As long as human beings are still human beings they are going to want entertainment. Even if they are living on the third planet of Tau Ceti. For the other 23 hours and 55 minutes of a standard day, music is quite popular. So popular in fact that it is often enjoyed simultaneously with other entertainment.

From the primitive hunter-gatherers singing around the tribal fire, to traveling bards/minstrels/jongleur, to symphonies and operas, to player pianos, to Thomas Edison's wax cylinders, to Berliner Gramophone, to jazz and rock-n-roll, to vinyl 45 hit-singles and LP records, to portable transistor radios, to boom-boxes, to Sony Walkman, to Portable CD players, to Apple iPods, to the many ways of streaming music from the internet. Not to mention the many digital audio file formats.

After all, in the science fiction movie Guardians of the Galaxy Peter Quill's most prized possession is his antique Sony Walkman with the Awesome Mix vol. 1 compact cassette tape. Though he did later upgrade to a barely better Microsoft Zune.

Music is here to stay. In science fiction all of the above forms way occur, depending upon the tech level of the locale. And drinking songs in spaceport bars is a pastime that is never going to go out of style.


(ed note: Due to an series of unfortunate events Astronaut David Bowman's fellow astronauts (and one sick AI) are all killed. David finds himself very lonely, as the only human being for 9.5 astronomical units.)

     He kept himself neat and tidy; no matter how tired he became, he never skipped a shave. Mission Control, he knew, was watching him closely for the first signs of any abnormal behavior; he was determined that it should watch in vain — at least, for any serious symptoms.
     Bowman was aware of some changes in his behavior patterns; it would have been absurd to expect anything else in the circumstances. He could no longer tolerate silence; except when he was sleeping, or talking over the circuit to Earth, he kept the ship’s sound system running at almost painful loudness.

     At first, needing the companionship of the human voice, he had listened to classical plays — especially the works of Shaw, Ibsen, and Shakespeare — or poetry readings from Discovery’s enormous library of recorded sounds. The problems they dealt with, however, seemed so remote, or so easily resolved with a little common sense, that after a while he lost patience with them.
     So he switched to opera — usually in Italian or German, so that he was not distracted even by the minimal intellectual content that most operas contained. This phase lasted for two weeks before he realized that the sound of all these superbly trained voices was only exacerbating his loneliness. But what finally ended this cycle was Verdi’s Requiem Mass, which he had never heard performed on Earth. The Dies Irae,” roaring with ominous appropriateness through the empty ship, left him completely shattered; and when the trumpets of Doomsday echoed from the heavens, he could endure no more.
     Thereafter, he played only instrumental music. He started with the romantic composers, but shed them one by one as their emotional outpourings became too oppressive. Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, lasted a few weeks, Beethoven rather longer. He finally found peace, as so many others had done, in the abstract architecture of Bach, occasionally ornamented with Mozart.

     And so Discovery drove on toward Saturn, as often as not pulsating with the cool music of the harpsichord, the frozen thoughts of a brain that had been dust for twice a hundred years.

From 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY by Arthur C. Clarke (1969)

His finger stabbed the SELECT button for the first tape. Kitaro’s Oasis. He’d start ofi this session, when the winds peaked to their strongest and the ocean hurled daggers at him, with music that reached gently out to him. From Morning Prayer through Aratanaru Tabiji, Kitaro’s New Wave. Not of water per se but of spirit. Hell, that’s appropriate, he conceded, considering the name of this split-tailed tub. He knew the other numbers by heart and knew also that his conscious appreciation of what he’d be hearing would perk up when the strains of Shimmering Horizon mixed with the scream of wind.

He depressed the second button for another Kitaro series with the simple title of Ki. Enough selections in here to bring even more meaning to what might be his final moments. Stream of Being to Endless Water and finally to Cloud in the Sky as the final number. “Leave it to the Japanese to make it only one cloud, ” he grumbled aloud and went on to the third tape.

Daniel Kobialka’s Mind Dance offered a Bolero Medley that would set the stage for two music passages he had always loved: Clair de Lane and then Song for Lisa...

He gritted his teeth, felt Spirit groan from another barrage of roaring wind, and went back to the music selection rack. His finger stabbed the title Deep Breakfast. What a damned dumb name for one of the most stunning musical passages he’d ever heard. He had thought Ray Lynch was crazy until he understood the meaning of the composer, who had once told a friend: “You must be starved, old friend. Come into my apartments, and we’ll suffer through a deep breakfast of pure sunlight. ” Good enough, Ray Lynch, wherever and whoever the hell you are.

That would be enough to mix mind and music with wind and water; from this moment on he wanted the sound to come louder and louder to crash over and against and through him. He worked the computer control for the music rack so that when Midnight Blue slid into position and tore from the powerful speakers embedded in the cabin and the hull, all about him on the decks, he would be inundated with the crystal, soaring voice of Louise Tucker-...

Flashdance choked into position. Irene Cara’s voice would go right through him with the opening number, and he tapped buttons rapidly so that after each successive number on the tape, What A Feeling would play before the next number in line. Power and energy and life would surge from the speakers to tear over him, to make him one with the moment and the danger.

Then the entire sound track from Close Encounters. The whole works, every inch, every decibel, soft to furious, childlike and steamy to raw power. His finger stabbed and the electronics obeyed and the next tape moved into its slot.

He laughed aloud as he brought into position a long double tape of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. He didn’t know why he’d insisted to himself that he must include this music. The magic of a much earlier age and the magic of imagination and power all rolled into——well, into whatever it was that called to him.

His laughter ebbed when he came to Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire. That was so goddamned real to this very moment . . . That’s not what bothered him, he admitted to himself. It was the composer. And it wasn't this tape. It was that other one Vangelis had done. Every time he heard it the music hurled him violently back to the horror and agony of those months of bitter survival in Antarctica. How the hell had Vangelis even selected the name?...

He stared at his finger in the shuddering, careening cabin of Spirit, the finger poised over the button that would slide the haunting, icicle-tinkling strains of Vangelis’ Antarctica into its numbered slot. My God, he’d been back there. . . . A shudder spasmed his muscles and he shook himself like a wet dog to shove away the moment, and his hand moved and poised over the last button. A smile creased his stubbled face.

This was more like it. His select, chosen finale. The creation long ago of Alan Hovhaness, a celebration of life and surging energy, of . wonder and . . . And God Created Great Whales. A magnetic capture of Kostelaneu and great whales recorded in the deeps, woven together with the magic of imagination and music, captured here for him. His finger stabbed the button and the tape clicked into place. Done, by damn.

From EXIT EARTH by Martin Caidin (1987)

Space Songs


(ed note: go here for a list of links to sites where you can purchase this song)

Born in the belly of a rocket ship, as from Terra it did fly
His first cries drowned by the engines' roar, in no cradle did he lie
He'd hit Santara by the time he was four, Gal-Haydn when he was nine
Born as a spaceman in a spaceman's bed, and as a spaceman he would die

He learned every course that a ship could take, found a few more on the side
He learned new tricks every stop they'd make; with the engines he did ride
A spacer's pride was his swagger-stick, and his pride knew that it could survive
He lived as a spaceman from the day he was born, and as a spaceman he would die

They headed for Diversa in his trading years, when he'd just turned thirty-four
The captain planned on a mighty pay, after running a load of ore
The engine room gave him all they had, but the captain ordered more
They pumped 'em up to their hottest gain just to hear the rockets roar

Five hundred miles above the planet's ground, the engines died away
The captain called, "We need power now or we'll all die today!"
The spaceman said, "All the boys are dead and I'm not far behind.
We've pulled much more than she's meant to take, and the baffles have blown wide."

The captain said, "Well, do something man," and the spaceman smiled wide
"Except hold the plates down with my bare hands, we can't do nothing but enjoy the ride."
But the ground flew up with destructive speed, and the spaceman knew his mind
He couldn't sit in the engine room and wait for his friends to die

So he turned and he put his hand inside, where the engines used to glow
He found the plates and he held them fast, 'cause to quit's no way to go
And the rocket shook with a mighty roar, and the engines they did cry,
And the spaceman smiled in the engine's glow, for as a spaceman he would die

They found the boys in the engine room; by their stations they did lie
The spaceman with his hands on a baffle plate was still sitting where he'd died
They took them out, gave them to the stars; not a single spaceman cried
For spacemen in the stars do live, and in the stars they long to die

The spaceman's life for his men did give, and the stars would let him lie
He lived as a spaceman from the day he was born, and as a spaceman he did die
Written by Leslie Fish
Sung by Julia Ecklar
When I was young I told my mum
I'm going to walk on the Moon someday
Armstrong and Aldrin spoke to me
From Houston and Cape Kennedy
And I watched the Eagle landing
On a night when the Moon was full
And as it tugged at the tides, I knew deep inside
I too could feel its pull

I lay in my bed and dreamed I walked
On the Sea of Tranquillity
I knew that someday soon we'd all sail to the moon
On the high tide of technology
But the dreams have all been taken
And the window seats taken too
And 2001 has almost come and gone
What am I supposed to do?

