. Others say that there is only one absolute law – the law of love – and so that always comes first.

But these approaches nevertheless put an outside, human-created framework on the laws of the Bible. The system of ranking God’s commands imposes a hierarchy on His laws that Scripture never fully develops, if at all, and the “law of love” system demotes the other laws given in the Bible. They say, “Well, the Word of God seems to say this, but we smart and reasonable humans have figured out that actually you should interpret it like this.” Again we are forced to ask: how much should we use our God-given but fallen minds, and how much should we set them aside and focus on having a simple faith? And again I say: it is a delicate balance. Our arrogance constantly pushes us towards saying, “No! We can figure things out with our own minds!”, while our tendency to control and regulate ourselves in a hopeless effort to combat sin, to say “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” as Paul writes in Colossians 2:21, pushes us towards restraining our minds and fearfully enslaving ourselves to worthless rules. What is tipping is the balance? What is crossing the line? Different people come to different conclusions.

To me, it seems that the relativistic approach is definitely out; taken to its logical conclusion, it flaunts the moral judgments that pervade the Bible and just does not fit with our natural sense of right and wrong, the law written on our hearts discussed in Romans 2:15. The approach of literally following the Bible and seeking faith over reason, on the other hand, appears much more Biblical. After all, there are many times in the Bible when God tells people who believe in Him to do things that seem foolish or even evil, requiring them to have faith. Consider the story in Genesis 22 where God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, for instance. But this approach is still is difficult for me to accept. It seems foolish and legalistic to insist on following rules such as those to not deceive when things that seem more important are at stake, like people’s lives. Yet when I find this approach difficult to accept, is it because God has gifted me with a thoughtful mind, or is it because my sinful nature is resisting the idea of having to trust God more and trust myself less? How can I tell? Meanwhile, the approaches I discussed that try to take the middle road – the system of hierarchical commands and the “law of love” – also seem much more Scripturally tenable than relativism. But they still do not satisfy me because they, like relativism, elevate humans to a position where we can interpret the law in non-obvious ways. Is this a right position? Maybe. I don’t know.

Or maybe I’m approaching this issue in an unhelpful way in the first place; maybe I’m asking the wrong questions. Perhaps there is not One Big Answer to these moral dilemmas, one all-purpose strategy for dealing with them. Perhaps we should approach each separately, studying the morality of lying to save lives apart from the morality of killing to save lives, for instance. Or maybe God meant to not give us all the answers, so we would have to rely on Him in moments of crisis instead of comfortably working out a whole ethical system beforehand. But again, I don’t know.

This brings me once more to the theme that seems to pervade this question of how to handle moral dilemmas: should we rely more on intellect or on faith? How much should we second-guess and re-interpret and explain ourselves out of literalness and build fallible human systems for understanding the Bible, and how much should we set aside logic and the principles of the world and go forth in blind faith and stubbornly stick to literalness even when it goes against common sense? How much should we qualify God’s commands and say, “Well, you don’t have to do it in this situation” and build systems of exceptions and special cases, and how much should we insist on absolute, literal obedience even when it seems downright stupid? How much should we trust in our predictions of the future and our ability to successfully avert “greater” evil by doing “lesser” evil, and how much should we just do whatever we’re sure we should be doing and leave the future entirely to God and rely on Him to work everything out? How much is arrogance and how much is foolishness? How much is indifference and how much is fanaticism? How much is eleven divided by zero?

Clearly, these questions are not easy to answer. But they can make us aware of one of our human weaknesses: our tendency to either arrogantly elevate our minds or foolishly and fearfully suppress them. And when we are aware of our weaknesses, we can more easily take them to God and say: “Look, here I am, a very messed up human being. Can You please give me the grace to deal with these weaknesses? Because I know I can’t.” Unfathomable questions like these can remind us that we can’t do everything and remind us to ultimately rely on God. And so however we choose to explore them, and however we try to answer them, we should do it in a humble manner, sensitive to what God is saying, aware of our weaknesses, eager to seek grace to compensate for them. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Even if we can never find all the answers, God will ultimately be glorified.

