Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Satyrday, a Fable. Tuesday, parts 9, 10 & 11.

     The fire blazed higher. Vera piled twigs and leaves from a fallen cedar, and strips of bark. Matthew knelt on the hummock, shaking the boy. Derin's arms hung backwards from his shoulders as if disjointed, and his legs bent at the knees and fell limply to the side. "Derin," he said harshly, and when the boy did not respond, the satyr cuffed his face. "You're not leaving me alone in this," he said. "Not after all this time."
     He put the boy down and began to massage his chilled body. He worked up Derin's arms, beginning with the fingers, and then rubbed the boy's neck and chest. Vera took the earthenware pot from Matthew's knapsack, filled it with water from the swamp, and put it beside the fire to warm. When a faint mist drifted from the top, she brought it over to where the boy lay. Matthew rummaged in his pack for a piece of cloth and found the flask he had forgotten.
     "Of course," he said. "Just the thing." He drenched the cloth in the warm water and wiped the boy's face. Then he lifted Derin's shoulders, tilted his head back, and gently opened his mouth. Derin's face had lost its blue tinge, and when Matthew put his ear to the boy's chest, he heard a steady heartbeat.
     He poured a few drops from his flask into the boy's mouth. Derin's throat contracted, and the boy jerked forward, couching. The satyr hit him on the back until the coughing ceased. Derin sat up and wildly looked around him. He threw his arms in front of his face, knocking Matthew backwards.
     "Get away!" he screamed. "Get away from me."
     Matthew struggled back to his hooves. "Derin," he said. "It's me. Cut it out."
     The boy's eyes were full of terror. "Stay away," Derin screamed. "Get out of here."
     It's all right. Derin. Listen to me. They're gone. The frogs are gone."
     The boy caught his breath and looked around him at the hummock, his arms still threshing the air. He calmed down by degrees, his head twisting until he was sure they were nowhere to be seen. The air stuck in his throat in little hiccoughs, until he covered his face with his hands and started to cry. "You did a job on this ankle," the satyr said. "You might have broken it." He pulled Derin's hands away and gathered the boy in his arms. Derin did not resist. He buried his face in Matthew's shoulder and sobbed. It had been years since the boy had allowed himself to be held, and Matthew felt the burden of all that time. His throat tightened. "You should have been more careful," he said gruffly. "You've got to take care of yourself."
     "They came out of the water," Derin said. "I couldn't stop them. They were all around me."
     "They didn't touch you," Matthew said.
     "How did you know?" the boy said, wresting himself loose from Matthew's hold. "You weren't even here."
     Vera, who had been watching everything, came forward. "Let's take care of his ankle," she said. "We've got to get back to the river."
     "Who are you?" Derin asked in amazement. "Where did she come from?"
     "Her name is Vera," Matthew said. "She's the reason I left you like that." He turned to the fox. "Can you get some wild sarsaparilla?" he asked.
     Vera disappeared among the cedars. "She can turn herself into a nymph," Matthew said when she was gone. He shrugged his shoulders. "I ran after her."