Now that the space race is over
It's been and it's gone and I'll never get to the moon
Because the space race is over
And I can't help but feel we've all grown up too soon

Now my dreams have all been shattered
And my wings are tattered too
And I can still fly but not half as high
As once I wanted to

Now that the space race is over
It's been and it's gone and I'll never get to the moon
Because the space race is over
And I can't help but feel we've all grown up too soon

My son and I stand beneath the great night sky
And gaze up in wonder
I tell him the tale of Apollo And he says
"Why did they ever go?"
It may look like some empty gesture
To go all that way just to come back
But don't offer me a place out in cyberspace
Cos where in the hell's that at?

Now that the space race is over
It's been and it's gone and I'll never get out of my room
Because the space race is over
And I can't help but feel we're all just going nowhere
by Billy Bragg

Worlds grow old and suns grow cold
And death we never can doubt
Time's cold wind, wailing down the past
Reminds us that all flesh is grass
And history's lamps blow out

But the Eagle has landed; tell your children when
Time won't drive us down to dust again

Cycles turn while the far stars burn
And people and planets age
Life's crown passes to younger lands
Time sweeps dust of hope from his hands
And turns another page


But we who feel the weight of the wheel
When winter falls over our world
Can hope for tomorrow and raise our eyes
To a silver moon in the open skies
And a single flag unfurled


We know well what Life can tell:
If you would not perish, then grow
And today our fragile flesh and steel
Have laid their hands on a vaster wheel
With all of the stars to know

CHORUS That the...

From all who tried out of history's tide
Salute for the team that won
And the old Earth smiles at her children's reach
The wave that carried us up the beach
To reach for the shining sun

CHORUS For the...

Written by Leslie Fish
Sung by Julia Ecklar

Once upon a time,
You could hear the Saturn's roar
As it rose upon it's fiery tail to space.
And once upon a time, the men that we sent out
Landed in a strange and alien place.
And as I watched them walk upon the Moon,
I remembered Icarus,
Who flew too close to the Sun.

Once upon a time, they tore the gantries down
And the rockets flew no longer to the Moon.
And once upon a time,
We swore that we'd return,
But it doesn't look like we'll be back there soon

And as the Moon shines down
On the shattered launching ground,
I remember Apollo,
Who flew the chariot of the Sun.
And I wonder of the legends they will tell
A thousand years from now.

Written and sung by Julia Ecklar

Now the big ships fly to a hundred suns, by pushing the speed of light
And they want good men for the deep space runs, pushing the speed of light
And the pay is good, and you're young and strong,
And you tell yourself that it won't be long
So you sign on board, hear the drive's deep song, pushing the speed of light
Pushing the speed of light

And you've left behind you the world of men
With no way in space to go home again
When you're pushing the speed of light
Pushing the speed of light

Now it's two months out and it's two months back, when you're pushing the speed of light
Twenty years on your homeworld's track, pushing the speed of light
(gamma=60.0, 99.986% the speed of light)
And your friends are gone and your lovers too
And there's damn-all left that you can do
And you try to lie, but you know it's true, pushing the speed of light
Pushing the speed of light

So you sign back on for another run of pushing the speed of light
And you swear to God that your pushing's done, pushing the speed of light
But that one run turns into four or five
And your heart beats time to the humming drive
And there's nothing left keeps you alive, but pushing the speed of light
Pushing the speed of light

Now you've spread your seed with the star drive's flame, by pushing the speed of light
Left sons behind you to carry your name, pushing the speed of light
And you watch them age, and you watch them die,
As you race the light-wind across the sky
And the gods are silent when you ask them, Why? Pushing the speed of light
Pushing the speed of light

Now, the speed of c is a wall, they say, when you're pushing the speed of light
That cuts you off from yesterday, pushing the speed of light
But you know someday you're gonna win that race
And fly back the years to your starting space
And you'll stay awhile 'fore you're back in space, pushing the speed of light
Pushing the speed of light

And you've left behind you the world of men
With no way in Hell to go home again
When you're pushing the speed of light
Pushing the speed of light

Written and Sung by Anne Harlan Prather
and Julia Ecklar
We're out looking for astronauts
Looking for astronauts
We're out looking for astronauts
Looking for astronauts

It's a little too late, too late, too late for this
Isn't it a little too late for this?
Little too late, too late for this
Isn't it a little too late for this?

You know you have a permanent piece
Of my medium-sized American heart

We're out looking for astronauts
Looking for astronauts
We're out looking for astronauts
Looking for astronauts

Are we gone?
Come on, yeah, we know we're gone
Bye bye bye
Bye bye bye, we know we're gone
Take all your reasons and take them away to the middle of nowhere, and on your way home
Throw from your window your record collection
They all run together and never make sense, but that's how we like it, and that's all we want
Something to cry for and something to hunt

Are we gone?
Come on, yeah, we know we're gone
Bye bye bye
Bye bye bye, we know we're gone

We're out looking for astronauts
Looking for astronauts
We're out looking for astronauts
Looking for astronauts

It's a little too late, too late, too late for this
Isn't it a little too late for this?
Little too late, too late for this
Isn't it a little too late for this?

You know you have a permanent piece
Of my medium-sized American heart
So don't wear the watch when you're out with the c**ts
You can break what you have, but the rest of it's mine

Take all your reasons and take them away to the middle of nowhere, and on your way home
Throw from your window your record collection
They all run together and never make sense, but that's how we like it, and that's all we want
Something to cry for, and something to hunt

(ed note: This is an example of Filk Music: folk songs with science fiction or fantasy themes popular at SF conventions. I used to enjoy going to Boskone.)

 Oh, give me a locus where the gravitons focus
        Where the three-body problem is solved,
        Where the microwaves play down at three degrees K,
        And the cold virus never evolved.                       (chorus)
We eat algea pie, our vacuum is high,
        Our ball bearings are perfectly round.
        Our horizon is curved, our warheads are MIRVed,
        And a kilogram weighs half a pound.                     (chorus)
If we run out of space for our burgeoning race
        No more Lebensraum left for the Mensch
        When we're ready to start, we can take Mars apart,
        If we just find a big enough wrench.                    (chorus)
I'm sick of this place, it's just McDonald's in space,
        And living up here is a bore.
        Tell the shiggies, "Don't cry," they can kiss me goodbye
        'Cause I'm moving next week to L4!                      (chorus)

CHORUS: Home, home on LaGrange,
        Where the space debris always collects,
        We possess, so it seems, two of Man's greatest dreams:
        Solar power and zero-gee sex.
                -- sung to tune of "Home on the Range"
Copyright © 1978 by William S. Higgins and Barry D. Gehm. All Rights Reserved.				
From HOME ON LAGRANGE by William S. Higgins and Barry D. Gehm (1977)
Oh the whiskey is floating, won't stay in ye glass
I'm weightless and spinning and drunk of me ass
Oh the whiskey is floating in a sphere b'for me head
If we don't clear this wormhole we're surely be dead

So reach for the whiskey boys reach for the stars
They won't stop us drinking on Venus or mars
So reach for the whiskey boys reach for the sky
For the vacuum of space sucks the bottles all dry

Oh infinite booty awaits us in space
We'll pillage and plunder with fervor and grace
Thats whats my astronomical unit is for
Let's party where no one has partied before


Alone in the cockpit i gaze at the stars
I drink and i think of my hooooooooome (he thinks of his home) (of my hooome)

Our thrusters are the hottest that you've ever felt
They might just unbuckle your asteroid belt
We're honing our moonwalking skills as we speak
We'll dance on Uranus at this time next week
Won herself a pass to some far off moon
It was second class but what's to lose?
And looking out her window she could more than assume
That you can't see air or time

She's the only rocketeer in the whole damn place
They gave her a mirror so she could talk to a face
She still got plenty lonely but that's just the case
With time, time, time

Started hearing voices sometime in June
She knew she could go crazy but didn't think that soon
Now she doesn't feel lonely but she'd just as soon
Try, try, try, try

Man shot to the moon
I bought a paperback and want to go real soon
I'm shot to the moon
Been there a half an hour, I want to come home soon
Song by Modest Mouse
Cover by Sun Kil Moon
Kesha - Spaceship

I always said when I'm gone, when I’m dead
Don't lay me down with the dirt on my head
You won't need a shovel, you don’t need a cold headstone
You don't need to cry, I'm gon' be going home