I’m doing Camp NaNo!

2014-Participant-Facebook-Cover

Every year, a bunch of insane writers like myself spend November trying to write a 50,000-word novel. The people behind this challenge, NaNoWriMo, are probably part of a giant conspiracy with psychiatrists to make people crazy so they can all get more money, because they also run sessions in April and July! And what’s more, they call it “Camp NaNoWriMo” as if it were some sort of happy adventurous nature thing, instead of a tense, caffeinated race played inside, hunched over a screen. Fortunately, they are a bit kinder to us during Camp NaNo than during NaNo proper, since you can set your goal word count during Camp, and during NaNo you just have got to do 50,000 words.

This year I’m going to be doing Camp NaNoWriMo in July, writing a novel called And Then We Can Finish the Story and aiming for 30,000 words. I’m not done planning it yet, for sure, but it’s already taking shape as a rather convoluted story, filled with a little too much symbolism, set in my imaginary world, and having a great deal to do with the themes of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Well, that’s very nice, you say, but why are you telling us this in May? Because, dear Reader, I’m so busy with school and the like that I’m going to have to do extra school in June (which is fast approaching) so I’m freed up to write during July. And because I’ll be doing extra school in June, I won’t be posting as often. I usually try to post every week, but during June and July I’ll only be aiming to post every other week, and I can’t promise anything really long or complex. (No humongous treatises on music, thank you very much.)

And when can we read your novel? you ask. Well, I’m hoping that my book will turn out nicely and be something that I’m eager to share, but I really can’t be sure how things will actually go. It might crash and burn in the first week of Camp NaNo; it might end up being horrendously long; it might end up being really, really boring; it might end up being so convoluted that I start melting my own brain; etc., etc. However, even if things go reasonably well, don’t expect to be able to read it anytime soon – I’ll want to edit it quite thoroughly before I ever put any bits up on my website. You can keep an eye on its page on Camp NaNoWriMo, though, for a more thorough description, an excerpt (eventually), and stats on how far I am.

Arandui music

This post has been a long, long time in coming! I usually try to post something every week, but this article has taken so long to produce, and I’ve had so many unexpected complications and technical difficulties along the way, that I decided to chuck the posting goal while I finished it. And now it’s finally here! I hope somebody enjoys it. I also hope that I haven’t made any big, stupid mistakes, especially considering that I haven’t been studying music for very long…but if you catch any, please comment or contact me and let me know!

So, in the past few weeks my roving curiosity has gotten stuck on random subjects relating to music. I spent a few days reading everything I could about Pythagorean tuning, then I read about chords and harmony and counterpoint, then I went back to the subject of tuning and read about meantone and well-tempered tuning, then I investigated different types of scales, then I tried to wrap my mind about what a mode was. (Thankfully now I’m down to only one browser tab relating to music, but if I think about it too much I’ll end up with more.) So naturally I not only ended up with some understanding of historical Western tuning systems, I also ended up with a musical system for Arandu, my favorite Sheesanian country at the moment. And here it is.

I’ll start with an overview of the history of Arandu and Arandui music and how it developed, then discuss some of the more theoretical aspects of Arandui music – the tuning systems (of course!) and the scales and modes – then talk about the different instruments used in Arandu, and finally show a few examples of complete Arandui songs. (In English, since I haven’t worked on the Arandui language enough yet for me to translate a song into it.) Two notes: Firstly, the Arandui musical system is, admittedly, very close to the modern Western system. As I was thinking about it, I decided that since I don’t even know that much about Western music, it would probably be a bit too ambitious to try to come up with something really alien. But later on, once I understand Western music better, I can come up with weird musical systems for other Sheesanian countries. Secondly, if you’re curious about how I made all the examples throughout this article, I did them by writing a small program in Java, using the excellent JFugue library, to produce MIDI files with the proper tuning. Then I used TiMidity++ to generate .wav files from the MIDI’s. But where’s all that music from in the first place? All of it was written by either me or my sister – some of the examples are mutations of songs my sister and I have made up; other examples I wrote on the fly.