                                                      *                      *                      *

     By the time the fox returned, Matthew had told Derin all he knew of their strange companion. He made a poultice of warm water, wild sarsaparilla, and rotting cedar and put it on the boy's ankle, binding it with the cloth he'd used earlier. The boy winced, threw back his head. "So it hurts," the satyr said. "It's a bad sprain. You'll have to stay off it for a while. You're lucky it's not worse."
     "Let me help," Vera said. "Just lie still." She sniffed Darin's ankle, took her tail and brushed it four times, rhythmically, over the boy's leg. She sniffed again, brushed her tail four more times, and then licked the ankle. "There," she said. "That should do it. How does it feel?"
     "It doesn't," Derin said, amazed. "I don't feel a thing."
     "Good," Vera said. "Then it worked. I deadened the pain to let the ankle heal. It's the least I can do." She looked at Matthew. "I led your friend on that wild chase. I thought I'd get the two of you through the swamp more quickly that way." She sighed. "Unfortunately, you can't always tell how things will turn out. Sometimes the best intentions.  .  .  ."
     "Well, thank you," Derin said.
     "It was nothing. I'm a snow fox. I have the power of healing."
     "And the power of transformation," Matthew said.
     "Limited," the fox said. "Very limited."
     "What about the real nymphs?" Matthew asked. "The ones who used to live in the meadowlands."
     Vera smiled at him. "There were no real nymphs," she said.
     "You're razzing me," Matthew said, laughing. "No wonder I never caught one. There were a lot of foxes, now that I think of it.
     "Until the wind destroyed the clan," Vera said. "The wind the owl sent to bring the animals west. Many survived that night. But snow foxes are delicate creatures, sensitive and high-strung. The only ones who lived were those not taken by the wind. Eery snow fox in the whirlwind perished. And soon after that the ones who remained left the meadowlands to live in the upper regions of the mountains to the west. I think I'm the last one."
     "The last of your clan?" Derin asked.
     "Those things most beautiful perish first," Vera said proudly. "There are no unicorns left."
     "But how did you know about us?" Matthew asked.
     "I knew about the owl," she said simply, "and about the moon. It seemed only a matter of time before someone headed west to try to rescue her. I am wiser than I may appear. Snow foxes–if I might brag for a moment–are not ordinary creatures."
     Derin looked at Vera, and she sighed and complied with his silent request. Before him stood a nymph, so radiant she dispelled the green gloom of the swamp. It was as though the sun had reappeared. The boy groaned, amazed. The nymph disappeared, and the fox was before them again. "I hope that did some good," she said. "It's a strain on me."

                                                     *                       *                       *

     The fox gathered the knapsacks and gave them to the boy. Matthew bend down and Derin hobbled over and climbed on the satyr's back. It grew noticeably darker as they sloshed west, the fox cutting a single sliver in the water's skin, the satyr stumbling behind. "Slow down," he called. "I'm not as aspired as I was before."
     Under Derin's hands, the satyr's shoulders rippled like the water below him. He was remembering the brief image of the nymph which had burned into his mind. He was lost in her radiance, in the memory of his fall, the frogs and their silent pulsing throats, aware now of a pull to the west toward the owl; it was as though he'd been hypnoyized, and was being drawn more tightly into a net.
     As they struggled through the swamp, night came, clamping down around them like the lid of a box. The Satyr had to rest occasionally. During one of these stops, he untied the cloth around Derin's ankle and reapplied the poultice. The swelling had gone down, and Derin's foot had regained the color of living flesh, but an ugly bruise spread from the ankle and discolored the boy's instep.
     The fox never spoke. She seemed intent in getting out of the swamp. She knew her way, even in the dark, as easily as Derin knew the way to Matthew's granite overhang, and they both agreed her presence was a rare stroke of luck.
     Derin was beginning to nod when he heard a noise which brought him fully awake. It was like to roaring of a wind gathering far off. But there was no wind. The air was still and very cold. It was a rumbling undertone of sound, a solid sustained bass which never varied. The noise seemed to be coming from the swamp beneath him, filtering up into the highest branches of the cedars. It had strange gurglings and pauses in it, little sucks and moans.
     He bent over and whispered in Matthew's ear, "What's that?"
     "If my guess is right, we're near the Swollen River."