I'm waiting for my spaceship to come back to me
It's coming back for me
I don't really care if you believe it's coming back for me, yeah
I been living in a lonesome galaxy
But in my dreams, I see them come ’n rescue me
Look up in the sky and there they’ll be
I bet you'll think of me then
You’re gonna say, "Ooh, look at that, oh yeah, yeah"
Damn, if it ain't true
They're coming back for me, they're coming back for me, yeah

I knew from the start I don’t belong in these parts
There's too much hate, there's too much hurt for this heart
Lord knows this planet feels like a hopeless place
Thank God I'm going back home to outer space

I'm waiting for my spaceship to come back to me
It's coming back for me
I don't really care if you believe it's coming back for me, yeah
I been living in a lonesome galaxy
But in my dreams, I see them come 'n rescue me
Look up in the sky and there they'll be
I bet you'll think of me then
You're gonna say, "Ooh, look at that, oh yeah, yeah"
Damn, if it ain't true
They're coming back for me, they're coming back for me, yeah

I'm waiting for my spaceship to come back for me
And I don't really care if you believe me
Oh I, I have been living in a lonesome galaxy
But in my dreams, I see them come 'n rescue me
Look up in the sky and there they'll be
I bet you'll think of me then
You're gonna say, "Ooh, look at that, oh yeah, yeah"
Damn, if it ain't true
They're coming back for me, they're coming back for me, yeah

As I leave this earth and sail into the infinite cosmo of the universe
The wars, the triumphs, the beauty and the bloodshed
The ocean of human endeavor
It all grows quiet, insignificant
I'm nothing more than recycled stardust and borrowed energy
Born from a rock, spinning in the ether
I watch my life backwards and forwards and I feel free
Nothing is real, love is everything, and I know nothing

Songwriters: Andrew Pearson / Kesha Sebert / Pebe Sebert

by Kesha
Well, I'd like to visit the moon
On a rocket ship high in the air
Yes, I'd like to visit the moon
But I don't think I'd like to live there
Though I'd like to look down at the earth from above
I would miss all the places and people I love
So although I might like it for one afternoon
I don't want to live on the moon

I'd like to travel under the sea
I could meet all the fish everywhere
Yes, I'd travel under the sea
But I don't think I'd like to live there
I might stay for a day there if I had my wish
But there's not much to do when your friends are all fish
And an oyster and clam aren't real family
So I don't want to live in the sea

I'd like to visit the jungle, hear the lions roar
Go back in time and meet a dinosaur
There's so many strange places I'd like to be
But none of them permanently

So if I should visit the moon
Well, I'll dance on a moonbeam and then
I will make a wish on a star
And I'll wish I was home once again
Though I'd like to look down at the earth from above
I would miss all the places and people I love
So although I may go I'll be coming home soon
'Cause I don't want to live on the moon
No, I don't want to live on the moon
From Sesame Street
She was born in '37
Grew up to join the space programme
The first female cosmonaut
In '63 her craft was launched

Valentina Tereshkova
Valentina Tereshkova

In Vostok 6 she made her flight
Orbiting three days and nights
Fifty times around the world
All alone this russian girl

Valentina Tereshkova
Valentina Tereshkova
Valentina Tereshkova

5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1

She was born in '37
Twice awarded the order of Lenin
The first woman hero of the modern age
But for Valentina there's no grand parade

Valentina Tereshkova
Valentina Tereshkova
Valentina Tereshkova
Valentina Tereshkova

5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1

(ed note: the various facts quoted are reasonably accurate)

Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown,
And things seem hard or tough,
And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft,
And you feel that you've had quite eno-o-o-o-o-ough,

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
And revolving at 900 miles an hour.
It's orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it's reckoned,
The sun that is the source of all our power.
Now the sun, and you and me, and all the stars that we can see,
Are moving at a million miles a day,
In the outer spiral arm, at 40,000 miles an hour,
Of a galaxy we call the Milky Way.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars;
It's a hundred thousand light-years side to side;
It bulges in the middle sixteen thousand light-years thick,
But out by us it's just three thousand light-years wide.
We're thirty thousand light-years from Galactic Central Point,
We go 'round every two hundred million years;
And our galaxy itself is one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.


Our universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding,
In all of the directions it can whiz;
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute and that's the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth;
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere out in space,
'Cause there's b****r all down here on Earth!
In the year 2525, if man is still alive
If woman can survive, they may find

In the year 3535
Ain't gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lie
Everything you think, do and say
Is in the pill you took today

In the year 4545
You ain't gonna need your teeth, won't need your eyes
You won't find a thing to chew
Nobody's gonna look at you

In the year 5555
Your arms hangin' limp at your sides
Your legs got nothin' to do
Some machine's doin' that for you

In the year 6565
You won't need no husband, won't need no wife
You'll pick your son, pick your daughter too
From the bottom of a long glass tube

In the year 7510
If God's a coming, He oughta make it by then
Maybe He'll look around Himself and say
Guess it's time for the judgment day

In the year 8510
God is gonna shake His mighty head
He'll either say I'm pleased where man has been
Or tear it down, and start again

In the year 9595
I'm kinda wonderin' if man is gonna be alive
He's taken everything this old earth can give
And he ain't put back nothing

Now it's been ten thousand years
Man has cried a billion tears
For what, he never knew, now man's reign is through
But through eternal night, the twinkling of starlight
So very far away, maybe it's only yesterday

In the year 2525, if man is still alive
If woman can survive, they may find…
Written by Richard Lee Evans
Sung by Zager and Evans

Well, I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming,
Saying something about a queen.
There were peasants singing and drummers drumming
And the archer split the tree.
There was a fanfare blowing to the sun
That was floating on the breeze.
Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the nineteen seventies. (this was amended with each decade, it is currently "in the 21st century")
Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the nineteen seventies.


I was lying in a burned out basement
With the full moon in my eyes.
I was hoping for replacement
When the sun burst thru the sky. (nuclear detonation)
There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high.
I was thinking about what a friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.
Thinking about what a friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.


Well, I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun,
There were children crying and colors flying
All around the chosen ones.
All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun.
They were flying Mother Nature's silver seed to a new home in the sun.
Flying Mother Nature's silver seed to a new home.
by Neil Young

"....Sleeping Satellite is about mans adventures to the moon and was written in the summer of 1989 at the time of 20th anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon. The song is intended as a comment on how in the 20 years since the first landing little progress appeared to have been made in space travel/exploration. It's not intended as anti space travel, it's just the opposite and it bemoans the fact that at the time of the anniversary the initiative had not been progressed from the original achievement. Hope this helps. Love and peace, Tasmin...."

I blame you for the moonlit sky
And the dream that died
With the Eagle's flight
I blame you for the moonlit nights
When I wonder why
Are the seas still dry?
Don't blame this sleeping satellite

Did we fly to the moon too soon
Did we squander the chance
In the rush of the race
The reason we chase is lost in romance
And still we try
To justify the waste
For a taste of man's greatest adventure

I blame you for the moonlit sky
And the dream that died
With the Eagle's flight
I blame you for the moonlit nights
When I wonder why
Are the seas still dry?
Don't blame this sleeping satellite

Have we lost what it takes to advance?
Have we peaked too soon?
If the world is so green
Then why does it scream under a blue moon
We wonder why
If the earth's sacrificed
For the price of it's greatest treasure

I blame you for the moonlit sky
And the dream that died
With the Eagle's flight
I blame you for the moonlit nights
When I wonder why
Are the seas still dry?
Don't blame this sleeping satellite

And when we shoot for stars
What a giant step
Have we got what it takes
To carry the weight of this concept
Or pass it by like a shot in the dark
Miss the mark with a sense of adventure

I blame you for the moonlit sky
And the dream that died
With the Eagle's flight
I blame you for the moonlit nights
When I wonder why
Are the seas still dry?
Don't blame this sleeping satellite
by Tasmin Archer


RocketCat sez

Oh you young whipper-snappers think you are so smart with yer Twitters and Facebooks and Snapchats. But sometimes there are big advantages to doing things old school. Modern junk rots all too easily with format wars, which you might have noticed if you have tried recently to get your data off a Zip cartridge. Especially if your data is a bunch of music files.

Back when I was a kitten in pre-internet days of yore when dinosaurs roamed the earth, if you liked a song on the radio you held up your cassette tape recorder to the loudspeaker and hoped your kitten sister would stop yelling. Cassette tape players are even harder to lay your mitts on nowadays, format rot strikes again.

So you have to get back to the basics, the lowest common denominator. Back to the times when instead of listening to radio, you'd wait until a Bard visited your medieval village and sang you some songs! Instead of a tape recorder, you had to memorize the songs. The Bards had to memorize them as well, so they did their best to make it easy. The stories were exciting, the tunes were catchy, and the lyrics rhymed. Especially good songs would spread, which is the middle-ages version of "going viral."

