Behind Chroma

Feedback from readers of my novel Chroma: Light Being Human has revealed the need for some clarification. Specifically, there’s an issue with the character names, which are a series of numbers along with color names. As one reader said, the numbers made it hard to remember the characters and reminded her of the Dewey decimal system.

While her point of reference here might have something to do with her career as a librarian, I realize that many readers may not ‘get it.’

So here’s the thing. The characters are manifestation of sound and light. The numbers refer to frequencies of sound waves as measured in Hertz. The light is broken into the spectral array of the rainbow. They are called  the Aspects of Chroma in the story because they are aspects of electromagnetic and sound energy, ‘chroma’ meaning ‘chromatic’ as in all the notes of a musical scale and also ‘chroma’ meaning color.

With the main character B4 Indigo, her frequency of ‘B’ refers to the note in our Western musical scale that falls on the keyboard just below Middle C. But as most know from exposure to keyboards, there are several ‘B’ notes on a keyboard. B4 is the 4th B when you start counting from the bottom. Her kinsmen are all the B range; the next B up the keyboard would be B5.

B4’s color is indigo, a bluish purple color at the far end of the electromagnetic spectrum of visible light between 420 and 450 nanometers. At this point, she is the fundamental waveband, a role that drives her story.

Several connotations of Indigo as a spiritual aspect, as a cited in Wikipedia, are:

  • The color electric indigo is used in New Age philosophy to symbolically represent the sixth chakra (called Ajna), which is said to include the third eye. This chakra is believed to be related to intuition and gnosis (spiritual knowledge).
  • Alice A. Bailey used indigo as the “second ray,” representing “Love-Wisdom,” in her Seven Rays system classifying people into seven metaphysical psychological types.
  • Psychics often associate indigo paranormal auras with an interest in religion or with intense spirituality and intuition. Indigo children are said to have predominantly indigo auras.
  • People with indigo auras are said to favor occupations such as computer analyst, animal caretaker, and counselor.

To an aware reader, these spiritual connotations add depth to the understanding of B4 Indigo’s character and her role in the story of Chroma.

The premise of Chroma is that light energy traveling through space/time sought the experience of embodiment. In reaching the threshold of this pursuit, they came into the physical by forming in sound and color light energy. Their explorations after this threshold comprise the rest of their story, at least to the point of full embodiment. If I live long enough, I hope to write a couple more books that continue this story line into the year 2540.

I hesitated to delve into these details in any kind of preface for the book and hoped that readers would be able to enjoy the story by accepting the character names such as B4 Indigo, D3 Red, A4 Blue, etc. But I concede that these names especially in their full presentation as B493.883 Hertz or D293.665 or especially B4’s ancient partner F369.994 (F-sharp) may not immediately appear in an understandable way to the average reader. For those who don’t have a musical background, I can only say that B and F-sharp are acoustic partners in what is called a perfect 5th, and conversely, they are a perfect 4th, thus their inescapable partnership in acoustical phenomena.

Similarly, Indigo and Yellow are complimentary on the color wheel. In the mid-1600s, Isaac Newton linked the seven notes of the Western scale with the array of prismatic colors. In painting, complimentary colors yield useful applications. For example, when painting in yellow or gold, to create shadow effects, the artist would not darken with gray or black, but rather indigo or purple.

A reader’s understanding of these arcane details is not necessary to enjoy the story of Chroma. But for those like the librarian who are frustrated by the apparent nonsensical nature of the naming, hopefully this explanation will be helpful.

Chroma wasn’t an easy story to write. How do you assign emotion to sound and light? The main characters can’t cry or hit or sleep, at least not for several millennia. Yet emotional responses and physical actions form traditional elements in fiction, so that  norm further complicates the telling of this alternative-history story.

I wanted to present a creation story of humanity on Earth that explored possibilities of extraterrestrial influence that didn’t involve little green men. Some form of man does appear, but those are visions of a future or a past that isn’t fully revealed. I also wanted to express the idea that music and its deep appeal to us on a non-verbal level suggests that there may be more to our connection to musical tones than we have previously known. Same theory applies to our appreciation of color.

Chroma is a story that wouldn’t go away. I chewed on it, wrote it, tossed it, recreated it and labored over it for over twenty years. I’ve never been completely happy with it. I’m tormented with the second book, partially written, elusive, and inescapable. I have to do it, so please–wish me luck!

 

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Writing About Music

Forestwander.com

Writing music.

In words.

Is simply not possible.

I tried. In my first published book, Notes of a Piano Tuner, I wanted desperately to convey the thrill of hearing a certain piece of music played on a freshly tuned piano. Everything about that time and place added to the intensity of those few bars—an old wooden church house twenty miles out a dirt road in the Arkansas Ozarks, an old upright piano that had somehow survived a century of use to remain remarkably musical, and a rainy late spring afternoon. As the storm front moved on to the east, a green cast permeated the outside air. A wasp buzzed against the nearby window, one of those tall narrow windows with watery glass common in old churches where they needed the light but didn’t want congregants distracted by whatever went on outside.

Moist air carries sound waves better than dry air. The combination of moist air, the resonance of the old church, the magical ancient piano, and the harmonies of that particular music transcended anything I could say with words. The waves rolled up from the soundboard, bounced off the high church ceiling, and resonated through my chest like a physical force.

Well, it was a physical force.

My hair stood up. I got goosebumps.

There’s something about fourths and fifths that does it for me. And old hymns, which make full use of fourths and fifths. Simple, basic harmonies.

