A pair of worn leather boots.

Revisiting Discworld | The Watch #2 | Men At Arms

“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money. Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet. This was the Captain Samuel Vimes Boots Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness.” —Sam Vimes, Men At Arms! by Sir Terry Pratchett

No other quote could begin this book, if for no reason than it’s probably one of the most famous Pratchett-isms of all time. It routinely goes viral around the internet, and it is also regularly discussed in lengthier articles and forums. As Vimes climbs the social ladder via his impending marriage with Sybil, he ruminates on the impossibility of pulling oneself up by their, well, bootstraps, which he himself has circumvented by marrying into a much nicer pair of boots by sheer, dumb luck. Will he accept himself as a man with more pairs of $50 dollar boots than he could wear in a hundred lifetimes? Is that the kind of man he wants to be?

This article contains SPOILERS from this point forward.

There are a lot of interesting things about this book that make it a truly unique read. First, there are two equivalent protagonists. Vimes, of course, is the soul of the Watch, and man whose journey drives the plot and themes. But Corporal Carrot Ironfoundersson actually has more on-page time, and ends up ultimately as the hero of the tale.

So, let’s talk about:


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Fairy tale fan art of Carrot and Angua by Chechula on tumblr.

It’s hard to get Carrot right in one picture. If fan art is any indication, readers tend to imagine his appearance very differently. He is certainly a huge individual, very upright, and covered in endless cords of muscle. He has a strong jaw, an honest face, and bright red hair. Despite his size, he was raised by dwarves, and thus grew up ducking or crawling through mineshafts until at last his family sent him off to join the Watch, somewhat out of embarrassment.

He says he’s a dwarf, though, and because he says it, he is. Pretty much anything he says goes. And that’s because Carrot is a force a nature. He has nearly perfect memory recall, as his mind is unencumbered by such clutter as doubt, fear, or second-guessing. He somehow knows the name of literally every person in Ankh-Morpork, and has every article of the city’s book of law memorized, even though most people weren’t even aware they wrote them down.

In a different fantasy series called Wheel of Time, the fabric of creation itself weaves around the three male protagonists, guiding them with threads of fate, bending reality to ensure their destiny is fulfilled at the end of all things. Carrot is like that. The world molds around him, shapes itself to accommodate his word. When he tells bar brawlers to calm down, they actually do. When he tells them to follow him into battle, they do that to — and that last bit is sort of the scary part.

Carrot also happens to be the rightful heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork. He’s got the whole fairy tale origin story backing him up on it. His parents were killed by bandits, he was raised a poor orphan in odd circumstances, and he’s even got an interesting sword and probably a birthmark. By merely arriving in the city, he sets into motion various plots and plans to re-seat him as the rightful king, because, well, Vetinari had his run and certain families want to gain more power by befriending the future king and so on.

And that’s where the idea of the gonne comes in. The gonne is a small handheld device that fires a little pellet at incredible speeds through the body of another person. It works at a distance. It is impersonal, powerful, and extremely effective. And, unfortunately, it drives men mad who hold it in their hands. In this device, Pratchett has recreated the Ring, right down to the evil whispers in the holder’s mind. Except, one imagines he said to himself, “Rings aren’t evil, okay? They’re just jewelry. The embodiment of evil in the Disc is the only gun in existence, plain and simple.”

So, we have the scene set: Carrot, heir to the throne. Vimes, about to become heir to more money than any other noble in the city. And the gonne, whose sole purpose involves the reason people have heirs in the first place.


Men At Arms is hands-down written as a procedural crime novel, at least for the first half, give or take, more or less, in a sense, definitely. We begin with a dramatic inciting event: the Assassin’s Guild explodes, and something has been stolen, though the Watch doesn’t know what, yet. The rising racial tensions of the city are mirrored in the Night Watch’s new recruits: a dwarf, a troll, and a werewolf. Vimes, to his credit, doesn’t like any of them, lumping them all into the same “generally bad” bucket into which he has also placed humans. Dwarves and trolls don’t get along at all, and no one gets along with werewolves, even really attractive, kind, and capable ones.

The first murder occurs soon after: a dwarven blacksmith known for a unique genius when working with complex mechanisms. The corpse’s wound is cruel, gruesome, and utterly baffling. Here, Vimes first learns of the gonne by name, if not yet its purpose. Shortly after this, Vetinari plays his dutiful role as the irate police captain, the crooked politician, etc. He is the authority figure who knows more than he lets on, and has expressly forbidden our hero to investigate the gonne any further.

In the first pinch, the killer fires at Vimes and misses. The chase ensues, and it even happens through alleyways! True danger here, Vimes. Follow the clues at your own peril!

Anyway, it sort of goes on like that — and then it sort of doesn’t. Rather than have Vimes go around questioning people until he puts it all together, the thread of “clues” only unravels further. The wielder of the gonne turns out to, well, not really matter all that much. If someone gets their hands on it, all they want to do is use it. And if they show it to someone else, well… The first thing the new person does is kill the last guy. The gonne speaks to you, makes you feel empty if you don’t point it at people and pull the trigger.

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If I believe this was the inspiration for the gonne, does that make it my head cannon? Eh? Eh?


As fear of the murders stokes the fires of racial tension, a bad call by the inept Day Watch nearly starts a race war between trolls and dwarves. At the center of this are Constable Detritus and Constable Cuddy, the new troll and dwarf recruits, respectively. At first, Cuddy takes every chance to call his partner stupid, in part because he thinks Detritus can’t count.

Cuddy said: “I just want you to know that I don’t like being teamed up with you any more than you like being teamed up with me.”


“But if we’re going to have to make the best of it, there’d better be some changes, OK?”

“Like what?”

“Like it’s ridiculous you not even being able to count. I know trolls can count. Why can’t you?”

“Can count!”

“How many fingers am I holding up, then?”

Detritus squinted. “Two?”

“OK. Now how many fingers am I holding up?”

“Two.. .and one more…”

“So two and one more is…?”

Detritus looked panicky. This was calculus territory.

“Two and one more is three.”

“Two and one more is three.”

“Now how many?”

“Two and two.”

“That’s four.”


“Now how many?” Cuddy tried eight fingers.

“A twofour.”

Cuddy looked surprised. He’d expected “many”, or possibly “lots”. “What’s a twofour?”

“A two and a two and a two and a two.”

Cuddy put his head on one side.

“Hmm,” he said. “OK. A twofour is what we call an eight”


“You know,” said Cuddy, subjecting the troll to a long critical stare, “you
might not be as stupid as you look. This is not hard. Let’s think about this. I
mean… I’ll think about this, and you can join in when you know the words.”

I’m sharing this entire dialogue not only because it’s great, and also not only because it’s cool that trolls have silicon brains, apparently. But it sets up one of the most beautiful scenes in the series. As the story becomes less about sorting out clues and more about confusion and raw emotion and madness, what Cuddy and Detritus learn is that they are no longer dwarf and troll, but two coppers attempting to stave off the chaos.

In one scene, as they flee from a pair of mobs waving sharp things at each other, Cuddy and Detritus take shelter in a cold storage warehouse, where Detritus suddenly gains multi-syllabic vocabulary and excellent reasoning skills. His silicon brain, it turns out, wasn’t dense, but instead mostly just overheating. The now-intelligent troll selflessly helps Cuddy escape, but he must wait for the dwarf to return to free him. As he waits in the cold, he grows increasingly smarter, until he begins to invent new maths even as he begins to freeze to death.

The scene in which they at last free Detritus makes me tear up every damn time. The whole scene is wonderful, but I’ll share the important bits below.

There was quite a crowd around them when they finally got the main door open. Lumps of ice clinked on the stones, and there was a rush of supercold air.

Frost covered the floor and the rows of hanging carcasses on their backward journey through time. It also covered a Detritus-shaped lump squatting in the middle of the floor.

They carried it out into the sunlight.

“Should his eyes be flashing on and off like that?” said Dibbler.

“Can you hear me?” shouted Cuddy. “Detritus?”

Detritus blinked. Ice slid off him in the day’s heat. He could feel the cracking up of the marvelous universe of numbers. The rising temperature hit his thoughts like a flame-thrower caressing a snowflake.

“Say something!” said Cuddy.

Towers of intellect collapsed as the fire roared through Detritus’ brain.

“Hey, look at this,” said one of the apprentices.

The inner walls of the warehouse were covered with numbers. Equations as complex as a neural network had been scraped in the frost. At some point in the calculation the mathematician had changed from using numbers to using letters, and then letters themselves hadn’t been sufficient; brackets like cages enclosed expressions which were to normal mathematics what a city is to a map.

They got simpler as the goal neared — simpler, yet containing in the flowing lines of their simplicity a spartan and wonderful complexity.

Cuddy stared at them. He knew he’d never be able to understand them in a hundred years.

The frost crumbled in the warmer air.

The equations narrowed as they were carried on down the wall and across the floor to where the troll had been sitting, until they became just a few expressions that appeared to move and sparkle with a life of their own. This was maths without numbers, pure as lightning.

They narrowed to a point, and at the point was just the very simple symbol: =

“Equals what?” said Cuddy. “Equals what?”

The frost collapsed.

Cuddy went outside. Detritus was now sitting in a puddle of water,
surrounded by a crowd of human onlookers…

…Cuddy draped the coat over the troll’s shoulders.

“Come on, on your feet,” he said. “Let’s get you home.”

The troll lumbered upright.

“How many fingers am I holding up?” said Cuddy.

Detritus peered.

“Two and one?” he suggested.

“It’ll do,” said Cuddy. “For a start.”