Now below you'll see how the intrepid crew of the Benjamin Franklin used this technique.

They wanted to get their message out to the various inhabited planets. Traveling from planet to planet themselves is a solution that does not scale well. There ain't no interstellar internet. Trying to send data files on USB flash drive ain't gonna work when alien computers don't even use binary, much less have USB ports. So whatcha gonna do?

Get back to basics of course. All the alien star travelers in the cluster share [A] a common pidgin language and [B] a fondness for hanging around in spaceport bars getting plastered while singing drinking songs. So the men of the Benjamin Franklin use Bard song techniques to craft a scaleable solution.


In Poul Anderson's immortal novel After Doomsday the human protagonists have a big problem. They come home from a prolonged trip in their starship the Benjamin Franklin only to discover that the Terra has been nuked into a radioactive cinder by one of the alien races in the neighborhood, and they may be the only humans left alive. Which would be catastrophic because it is an all male crew, spelling the end of the human race. But maybe not, there were other expeditions out and some of them had women.

However they cannot stick around Terra to see if any other Terran ships show up because the entire solar system is swarming with deadly robot homing missiles made on Kandemir (not that is proof that the Kandemirians are guilty, they sell those missiles to everybody). Neither can they leave a radio beacon with a message, the missiles will target that as well. So how do they contact the other Terran ships?

Galactic regions are set up as Civilization Clusters. Small groups of stars colonized by various aliens are surrounded by hundreds of light years of empty wilderness. There is no faster-than-light radio, and no widespread contact between clusters. Getting the word out seems hopeless.

But a Terran has a brilliant idea. He wrote a ballad.

There is a sort of common language called Uru, that everybody in this civilization cluster can more or less speak, and is known in the adjacent clusters.

What there isn't is any poetry or ballads composed in Uru. The aliens didn't see the point.

The humans carefully compose a rollicking majestic ballad, catchy and quite suitable to be a spaceman's drinking song. The ballad was created such that it contained the information that some humans survived the destruction of Terra and could be found at such and such a location. And if you changed the part of the ballad containing that info, it would not rhyme anymore. Therefore the message could not become garbled. Sort of a bard checksum

All they had to do was spread it around a bit at the spaceport bars of a few planets, and it would spread everywhere at the speed of rumor. "Hey, Xaxoz, you gotta hear this ballad! It's our new drinking song!". The ballad would go viral. As in "contagious and exponentially self-replicating".

And eventually other surviving Terra starship crew would hear the ballad and know where to go in order to be reunited.

It worked.

The humans had made a scientific discovery that gave them a few exotic space weapons none of the other aliens had. They made an alliance with a few of the races to attack the nomad aliens of Kandemir. The battle and the outcome was the subject of the ballad.


Annotated English version


To the literary historian, this ballad is notable as the first important work of art (as opposed to factual records, scientific treatises, or translations from planetary languages) composed in Uru. However, the student of military technics can best explain various passages which, couched in epical terms, convey the general sense but not the details.

The naval engagement in question was fought near the Brandobar Cluster, an otherwise undistinguished group of stars between Vorlak and Mayast. On the one side was the alliance of Vorlak, Monwaing, and several lesser races. Secret demonstrations of new weapons, combined with indignation at the ruin of Earth, had induced a number of hitherto neutral planets to declare war on Kandemir. Opposed to them was the Grand Fleet of the nomads, which included not only their clan units but various auxiliaries recruited from non-Kandemirian subjects of their empire. Their force was numerically much stronger than the attackers.

* * *

Three kings rode out on the way of war
(The stars burn bitterly clear):
Three in league against Tarkamat,
Master of Kandemir.
And the proudest king, the Vorlak lord,
(The stormwinds clamor their grief)
Had been made the servant in all but name
Of a planetless wanderer chief.
And the secondmost king was a wingless bird
(A bugle: the gods defied!)
Who leagued at last with the Vorlak lord
When the exiles were allied.
And the foremost king in all but name
(New centuries scream in birth)
Was the captain of one lonely ship
That had fled from murdered Earth.
For the world called Earth was horribly slain
(The stars burn bitterly clear)
By one unknown; but the corpse's guards
Were built on Kandemir.
The Earthlings fled—to seek revenge
(The stormwinds clamor their grief)
For ashen homes and sundered hopes
First seen in unbelief.

And haughty Vorlak spoke to them
(A bugle: the gods defied!):
"Kandemir prowls beyond our gates.
Can ye, then, stay the tide?"
And the Monwaing wisemen spoke to them
(New centuries scream in birth):
"Can ye arm us well, we will league with you,
Exiles from shattered Earth."
And the wanderer captain told the kings
(The stars burn bitterly clear):
"I have harnessed and broken to my will
Space and Force and Fear."
Tarkamat, Master of Kandemir,
(The stormwinds clamor their grief)
Laughed aloud: "I will hurl them down
Like a gale-blown autumn leaf."
And he gathered his ships to meet the three
(A bugle: the gods defied!)
As an archer rattles his arrow sheaf
And shakes his bow in pride.

Forth from their lairs, by torchlight suns,
(New centuries scream in birth)
The nomad ships came eager to eat
The wanderers from Earth.
And hard by a cluster of youthful suns
(The stars burn bitterly clear)
Known by the name of Brandobar,
They saw the enemy near.
And the three great kings beheld their foe
(The stormwinds clamor their grief)
With half again the ships they had,
Like arrows in a sheaf.
"Now hurl your vessels, my nomad lords,
(A bugle: the gods defied!)
One single shattering time, and then
Their worlds we shall bestride."
"Sleep ye or wake ye, wanderer chief,
(New centuries scream in birth)
That ye stir no hand while they seek our throats,
Yon murderers of Earth?"

Militechnicians can see from the phrasing alone, without consulting records, that the allied fleet must have proceeded at a high uniform velocity—free fall—in close formation. This offered the most tempting of targets to the Kandemirians, whose ships had carefully avoided building up much intrinsic speed and thus were more maneuverable. Tarkamat moved to englobe the allies and fire on them from all sides.

"Have done, have done, my comrades twain.
(The stars burn bitterly clear)
Mine eyes have tallied each splinter and nail
In yonder burning spear.
"Let them come who slew my folk.
(The stormwinds clamor their grief)
We wait for them as waits in a sea
The steel-sharp, hidden reef."

The reference here is, of course, to the highly developed interferometric paragravity detectors with which the whole allied fleet was equipped, and which presented to the main computer in their flagship a continuous picture of the enemy dispositions. The nomads had some too, but fewer and of a less efficient model.

Now Kandemir did spurt so close
(A bugle: the gods defied!)
They saw his guns and missiles plain
Go raking for their side.
The exile captain smiled a smile
(New centuries scream in birth)
And woke the first of the wizardries
Born from the death of Earth.
Then Space arose like a wind-blown wave
(The stars burn bitterly clear)
That thunders and smokes and tosses ships
Helpless to sail or steer.
And the angry bees from the nomad hive
(The stormwinds clamor their grief)
Were whirled away past Brandobar
Like a gale-blown autumn leaf.

This was the first combat use of the space distorter. The artificial production of interference phenomena enabled the allied craft to create powerful repulsion fields about themselves, or change the curvature of the world lines of outside matter—two equivalent verbalizations of Goldspring's famous fourth equation. In effect, the oncoming enemy missiles were suddenly pushed to an immense distance, as if equipped with faster-than-light engines of their own.

Tarkamat recoiled. That is, he allowed the two fleets to interpenetrate and pass each other. The allies decelerated and re-approached him. He acted similarly. For, in the hours that this required, his scientists had pondered what they observed. Already possessing some knowledge of the physical principles which underlay this new defense, they assured Tarkamat that it must obey the conservation-of-energy law. A ship's power plant could accelerate a missile away, but not another ship of comparable size. Nor could electromagnetic phenomena be much affected.

Tarkamat accordingly decided to match velocities and slug it out at short range with his clumsy but immensely destructive blaster cannon. He would suffer heavy losses, but the greater numbers at his command made victory seem inevitable.

Tarkamat, Master of Kandemir,
(A bugle: the gods defied!)
Rallied his heart. "Close in with them!
Smite them with fire!" he cried.
The nomad vessels hurtled near
(New centuries scream in birth)
And the second wizardry awoke,
Born from the death of Earth.
Then Force flew clear of its iron sheath.
(The stars burn bitterly clear)
Remorseless lightnings cracked and crashed
In the ships of Kandemir.
And some exploded like bursting suns
(The stormwinds clamor their grief)
And some were broken in twain, and some
Fled shrieking unbelief.