     "Yes," the fox said. "That's the river. Don't let it worry you. We'll stop along its banks. Wouldn't think of trying to cross it tonight."
     The swamp became more shallow, the ice gave way to solid ground, and as they came to a slow rise, the rumbling increased and Derin felt the earth tremble. When they were near the top, the satyr put him down. Derin held his right foot off the ground, stood on his left, and steadied himself by holding onto the satyr's arm.
     "Careful now," Vera said. "It will still be tender."
     The boy put his foot on the ground and applied some pressure. It held him. "It's not as fine as it seems," Vera reminded him, "but it looks like it's doing all right." And she was gone, up the rise overlooking the river. Matthew helped him hobble up after her. The fox looked out over the turbulence of river. Matthew stood by her side, his arms crossed on his chest.
     The immensity of what lay before the boy took his breath away. True, it was difficult to see anything in so little light. The sky was a solid leaden sheet, and under it the river came rushing from his left and passed away to his right. Here, on its brink, the water made unearthly noises. It sounded like a storm coming out of the earth instead of the sky. Perhaps by daylight the boy would see the far shore, but as he stood there, he felt as he had when he'd made a trip with Matthew to the ocean. Its power humbled him. They were to cross this water? It seemed not like water at all, but like a stream of mud. It was thick and slippery, churning below him.
     "I don't remember it like this," the satyr said uneasily.
     The fox huddled between them in the dark. "The river is much wilder and broader since the owl took the moon. We should get some sleep. I'll gather wood for a fire." She set off down the rise they had recently climbed.
     Derin stood close to Matthew. "There's something I have to tell you," he said. The satyr stiffened, ready for the rebukes he thought the boy had been hoarding all afternoon.
     "I had the strangest vision back on that hummock," Derin said. Matthew looked at him and frowned. "I was racing after you, but you were so fast and I was falling behind. I got tired of having to run around things, so I tried to vault this cedar. That's when I fell and sprained my ankle. I was lying there and I opened my eyes and the frogs came. They just sat there in the water staring at me, and I started screaming, started talking to keep them away. They belong to the owl, don't they?"
     "That's what Vera said."
     "I don't remember anything else until you came back. I must have passed out. But U had this vision. I sank deeper and deeper into this hole and then I was a bird and I came flying up, into this clear sky. The sun was there and the moon, and I was the only bird around. I flew and flew. It must have been west because the sun was setting. And then I flew south. And I found this large thing that looked like a prison."
     "Who know what dreams mean?" Matthew said. "Not me. I've had them myself, but they never make sense." The boy stood silent at his side. "That's not much of an answer, is it?" he asked.
     "If it's the best you can do," the boy said.
     Matthew looked out over the river. "Years ago," he said, "fourteen years ago, I was awakened in the middle of the night and brought to this bank, to the edge of the river, the only other time I've been here. A creature wearing a dark cloak, I couldn't see the face, handed me a blanket. I know it may be hard to believe, but.  .  .  ."
     "Me?" Derin asked.
     "Yes. of course," the satyr said. "So I brought you back to the meadowlands."
     Derin stood, stunned by this information he'd waited so long for. "But where did I come from?" he wanted to know. "Who was the stranger?"
     "He could have been your father. He could have been someone else. I don't know. And where he, or you, came from is a mystery to me, I'm sorry I can't tell you anything else."
     Derin shivered in the damp ait. He looked to his friend for reassurance, but Matthew was lost in thought. "Why didn't you tell me this before?"
     The satyr looked at him and then reached out and touched the boy's shoulder. "What good would it have done? He said you'd be sent for. And you have been."
     Derin said nothing. Below him, the river bubbled: a cauldron, a tempest. It's happening, Matthew thought, as the stranger said. It's happening, and I can't do a thing to change it.
     "You're tired," he said, but the boy wasn't listening to him. He was off somewhere, thinking of the crazy twists his life had taken. "I don't have any more answers for you," the satyr said, almost harshly. "Leave me alone for a minute. Go warm yourself by the fire. And get off that ankle."
     "Matthew," Derin said. "I'll be all right. I can take care of myself."
     "I think you can," the satyr said. "You'll have to."
     The boy limped down the slope. Matthew stood alone, watching the river pass below him. He shook his head in wonder. And how am I changing? he thought.