I’m spending so much time on this one because it really hits home the general theme that people have whole universes inside of them if you look hard enough. No one is ever what they seem. And the real kicker of it is, the really, really hard thing about that is, is that that’s why it’s so hard to say who or what a person is, ever, at all.


Every single main character in Men At Arms is, well, first of all, statistically unlikely to be a human man. Secondly, they are someone who presents as one thing, but is actually another, entirely different thing depending on the circumstances.

  1. Carrot has decided he is a copper, subordinate to his hero Captain Vimes. Fate and all the gods and ta’veren strings pull him toward the rags-to-riches King story, except he rejects that destiny with all his heart.
  2. Angua lives life as an attractive blond human female, except that, unbeknownst to most (including her new lover, Carrot), she is one of the most hated, feared, and powerful beings in the city. In nearly every scene, she muses on whether she will run away tonight, or tomorrow, once Carrot learns the truth.
  3. Detritus is a genius in heat’s clothing, one Pork Futures refrigerator away from unlocking the secrets of the universe. And no one in the watch knows it but Cuddy, who also knows that reaching such heights (or lows, temperaturely speaking) might kill him.

All of this comes together show the really deep nature of the question inherent in this book. What makes a person good, or bad, other than the context we find them in? What makes them smart or dumb? What makes them friends or enemies?

And what makes them a murderer?

Can someone be a murderer? Or merely another regular person who commits murder? Because murders really do happen out here the real world. A person you know from work goes home one day and kills their family. It happens. And in Men At Arms, someone who was once a human suddenly becomes a monster the moment you place a loaded gun into their palm. Were they always a murderer? Or was it the context of that moment?

People are complex. They do things for strange, wild, passionate, complicated, impulsive reasons even they don’t understand. They are born rich or they are born poor, to parents who love them or parents who don’t, and none of it has anything to do with what sort of person they are. Life is chaos and all you can do try to be on the side of the helpers.

Because helping is doing. Maybe there’s no such thing as identity. Maybe that’s all just a big mess of trauma and best intentions. And who we are is what we do with all that.


So, yes, Carrot could be King Carrot. Maybe the reason he’s so good at not being king is precisely because he says he isn’t. I mean he’s a king, right? If he says he’s not one, it has to be true.

Carrot is the one who saves the day, too. It isn’t Vimes. Oh sure, Vimes does a lot of the sleuthing early on, but it’s Carrot who goes down in the muck and discovers the answer. When all hell breaks loose by way of race war in the city, Carrot uses his encyclopedic knowledge to form a legal militia of fired watchmen and take back the streets. All he has to do is show up and start recruiting people, and they can’t help but agree. Because it’s Carrot. In mere minutes, Carrot has an army behind him.

When the killer is at last cornered, it’s Carrot, not Vimes, who runs him through. As this happens, Carrot accidentally skewers the stone wall behind the villain, too, hardly even noticing he’s put his ancestral sword in the stone, then pulled it out again. It harkens back to this earlier, seemingly throwaway dialogue between nobles:

“My nurse told me,” said Viscount Skater, “that a true king could pull a sword from a stone.”

“Hah, yes, and cure dandruff,” said Lord Rust. “That’s just a legend. That’s not real. Anyway, I’ve always been a bit puzzled about that story. What’s so hard about pulling a sword out of a stone? The real work’s already been done. You ought to make yourself useful and find the man who put the sword in the stone in the first place, eh?”

When Carrot does save the day, and the Patrician, the conversation between the two at the novel’s end is, frankly, poetry. Vetinari, possibly for the first time in his life, is just a little bit afraid. It doesn’t manifest in any real way — the Patrician is humanly incapable of quaking in fear — but it’s there in the subtext. I won’t share the entire scene, because it’s really long and rather perfect in the unabridged state. But there’s a little snippet here, after Vetinari realizes Carrot could have taken over the city, but chose not to.

The Patrician stood up and limped over to the window. It was dusk. Lights were being lit all over the city.

With his back to Carrot he said, “Tell me, captain…this business about there being a heir to the throne… What do you think about it?”

“I don’t think about it, sir. That’s all sword-in-a-stone nonsense. Kings don’t come out of nowhere, waving a sword and putting everything right. Everyone knows that.”

“But there was some talk of… evidence?”

“No one seems to know where it is, sir.”

“When I spoke to Captain… to Commander Vimes, he said you’d got it.”

“Then I must have put it down somewhere. I’m sure I couldn’t say where, sir.”

“My word, I hope you absent-mindedly put it down somewhere safe.”

“I’m sure it’s… well-guarded, sir.”

“I think you’ve learned a lot from Cap — Commander Vimes, captain.”

“Sir. My father always said I was a quick learner, sir.”

“Perhaps the city does need a king, though. Have you considered that?”

“Like a fish needs a… er… a thing that doesn’t work underwater, sir.”

“Yet a king can appeal to the emotions of his subjects, captain. In… very much the same way as you did recently, I understand.”

“Yes, sir. But what will he do next day? You can’t treat people like puppet dolls. No, sir. Mr. Vimes always said a man has got to know his limitations. If there was a king, then the best thing he could do would be to get on with a decent day’s work.”


“But if there was some pressing need… then perhaps he’d think again.” Carrot brightened up. “It’s a bit like being a guard, really. When you need us, you really need us. And when you don’t… well, best if we just walk around the streets and shout All’s Well. Providing all is well, of course.”

As good as the “decent day’s work” is, to this day, the line I remember more often is, “a king can appeal to the emotions of his subjects.” It’s such a succinct way to explain the folly of humans. Carrot has, like Vetinari, come to understand that people feel driven toward authority because of the emotional payoff it promises. But Sir Terry liked rationality. That was sort of his thing.


Sir Terry Pratchett holding a lovely orangutan and grinning like a fool.
Two fuzzy guys who love books.

Emotional wildness means people might do all sorts of wild things, some quite harmful to themselves or others. Carrot has chosen to uphold the law, not because he can, but because people should be able to trust authorities, not simply follow them around blindly. Because, in his mind, that’s how to be the best helper he can be. That’s what he’s chose to do, not what he has decided to be. And that distinction is at the heart of this novel and all the intriguing characters in it.

We all love Vimes, but I’ve often wondered what it is about Sam that Carrot idolizes so much. It’s not that he idolizes him, because of course he does. But I’ve wondered at the specific why of that a lot. But there’s actually a really phenomenal scene in Men At Arms that I think hints at the why.

Angua, who has problems trusting people, has taken an opportunity to snoop around in Vimes’s things.

More or less. It was hard to tell. Even a prisoner in a cell manages to stamp his personality on it somewhere, but Angua had never seen such an unlived-in room.

“This is where he lives?” said Angua. “Good grief.”

“What did you expect?”

“I don’t know. Anything. Something. Not nothing .”

There was a joyless iron bedstead. The springs and mattress had sagged so that they formed a sort of mold, forcing anyone who got into it to instantly fold into a sleeping position. There was a washstand, under a broken mirror. On the stand was a razor, carefully aligned toward the Hub because Vimes shared the folk belief that this kept it sharp. There was a brown wooden chair with the cane seat broken. And a small chest at the foot of the bed.

And that was all.

“I mean, at least a rug,” said Angua. “A picture on the wall. Something.”

Carrot deposited Vimes on the bed, where he flowed unconsciously into the shape.

“Haven’t you got something in your room?” Angua asked.

“Yes. I’ve got a cutaway diagram of №5 shaft at home. It’s very interesting strata. I helped cut it. And some books and things. Captain Vimes isn’t really an indoors kind of person.”

“But there’s not even a candle!”

“He finds his way to bed by memory, he says.”

“Or an ornament or anything.”

“There’s a sheet of cardboard under the bed,” Carrot volunteered. “I remember I was with him in Filigree Street when he found it. He said ‘There’s a month’s soles in this, if I’m any judge.’ He was very pleased about that.”

“He can’t even afford boots?”

“I don’t think so. I know Lady Sybil offered to buy him all the new boots he wanted, and he got a bit offended about that. He seems to try to make them last.”

“But you can buy boots, and you get less than him. And you send money home. He must drink it all, the idiot.”

“Don’t think so. I didn’t think he’d touched the stuff for months. Lady Sybil got him on to cigars.”

Vimes snored loudly.

“How can you admire a man like this?” said Angua.

“He’s a very fine man.”

Angua raised the lid of the wooden chest with her foot.

“Hey, I don’t think you should do that — ” said Carrot wretchedly.

“I’m just looking,” said Angua. “No law against that.”

“In fact, under the Privacy Act of 1467, it is an — ”

“There’s only old boots and stuff. And some paper.” She reached down and picked up a crudely made book. It was merely a wad of irregular shaped bits of paper sandwiched together between card covers.

“That belongs to Captain — ”

She opened the book and read a few lines. Her mouth dropped open.

“Will you look at this? No wonder he never has any money!”

“What d’you mean?”

“He spends it on women! You wouldn’t think it, would you? Look at this entry. Four in one week!”

Carrot looked over her shoulder. On the bed, Vimes snorted.

There, on the page, in Vimes’ curly handwriting, were the words:

Mrs. Gaskin, Mincing St: $5
Mrs. Scurrick, Treacle St: $4
Mrs. Maroon, Wixon’s Alley: $4
Annabel Curry, Lobsneaks: $2

“Annabel Curry couldn’t have been much good, for only two dollars,” said Angua.

She was aware of a sudden drop in temperature.

“I shouldn’t think so,” said Carrot, slowly. “She’s only nine years old.”

One of his hands gripped her wrist tightly and the other prised the book out of her fingers.

“Hey, let go!”