Over small distances, such allied vessels as there had been time to equip with it could use the awkward, still largely experimental, but altogether deadly space-interference fusion inductor. The principle here was the production of a non-space band so narrow that particles within the nucleus itself were brought into contiguity. Atoms with positive packing fractions were thus caused to explode. Only a very low proportion of any ship's mass was disintegrated, but that usually served to destroy the vessel. More than half the Kandemirian fleet perished in a few nova-like minutes.

Tarkamat, unquestionably one of the greatest naval geniuses in galactic history, managed to withdraw the rest and re-form beyond range of the allied weapon. He saw that—as yet—it was too restricted in distance to be effective against a fortified planet, and ordered a retreat to Mayast II.

Tarkamat, Master of Kandemir,
(A bugle: the gods defied!)
Told his folk, "We have lost this day,
But the next we may abide.
"Hearten yourselves, good nomad lords.
(New centuries scream in birth)
Retreat with me to our own stronghold.
Show now what ye are worth!"
The third of those wizardries awoke
(The stars burn bitterly clear)
Born from the death of Earth. It spoke,
And the name of it was Fear.
For sudden as death by thunderbolt,
(The stormwinds clamor their grief)
Ringing within the nomad ships
Came the voice of the exile chief.
Tarkamat, Master of Kandemir,
(New centuries scream in birth)
Heard with the least of his men the words
Spoken from cindered Earth.

On the relatively coarse molecular level, the space-interference inductor was both reliable and long-range. Carl Donnan simply caused the enemy hulls to vibrate slightly, modulated this with his voice through a microphone, and filled each Kandemirian ship with his message.

"We have broken ye here by Brandobar.
(The stars burn bitterly clear)
If ye will not yield, we shall follow you
Even to Kandemir.
"But our wish is not for ashen homes,
(The stormwinds clamor their grief)
But to make you freemen once again
And not a nomad fief.
"If ye fight, we will hurl the sky on your heads.
(A bugle: the gods defied!)
If ye yield, we will bring to your homes and hearts
Freedom to be your bride.
"Have done, have done; make an end of war
(New centuries sing in birth)
And an end of woe and of tyrant rule—
In the name of living Earth!"

Tarkamat reached a cosmic interference fringe and went into faster-than-light retreat. The allies, though now numerically superior, did not pursue. They doubted their ability to capture Mayast II. Instead, they proceeded against lesser Kandemirian outposts, taking these one by one without great difficulty. Mayast could thus be isolated and nullified.

The effect of Donnan's words was considerable. Not only did this shockingly unexpected voice from nowhere strike at the cracked Kandemirian morale; it offered their vassals a way out. If these would help throw off the nomad yoke, they would not be taken over by the winning side, but given independence, even assistance. There was no immediate overt response; but the opening wedge had been driven. Soon allied agents were being smuggled onto those planets, to disseminate propaganda and organize underground movements along lines familiar to Earth's history.

Thus far the militechnic commentator. But the literary scholar sees more in the ballad. Superficially it appears to be a crude, spontaneous production. Close study reveals it is nothing of the sort. The simple fact that there had been no previous Uru poetry worth noticing would indicate as much. But the structure is also suggestive. The archaic imagery and exaggerated, often banal descriptions appeal, not to the sophisticated mind, but to emotions so primitive they are common to every spacefaring race. The song could be enjoyed by any rough-and-ready spacehand, human, Vorlakka, Monwaingi, Xoan, Yannth, or whatever—including members of any other civilization-cluster where Uru was known. And, while inter-cluster traffic was not large nor steady, it did take place. A few ships a year did venture that far.

Moreover, while the form of this ballad derives from ancient European models, it is far more intricate than the present English translation can suggest. The words and concepts are simple; the meter, rhyme, assonance, and alliteration are not. They are, indeed, a jigsaw puzzle, no part of which can be distorted without affecting the whole.

Thus the song would pass rapidly from mouth to mouth, and be very little changed in the process. A spacehand who had never heard of Kandemir or Earth would still get their names correct when he sang what to him was just a lively drinking song. Only those precise vocables would sound right.

So, while the author is unknown, The Battle of Brandobar was obviously not composed by some folkish minstrel. It was commissioned, and the poet worked along lines carefully laid down for him. This was, in fact, the Benjamin Franklin's message to humans throughout the galaxy.

From AFTER DOOMSDAY by Poul Anderson (1961)

I envisage at least three passages by Poul Anderson adapted to screen:

  • the opening section of "The Game of Glory" (see an earlier post)
  • the introduction and conclusion of The Earthbook Of Stormgate
  • the Ballad of Brandobar from After Doomsday (St Albans, Herts, 1975, pp. 127-135)

James Blish commended how, having built up to a major space battle, Anderson then described that battle in a ballad written after the event.

The ballad comprises thirty five quatrains, rhyming abcb. Thus, the opening quatrain reads:

"Three kings rode out on the way of war
"(The stars burn bitterly clear):
"Three in league against Tarkamat
"Master of Kandemir." (p. 127)

(The ballad of John Barleycorn begins with "Three kings...")

The second line of each quatrain in the Ballad of Brandobar is:

"(The stars burn bitterly clear):",
"(The stormwinds clamour their grief)",
"(A bugle: the gods defied!)",
"(New centuries scream in birth)"

- or, in the concluding quatrain:

"(New centuries sing in birth)" (p. 133)

Anderson gives us the "Annotated English version" since the original was in Uru. The annotations are explanatory prose passages inserted between some of the quatrains, e.g.:

"Militechnicians can see from the phrasing alone..." (p. 129)

"The reference here is, of course, to the highly developed interferometric paragravity detectors..." (p. 130) etc.

Thus, I think there should be three voices:
  • one chanting the first, third and fourth line of each quatrain
  • a second interrupting with each second line
  • a third solemnly intoning the annotations
We need sound effects for stormwinds, bugle, screaming and singing, visuals for "stars" and for the narrative, I think static graphics or brief animations to illustrate the story which includes:

"For the world called Earth was horribly slain..." (p. 128)

- and ends with:

" 'Have done, have done; make an end of war
" (New centuries sing in birth)
"And an end of woe and of tyrant rule -
"In the name of living Earth!' " (p. 133)

How dramatic is that?

The first quatrain is preceded by two paragraphs explaining that the ballad is "...the first important work of art...composed in Uru." (p. 127) Previously, this interstellar language had been use only for "...factual records, scientific treaties, or translations from planetary languages..." (p. 127) Should that have read, "...factual records, scientific treatises, political treaties, or translations..."? (I have noticed quite a few typos in my edition of After Doomsday.)

From THE BALLAD OF BRANDOBAR by Paul Shackley ()


Back in 1981 U.S. Department of Energy and Bechtel Corp convened the Human Interference Task Force. The team of engineers, anthropologists, nuclear physicists, behavioral scientists and others were handed a thorny problem and was instructed to look for possible solutions.

Nuclear reactors produce regrettable amounts of nuclear waste. The general solution was to bury them in nuclear repositories, such as the proposed Yucca Mountain facility. Naturally signs would be placed on top with dire warning of hideous radioactive death if you are stupid enough to dig here.

The problem is that the blasted stuff is going to be dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands of years. It took lots of scientific work for modern day scientist to figure out how to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs, and they are merely 4,000 years old. You would probably be hard pressed to read Beowulf, which is only 1,000 years old, and written in an early form of English to boot.

What sort of warning do you post so random wandering tribes ten thousand years from now can read it?

One of the more interesting suggestions from the task force was the Raycat Solution.

Françoise Bastide and Paolo Fabbri solution had two parts:

  1. Genetically engineer a breed of domestic cat which change significantly in color when exposed to radiation. Furry geiger counters, in other words. These are called Radiation Cats or Ray Cats.
  2. Embed into the collective awareness that a cat changing color means the cat is standing on a dangerous place. And you are standing there as well. Run away.

Cats were chosen because they have cohabited with humans for thousands of years and continue to be popular. Dogs were not chosen because they are typically seen as subservient creatures and looked down upon. Cats on the other hand were once worshiped as gods. Genetically engineering them to be radiation detectors will be tedious but straightforwards.

Embedding the message into the collective awareness is a bit more difficult. Fairy tales and myths can be written, but how do you transmit them into the culture? Well, by paintings, music, and poetry. Ah, perhaps ballads could be used.

Unfortunately the DoE gave Bastide and Fabbri the hairy eyeball, and dismissed their suggestion. Too weird to be taken seriously. They wrote up their proposal in a scientific paper which was not widely read because it was in German. It faded into oblivion.