Background: Egeldish Music

Arandu was originally settled by religious refugees from Egeld, and so naturally they brought their Egeldish musical traditions with them. Now, Egeldish music is very strictly segregated between sacred music, which involves a variety of instruments (particularly string instruments), but is only played by certain priests; and popular music, which is not allowed to involve any instruments other than drums, a certain type of crude vessel flute similar to an ocarina, and foreign instruments (even then, if a foreign instrument is too close to one used in Egeldish sacred music, it’s not allowed). The priests that play sacred music have very jealously guarded their instruments and their techniques for centuries, warning people that they will incur the wrath of the gods if a non-priest tries to produce music in a sacred style. Foreigners visiting Egeld have at times been killed for playing music too similar to Egeldish sacred music without the authorization of these priests. Today many parts of Egeld are a bit looser about these restrictions, and certainly nobody will get killed nowadays for bowing a violin, but most Egeldish people are still very nervous about sacred-style music that isn’t authorized by the priests. You might not get killed for bowing a violin, yes, but you will make everybody afraid to associate with you.

Well, the Egeldish refugees that settled in Arandu had very little concern for these restrictions, because they had an entirely different religion and thought that all the priests’ warnings about divine retribution were a bunch of hogwash. Indeed, they were quite eager to defy the restrictions on Egeldish music now that they were out of Egeld and out of reach of the priests. The problem? Most of the refugees were low-class peasants who rarely even got to hear the priests’ special music, and certainly never got to study the priests’ carefully guarded instruments and techniques. While there were a few men among the refugees who had once been priests, none of them had ever studied the sacred music. But the refugees had stolen quite a few sacred instruments as they left Egeld, as part of a larger effort to take revenge on people who had opposed their religion (lords and landowners were also targeted). And so now they had a few different stringed instruments and flutes and other miscellaneous things that they had almost no idea how to play. (Sometimes they didn’t even know what they were. There was one particular miscellaneous thing that the Egeldish refugees just could not figure out how to play. Eventually a former priest realized that it wasn’t an instrument at all; it was a doodad used in certain rituals.)

So what did they do? They messed around with the instruments and invented their own new musical system based on what they could make the instruments do, and, of course, based on what little understanding of music they already had from Egeldish popular music. In the end, two main types of music developed in Arandu, loosely based on the Egeldish distinction: sacred music, which mostly uses instruments based on those stolen Egeldish sacred ones; and popular music, which uses the instruments from Egeldish popular music, refined and improved, as well a few new ones borrowed from the sacred musical tradition. In general, however, there’s a lot more overlap between Arandui sacred and popular music than between Egeldish sacred and popular music. And in Arandu, anyone can buy a sacred instrument and play it however they want without their neighbors killing or ostracizing them. Not so in Egeld!

As I continue the rest of this article, I’ll note what different scales or tuning systems or instruments are used in sacred music or popular music. The examples section will also have examples of both.

The Theory

The Arandui octave is divided into seven notes; starting from one note, a whole step up, then a whole step, then a half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, and finally a half step to reach the note an octave above the first – the same as our major scale. So if you look at part of a typical piano keyboard (original image found here)…

Western octave

…we have twelve notes in an octave – seven white keys and five black keys. The Arandui octave is equivalent to the seven white keys.

Arandui octave

The Arandui notes are usually called, starting at the note closest to our D, fińa, hula, civoor, tyiis, sroi, para and lia. These names come from the first words of each line of an old Arandui hymn. They’re also occasionally called jueńśa, parazune, talianpara, zune, cyiru, hool and tamaanpara after their corresponding popular modes (or, in the case of zune and cyiru, the names of the other keys of the jueńśa mode), and these names are sometimes shortened to ju, pa, ta, zu, cyi, ho and ma.