“Sergeant!” shouted Carrot, over his shoulder, “can you come up here a moment?”

Angua tried to pull away. Carrot’s arm was as immovable as an iron bar.

There was the creak of Colon’s foot on the stair, and the door swung open.

He was holding a very small cup in a pair of tongs.

“Nobby got the coff — ” he began, and stopped.

“Sergeant,” said Carrot, staring into Angua’s face, “Lance-Constable Angua wants to know about Mrs. Gaskin.”

“Old Leggy Gaskin’s widow? She lives in Mincing Street.”

“And Mrs. Scurrick?”

“In Treacle Street? Takes in laundry now.” Sergeant Colon looked from one

to the other, trying to get a handle on the situation.

“Mrs. Maroon?”

“That’s Sergeant Maroon’s widow, she sells coal in — ”

“How about Annabel Curry?”

“She still goes to the Spiteful Sisters of Seven-Handed Sek Charity School, doesn’t she?” Colon smiled nervously at Angua, still not sure of what was happening. “She’s the daughter of Corporal Curry, but of course he was before your time — ”

Angua looked up at Carrot’s face. His expression was unreadable.

“They’re the widows of coppers?” she said.

He nodded. “And one orphan.”

“It’s a tough old life,” said Colon. “No pensions for widows, see.”

He looked from one to the other.

“Is there something wrong?” he said.

Carrot relaxed his grip, turned, slipped the book into the box, and shut the lid.

“No,” he said.

“Look, I’m sorr — ” Angua began. Carrot ignored her and nodded at the sergeant.

“Give him the coffee.”

“But.. .fourteen dollars.. .that’s nearly half his pay!”

Carrot picked up Vimes’ limp arm and tried to prise his fist open, but even though Vimes was out cold the fingers were locked.

“I mean, half his pay!”

“I don’t know what he’s holding in here,” said Carrot, ignoring her. “Maybe
it’s a clue.”

He took the coffee and hauled up Vimes by his collar.

“You just drink this, captain,” he said, “and everything will look a lot… clearer…”

Klatchian coffee has an even bigger sobering effect than an unexpected brown envelope from the tax man. In fact, coffee enthusiasts take the precaution of getting thoroughly drunk before touching the stuff, because Klatchian coffee takes you back through sobriety and, if you’re not careful, out the other side, where the mind of man should not go. The Watch was generally of the opinion that Samuel Vimes was at least two drinks under par, and needed a stiff double even to be sober.

“Careful.. .careful…” Carrot let a few drops dribble between Vimes’ lips.

“Look, when I said — ” Angua began.

“Forget it.” Carrot didn’t even look round.

“I was only — ”

“I said forget it.”

Carrot idolizes Vimes because he is uncomplicated in at least one sense: he is a helper to his core. Vimes does not “look for the helpers.” He has dedicated his life to ensure he is the helper others look for. Sam Vimes has a universe within him, and every star goes something like, “Young lady I’ll get to the bottom of this for you, don’t you worry about it, mark my words, alright?”

Carrot, rightfully, is a little scared of himself. He knows exactly who he is, and he knows what he could do with that, and no matter how he tried, ruling with appeals to emotion would never end well. He knows that. And it’s no accident that Vimes’s ancestor is the one that killed the last king —i.e. killed Carrot’s ancestor. Old Stoneface Vimes was vilified for this, even though everyone was glad he did it. If Carrot became king, one day, it might end up with Carrot on one side, and the current Vimes on the opposing one. That’s how bloody destiny would have it. And that just wouldn’t do.

In Men At Arms, we see the Watch minus Samuel Vimes, and, it turns out, absolutely no one likes that alternative melodrama. We see, here, the anger of Sir Terry referenced in the Gaiman quote from my previous Discworld article. Most of us read a Chosen One story and feel emotionally swept up in the grandeur of destined greatness. Pratchett reads the same story and sees red.

The Patrician looked at Carrot. He seemed to be shuffling futures in his head. Then:

“Yes. I accede to all the requests, except the one involving Corporal Nobbs. And you, I think, should be promoted to Captain.”

“Ye-es. I agree, sir. That would be a good thing for Ankh-Morpork. But I will not command the Watch, if that’s what you mean.”

“Why not?”

“Because I could command the Watch. Because… people should do things because an officer tells them. They shouldn’t do it just because Corporal Carrot says so. Just because Corporal Carrot is… good at being obeyed.” Carrot’s face was carefully blank.

“An interesting point.”

“But there used to be a rank, in the old days. Commander of the Watch. I suggest Samuel Vimes.”

The Patrician leaned back. “Oh, yes,” he said. “Commander of the Watch. Of course, that became a rather unpopular job, after all that business with Lorenzo the Kind. It was a Vimes who held the post in those days. I’ve never liked to ask him if he was an ancestor.”

“He was, sir. I looked it up.”

“Would he accept?”

“Is the High Priest an Offlian? Does a dragon explode in the woods?”

I wouldn’t call Men At Arms a perfect novel, exactly. Pratchett deliberately fills it with red herrings and endless twists as parody, and it makes the plot feel too meandering at times. It’s the first novel where The City of Ankh-Morpork is a true member of the ensemble cast instead of a mere setting, with the various guilds and ancient histories stepping to the forefront of the plot. There was so much of it that I think Pratchett got a little lost in all the details of his creation he wanted to share. Also, the switch in the second half to following Carrot around instead of Vimes is, while brilliant in the meta, fairly jarring in terms of narrative flow.

But that’s all relative, really. It’s still excellent, and has some of the most lasting moments in Discworld: the Boots theory, Detritus in the Pork Futures warehouse, and the final “showdown” between Carrot and Vetinari. It features the One Ring of Discworld, which in many ways is far scarier because it’s a lot less vague in its evil. And because once you destroy the Ring, at least that can never be made again.

But the gonne is just an idea. And ideas have ways of popping back up again, just when you least expect them.

As a coda, I do want to point out that Cuddy makes a little fan and heat sink for Detritus’s head, featured here along with the troll’s commandeered siege weapon. Maybe one day we’ll find what what it all equals, and why it somehow equals 42. Hey, Pratchett and Adams were friends, you know?

Constable Detritus with his fan helmet and the Piecemaker.
Corporal Detritus, his Heatsink Helmet, and the Piecemaker
Artwork depicting Nobby, Carrot, Vimes, and Colon of the Watch series in Discworld

Revisiting Discworld | The Watch, Book 1: Guards! Guards!

Down there… are people who will follow any dragon, worship any god, ignore any inequity. All out of a kind of humdrum, everyday badness. Not the really high, creative loathsomeness of the great sinners, but a sort of mass-produced darkness of the soul. Sin, you might say, without a trace of originality. They accept evil not because they say yes, but because they don’t say no.” — Lord Vetinari, Guards! Guards! by Sir Terry Pratchett

This article is split into two halves: the first contains no spoilers. The second, after a big red warning, contains many.

I’ve read nearly every Discworld novel. To some, it’s silly English satire. But I count myself among the ranks of devotees who consider it the best literature of the modern era on par with, as correctly asserted by Brandon Sanderson, Shakespeare. Yes, really. No, don’t @ me.

“Pratchett isn’t just funny, Pratchett is transcendent. There are lots of funny writers. Some are hilarious. A few are good at making you think at the same time. But most humorists, while brilliant, have trouble with story. If I put their book down, I remember the laughter, but feel no urgency to return. Those narratives don’t get their hooks in me—they don’t have that pull, like gravity, that a good plot builds. In short, they don’t make me think—bleary-eyed at 3:00 a.m.—that I need to read one more chapter.

Pratchett, on the other hand, routinely makes me lose sleep. His best stories… have excellent narrative urgency, but add to it a level of riotous wit. Then, if that weren’t enough, they kick you in the head with moments of poignant commentary—unexpected, brazen, and delightful.

This has to be the highest level of fiction. It does everything that great fiction does—but then makes us laugh too.”

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Might Be The Highest Form of Literature on the Planet” by
Brandon Sanderson for Tor.com

There’s something very special about the mastery of craft seen in Discworld alongside the brazen, utter irreverence of the narratives. There’s no doubt that Pratchett, had he been of the mind, could have written non-humorously and had a real chance at some of the highest literary accolades. But, for many reasons both complex and simple, he didn’t. If I had to guess why in a nutshell, I’d say it was because he had what Contrapoints calls the darkness, that roiling anger which drives almost every comedian you’ve ever encountered.

“There is a fury to Terry Pratchett’s writing: it’s the fury that was the engine that powered Discworld. It’s also the anger at the headmaster who would decide that six-year-old Terry Pratchett would never be smart enough for the 11-plus; anger at pompous critics, and at those who think serious is the opposite of funny; anger at his early American publishers who could not bring his books out successfully.”

Neil Gaiman: ‘Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly. He’s angry’” excerpted by The Guardian from Gaiman’s introduction to A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-fiction by Terry Pratchett
An artwork by Paul Kidby of the Discworld atop four elephants on the shell of Great A'tuin, the giant turtle who floats through space.
“The Great A’tuin” by Paul Kidby

Guards! Guards! is the 8th installment in a series of 41 Discworld novels, all of which take place on a flat disc supported by four elephants who stand atop the shell of a giant turtle. It is not, in fact, turtles all the way down. Everyone knows turtles can swim.

Discworld is actually several subseries mostly independent of one another, though meandering interconnectivity is common. Guards! Guards! is the first of the subseries called the City Watch, at the center of which is the chronically dour Captain Vimes. In this book, Discworld finally discovers its heart, where the complex balancing act of its narratives finally finds its stride, and that stride is along ancient cobblestones in a pair of cardboard-soled boots worth $10.