Cut to the year 2014. Writer Matthew Kielty of the 99% Invisible podcast was desperately surfing the web trying to find a topic for his next article. He stumbled over an article about the Human Interference Task Force, which was mildly interesting. But he braked to a halt when he got to the bit about ray cats. This was totally bizarre, totally whimsical, and totally suited to be included in an article. His article was called Ten Thousand Years, which noted that the ray cat solution was the 99% Invisible favorite.

A few days after the article was published, Kielty's editor mentioned that the article was getting a lot of hits on the internet. Kielty glanced online, only to discover that the ray cat concept had gone viral! A student group of biologist were actually starting experimentation on genetically engineering radiation detecting organisms (they are starting with one-celled microorganisms). A group had designed the Ray Cat Logo.

And the musician known as Emperor X wrote the RayCat Earworm: "Don't Change Color, Kitty". This is a Ballad, and will have all the same advantages exploited by the Ballad of Brandobar.


Don't change color, kitty.
Keep your color, kitty.
Stay that pretty gray.
Don't change color, kitty.
Keep your color, kitty.
Keep sickness away.
Don't change color, kitty.
Keep your color, kitty.
Please, 'cause if you do,
or glow your luminescent eyes
we're all gonna have to move.

Don't change color, kitty.
Keep your color, kitty.
Stay that pretty gold.
Don't change color, kitty.
Keep your color,
and we'll keep you from the cold.
Don't change color, kitty.
Keep your color, 'cause
we need your kind around.
But the minute you change your looks,
we're bringing you with us out of town.

Don't change color, kitty.
Keep your color, kitty.
No, I don't know why.
Don't change color, kitty.
Keep your color, kitty.
God said it's not right.
So don't change color
or flash your eyes.
Lord knows if you do,
I hope you think it's cozy in your travel case,
because it's time to move.

Don't change color, kitty.
Keep your color, kitty.
Stay that midnight black.
The radiation that the change implies
can kill, and that's a fact.
The radiation, whatever that is,
is something we don't want,
'cause it withers our crops
and it burns our skin
and it turns our livestock gaunt.

So don't change color, little kitty.
Don't flash your eyes.

by Emperor X

Kielty later visited Paolo Fabbri in Italy, to talk about the Ray Cat solution. Fabbri was resigned that the solution was a bit too far-fetched to be taken seriously. But he was flabbergasted when Kielty presented him with a Ray Cat T-shirt, and the news about the song and the genetic engineering. The whimsical nature of the solution caught the imagination of creative people, and the power of a viral idea was shown again. The Ray Cat solution may become reality by individual efforts instead of government action.

You can see more about the viral Ray Cat story in the award winning documentary by Benjamin Huguet.


(ed note: A thousand years ago a human colony starship landed on a planet, where the humans were immediately enslaved by the native alien Hussir race. The humans were considered to be animals like horses, and the Hussir discouraged each other for doing tasteless things like talking to humans or otherwise implying they were not animals. There are small groups of wild humans who live in the forests. The alien Hussir have a medieval technology level. And saddles they put on humans so they can be ridden like horses. The humans that they don't butcher for meat, of course.

The colony starship is called the Star Tower, and sits in the middle of the alien city Falklyn. Humans are not allowed to approach it. If a human could get inside, close the airlock, feed in a starship navigation tape into the autopilot, and inject a dose of cold-sleep drug, the ship could travel back to Terra and summon a Terran liberation warfleet.

The problem is that the humans have been treated like animals for so long that they have forgotten how to read. They actually have a problem with talking, let alone understanding long words. How can they possibly pass the complicated instructions down through the generations?)

     When the two suns had set and Alan was bedded down with the other children in a corner of the meadow (with the rest of the human/horses), the exciting events of the day repeated themselves in his mind like a series of colored pictures. He would have liked to question Robb, but the grown men and older boys were kept in a field well separated from the women and children.
     A little distance away the women were singing their babies to sleep with the traditional songs of the humans. Their voices drifted to him on the faint breeze, with the perfume of the fragrant grasses.
     That was a real baby song, the first he ever remembered. They sang others, and one was the song Wiln had interrupted at the Star Tower.
“Twinkle, twinkle, golden star,
I can reach you, though you’re far.
Shut my mouth and find my head,
Find a worm that’s striped with red,
Feed it to the turtle shell,
Then go to sleep, for all is well."
     Half asleep, Alan listened. That song was one of the children’s favorites. They called it “The Star Tower Song,” though he had never been able to find out why.
     It must be a riddle, he thought drowsily. “Shut my mouth and find my head…” Shouldn’t it be the other way around — “Find my head (first) and shut my mouth…"? Why wasn’t it.? And those other fines. Alan knew worms, for he had seen many of the creepy, crawly creatures, long things in many bright colors. But what was a turtle?

     “But I like the other way better,” Alan (leader of the wild humans) said. “There must be a reason why they won’t let humans enter the Star Tower.”
     Roand’s toothless smile did not mar the innate dignity of his face.
     “You are a mystic, as I am, young Alan,” he said. “But the tradition says that for a human to enter the Star Tower is not enough. Let me tell you of the tradition.
     “The tradition says that the Star Tower was once the home of all humans. There were only a dozen or so humans then, but they had powers that were great and strange. But when they came out of the Star Tower, the Hussirs were able to enslave them through mere force of numbers.
     “Three of those first humans escaped to these mountains and became the first Wild Humans. From them has come the tradition that has passed to their descendants and to the humans who have been rescued from Hussir slavery.
     “The tradition says that a human who enters the Star Tower can free all the humans in the world — if he takes with him the Silk and the Song.”
     Roand reached into a crevice.
     “This is the Silk,” he said, drawing forth a peach-colored scarf on which something had been painted. Alan recognized it as writing, such as the Hussirs used and were rumored to have been taught by humans. Roand read it to him, reverently.
     “What does it mean?” asked Alan.
     “No one knows,” said Roand. “It is a great mystery. It may be a magical incantation.”
     He put the Silk back into the crevice.
     “This is the only other writing we have handed down by our forebears,” said Roand, and pulled out a fragment of very thin, brittle, yellowish material. To Alan it looked something like thin cloth that had hardened with age, yet it had a different texture. Roand handled it very carefully.
     “This was torn and the rest of it lost centuries ago,” said Roand, and he read.
October 2 … ours to be the last … three lost expeditions … too far to keep trying … how we can get …
     Alan could make no more sense of this than he could of the words of the Silk.
     “What is the Song?” asked Alan.
     “Every human knows it from childhood,” said Roand. “It is the best known of all human songs.”
     “‘Twinkle, twinkle, golden star,'” quoted Alan at once, “ ‘I can reach you, though you’re far…'”
     “That’s right, but there is a second verse that only the Wild Humans know. You must learn it. It goes like this.
Twinkle, twinkle, little bug,
Long and round, of shiny hue.
In a room marked by a cross.
Sting my arm when I've found you.
Lay me down, in bed so deep.
And then there’s naught to do but sleep.
     “It doesn’t make sense,” said Alan. “No more than the first verse — though Mara showed me what a turtle looks like.”
     “They aren’t supposed to make sense until you sing them in the Star Tower,” said Roand, “and then only if you have the Silk with you.”

(ed note: The wild humans decide to make an attack on the city of Falklyn, which turns into a rout since they have zero military experience. Alan and Mara get separated from the others, and wind up at the Star Tower. Alan is carrying the Silk. They manage to enter the Star Tower)

     The other guards were coming up from all directions. Arrows rang against the sides of the Star Tower as the two humans ducked inside.
     There was a light inside the Star Tower, a softer light than the gas lamps but more effective. They were inside a small chamber, from which another door led to the interior of the tower.
     The door, swung back against the wall on its hinges, was two feet thick and its diameter was greater than the height of a man. Both of them together were unable to move it.
     Arrows were coming through the door. Alan had left the guards’ weapons outside. In a moment the Hussirs would gain courage to rush the ramp.
     Alan looked around in desperation for a weapon. The metal walls were bare except for some hand rails and a panel from which projected three metal sticks. Alan wrenched at one, trying to pull it loose for a club. It pulled down and there was a hissing sound in the room, but it would not come loose. He tried a second, and again it swung down but stayed fast to the wall.
     Mara shrieked behind him, and he whirled.
     The big door was closing, by itself, slowly, and outside the ramp was raising itself from the ground and sliding into the wall of the Star Tower below them. The few Hussirs who had ventured onto the end of the ramp were falling from it to the ground, like ants.
     The door closed with a clang of finality. The hissing in the room went on for a moment, then stopped. It was as still as death in the Star Tower.