                                                   *                        *                        *

End of chapter 3. More = later!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Condensed History of Language.

     1. A word is invented.

     2. The word gets popular.

     3. The word gets overused to death.

     4. People don't like the word anymore.

     5. A new word gets invented to take its place.

     6. The new word gets popular.

     7. The new word gets overused to death.

     8. People don't like the new word anymore.

     9. See part 5.

     Ever wondered why we have so many euphemisms for "penis"?

     Now you know.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Satyrday, a Fable. Tuesday, parts 7 & 8.

     Matthew waded behind the fox, trying to put his information together. He and Derin had entered the swamp; the water was freezing, ice formed on his fleece and then, as in a dream, he'd seen the nymph. How long ago had that been? Where was he now? He'd lost all track of time and direction. He knew for sure only that he was still in the swamp, heading back where he'd come from, looking for the boy.
     Vera moved through the water with a power and grace that seemed otherworldly. The cold didn't bother her, and she never tired. For Matthew, it was much more difficult than he remembered. But then, he thought, he remembered only the image of the nymph. The cold returned to his legs and worked its way up his thighs and into his chest until his teeth were shattering, and he walked, hugging himself. He fumbled in his pack for the blanket, but he had drenched himself in his pursuit and now, in the slower going, he paid for his carelessness. Icicles hung from his hair; he stopped from time to time, lifted his legs from the water, and removed the small pieces of ice which formed in the cleft of his hooves.
     Where was Derin? Ahead of Matthew, the swamp continued, drifting into the distance, and endless morass of pools and hummocks. Lichen grew on the cedars' trunks, turning the bark a deep green. In fact, everything looked green. The fox's white fur had taken on a pale sickly sheen, his own hands were stained, and the water eddied around his legs like an algae-laden much.
     It was the light. It bounced off the swamp, reflected up to the cedars' tops and back again, a continuous mirroring of green.
     They splashed through the water without speaking, or rather Matthew splashed; Vera cut through it smoothly. But he couldn't stop thinking of what had happened. If the fox could change her form, what else could she do? For the first time since he had began to retrace his steps, he thought about what lay ahead. They had to get out of this swamp; they had to cross the Swollen River. And maybe, if the fox would go along with them, they would make it.
     "Derin!" he yelled again, and this time thought he heard a thin voice raised in the distance. "Was that him?" he asked the fox. "Did you hear that?"
     "I don't know. It could have been the boy. It could have been an echo."
     They plunged in the direction of the noise, but when Matthew called his name again, there was no answer. "How long has it been?" Matthew asked the fox.
     "Since when?"
     "Since we started back."
     "It's very hard to tell," the fox said. "Time's so slippery."
     "How long has Derin been out there?"
     "Perhaps you should have thought of that earlier," the fox replied mildly.
     "But it was you fault," Matthew said, his voice sharp. He felt a hot knot rise in his throat.
     "Now now," Vera said. "Let's not point any fingers."
     They found the boy on the hummock, surrounded by the frogs. Matthew and Vera saw him from a distance and stopped short. "What are those things?" the satyr cried.
     The frogs sat silently, guarding the boy, their bellies pulsing, their red eyes brilliant in the gathering darkness. When they heard the thrashing of the fox and satyr coming toward them, they slithered back into the water and disappeared under its opaque skin.
     "Derin," Matthew yelled, spraying water in front of him as he ran.
     The boy's face was a slight blue, tinged with the green light of the swamp. There was ice and mud in his hair, and his clothes were stiff with frost. His lips were tightly shut, thin as dried reed, and his ankle was twisted sideways. The satyr knelt and took the boy's head in his hands, but Derin did not open his eyes. Wildly, Matthew looked to the fox for help, but she hung back as though what went on between the satyr and the boy was of no interest to her.
     "What were they?" he asked again. "Where did they come from?"
     "The owl," Vera said. "They belong to him."
     "Derin, wake up," Matthew said. But if it were sleep which held the boy, it did not let him go.

                                                         *                        *                         *

     The sun stared down at the clouds moiling beneath her and wondered what had happened to the world. For three days, she had risen in the east and looked down upon the same alien view. Gone were the meadowlands with their blue glints of lakes and streams. She could see nothing, not the wide river which cut the land, nor the tall snow-streaked mountains to the west. All was grey turbulence, a fleecy mask of smoke.
     She shone brighter, but the clouds did not disperse. Instead, they sent soft streamers toward her, tentacles of mist. It was so odd. She had seen bad weather before, days of it, when the world disappeared beneath an impenetrable blanket of cloud. But this was different. She felt cut off from the world by these clouds, and she was growing weaker.
     The sun did not understand exactly, but she knew how she felt. And where was the moon? She was used to being awakened in the morning by her sister, finished for the night, who would rouse her and send her into the sky. But for three mornings now, she had awakened alone, and late, and she was worried.
     Without her sister, the sun felt her power dimming. They nurtured one another. She was afraid the moon was in trouble, but she didn't know what to do. The sun floated over the cloudy sea and racked her brain for an answer. There was nowhere her sister could be. The moon was so haughty and fickle, so impressed with herself, it was possible she had gone off somewhere–but where? There was nowhere to go.
     The sun remembered the time when the world was forming, and the meadowlands seethed with mud, before the green sprouts of trees emerged. Then her sister had disappeared for several days as well. When she'd returned, she had said she was tired of shining and tired of being the same. Where had she gone? the sun asked, and the moon had said, "I traveled among the other suns to find another way."
     And she had found one: elsewhere, she told her sister, there were places where the sources of light changed form. Sometimes they were round as a perfect circle, and sometimes thin and curved. She found great beauty in that, and fascination. "You may keep that dull round shape," she told the sun, "but I will be forever variable."
     The sun, always the more steadfast of the two, had thought, "How vain!" But she'd consented to the new arrangement, and her sister had been happy after that. What was happening now? Had the moon grown discontent again, and traveled off in search of some new possibility?
     If so, the sun wished she would get back son. Even though she hated to admit it, she missed her sister. The sun forgave the moon her vanity, her haughtiness, with a condescension natural to older siblings. The moon would never catch up to the sun, would never be as bright. It was her lot to lag behind, to be paler, more beautiful.
     But without her sister, the sun was incomplete, only half of what she was. The moon took great pride and some spite in saying she was the better half. Halves were just halves, and so the sun ignored the jibe. Now she was worried. Without her sister around, they were both in trouble. She, for one, was losing her light.