Tuning

How this octave is tuned depends on what sort of music you’re playing. Popular music uses straightforward Pythagorean tuning, which I’ll explain a minute; sacred music uses a variation on Pythagorean tuning that allows for different sorts of harmonies. This means that you can’t really use popular-tuned instruments and sacred-tuned instruments together. For this reason, instruments that aren’t easy to tune (like flutes) are usually either only used in one style, or are sold in two different types, one for popular and one for sacred.

So, Pythagorean tuning! This tuning system was initially developed by, surprise, Pythagoras and was used in medieval church music. It’s based on the fact that a note played at the same time as a note seven half-steps up (so a C and a G, or a D and an A, or a B and an F#) – a perfect fifth – sounds quite smooth, restful, and generally pleasingly harmonic. Pythagorean tuning uses a series of these perfect fifths to produce the notes of a scale. So, say you were going to tune an Arandui cumaas, a type of stringed instrument that looks a bit like a dulcimer. You’d start out by tuning one string using something like a tuning fork; this is just a basis to start from. Let’s say you tune the first string to D. You’d next tune the A string – a perfect fifth up – adjusting it until it sounds good with the D string. Then you’d tune the E string, another perfect fifth up, adjusting it until it sounds good with the A. And then you’d do the B string until it sounds good with the E string, and the F# string until it sounds good with the B string, and so on – that’s the basic idea.

With this tuning system, perfect fifths sound very nice, so popular Arandui harmony tends to use a lot of perfect fifths. Fourths (notes five half-steps up, so D and G, or C and F) also sound good. Major thirds (notes four half-steps up, so C and E or D and F#), however, don’t sound very harmonic, so they’re used in popular Arandui music to create dissonance. Arandui sacred music, on the other hand, does use major thirds as harmonic (like modern Western music does). So the tuning system for sacred music basically adjusts the popular Pythagorean tuning in order to get nice, smooth thirds (minor as well as major, actually). The main downside is that one fifth, E and B, ends up sounding pretty bad. But this particular combination of notes isn’t used that often in sacred music, so it works pretty well.

A last note on Arandui tuning: both popular and sacred tuning is based on the note fińa at 300 Hz. Standard modern Western tuning, on the other hand, is based on A = 440 Hz. In Arandui tuning, both popular and sacred, the note closest to A is 450 Hz.

Finally, nerd alert: here are two big tables of Arandui popular and sacred tunings. First there’s the popular tuning, which is really just straightforward Pythagorean…
Arandui Note Closest Western Note Frequency (Hz) Ratio to Fińa Cents from Fińa
Fińa D 300.00 1:1 0.00
Hula E 337.50 9:8 203.91
Civoor F# 379.69 81:64 407.82
Tyiis G 400.00 4:3 498.04
Sroi A 450.00 3:2 701.96
Para B 506.25 27:16 905.87
Lia C# 569.53 243:128 1109.78
Fińa D 600.00 2:1 1200.00

…and then we have the sacred tuning, which is a tad more interesting.

Arandui Note Closest Western Note Frequency (Hz) Ratio to Fińa Cents from Fińa
Fińa D 300.00 1:1 0.00
Hula E 337.50 9:8 203.91
Civoor F# 374.93 5:4 386.00
Tyiis G 400.00 4:3 498.04
Sroi A 450.00 3:2 701.96
Para B 499.91 close to 5:3 884.05
Lia C# 562.40 703:375 1087.96
Fińa D 600.00 2:1 1200.00

Scales, Modes and Keys

Arandui sacred music almost always uses a nice, straightforward heptatonic scale (one with seven pitches to the octave) made up of all seven Arandui notes. Here’s a recording of two Arandui church instruments, a syiđa and a petashuisplaying this scale.