     They went through the inner door, timidly, holding hands. They were in a curved corridor. The other side of the corridor was a blank wall. They followed the corridor all the way around the Star Tower, back to the door, without finding an entrance through that inner wall.
     But there was a ladder that went upward. They climbed it, Alan first, then Mara. They were in another corridor, and another ladder went upward.
     Up and up they climbed, past level after level. The blank inner wall gave way to spacious rooms, in which was strange furniture. Some were compartmented, and on the compartment doors for three levels, red crosses were painted.
     Both of them were bathed with perspiration when they reached the room with the windows. And here there were no more ladders.

     “Mara, we’re at the top of the Star Tower!” exclaimed Alan.
     The room was domed, and from head level all the dome was windows. But, though the windows faced upward, those around the lower periphery showed the lighted city of Falklyn spread below them. There was even one of them that showed a section of the park, and the park was right under them, but they knew it was the park because they could see the Hussirs scurrying about in the light of the two gas lamps that still burned beside the closed door of the Star Tower.
     All the windows in the upper part of the dome opened on the stars.
     The lower part of the walls was covered with strange wheels and metal sticks and diagrams and little shining circles and colored lights.
     “We’re in the top of the Star Tower!” shouted Alan in a triumphant frenzy. “I have the Silk and I shall sing the Song!”
     Alan raised his voice and the words reverberated back at them from the walls of the domed chamber.
‘"Twinkle, twinkle, golden star,
I can reach you, though you're far,
Shut my mouth and find my head,
Find a worm that's striped with red,
Feed it to the turtle shell,
Then go to sleep, for all is well."
     Nothing happened.
     Alan sang the second verse, and still nothing happened.

     “Do you suppose that if we went back out now the Hussirs would let all humans go free.?” asked Mara doubtfully.
     “That’s silly,” he said, staring at the window where an increasing number of Hussirs was crowding into the park. “It’s a riddle. We have to do what it says.”
     “But how can we? What does it mean?”
     “It has something to do with the Star Tower,” he said thoughtfully. “Maybe the 'golden star' means the Star Tower, though I always thought it meant the Golden Star in the southern sky. Anyway, we’ve reached the Star Tower, and it’s silly to think about reaching a real star.
     “Let’s take the next line. ‘Shut my mouth and find my head.' How can you shut anyone’s mouth before you find their head?”
     “We had to shut the door to the Star Tower before we could climb to the top,” she ventured.
     “That’s it!” he exclaimed. “Now, let’s find a worm that's striped with red'!"
     They looked all over the big room, in and under the strange crooked beds that would tilt forward to make chairs, behind the big, queer-looking objects that stood all over the floor. The bottom part of the walls had drawers and they pulled these out, one by one.
     At last Mara dropped a little disc of metal and it popped in half on the floor. A flat spool fell out, and white tape unrolled from it in a tangle.
     “Worm!” shouted Alan. “Find one striped with red!”
     They popped open disc after metal disc—and there it was: a tape crossed diagonally with red stripes. There was lettering on the metal discs and Mara spelled out the letters on this one.
     Neither of them could figure out what that meant. So they looked for the "turtle shell," and of course that would be the transparent dome shaped object that sat on a pedestal between two of the chair-beds.
     It was an awkward job trying to feed the striped worm to the turtle shell, for the only opening in the turtle shell was under it and to one side. But with Alan lying in one cushioned chair-bed and Mara lying in the other, and the two of them working together, they got the end of the worm into the turtle shell’s mouth.
     Immediately the turtle shell began eating the striped worm with a clicking chatter that lasted only a moment before it was drowned in a great rumbling roar from far down in the bowels of the Star Tower.
     Then the windows that looked down on the park blossomed into flame that was almost too bright for human eyes to bear, and the lights of Falklyn began to fall away in the other windows around the rim of the dome. There was a great pressure that pushed them mightily down into the cushions on which they lay, and forced their senses from them.
     Many months later, they would remember the second verse of the song. They would go into one of the chambers marked with a cross, they would sting themselves with the bugs that were hypodermic needles and sink down in the sleep of suspended animation.
     But now they lay, naked and unconscious, in the control room of the accelerating starship. In the breeze from the air conditioners, the silken message to Earth fluttered pink against Alan’s throat.

From THE SILK AND THE SONG by Charles Fontenay (1956)

Bards and Minstrels

Bards and Minstrels are medieval traveling singers and sources of news. The old warning is: "Do not anger a bard, for thy name is silly, and scans to Greensleeves". In legend bards could even topple kings from their thrones by spreading anti-royalist propaganda disguised as merry tunes. The TV Trope is called Wandering Minstrel

They are not generally useful in a modern society with high-speed internet, television, and radio (except perhaps as spin-doctors, advertisement jingle-writers, and creators of propaganda for political reelection campaigns). However, in a science fictional future which has faster-than-light travel but no faster-than-light communication, such people might become useful again. Currently the only known phenomenon which is superluminal is a rumor.

This is why many science fiction stories has the protagonists getting fresh news at the starport bar, after a starship arrives.

Ad campaigns and spin doctoring which wants to go viral across interstellar distances might resort to encoding the propaganda in the form of a song. It worked in medieval times, and it might work in science fiction.

From the time of the ancient Greeks comes the myth of Orpheus. He could use his music to charm all living things, and even a few non-living ones. He almost managed to free his dead fiancé from Hades except the idiot couldn't follow instructions.

The Orpheus myth is so compelling that science fiction writer cannot resist using transposing it into an SF key:


(ed note: In the story, the first "space colony" was three large spaceships in Terra orbit. Unfortunately the children born were mutants. The people of Terra freaked out because they are always hysterically xenophobic about anything slightly different. They call the mutants "IDs".

Terra forms the OSI guards, who post a guard ship on the three ID spaceship. It is to prevent the three ships from returning to Terra and giving the people of Terra space-cooties. Which is impossible, but just try explaining reality to hysterical xenophobic morons. The OSI guard ship is also to prevent the three ID ships from leaving Terra, because fark you.

The IDs manage to survive, somehow, living on algae and carefully metered oxygen. Several generations pass, with the OSI ship contemptuously ignoring the ID's pleas for the lives of their children. Because everybody knows IDs are not really human beings, just subhuman monsters. Which is because this is the official propaganda all Terrans are taught in their schoolbooks.

Desperate, the three ID ships attack the OSI guard ship and manage to escape into the asteroid belt. There the IDs form colonies. As it turns out, their mutations allow them to florish in the free-fall environment.

Terra freaks out and sends fleets of OSI ships. There follows a series of basically pointless wars.

Then OSI Major Hopkins manages to capture an ID. She is a "Mauki", an ID bard-singer. Major Hopkins is a poisonous little bigot whose parents were not married.)

     Major Hopkins was half asleep when the singing began. It was low, and soft, and for a while he was not sure whether he was hearing or dreaming. It was a woman’s voice. And there was only one woman aboard this big spaceship. He reached out in the darkness, and picked up his phone.
     “Control? Hopkins. Tell the guards to shut that woman up!
     “You mean the mauki, sir ?”
     “Yes, the mauki! Tell her to shut up. I can’t sleep.” He slammed the phone hack in its clip...
     ...“Shut her up?” Corcelli said. “Have you listened to her? That voice! She could tear the soul out of a corpse.” Hopkins slid off the sleeping shelf, and went into the jumpway of the big spaceship. The lights were on, and he could see half dressed men clumped around the brig. And he could hear the singing clearly—
     The lights were on, and he could see half dressed men clumped around the brig. And he could hear the singing clearly—
Do you dream of Earth
And broad blue seas
The clear blue sky
The tall green trees
The birds that fly
In the warm spring breeze
The leaves that die
The brooks that freeze
And the snows that lie
In majestic ease.
And the wives who cry