                                                     *                        *                        *

More = later! Thanks for being patient and tolerating my lack of productivity.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Dark Side of Remastering, Part 1.

     Hello, underlings! The time has come to discuss the Dark Side of...what the title said.

     "Remastered" has become a buzzword in the music industry, and casuals (aka people who don't know shit about music) have been misusing it for years now. Fortunately, some people have been wising up to the whole thing, and becoming informed. And right now, YOU TOO can become informed! I will explain the basics and bullshits of remastering, in less than 9,000 words! So, gentlemen and gentleladies, THIS IS WHAT REMASTERING IS ALL ABOUT!

     And before you walk away from this frightening wall of text, let me remind you that you do have time to read all this. All those cat videos on YouTube can wait.


     First of all, let's get back to basics. Let's go back in time. A long, long time ago, there were no computers, and no hard drives. All audio was stored on magnetic tapes (archival) and vinyl records (personal use). The former decays over time unless treated chemically, and the latter lasts for many decades (plastic decays real slow). Magnetic tapes sound freaking amazing (providing music was recorded with GOOD microphones and cables). And don't let the slight hiss distract you from what's important: professional magnetic tapes can store sound in theoretically infinite resolution. Before the invention of digital storage, tapes were the shit. Vinyl records are limited by time (only about 25 minutes on each side) and have a hard time holding overly compressed (all loud and zero quiet) sound, but sound about as good as the tapes, proving your player isn't shit and the speakers are not too shabby. Sure, vinyl degrades slightly with repeated use, but you have to pay some price for quality.

     Now, let's get to the meat of the businesses. In the olden days of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, high quality music was first always recorded on tapes, and then transferred to vinyl through a process called mastering. Basically, in the best case, you recorded the instruments and vocals on separate tapes, and then record those tapes on a single and final one. That final tape, be it mono or stereo, was called the master tape. Why? Because it was the final finished version, and from it, all the copies would be made. Think of the master tape as a painting: after you put all the colours together, you are DONE done. No retouching. No going back. Finished. And that finished version of yours could be copied for different museums.

     Let's take a half step back, and explain the mastering some more. Once you record your instruments on multiple tapes, making one tape of them all is not an automated process. You need to decide which instruments are louder, which are quieter, which should sound smoother, which ones harsher. The act of putting the separate tapes into one requires skill and lots of professional machinery, and making the result not sound like shit is called mixing. Ever heard of the word? Well, now you know what it means. The mixer can mix the tapes in a gazillion different ways, and therefore must make the tough decisions. Mixing audio can be quite stressful because of that.

     After the mixing has been finished, and you got your final master tape, you transfer the audio to a metal disk. That disk will be used to physically press the individual copies of vinyl albums.

So, let's look at the complete picture. This is how the sound traveled in the good old days, from the musicians, all the way into your ears:

Instruments & vocals
Recording equipment
Individual tapes
One tape/master tape
Metallic master disk
Vinyl record(s)

     One last thing for this chapter. This is important! >:( The quality of the musicians' performance, quality of the instruments, quality of microphones, quality of cables, quality of recording equipment, and quality of the tape stuff is recording to: it ALL is CRUCIAL. The better each component of this sound chain is, the better sounding recordings you will get. And once the recording is done, the tapes are your ONLY copies that you end up with. The musicians performed in the past, everything but the tapes exist in the past. Everything is gone, forever. Except the tapes, which you must guard like the most precious treasure. For they are the best sounding copies that exist for now, and ever.

     More in Part 2, coming soon!