See, the first Discworld book was bald-faced parody, a fantasy comedy that, in the words of Pratchett, “was an attempt to do for the classical fantasy universe what Blazing Saddles did for Westerns.” The first three or so are good, but few would count them among the classics. Book 4, Mort, is the first in the Death storyline, is excellent, and is the one most cite as the first to really feel like a Discworld novel.

The first seven novels steadily improve and are in no way bad reads. In revisiting Guards! Guards!, I would even argue the first half of this book feels like Old Discworld, to some extent. But, somewhere in the middle, Pratchett really starts to dig in.

Vimes, deliberately or not, is a clear avatar of Pratchett himself on the Disc, defined by an irate, self-debasing internal monologue, alcoholic escapism, and obvious depression. But, like I said, we don’t start to truly feel like we’re in Real Discworld until about halfway through. The book begins with Vimes, but I’d argue that the captain, by himself, is not the core of the series — the Hub of the Disc, if you will.


If you haven’t read Guards! Guards! by Sir Terry Pratchett,
stop here and just go do that already, sheesh.

The heart of the Watch is Vimes plus Lady Sybil Ramkin. It is not until the dragon-obsessed aristocrat meets and eventually courts Vimes that the book really starts to delve into themes explored throughout the rest of the series.

It’s important to note several things about Lady Ramkin as a foil toward Vimes’s search for a purpose in life.

  1. Sybil is introduced as a person whose enormous personality is only matched by her physical size. She is an absolute powerhouse of presence.
    • “Even shorn of her layers of protective clothing, Lady Sybil Ramkin was still toweringly big. Vimes knew that the barbarian hublander folk had legends about great chain-mailed, armor-bra’d, carthorse-riding maidens who swooped down on battlefields and carried off dead warriors on their cropper to a glorious roistering afterlife, while singing in a pleasing mezzo-soprano. Lady Ramkin could have been one of them. She could have led them. She could have carried off a battalion. When she spoke,every word was like a hearty slap on the back and clanged with the aristocratic self-assurance of the totally well-bred. The vowel sounds alone would have cut teak.”
  2. Vimes is a scrapper who grew up poor to a single mother, and knows his way around a fight. By making Sybil more physically imposing, Pratchett thus establishes that she is more powerful than Vimes in every way imaginable. He states this explicitly, too.
    • Vimes’s ragged forebears were used to voices like that, usually from heavily-armored people on the back of a war charger telling them why it would be a jolly good idea, don’tcherknow, to charge the enemy and hit them for six. His legs wanted to stand to attention. Prehistoric men would have worshiped her, and in fact had amazingly managed to carve lifelike statues of her thousands of years ago.
  3. Though she is unapologetically upper-class, her passions (tiny, ailment-prone swamp dragons) have made her an outsider among the aristocracy, just as Vimes considers himself an outsider among, well, pretty much everyone.
  4. Over the course of the story, it is not Sybil’s size nor wealth that makes her an ally to Vimes, but rather her intelligence, in particular her encyclopedic knowledge of dragons.
  5. She represents everything Vimes simultaneously hates and wishes for himself. Despite this, he eventually realizes that (just like him) she wants nothing more than to be the best person she can be, in spite of it all.
  6. It is no stretch to imagine that Pratchett, an animal conservationist so devout he made an orangutan a main character, symbolized her innate goodness as kindness toward animals. The swamp dragon in Discworld is the lowest of the low, a genetic mishap just as likely to explode by accident that survive long enough to procreate. Sybil’s love for these downtrodden creatures despite her wealth and power is at the heart of her character.

These come together to create a person that, frankly, confuses the hell out of Vimes. He is both intimidated by her, and, more importantly, doesn’t understand her at all. Vimes is constantly portrayed as a man who experiences reality just a little too intimately and is hounded by it. This stated as his fellow guards discuss him and the Discworldian concept of “knurd.”

“Nine dollars a month,” said Colon. “I saw the pay scales once. Nine dollars a month and two dollars plumes allowance. Only he never claimed that bit, Funny, really.”

“He wasn’t the plumes type,” said Nobby.

“You’re right,” said Colon. “The thing about the captain, see, I read this book once… you know we’ve all got alcohol in our bodies… sort of natural alcohol? Even if you never touch a drop in your life, your body sort of makes it anyway… but Captain Vimes, see, he’s one of those people whose body doesn’t do it naturally. Like, he was born two drinks below normal.”

“Gosh,” said Carrot.

“Yes…so, when he’s sober, he’s really sober. Knurd, they call it. You know how you feel when you wake up if you’ve been on the piss all night, Nobby? Well, he feels like that all the time.”

“Poor bugger,” said Nobby. “I never realized. No wonder he’s always so gloomy.”

“So he’s always trying to catch up, see. It’s just that he doesn’t always get the dose right.”

Guards! Guards! by Sir Terry Pratchett

I don’t think you could show that to one frequent imbiber alive without it resonating. I happen to be a person who, while never quite dipping into the swimming pool of alcoholism, have certainly waded in the shallow waters of, “Listen, I’m your doctor and we tested your liver and we might have just a few slight but extremely important recommendations, okay?” Or, as Sir Terry once said toward the somber sunset of his life, “I drink enormously. It makes you feel better, and feeling better is part of it.

Sir Terry with his blurry cat and badass meteorite sword.

By the end of the novel, the acerbic, self-loathing Vimes has saved the city of Ankh-Morpork against all odds with the help of his fellow guards and Lady Sybil Ramkin. Also a rambunctious little swamp dragon named Errol whose story, I still maintain, likely inspired the female dragon romantic subplot in Shrek. But anyway.

The second half of Guards! Guards! deviates from previous novels in that it truly asks questions that have no answer. Rather than shine light upon, as is generally the purview of satire, it delves into the nature of. It asks not only about good and evil, but the concept of them in the sense of the utterly mundane — the difference between inequalities we, as a species, accept vs. those we resist.

This double-edged theme is explicitly stated in a pair of exchanges, the first stance of which is uttered by the stone-cold Patrician, Lord Vetinari, the soft-spoken, razor-sharp, steadfastly non-despotic dictator of Ankh-Morpork. The quote is what began this article, relating to the banality of wickedness by the average person, who need only do nothing to abet the villain.

Vimes balks at the Patrician’s view, but struggles to come up with a convincing counterargument. Here’s the full conversation:

“Down there,” he said, “are people who will follow any dragon, worship any god, ignore any inequity. All out of a kind of humdrum, everyday badness. Not the really high, creative loathsomeness of the great sinners, but a sort of mass-produced darkness of the soul. Sin, you might say, without a trace of originality. They accept evil not because they say yes, but because they don’t say no. I’m sorry if this offends you,” he added, patting the captain’s shoulder, “but you fellows really need us.”

“Yes, sir?” said Vimes quietly.

“Oh, yes. We’re the only ones who know how to make things work. You see, the only thing the good people are good at is overthrowing the bad people. And you’re good at that, I’ll grant you. But the trouble is that it’s the only thing you’re good at. One day it’s the ringing of the bells and the casting down of the evil tyrant, and the next it’s everyone sitting around complaining that ever since the tyrant was overthrown no one’s been taking out the trash. Because the bad people know how to plan. It’s part of the specification, you might say. Every evil tyrant has a plan to rule the world. The good people don’t seem to have the knack.”

“Maybe. But you’re wrong about the rest!” said Vimes. “It’s just because people are afraid, and alone—” He paused. It sounded pretty hollow, even to him.

He shrugged. “They’re just people,” he said. “They’re just doing what people do. Sir.”

Lord Vetinari gave him a friendly smile. “Of course, of course,” he said. “You have to believe that, I appreciate. Otherwise you’d go quite mad. Otherwise you’d think you’re standing on a feather-thin bridge over the vaults of Hell. Otherwise existence would be a dark agony and the only hope would be that there is no life after death. I quite understand.” He looked at his desk, and sighed. “And now,” he said, “there is such a lot to do. I’m afraid poor Wonse was a good servant but an inefficient master. So you may go. Have a good night’s sleep. Oh, and do bring your men in tomorrow. The city must show its gratitude.”

“It must what?” said Vimes.

The Patrician looked at a scroll. Already his voice was back to the distant tones of one who organizes and plans and controls.

“It’s gratitude,” he said. “After every triumphant victory there must be heroes. It is essential. Then everyone will know that everything has been done properly.”

He glanced at Vimes over the top of the scroll.

“It’s all part of the natural order of things,” he said.

Guards! Guards! by Sir Terry Pratchett

This conversation is during the denouement, after the dragon has been beaten. Essentially, Vetinari says everyone is inherently bad, but are also inherently bad at it because they’re lazy. Ignoring all the interesting characterizations we can conclude about the Patrician here, it stirs up a flurry of questions Vimes has no answer to:

Where does Captain Samuel Vimes stand in a worldview like that? Say what you want about Lord Vetinari, but isn’t he always, in a general way, correct? What’s Sam’s place in the natural order? For that matter, where does the City Watch stand? Or the Lady Sybil Ramkins of the world — the historic commanders of the rabble infantry from which Vimes is descended?

As part of its response to these questions, the ending of Guards! Guards! makes a promise. The promise goes like this: Alright, Vimes, you always hated the upper crust, right? Resented them, shook your fist at them, right? Well, now you are one. Right! So, who are you, Vimes, when you’re not poor? When you’re not the wallowing rabble infantry? When you’re more than just a copper? Who are you when you have everything handed to you on a porcelain plate that has got blue line drawings of windmills and things?