Arandui popular music, on the other hand, uses five different types of pentatonic (five pitches to the octave) scales, each with different characteristic melody types and behaviors – in other words, five different modes. And one of them is also used in multiple keys. Much more interesting! Each mode is associated with a different type of music, and each one is named after a different time of day. I’ll go through each one and explain the structure of the mode, its name, and the type of music it’s used for, and provide an example recording of the scale of that mode and a short example of a song using it. First, we have…

Tamaanpara (Sunrise)

Starting from lia, this mode is composed of a semitone, a tone, a tone plus a semitone, a tone, and two tones. In Arandui notes, lia fińa hula tyiis sroi lia, or in Western equivalents, C# D E G A C#. An Arandui cuśa playing this scale:

This mode is used often for love songs and also for enéntanoa (or in the singular, entanoa), “walking songs,” which are traditionally sung by travelers as they walk to their destination. Here’s a part of one traditional entanoa using the tamaanpara mode.

Jueńśa (Day)

Starting from fińa, tyiis or sroi, this mode is composed of a tone, a tone, a tone plus a semitone, a tone, and a tone plus a semitone. So, for instance, in Arandui notes, fińa hula civoor sroi para fińa, or in Western equivalents, D E F# A B D. If the jueńśa scale starts from fińa, it’s called jueńśa lane or just lane; if it starts from tyiis it’s called jueńśa zune or zune; and if it starts from sroi it’s called jueńśa cyiru or cyiru. A cumaas playing the jueńśa lane scale:

Jueńśa is most often used for happy songs and children’s songs, and it’s one of the most common Arandui modes. There will be a full example of a jueńśa song at the end of this article, so I won’t show an example now.

Parazune (Noon)

Starting from hula, this mode is composed of a tone, a semitone, two tones, a tone, and a tone. In Arandui notes, hula civoor tyiis para lia hula; in Western equivalents, E F# G B C E. A cuśa playing the scale:

This mode is fairly unusual in Arandui music, but it’s used occasionally in music supposed to evoke tension or mystery. In modern music it’s sometimes used as an intermediary when changing between talianpara and jueńśa. Here’s an example using parazune, part of a larger work that eventually resolves to jueńśa lane. This example is played by a cuśashoi.

Talianpara (Sunset)

Starting from civoor, this mode is composed of a semitone, a tone, two tones, a semitone, and two tones. In Arandui notes, civoor tyiis sroi lia fińa civoor, and in Western equivalents, F# G A C# D F#. A cumaas playing the scale:

This mode is almost always used for sad songs. Here’s a bit of one played by an ilanydriis.

Hool (Night)

Starting from para, this mode is composed of a tone, a semitone, two tones, a semitone, and two tones. In Arandui notes, para lia fińa civoor tyiis para; Western equivalents, B C# D F# G B. A cuśashoi playing the scale:

This mode is also used for sad songs, but talianpara and hool have different connotations of “sad.” Talianpara is considered tragic, weepy, emotional; hool is more mournful and despairing. So say you had an Arandui tragic play where the hero loses his love. When he first hears the news and is going through a lot of emotions, he might sing a song in talianpara. At the end, when he’s finally resigned to his loss and is quietly despairing, he might sing a song in hool. Of course, this is just the general difference; both talianpara and hool are used all sorts of ways in Arandui music. Here’s one bit of a song using hool.

The Instruments

Now that we’re done looking at the theory I’ve come up with for Arandui music, let’s look at the instruments that Aranduis use to play such music! For each instrument, I’ll explain what it is, where it’s from and how it’s used, and then give an example of the instrument being played.

Cuśa

The cuśa is a four-holed fipple flute; similar to a recorder, but, again, with only four holes. The design is based off a similar Väolki instrument, but it’s played much like flutes are in Egeldish sacred music. Cuśas are generally only used in popular music, as they can only play pentatonic scales. They’re made in all the different popular modes, and they’re the most popular and well-known Arandui instrument. People generally play them with one hand while accompanying themselves on a drum or a cumaas with the other hand. Here’s an example of a solo cuśa playing a short jueńśa lane tune.