An acoustic physicist could probably explain it. The mathematics of tuning never quite penetrated my skull. My dad taught me to tune by ear. I didn’t want or need to understand that when a string produced a fundamental pitch, say the note ‘A,’ it also formed partials. Partials were, predictably, partial vibrations of the string which produce other pitches. So for the note ‘A’ vibrating along a single string, the partials also vibrated in tones of fourths, fifths, other octaves and so forth up into an entire overtone series.

For more than you ever wanted  to know about overtones, check out this article.

Complicated stuff and mostly irrelevant to a tuner who works by ear. My dad, I, and now my son understand these things internally.

To the point, the strings on the old upright in that church still created perfect overtones. As those chords rolled from my fingers, the overtones blended with the fundamental notes I played to create such a rich experience that I actually got tears in my eyes.

I wanted to share that. When I wrote that story, I tried to think of how to convey my experience. I considered writing the actual music on the page, but unless someone knew how to read music, that notation would mean nothing. I blathered on about feeling the effects of the music but that alone wouldn’t make someone’s hair stand up.

I ended up writing the words that accompany that particular sequence of music thinking that if someone heard the words, they would hear the music.

Well, maybe some did. But unfortunately, most readers evidently took the meaning of the words as the message I wanted to convey and never heard the music at all.

Wrong. Not even close. I didn’t want the message of the words to have anything to do with my story. The message of the words wasn’t my message. In fact, they were about as far from my intent as they could possibly be.

The words were “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,” etc. I wrote the entire first verse, because those were the notes, the harmonies, the chords and overtones of my experience.

As a result, a lot of readers of my book assumed that I had been ‘saved.’ That my awestruck experience resulting from that loaded afternoon had to do with finding God, getting religion, and all the rest of that stuff.

I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant. Not what I meant at all.

And it strikes me now that religion is a lot like that, all about the words without hearing the music.

The Desk

man at deskFrom the desk, orders issue forth. Bits of paper and ideas settle into orderly stacks. Drawers open to reveal white paper, envelopes, pencils and pens, erasers, rulers, paperclips, checkbooks, random rubber bands and ephemera relevant to the civilization of mind.

The top of my father’s desk curved down at the front and back in a streamlined Art Deco style going out of fashion in the mid-Forties when my mother bought it for him. She purchased the desk new at a hardware store in Rogers, Arkansas, two years before I was born. It remains in the family household seventy years later.

The image of him sitting there with his big stubby fingers busily typing away on his massive old Royal typewriter stays in fresh my memory. Curses muttered in his deep rumbling voice signaled a mistake that required laborious erasures. Sometimes the errors ran so deep that the paper would be ripped from the carriage, accompanied by a mechanical zipping sound as the cylinder spun.

How satisfying, that ripping sound. The end to it, for once and for all! A new sheet of paper! A new start! And then the keys would tap again, clickety-clack, as he pursued the project at hand. A letter to a band parent? A notice to be posted on the bandroom bulletin board?

A bold red band graced the top border of his Bi-State Music Festival paper. It came in wrapped reams redolent of printers’ ink. Documents issued forth—letters to other band directors in the region, schedules of competing bands, ensembles, and soloists. I remember the watermarks on the heavy bond paper, the matching envelopes, the anticipation permeating our house as the festival neared. This was my father’s prize project for his years at Northside High School in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Then there were the hours, late into the night, that he bent over pre-lined manuscript paper with his quill of India ink to join the lines into a musical staff. His practiced flourish produced treble and bass clef signs, quick jots of ink for quarter notes, and quirky flags at the top of the note stem designating its status as eighth note or sixteenth. The side of his hand brushed the heavy manila paper as quarter note rests took shape or as a long slur line arced over two measures.

His concentration palpable, his cigarettes burned down to the filter in the wide glass ashtray. There were the groans and curses when his efforts went awry, when the ink bottle spilled or the muse stopping whispering in his ear. When real life demanded his attention to wife and children, the lawn that needed mowing, the bills past due. An artist at heart, he never fully accepted his role in the world of the mundane.

Command center to the world around us or doorway to the ether of creation, desks are the place where business is done. Here I utter my own curses at the petty requirements of temporal life. Can’t you see I am far away, the whispers of characters and scent of distant meadows flowing from my fingertips? Yet the desk is not only the arena of creation but also where I organize my world, establish schedules for my time and finances, and write letters to compliment the helpful and excoriate the stupid. Here I sit to stare out the window as memories and worries rush onward, ever onward, in my unruly thoughts.

Now the world unfolds on my computer screen. Words scroll across virtual paper, easily erased and corrected. No more ripping paper from the typewriter. How much more music could my father have written with the tools of modern times? Playing a simple phrase on a digitally-connected keyboard would have produced perfectly crafted notes on a virtual page, no ink required.

Maybe the result of such ease in the mechanics of creation is that we are now drowning in a sea of mediocre art. Perhaps we were better served with pages ripped from typewriters and music penned with India ink. When the need to tease out a deeply held emotion, find words that best describe, or form scenes that best reveal, I drag out the paper. It sits expectantly on the desk, this thick pad of white paper. Sometimes even the use of a pen is too facile, and I dig up the Number 2 lead pencil. It makes a satisfying sound as my hand forces the tip over the paper.

What I write on paper with pencil is different from what appears with keystrokes on a digital keyboard. The words are more carefully chosen. The shapes of letters carry significance. The words have real weight and I use them in new ways, unexpectedly poignant.

I am at my desk with paper and pencil. I can see my father bent here, his profile etched against the dark of night in the light from his desk lamp. His quill scratches across the page.