Who are you, Sam Vimes, if you love someone you always thought should be despised?

That’s why Sybil & Vimes are inextricable as the heart of Discworld. It’s also why so many people feel betrayed that the BBC cast Lady Sybil as a very slight person who stands 5 foot 5 (and who I’m sure is very nice and talented and we must remember casting is not the fault of the actor thankyouverymuch). It is popularly contended that her imposing physical presence is almost a character in its own right.

To say nothing whatsoever of how profoundly Vimes’s mannerisms should not, in any way, resemble a certain rum-loving pirate from a popular Hollywood franchise.

Captain Vimes and Lady Sybil by fernacular

Vimes is many things, but he’s not a talker. His strength is in actions, not in speeches. That’s why, when he finally discovers the refutation to Vetinari’s argument, he doesn’t say a damn thing. There’s no clever dialogue or anything. He just laughs.

Let’s set the scene. Vetinari gathers the Watch and offers them a reward, whatever they want as recompense for saving Ankh-Morpork and, possibly, the entire Disc. But the Patrician is genuinely surprised and annoyed to discover Vimes never imagined there would be a reward, much less what it might be. The guards, thankfully, come to his rescue. They request, quite nervously, a $5-dollar increase to their wages, and a replacement for the tea kettle inadvertently eaten by Errol the Swamp Dragon.

The Patrician leaned forward, gripping the arms of his chair.

“I want to be clear about this,” he said coldly. “Are we to believe that you are asking for a petty wage increase and a domestic utensil?”

Carrot whispered in Colon’s other ear. Colon turned two bulging, watery-rimmed eyes to the dignitaries. The rim of his helmet was passing through his fingers like a millwheel.

“Well,” he began, “sometimes, we thought, you know, when we has our dinner break, or when it’s quiet, like, at the end of a watch as it may be, and we want to relax a bit, you know, wind down…” His voice trailed away.


Colon took a deep breath.

“I suppose a dartboard would be out of the question—?”

The thunderous silence that followed was broken by an erratic snorting.

Vimes’s helmet dropped out of his shaking hand. His breastplate wobbled as the suppressed laughter of the years burst out in great uncontrollable eruptions. He turned his face to the row of councillors and laughed and laughed until the tears came.

Laughed at the way they got up, all confusion and outraged dignity.

Laughed at the Patrician’s carefully immobile expression.

Laughed for the world and the saving of souls.

Laughed and laughed, and laughed until the tears came.

Nobby craned up to reach Colon’s ear.

“I told you,” he hissed. “I said they’d never wear it. I knew a dartboard’d be pushing our luck. You’ve upset ’em all now.”

Guards! Guards! by Sir Terry Pratchett

Throughout his early career, Sir Terry struggled to be taken seriously as a writer. It was also very difficult to break into markets outside the UK, the only place where his brand of scathing, understated wit was immediately identified as an art form. His first major writing award was the British Science Fiction Award for Pyramids in 1989. See, that was the immediate predecessor of Guards! Guards! and…

Look, I have to put together a bit of a narrative here. After seven consistently excellent books, he at long last found some validation, anything to give credence to his passion for writing fantasy. It must have been an amazing feeling, and also a very complicated one. Scary terms like impostor syndrome and whatever the term is for oh shit oh god what do I do now have I peaked is this it then is it over where do I go from here and WHY do I go from here and so on and so forth.

The why is the thing, really. Vimes isn’t a talker, and he certainly isn’t a writer (looking at you, Stephen King). He doesn’t have a whole fantasy series to work out the why for himself. But Vimes does have laughter, and that’s what he does, in the end. That’s his answer to Vetinari. It’s the thing to which Vetinari has no rebuttal. Humor, you see, is how we win.

So the not-yet-Sir Terry Pratchett wins a big award and probably hears a lot of talk during that process where important people say, “He’s a talented man by gum no doubt about that, but why’s he got to do humor? Why’s everything he write have to be so silly?

By the end of Guards! Guards!, Discworld finds its answer, the final product of a potion whose ingredients include a pervasive, searing fury alongside an overdose of reality. The answer is to laugh and laugh, and laugh until the tears come.

I plan to write a new article after I finish each book of the Watch during this re-read, and will continue to mourn the fact it’s not a show, meaning I can’t call it Re-Watching the Watch. By day, I’m a musician and author with a completed manuscript for a Syrian cyberpunk novel. By night, that’s none of your business. Thanks for reading.

Zaub’s Excuse Mui Soars

Zaub - Excuse MuiIt’s always hard to start these sorts of things out. Like, should I say Zaub is a band? An ensemble? A collective? I also want to avoid words like fusion and eclectic. Those are old terms that don’t really mean anything, as far as I can tell. All musicians combine past with present to find new ways to express their voice. It’s all music, period.

So, that said, I’m going to avoid trying to classify Zaub too finely. They bring a lot to the table. I’m also going to call them jazz rock, even though that kind of puts a sour taste in my mouth. Most concrete labels do. But the jazz here is so strong, and so is the rock, so that’s about as good as it’s going to get.

They have a very strong Middle Eastern flavor, brought of course to the forefront by frontman Toofun Golchin’s impressive compositions and masterful playing. His lead guitar is often answered by Yunus Iyriboz, both of whom come from a strong background of playing bluesy stuff in international modes and rhythms. Max Whipple plays a bass with a ton of strings, and Colin Kupka brings extremely strong jazz and solo chops into the mix. Finally, the infallible duo Dan Ogrodnik and Amir Oosman, who also play together in Rhein Percussion, round out the cast of Zaub’s third album, Excuse Mui.

The record begins with the sonic equivalent of grabbing someone by the collar and making them sit down next to a pair of speakers. Listen up, people, seriously! It’s a great attention-grabber, and really sets the tone for the rest of the 4-track album. You’re going to get some soft moments, but a lot of Excuse Mui really rocks. Most of the time you’ll be listening to various incarnations of Toofun’s secretly catchy themes and melodies. He’s really found common ground in both jazz and Middle Eastern styles by acknowledging the repetition of themes in rotating timbres used by both traditions. That, I think, is my favorite part of this record. Thanks in large part to smart playing by Dan, Amir, and Max in the rhythm section, the transitions between each tune’s sections/movements happen so smoothly, I guarantee you’ll be surprised at least once to find you’re in some new, soothing little musical realm with no earthly idea how you got there. This is music, after all, so who needs earthly ideas anyway? This music soars.

It’s a wonderfully consistent album in terms of quality, but you’ll hear that soaring quality particularly in solos. Collisions features a great guitar solo, and Levitation opens with really lovely world percussion from Dan, plus it has an epic return to the A section that’s maybe one of my favorite moments of the album. You can hear this is in the video linked below.

Ode to Ornette in particular has a great vibe to it, and while I wouldn’t really call it “free” jazz, it’s definitely reasonably liberated. This tune actually sounds a lot more like bebop to me, thanks in large part to Colin’s superb solo. This is one of those songs that always makes me wonder what the hell happened to epic sax solos in rock songs. A really well-done subtle outro takes us to the final track, which finishes up the album.

In the interest of musical combinatorics, Zaub successfully merges virtuosity with the rule of cool. Deceptively earworm-ish melodies and internationally inspired rhythm structures make Excuse Mui a fresh, satisfying sound. It’s well worth a listen. You can find more about Zaub in the links listed below:

iTunes: itunes.apple.com/us/album/excuse-mui-ep/id1092685596
Official Website: zaubnasty.com/#!audio/c1577
Facebook: facebook.com/ZaubNasty/
Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/zaubnasty
YouTube: youtube.com/user/ZaubNastyMusic

Thanks to Austin Antoine for You’re Very Welcome

The new album from renowned underground performer and Hodgepodge artist Austin Antoine does not disappoint. Produced, mixed and mastered by the talented Mister-he and sporting a gorgeous cover by Amy LeeYou’re Very Welcome opens with a sense of narrative foreshadowing, teasing the listener with things to come. Vocal processing, lush production, anything goes. You know we’re sonically referencing heroes here, just as the opening monologue suggests, but you’re not sure which ones. Is this Andre 3000 at his most spacey? Gambino at his most theatric? We’ll see.

Wasting no time, Antoine’s first full track is the classic banger, self aware on several levels. We discuss the artist’s place in the scene; we’re assured the artist is young and strong, connected but humble. The rhymes flow, the chorus bangs, the beat bumps. This track knows what it is, and Antoine wants everyone to make sure we know where we’re at.

With Streets of Broken Dreams, Antoine starts to throw the listener some curves. This beat swings pretty heavily, and one can almost imagine some old music-man with white gloves, a cane and skimmer hat, airing out biting sarcasm as if the suffering performer’s woes are just another part of the show.

As the album progresses, it seems like Antoine starts to introduce this crazy new idea where he’s more than “just” a rapper. He’s a performer, and he’s got the pipes to prove it. I love when an artist has put some real thought into their track order, and it’s no accident that the hints of Austin singing toward the end of the woo-me track Summer Days leads into the astoundingly soulful interlude, Kelsey. Contrapuntal, a cappella melodies sung entirely by Austin take us deeper down the rabbit hole, exploring into what hip hop means besides some dude rapping over beats. With You’re Very Welcome, Antoine is taking the listener through a lesson in first impressions. Every artist has a journey that transcends genre, and few albums I’ve heard capture that concept as well as this one.