Cumaas

The cumaas is a stringed instrument that looks a bit like a dulcimer. It’s most likely based on violin-like instruments that are used in Egeldish sacred music, but it could have also been based on the Hysleft guitar, an instrument from Carafilier. Cumaases come in two types: five-stringed versions, which are made in different modes and have a string for each note in the scale; and a seven-stringed version that has one string for each note in the full Arandui octave. The five-stringed versions are generally played at the same time as a cuśa; the player plucks strings on the cumaas to add harmony to the cuśa’s melody. The eight-stringed versions are usually plucked or strummed to play both notes and chords, with the player using two hands. However, five-stringed cumaases are sometimes played solo, and eight-stringed cumaases are sometimes used to accompany a cuśa. In general, the cumaas is most popular as accompaniment for a cuśa. In such a situation, the cumaas & cuśa player will often have multiple cumaases of different ranges so they can play more than just five notes.

Here’s an example of a cumaas playing solo.

Cumaas ihiisleve (or Hysleft guitar)

The cumaas ihiisleve is a direct borrowing of the Hysleft guitar, which was invented by the Hysleft people of Carafilier and Latrigle. While the cumaas ihiisleve is basically identical to the Hysleft guitar, it’s played a bit differently. Hyslefts play both chords and individual notes on their guitars; Aranduis generally use cumaas ihiisleves only to play chords (because if you need to play individual notes, well, that’s what a cumaas is for!). Cumaas ihiisleves are also only used in popular music, never in sacred music. As for an example…well, I would show an example, but it would be quite difficult to produce a proper one using my program, so I’m afraid there will be none for now.

Cuśashoi

The cuśashoi is quite like a pan flute, and was probably derived from similar Väolki instruments. Cuśashois are made in both ten-tubed versions, which are used in popular music, and fourteen-tubed versions, which are used in church music. Both kinds are usually constructed out of wood. The ten-tubed cuśashoi is fairly common in Arandui popular music, but it’s certainly not as popular as the cuśa. The fourteen-tubed cuśashoi is common in northern Arandui sacred music, often replacing the much more complex and expensive petashuis, but it’s fairly rare in sacred music from the rest of Arandu. Here’s an example of two cuśashois playing a bit of northern Arandui church music.

Ilanydriis

The ilanydriis is a vessel flute similar to an ocarina. It’s descended from the crude clay vessel flutes that were used in Egeldish popular music, but it’s far more capable and much better sounding than these Egeldish instruments. Ilanydriises are still usually made out of clay, however, though you might occasionally come across a ceramic one. There are two types: the plain “ilanydriis” can only play a pentatonic scale, and is made in all the different modes. However, this type is actually quite unusual nowadays. Modern players usually play what’s specifically the “church ilanydriis” instead, which can play a full heptatonic scale and has a large range. Such church ilanydriises are used in both popular and sacred music. In sacred music, they usually play harmony (the idea being that they’re quiet enough to play harmony without messing up the people trying to sing the melody); in popular music, they’re used for both harmony and melody.

Here’s an example of three ilanydriises playing a bit of sacred music together; one’s playing the melody and the other two are adding harmony.

Syiđa

The syiđa is a stringed instrument similar to a violin, and almost identical to the seneduā that’s used in Egeldish sacred music. Because it’s expensive and much more difficult to play than popular instruments like the cuśa and cumaas, usually only churches are willing to pay to buy syiđas and train people to play them. So it’s almost exclusively used in Arandui sacred music. In such sacred music, the syiđa usually plays the main melody, and so often has an important role. Here’s a syiđa playing a bit of a classic Arandui hymn.

Petashuis

The petashuis is a double-reed woodwind instrument much like an oboe, based off a similar Egeldish sacred instrument. Like the syiđa, it’s fairly expensive and difficult to play, and so it also is usually only found in Arandui sacred music. It often plays the melody with the syiđa or occasionally by itself, or sometimes it plays a simple harmony. Here’s an example of two petashuises playing some sacred music together.