Got a problem with his singing? Unless you’re Nas (or even then, maybe) you better get over it. That’s the message in Rahzel/Aaliyah, a raw callback track that says, who gives a shit? Austin knows where he’s coming from, and he knows he can freestyle circles around anyone who steps to him. How many rappers out there can use the words “Guinness World Record” in their list of accolades? He’s been killing it for years, but this album is a new step for Antoine. He has accomplishments to back up his confidence. Listen to POWER!!, and tell me you’ve heard anything like this before. Just like with the intro, we know this style is coming from somewhere, from Austin’s heroes, but amalgamated into that dope freshness that speaks for itself. Hell yeah he likes video games, and hell yeah he’s watched Dragonball Z, and hell yeah he can rap like a beast.

You’re Very Welcome represents the new breed of artist. We don’t know if it’s hip hop. We don’t even know if it’s a record. It’s a work done by an individual who is navigating this strange new experience of becoming a performing adult with integrity amidst peers who don’t remember a time without email. Austin has really captured a moment here, and demonstrated tremendous personal growth in a truly relevant release.

You can follow Austin on his website, SoundcloudTwitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can find him on Hodgepodge Records, and you can pay what you want for You’re Very Welcome at his Bandcamp.

Austin Antoine

World Music and Rhein Percussion’s Debut Album

In grad school, at least in my grad school, they did their best to, as politely as they could, shove world music down your throat. This has interesting consequences. As hard to believe as this is, not all world music is good. In fact, most of it is bad. Because the phrase “world music” covers, like, 90% of music. It would be really weird if all of it was good.

Maybe because I grew up listening mostly to some strange combination of jazz, Arabic music, and my school bus driver’s favorite R&B top 40, I don’t tend to go nuts for music just because it has a world beat. Great, this uses maksum, how awesome. It’s still just another bad rap track. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the very first time I heard Big Pimpin I flipped out, but a young half-Syrian kid can only handle so much.

What I’m saying is that it’s easy to write off world music as something kitschy, or some kind of gimmick, and sometimes you’d be right. This happens even in the world of academic chamber music… but not even remotely in the case of Rhein Percussion. Rhein means “to flow”, and they seriously do. This album grooves, regardless of how uneven the meter might look on paper, and it does so in a natural, authentic-but-super-fresh manner. They flow seamlessly between improvisation, complex tala and electronics, sometimes combining all three at once.

These guys played on my recital, and many have since said their performance was a highlight. Rhein Percussion consists of a core group of CalArts drummers, with a rotating cast of collaborators. The tracks on their self-titled debut are all composed, mixed, and recorded by ensemble members and friends. Their signature sound combines world rhythms and instrumentation with drum set, and some truly profound soundscapes emerge. Amir Oosman, as I’ve said before on this blog, is a master kit player. Dan Ogrodnik’s knowledge of hand drumming styles knows no bounds. Josh Carro, it’s been rumored, must now carry around an extra set of tablas because the ones he’s playing sometimes spontaneously burst into flames of ecstasy.

On two tracks, Brian Foreman‘s unique brand of electronics and live processing casts the group’s already modern sound into a deep, dark future filled with buzzy beats and rhythmic surprises that modern live electronic production so often lacks. Other collaborators who should blow your mind just by seeing them all on one album: Matthew Clough-Hunter on gamelan, drummers Sean Fitzpatrick and Etienne Rivera, and Ryan Bancroft, Rusty Kennedy, and Andrew Rowan on conch shell. How cool is that?

When the electronics fade, this excellent album rounds out with a couple live performances. The ensemble has already started performing around Los Angeles, just recently at the awesome Blue Whale with the world famous Hands On’Semble, and they were even featured a coveted slot on the 2013 CalArts Jazz CD. Take a listen below, follow them on Facebook, and name your price for their album on Bandcamp.

Niyomkarn – Hue

I am currently listening to Niyomkarn’s new headphones album, Hue. It was produced on the open source program SuperCollider and is entirely in 3D audio (hence the requirement for headphones). I’m now about halfway through the third track, 28 [FISH], and suddenly we’ve gone from the sound of oily fingers on alien glass to a softly rising sun with TV static, then back to the alien glass except now there’s bugs on it.

There are parts of this album that make my ears and brain very uncomfortable in the most pleasant of ways. Other moments are so delicately constructed, especially in terms of panning, that I had to lie down and close my eyes. Between the chaotically rhythmic blips, beeps, drones, noise, static and sirens is an introspective silence from Niyomkarn, an insistent, calm little plea to listen closely. This is my favorite kind of message in music, and some would say it’s the only message.

Too often, composers compose for a purpose. I know I am very guilty of this, if “guilty” is the right word. But some music adamantly exists merely to point out that sound is awesome. That’s what Hue is. An electronic painting of nothing the eyes can see. It’s full of surprises in a genre that often encounters the problem of being so unpredictable, everything is predictable. Maybe in Hue’s case, this is achieved with the three-dimensional mix. The sounds will parade about inside your head, like a fairy circle if the fairies were surrounded by totally rad forcefields and constantly zapping between superpositions.

I’m now on If and Only If, the center track. Two soundscapes faded back and forth, as if vying for attention, giving way to a massively dead center full-spectrum pulse tone called Drops. This drops into (it’s an accurate title) an Indian Rag-esque tabla jam, and it works so well here. Maybe going to CalArts prepares you to be ready for itinerant rag-esque tabla jams popping out at you from every direction. But Jason Guthrie’s drums are soaked in electronics. They feel utterly appropriate. The live performance of this music is really apparent here.

On the other side of If and Only If, we are faced with music that has discovered sampling, harmony and rhythm, but it has unearthed these strange objects on its own and so come to us as hints and dream-thoughts. The effect is palpable. Theory II is a paramecium rave, leading then into lush swaths of harmonic and vocal sampling in Hers.

And this ending. This ending right here. I won’t spoil it, but I can safely say Hue is a journey I’m glad I took. Though the music may scare you at first, I’m here to tell you that music is supposed to do that. It’s supposed too make you uncomfortable in a way that refuses to let you go.

Find Niyomkarn’s album on Bandcamp. Listen there or via the player below.

Trabajo – Gamelan To The Love God

The ever-changing landscape of what type of music bedrooms produce has another contender for future in the epic sleep chambers of Trabajo, a New-York-City-Once-Williamsburg-Now-Queens-based duo composed of the likes of TJ Richards and Yuchen Lin. When once this tale would begin with a hand-stamped burned CD changing hands in some steamy back alleyway, when I met up with TJ on my most recent excursion to NYC I received a Bandcamp download code. This, as far as I’m concerned, is the new homemade mixtape.

I first knew TJ as merely one of the best guitarists I know, and I, like you, know a heck of a lot of guitarists. But TJ was always a little different, seeking out new compound meters, new tunings, new non-Western traditions so he could stay at the forefront of his craft. I watched him go from Poet Named Revolver to brick walls of noise and shoegaze, eventually embracing sampled sonic landscapes in the form of Trabajo in 2011 with SLOWPAGEANT EP. While TJ had other live acts, all of which were at various levels of amazing, I watched with delight as he began dedicating his focus into Trabajo’s completely un-quantized, pseudo-electroacoustic-hip-trip-hop-indie-rock-noise-worldbeat sound.

The word for my reaction their new EP Gamelan To The Love God is in no way “surprise”. It has long been the habit of extremely talented guitarists in the modern era to move away from the actual guitar, finding other ways to coax music from the universe via their brains to their fingers. But in this case, I hear that certain type of humanistic dexterity that was in TJ’s playing, and a bit of a dawning excitement on his part that you don’t really need a guitar to play one, and that’s what makes all the difference here.

This is electronic music, but it’s also a series of performance recordings. The world rhythm samples, the non-equal-tempered tuning systems, the ancient traditions all merge seamlessly with a modern aesthetic in this case (where so many others fail) because the source materials were manipulated live, with respect and virtuosity and a really solid quartet of ears. Trabajo’s music succeeds where a bevy of chill/worldbeat mashups have not, because this music is not premeditated, but felt.

Gamelan To The Love God references the ancient Javanese love poem Smaradahana, which in the Western world would be roughly analogous to Romeo & Juliet in terms of fame. The album begins with a fairly recognizable gamelan mashup, then proceeds to add more changes and fucked-with-beats as each two-minute track unfolds. Both The Myth and I Am Tetsuo feature major changes about halfway through, adding some gorgeous melody or trunk-rattle kicks, then without wasting time moving on to the next track. In this way the album seems more in line with the J Dilla aesthetic. Indeed, that disregard for traditional structure, informing a new modern narrative for what we confusingly still call “albums” might be the overarching schematic for the future of sample-based music.

The album peaks structurally somewhere around Skidoo 23, a mildly ADHD succession of beats melded seamlessly and sometimes almost humorously. From there we are taken back down by way of several guitar pedals to end with the gorgeous wash of the EP’s final track, Mortal. It’s a perfect ending to an excellent EP, and I can’t wait for more from Trabajo in this direction. I just want to see where this performance-based electronic duo can take us. The EP is available for you-name-it price at their Bandcamp.

Joomanji’s new album free for 48 hours

In a soundscape overwhelmed by inhuman beats and 200late electro-wobbles, groove collective Joomanji follows up their 2012 self-titled debut with Manj, taking us even deeper into what’s possible when good production meets virtuosic jams from across the cultural divide. With its core of instrumentalists, including producer/wizard Jonah Christian and drum prodigy Amir Oosman, Joomanji brings with it a small army of talented friends, each with their own individual flavor.

This collaborative mentality, the fearlessness of appropriation from any musical tradition, never shying away from getting further outside than expected, and the electronic samples and textures are what make the overall soundscape of this release so relevant in the current hip hop/jazz scene. This crossover genre needs to happen more, and California seems like the perfect breeding ground, spearheaded of course by the likes of Joomanji.