Ńeregoi

The ńeregoi is a type of natural trumpet constructed out of brass, derived from a similar Egeldish sacred instrument. Unlike most modern Western brass instruments, it isn’t curled up, so it’s rather long and unwieldy. It also has no valves, fingerholes, or other such mechanisms, so it’s difficult for a player to produce standard Arandui scales without a great deal of training and practice. So, in general, the ńeregoi is only found in rich churches that can afford to train people to play it.

Here’s a sample of a ńeregoi playing part of a hymn.

Tadudú

“Tadudú” is an all-purpose Arandui term for a drum played with the hands (instead of with drumsticks). There are many, many types of tadudú – some derived from Egeldish instruments, some from Väolki ones, some from Suclapoi ones, some originally Arandui. Some particularly popular types are the tadudú jianame, a tall, slim drum with a deep sound; the tadudú nicone, a smaller version of the tadudú jianame that produces higher-pitched sounds; the tadudú shizhae, a drum the size and shape of the tadudú nicone but with a thinner skin stretched across the top and with a body that’s always constructed out of metal, producing a different sort of sound; and the tadudú soonane, a drum that looks like a huge tambourine without the metal jingles (rather like a bodhrán). All are used in both popular and sacred music.

Unfortunately, since I don’t think I could produce proper examples of all those drums, I’m afraid the sounds of Arandui tadudús will be have to left to your imagination for now.

Sozózona

The sozózona is a pitched percussion instrument composed of a number of small metal disks, much like little cymbals or the jingles you would find on a tambourine. It’s played by hitting the disks with a wooden mallet. Most sozózonas have a range of about two octaves, with disks for each note in the standard heptatonic scale used in Arandui sacred music. The sozózona was probably invented in Arandu (though similar instruments are played in other parts of Sheesania), and it’s very common in Arandui church music – it often plays arpeggios in a steady rhythm to accompany other instruments. Here’s a sozózona playing some arpeggios (though a real sozózona’s sound resonates for quite a bit longer than the fake one in the example).

Shelala

The shelala is a percussion instrument very much like a tambourine, though it’s usually quite large. It was based on the tadudú soonane (which itself was based on a type of Egeldish drum) with added metal jingles probably inspired by the sozózona. It’s common in northern Arandui sacred music as well as popular music, but outside of northern Arandu, you’ll only see it in popular music. As with the tadudús, I’m afraid I couldn’t produce a proper example, so just imagine a deep-sounding tambourine.

The Examples

And finally, at long last, we have reached the full examples of Arandui songs! First we have an Arandui hymn – so sacred music, of course – based on Psalm 43, written by a man from northern Arandui, Hitrial Dohona Haellimoon (you can see his hometown, Haellimoon, on my map of Arandu). It’s a type of song, a lament, traditionally sung during what we call Holy Week, the time before Easter.* Men sing one part; women sing another part (though the parts rarely overlap – they mostly take turns), but you’ll hear me singing both parts since I don’t have any men handy. A petashuis and a syiđa carry the melody, with the petashuis playing the men’s part and the syiđa playing the women’s part; this is quite normal for songs like this. There there’s an ilanydriis and a sozózona playing harmony to round it off.

Here’s the recording! If you’d like to see the sheet music I wrote up for this song, which includes the words, I have a PDF of it here.

Secondly, here’s a song in the popular Arandui style using jueńśa lane, one of those old children’s songs that you learn when you’re little and play when you’re first getting the hang of an instrument. I sing the melody along with a cuśa while a cumaas plays harmony. You can find the sheet music of this song (and the words!) here.

*Yes, the Arandui religion is more or less Christian. And yes, I do have an explanation for how people on another planet are following Christianity, but that’s out of the scope of this already very long article. If you’re interested, please let me know and I’ll write up the story!