Check out Jamal Moore’s deep flute freakouts between Arielle Deem‘s vox on earworm Around the World, or Nick Bianchini’s beautiful trumpet textures sprinkled throughout. Not to mention soon-to-be-world-renown entertainer Austin Antoine rapping, often freestyle, in his default blow-your-mind state. You’d never expect it all to come together, because you probably haven’t heard it work before. But Joomanji pulls it off, and that’s why this is one band to keep an eye on in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Listen for free below, or name your price and download from their bandcamp for the next 48 hours. This blog does not take responsibility for any excessive head bobbing injuries sustained while listening to Joomanji.

If It Sounds Good, It Is Good: an interview with Micropangea composer Brendan Byrnes

Composer, guitarist, and recent CalArts alum Brendan Byrnes stopped by to talk about his debut album, Micropangea, synesthesia, boutique netlabels, and Katy Perry.

So, first things first. It’s called Micropangea.

It is called Micropangea.

You are Brendan Byrnes.


It’s got 8 tracks. Is Fever Swimmer the only live track?


But there are live elements on most of the other tracks.

Yeah, live drums and guitars.

Michael Day did most of the drums and percussion, right?

And one guy named Mike Horrick, who’s a drummer in LA I lived with in Chicago. He listened to that song on the drive up and just nailed it in a couple takes. He wants to be a session drummer. He’s that kind of guy. He’s in a lot of bands, and we’ve done things in the past.

A lot of people at CalArts are doing just intonation and alternate tunings because of Wolfgang. You took his class I’m guessing?

I did. I took the intonation course both semesters, and I studied with him privately.

How much influence would you say he had? Did he give you, like, scales to use?

No, honestly, Wolfgang and I treat microtonality a bit differently. And he’s kind of come from the line of great German composers. He maybe sees himself in that lineage. So he’s writing for instruments that don’t have fixed pitch. And when you’re dealing with instruments where the player can actually tune on the fly really easily, JI is pretty much the only way you can go. You can tune just intervals because there’s a moment of quietness that you get with just intervals. They stop beating, stop sounding out of tune in a sense. My approach is more based on scales, having a fixed set of notes that I use that are weird, and they might be just or they might be tempered, it depends. But I have it laid out on a guitar or a keyboard or at least conceptually. He’s more about the infinite pitch spectrum, but dealing with that with a limited range of prime limits. Have you heard of prime limits?

No, what’s that?

Prime limit is basically… you’ll often hear a 7-limit, or a 13-limit or 11-limit, and the number corresponds to the partial in the harmonic series. So if you’re dealing with 7-limit, that means you’ll have the natural 7th in play, and that against other intervals will be a 7-limit interval. If you have 11-limit, you’re using that quarter tone that’s between the 4th and augmented 4th, so that expands your harmonic space.

So, when you talk about that with his way of composition, that’s a lot more, “Okay, we’re gonna have an orchestra, and you guys all play like 32 cents down here, and 17 cents up here.” Is that what you’re talking about?


Whereas you tune the instruments to a scale, and have everybody play the scales you’ve put together beforehand.

Yeah, in a sense. And on the album I’m mostly dealing with synthesizers, so I have a fixed pitch then. But I do intend to bring this into the live realm, and retune pianos and re-fret guitars, that kind of thing. So the pitches are given, and that allows you to use different scales, like different divisions of the octave. Which all have their own character, sort of a color palette, which I find really interesting.

For example, is it Zibra Island that has the non-repeating octave thing?

Non-octave scale, yeah.

To me, that was the scale that sounded the most crazy. Plus you have these rising motions on that one, so no matter what, at some point, it’s just going to sound crazy out of tune.

Yeah, it just never shows up again, and as a composer you’re like, “What the fuck? Where’s my octave?”

When you’re composing with that, is there a tonic that you’re using? Are there base frequencies that you go back to?

With this particular piece, that scale, no. Sometimes there’s close octaves, they might be out of tune, and sometimes you can fake it, but sometimes you have nothing available to you. So it does shape the way your composition is going to go. But there is a pretty popular scale called the Bohlen-Pierce scale which is 13 equal divisions of a perfect 12th, which is an octave plus a fifth. So instead of, in JI terms an octave is 2:1, a perfect 12th is 3:1. It’s the next most consonant interval, so if you give that equivalence and divide that up, you’re making a fifth plus octave. So in that kind of a scale there is a base to stand on. But in this scale it was just wacky.

Are you a Logic guy?


And are there a lot of soft synths that you had a keyboard attached to?

Yeah, I used a MIDI controller pretty extensively, and I used this program called Lil’ Miss Scale Oven.

Everybody I know who took Wolfgang’s class, all they ever wrote in was intonation and crazy scales. It’s like hacking your brain. Someone told me Wolfgang can’t listen to pianos anymore, because they sound out of tune to him.

Yeah, they do. I mean I tune pianos semi-professionally, and… yeah. It’s weird. But at the same time I’m really glad that I do that, because there is something to tempered scales, and beating sounds really beautiful to me. I love 12-tone equal tempered, it’s given us hundreds of years of awesome music. It’s a great scale. And JI, it’s like new consonances, kind of like a beatless sound, and that’s cool, but JI music always sounds like JI music. Which isn’t a bad thing.

Does it feel like a movement to you? We can do it more easily now with computers, whereas before we really couldn’t, or it was really difficult to get performed. So do you think it’s going to catch on?

Well, I’ve done a lot of research online and joined various chat groups. There’s a big group on Facebook called Xenharmonic Alliance. It seems to be growing, and it seems that there’s more and more music coming out, and there’s more and more people getting interested in it, I think in large part because it’s so much easier to retune things now. There’s a program called Scala which is free and people are using it… In the year or two that I’ve been paying attention to it, it seems to have been growing, and people seem to be more enthusiastic. Maybe I’m biased because I’m at CalArts and there’s a bunch of people into it, and there’s classes on it and it seems very natural at this point.

But all around the world… There’s this guy Toby Twining, who’s a composer in New York, he just wrote a massive work for choir that’s all JI. It’s heavy, it’s amazing. It’s one of the more important works that I’ve heard for the 21st century. So it seems to be catching on. And I think when people hear it, even if they don’t know it’s microtonal, it has that thing where it’s like, “Oh, it sounds kinda different, what’s going on there?” So for that reason alone I think it could catch on.

You said you wanted to move in a direction of performing it live. Are you going to do a guitar choir, or a band?

I think it’s going to be an ensemble with at least a few guitars. I recently just got a junkie piano and retuned it to just intonation. So, I can’t carry a piano around, but I’m starting to move toward acoustic instruments and get out of synth land.

Which I think is good.

I think it’ll translate.

And you sang too, right?

Yeah, I sang a little bit on one song, Vacant City.

Talk about the process of writing lyrics and singing for a microtonal JI track.

You know it was a lot easier than you might imagine. I mean, you would understand, as a member of a choir, you just adjust. And I’m singing in what is considered 5-limit, which means I’m not singing quarter tones. I’m essentially singing in a mean tone, or 12-tone equal tempered system, it’s kind of the same range. So I’m using familiar intervals, major 3rds and minor 7ths and all that stuff, and adjusting depending on the harmony. It took me a while to really find where I wanted it to be, but I’m not singing crazy quarter tones.

It was more like the leaps I feel, and there were a couple times, like the line “there’s no sound in the air”.

Yeah, like that half step is small, that kind of thing.

Did you do that all in one take?

No, I had the demo in my car a bunch, and I just sort of worked on it.

And just did it intuitively.

It was intuitive, yes. I didn’t have a synthesizer where I was checking stuff. If it sounds good, it is good.

And you said that you use guitars that combine together and make the scale, because they hocket together or something?

Oh, on the last track. So that’s in 17-EDO, which is 17 equal divisions of the octave. I tuned six guitars to that scale. In 17-EDO the fifth is 705 cents, so that means 4ths are good, octaves, and 5ths are good. So on a guitar you just play 5th frets, and fret 12, 17, 19. So that was the only thing the players could play. But each guitar was in a different tuning system so I could cover the whole ground. I had a keyboard with stickers on it to make sure I could get all the notes, and then wrote essentially one guitar part, just played between a bunch of guitars.

This is a concept album too. There was one really cool description on the site talking about the colors that you see.

Yeah, I have synesthesia a little bit. It helps me compose and that’s how I experience music. Songs or albums to me have a definite color scheme and I can’t change that in my brain. I guess it’s useful in a minor degree, but it’s more or less just kinda fun.

Did you talk to the website designer about the colors?

Yeah, I gave her a color scheme and described the locations that I had in mind when composing for it, and she totally took it in her own direction. It was just, “Here’s the very basic bare bones information, do what you will.” She did an amazing job. It’s her own work of art.

You’re graduated with a Master’s now. I’m curious about the practical side of doing music like this. Obviously this isn’t trying to be the next Top 40. It’s a passion for you.


So, especially for people interested in doing this kind of music, what would your advice to them be?

Well, my advice would be to completely ignore your theory from the get go, and tune your keyboard, or your instrument or whatever you got to something fucked up and try to make some music with it. And then, once you do… I mean that’s what clicked for me. Honestly, I took Wolfgang’s class for a year and just sat there and took it. It was like, “Wow, that’s far out.” But it wasn’t until the summer that I had time to retune my keyboard, and as soon as I got an idea working a lightbulb went off. And that’s when I dove into real research.

When you would do a new tuning, how much did you know going into it? Or would you just fuck around?

Well, I had Harry Partch’s Genesis Of A Music, and in the back he has an appendix of all the JI intervals he has on his chromelodeon and the set values. So I made a copy of that and put it on my wall in front of my workspace. And I was like, “I wonder what that interval sounds like?” And I would tune it to that and listen and go, “Whoa, that’s weird, I’m gonna keep that in the scale,” or “I don’t like that interval,” and construct a scale just to try the intervals initially. Some of the scales worked as an entity, some of them didn’t, and then I just started writing pieces. Eventually I realized there were all these other temperaments, different divisions of the octave that weren’t possible on a 12-note repeating scale, and that’s when I realized I need to get Lil’ Miss Scale Oven and start hacking into the applications.

Once I did that it was off to the races. I think you need to understand music and theory to a certain extent, but you can really use your ears a lot. I think the important thing that I realized is that there are interval categories that you can’t erase out of your brain, like major 3rds, minor 2nds, stuff like that. But there are other interval categories that we don’t have access to in 12-tone equal temperament, like neutral intervals, that quarter tone that I mentioned, the 11th partial, some argue the natural 7th partial, we just don’t have access to those notes in our scale. But other scales you do, and in different divisions of the octave you get good approximations of those intervals. So, just getting your brain wrapped around those, and using those compositionally… it’s trial and error. There are theory books out there, but, I guess if you have the right type of brain you could go that route. That’s cool, but for me, I just made music with it and tried to understand it.

What are some intervals that you’re particularly fond of?

Well, I think when you’re first starting, the 11/8, that’s the clincher for most people. The 11/8 is that quarter tone between the 4th and the augmented 4th. Because when you hear that as a consonance, and it’s a note you haven’t heard before, and it’s an interval category you haven’t heard before… it’s not a fourth, it’s not a tritone, it’s like this weird thing, and that it sounds beautiful… that is pretty cool. And notes based off of that are neutral intervals. Because it’s a quarter tone, you get a neutral seventh, which is between a minor 7th and a major 7th, but it’s consonant. There’s neutral 2nds which I think are really beautiful. I guess I’m just really into neutral intervals.

All of these tracks are either in 4 or 3 time, aren’t they?

Yeah, there’s not very much odd meter at all.

Was that a conscious decision, or more because you had that intuitive approach?

I love 4/4, I love 3/4, I love 6/8… I mean I love odd meter stuff too, but to me there was enough craziness going on, I didn’t want to get any more confusing than I already was. And I wanted to make something very listenable, not pop music, but something very melodic, very simple structures, just to make it more listenable for myself and for listeners too.

Some people might say you’re crazy for making a listenable microtonal album.

I mean… Yes. I do consider my audience, but at the same time I think people’s ears are pretty open nowadays. So many people listen to hip hop, especially early hip hop, some of that stuff is so noisy and dissonant and weird, then you put a groove over it and it feels great. So there’s some of that approach in the album. And I mean honestly, I love really shitty pop.

Like what? What’s your kind of shitty pop?

There’s a Katy Perry song out there, I think it’s called Wide Awake? It’s fucking incredible. Maybe because I’m a production nerd.

I’m totally the same way. Every once in a while Kanye will come out with a track and I’m like, “Oh fuck it, I love this song.”

Oh yeah. Totally. You hate yourself for a minute, and then you’re like, “No, this is great!”

Have you been getting reactions to this from people? I’m sure it’s been pretty positive.

Yeah, it’s been really positive. People have said, and I’ve heard this a number of times, that it’s taken a little bit of time to sink in to the weirdness of the tunings. But it hasn’t taken that much time, and once they’ve sunk in it feels pretty natural.

Time into the album, you mean?

Yeah, and I think into each individual song. But I really focused on melody a lot, so even though it’s instrumental I think it really helps people connect.

Yeah, I think I’ll always be a melodist at heart.

I like melody. I don’t think you can get away from melody, it connects with people. And it helps me connect, and I thought it was really fun to have all these weird-sized intervals. I mean, there’s just so much about tuning, it’s the new thing. You have all these new chords and melodies.

I’m assuming you’re planning on releasing more albums.

Yeah… well, actually that’s not true, I might just release stuff now.

Just individual tracks?

Yeah, I’m on Bandcamp, I have a Soundcloud… Right now I just have works in progress on the Soundcloud.

In the future, do you think you’d have a period where you would narrow it down to one scale or intonation and focus on that for a while?

Um… no. There’s practical reasons, like if I have an ensemble that’s a couple guitars that’s we’ve re-fretted, I can’t just keep buying more guitars and re-fretting them.

Well, not with that attitude.

Touché. But I like the diversity of scales, especially when it comes to different divisions of the octave and non-octave scales. They each have their own personality that I think is really fun to exploit and explore. And yeah, you could stick to one tuning system and discover a whole bunch of stuff, but I like the ability to bounce around. There’s actually a guy who’s on the same label as me who released a record maybe three or four months ago, and it was all in 17-EDO, the whole thing. People have their favorites for different reasons that they approximate consonance really well… I don’t know, maybe at some point it’ll be fun to settle on one and really dive in, but at this point it’s so new to me I just want to see what’s out there.

And all these are different, right? There’s no repeating scale?


Talk about Spectropol, too, what’s the deal with those guys?

It’s awesome. It’s basically one guy. It’s based in Washington, it’s a netlabel, and he releases pretty much whatever he likes. But he likes stuff that’s really hard to categorize, polystyle, really into a vast spectrum of music. Everything on the label… the only thing that it has in common is that it’s outside the mainstream.

How’d you find it?

He found me. I posted something on a microtonal forum and he listened to it, and he listened to my Bandcamp and he was like, “Hey I really like the new microtonal stuff you’re doing! Can you make more and I’ll put it out?”

So cool. And you put up Trillopod right?

Yeah, I think that’s what he heard.

So you’re a pioneer, basically.

Well, I mean, a lot of people have written microtonal music.

You’re so humble.

Well, this stuff actually has a tradition that started with Ives, he was kind of the first, and then there’s Partch, and for like fifty years there were only two or three dudes. Then Lou Harrison and Ben Jonhston. In the eighties there was this guy Ivor Darreg who really started the equal temperament movement.

Now, I don’t think there’s really a celebrity microtonal composer like those guys. You could argue Toby Twining, Wolfgang maybe in some way, there’s Kraig Grady, who’s actually an LA guy but he lives in Australia now, he’s doing a lot of JI scales. Probably the most important musical theorist, at least in terms of microtonality, is Erv Wilson. A documentary just came out about him called Sonic Sky, it’s pretty cool. A lot of people studied with him, I think he lived in Mexico and just taught out of his house. I mean it was all oral tradition. I think he wrote some papers for some people, but it’s basically information that was all just passed on.

He was really big with what are called MOS scales, which stands for “moments of symmetry”. It’s more like a formula that he came up with. You have a generator, the size of the interval that you stack on top of itself to create the scale. So in 12-tone equal temperament the generator is 700 cents, a 5th is 700 cents. A period, which is what you reduce it to, so an octave, and then it has to have two step sizes. So like we have semitones and whole tones and you get all of the intervals from that. Those are the only three requirements. And you can have different MOS scales within different divisions of the octave. He was a really important theorist in that sense.

So yeah, Kraig Grady, Toby Twining… There’s this guy Aron Kallay. He’s a microtonal pianist, and he’s associated with this organization in Chicago called UnTwelve. They’re really great, it’s run by this guy named Aaron Johnson. So there’s little things like that, these little pockets…

Which are expanding.

Which are expanding. Absolutely. And I believe CalArts is one of those places. Which is great.

CalArts is definitely one of those places. I mean, if anything, all this is like an easy way to be different.

Exactly! It helps a lot, really.

Are there scales out there that have never been written in?

Oh yeah. Totally. And you can make your own scale, and put your name on it and throw it up on the Xenharmonic wiki, and that is your scale. It’s like naming stars.

Is there anything else you want to say that we haven’t touched on about this beautiful work of art that you’ve put out into the world from your soul unto reality?

I hope people listen to it, and I hope people other than microtonalists enjoy it to a certain extent. And if you’re a musician or a composer, try retuning your instruments to something weird and see if you can make something out of it, and you’ll probably be inspired like I was.

Listen to the album in its entirety at the amazing Micropangea.com with full explanations of tunings used in each track, designed by Kerstin Larissa Hovland.

Win Peter Winters

It’s a bit trite at this point to start a review with something along the lines of “in this sea of overproduced busy-ness business along comes Win Peter Winters with a gorgeously nuanced post classical folk pop fusion yada yada”, so I won’t do that. Already acts like Mumford & Sons have shown that people are both ready and willing to take the time to listen to some truly great songwriting with acoustic textures. The music has been compared to many things, but I think I’m gonna go with Rachel’s on this one. Except with more banjo.

What I really want to talk about regarding this new self titled album is the insistence of pop aesthetics with classical instrumentation. Glock, banjo, sound recordings and a lovely cello (Chris’s main instrument) combine with never-not-completely-not-dissonant lyrics to give the vague impression of being lost at sea. The vibe is melancholy and a bit lonely, but with a refreshing sense of dramatic irony (especially the quirky final track, “World Goes On”).

Though I wish the initial track was a bit stronger, by the time we get to “Rain” I was able to completely lose myself in the music, and directly following that we get “Ocean”, the above linked and my personal favorite. The concept album has generally consistent orchestration, but this particular track has a certain patience to it, which I love, and I’m always a sucker for a good solid refrain at the end of several successive stanzas. I know, I’m a nerd.

Listen and purchase at his bandcamp and like his Facebook page.

If you’d like me to review your own music, just ask. I love getting new ear candy!