Do you dream of Mars
And scorching sands
The clear thin air
The crusted lands
The rocks that tear
The miners’ hands
The cliffs that stare
At the burnt brown hands
Of shrubs that share
The sun seared lands
And the wives who care
     “All right men, at ease.” No one seemed to notice his approach.
     ...“Attention! ATTENTION !” It was a command this time. There were awkward off-balance salutes. A murmur. “You men look like green cadets. Out of sectors after watch. You know the rules on this ship. A month’s pay dock for all of you, and three days on yeast and water.” His voice was hard, echoing off the thin metal walls in harsh overtones...
     ...The mauki had been captured eighteen hours before, fished out of a little crippled scooter that was drifting, just inside the nearest Ring clump. The big OSI spaceship eased up to it cautiously, and grappled it into the air lock. There was a woman and a seven-year-old boy aboard...
     ...In the meantime, he had to hide.
     Sleek, streamlined 6-G spaceships were all right for air-space jumps, but for the long orbits, light 1-G jobs meant fuel economy, and spheres had the added advantage of the lowest possible moment of inertia, which meant valuable maneuverability in the Rings. The OSI spaceship, a thin magnesium ball of sixty meter radius, had the military disadvantage of a characteristically regular silhouette, that made it as easy to spot as a cue ball in a coal bin.
     Hopkins had the big spaceship moved slowly against a huge dark drifting rock mass, and blacked out so it was almost impossible to distinguish it from the meteorite...
     ...The singing crept softly through the ship, a warm background tone to the small shuffling noises the waiting men made. It got louder, and Corcelli looked at the major. The pressure bulkhead was in battle-ready, half shut, but the whispering sounds seeped into the control cabin, and grew louder, into words.
Where is your home, wanderer?
Your home, your home
That house, that wife
The sighing breeze
That stirs tall trees
Cuts like a knife
Wherever you roam
Where is your home, wanderer?
     The chant had a strange rhythm, and the mauki’s voice sounded some times like a strangled sob. Corcelli felt a tightness in his throat. He switched on the recorder quietly.
Out on your jets, thunderer.
Your jets, your jets
That squealing scream
shuddering dumb
Outreaching stream
But have no regrets.
Out on your jets, wanderer.
     “What is this? A morgue?” Hopkins snapped. His harsh voice shot up to a high pitch, and he coughed. Nobody spoke. “Talk, will you. Talk!” He looked around hostilely. Corcelli turned to the radar man to say something, but the technician had a faraway look in his eyes.
Do you hate the taste
Of tank grown food?
And hate this hell
Of walls gun-blued
A whining shell
Of rocket-spewed
Once-men. The wail
Of jets subdued
The oily smell
Of air renewed
And—up! The bell!

Do you miss the sloosh
Of Venus bogs
The squish of clay
And rotting logs
The night’s damp gray
The drizzling fogs
That drench each day
The big mulch clogs
That ooze away
And the wives who pray
     ...“There is a song,” the mauki explained, “which tells the history very well.”
     Hopkins leaned back on the G couch, his hollow face hard and white.
     The mauki began:
First was hard bright burning light
Then long months of outward flight
Out to far abhelion
By the orbit of our earth
Out from perihelion
Inside the inner ring
Where hull plates sing

Then there was the gravi-braking
Weary clumsy orbit making—
     They listened. There was a strange shifting tempo to the song, because the mauki wasn’t singing, but just talking. It was word magic, rise and fall, intensification and inflection. The mauki bared the history of the IDs to them, the mutants—
Swollen bodies, crumbled minds
Freaks and monsters
Mutants deaf and sick and blind—
     The formation of OSI, the inspection—
Then the curse came, bitter exile
Ultimatum, Live a while
in a paralyzed ellipse
Prisoners of justice
In three weary, leaky ships
Till the yeast and algae mola
And the ships grow cold.
     This ID history was different than they had ever heard before. It was the ID’s side of the story.
All infants born in Space are IDs
A single static rote that rids
The earth of interest in us
And out in Space we lived
Air bleeding in the emptiness
Measured food and measured air
Measured years to death we share.
     She told of the sudden wave of normal births—
Little freaklinqs sickened, died
Little ID-lings lived and grew
     The wasted pleas for the lives of the ID-lings, the attack on the in spection rocket, the escape,
In the three ships, silent waiting
Weary exiles tired of hating
Ended mission
Nothing left
A-bomb sections change position
Nuclear fission.
A fleeing spaceship. Behind a light.
Only silent empty night
Asteroid Rings our hiding place
In the barren wastes
And outer depths of Space
Living, dying
     Her voice drifted down the still passageways of the huge spacesphere, clutching at their souls, lifting buried feelings from disciplined death, breathing the past of a hunted race eking out a bare existence from the cold rocks of the Rings. Then the great ID-human wars, and
Earthlings labor, cursing praying
Stream to battle undelaying
Torn from air and soil
Out to Space
Worn by weightlessness and toil
Angry world
Spaceward hurled.
     She traced the wars, the battles, the futility, the sorrow. Then the tone shifted slightly.
Hate and hunt and harry. Why?
Man has land, and ID has sky
To each his own
In peace
Each to his own
End the hate
Night grows late.
     “All right, that’s enough of that,” Hopkins snapped quickly. But his voice went unheard. The mauki threw her head back, and sang the last verse, her voice reaching down the gangways. It wasn’t the loudness, it was something in the overtones, making the thin metal walls hum in resonance, trebling, clear, rich, commanding—
Let our wish be understood
A treaty, truce, a brotherhood
Now, to save the race
Worlds were made for men
IDs were born for Space
Let ID ships roam
Now. Orbit home.
     “Shut up!” Hopkins snarled. He started halfway out of his G-couch, but the mauki shook her head, and pressed her finger to her lips in a gesture of silence. The major stopped in surprise, and then settled back on the edge of the couch.
     “We’ve heard enough of your lies,” he said. He noticed that no one was listening to him. “ATTENTION !” he roared, his voice breaking almost into a shriek. Heads snapped to stiff attention. “You will disregard everything you have heard this woman say. As you know from your basic education, it is all lies. Stupid emotional stuff.”

     It was just before the watch change that the radar went. The chant—they called it the “mauki chant”— was a throaty trill, almost at the upper limit of hearing, hanging like an anguished violin note, and penetrating. There was an odd quality to the notes, so penetrating that the walls whined, and trembled to the touch. Then the radar set blew.
     The blowout was peculiar, a sudden series of pops, and no radar. It was the tubes. A half dozen of the same type tubes had shattered. They weren’t hot, and the connections all looked O.K...
     ...Hopkins looked at the officers and crewmen, his face hard, his mouth twisted into a bitter sneer. “The radar goes and we’re sitting here helpless, and none of you knows what shattered the tubes?” There was no answer. “We could be sheared in two by a meteorite, or caught in an ID attack — and not know it was coming.” The sneer was almost a smile. “Did any of you ever see someone shatter a fine glass by hitting a certain chord on the piano, or violin ?” There was a murmur.
     “You’ve heard of such things, haven’t you? Know what it’s called ?”
     “Resonance,” Corcelli said.
     “Right. Resonance. Sound vibrations at the natural frequency of the shattered glass. Over and over. Intensification. Know what happens then ?”
     “Increased amplitude.”
     “Right. Increased amplitude, crystal fatigue, and disintegration. Which is what happened to the tubes. Something in this ship was vibrating at the resonant frequency of the shattered tubes, and is vibrating now at the natural frequency of those other tubes.” The glass had a definite whine. Hopkins damped one, smothering it with his hand. “No dice,” he said, “that the destruction is to similar tubes, which means we can’t replace all of them.”
     “But what’s causing this vibration ?” the technician asked. Hopkins looked around at them coldly.
     “Just listen,” he said. They listened tensely, and—
     The mauki chant...
Wives that wait and silent weep
Men that outward spin through deep
Unresisting void and glide
Cross the system, onward ride
Inward, faster, maximum.
Gravi-braking, home they come
What good tears when hearts are cold?
Going boys, returning old
Grim and bitter, hardened men.
Home, then out to Space again.
Life a chain of quick good-byes
Thrusting upwards to the skies
Meetings, partings, sadness, pain.
Home, then out to Space again.

Earthlings, shape your orbits home
You were never meant for Space
We were born to ride the night
Howling down a lonesome flight
Feeling Space with eyes and mind
Earthlings, back! Your eyes are blind.
Build your cities, till your soil
Sweat, and understand your toil.
Keep your roots deep in the ground
Watch the sun and stars go round
Never really knowing why.
We are dwellers of the sky
You have nothing here to gain
Only fear and haunting pain
Tortured lonely thoughts remain.
Back! Go back while you are sane.
Earthlings, shape your orbits home.

(ed note: An ID ship boards the OSI ship and rescues the Mauki, since the OSI's radar has been shattered. They leave.

Major Hopkins freaks out since he knows when the OSI finds out that he had a Mauki but manage to lose her, his career will be over. He threatens first officer Corcelli, telling him to keep his mouth shut, and pretend they never captured the Mauki in the first place.

Corcelli later discovers that the recorder he switched on was still recording. He puts it somewhere safe, because it has a recording of Hopkins ordering him to hide evidence of the Mauki, which is a felony. At the trial it will save Corcelli's rump and put Hopkins into the slammer.

But the rest of the tape will be played in open court. Including the Mauki's chant with the true history of the Terran-ID war. This will leak out, exposing the false propaganda in the schoolbooks, and eventually leading to peace between the Terrans and the IDs. Corcelli realizes this was the Mauki's plan all along.

Behold the power of a Bard's song.)

From THE MAUKI CHANT by J. A. Meyer (1951)

(ed note: Our heroes are from a Terran colony that backslid to about 17th century level technology after the fall of the first galactic empire, and are currently on a covert mission to a colony that backslid to medieval level technology. They are trying to help defend a city against the local version of the Mongol hordes. The city knights know little about modern tactics and their heads are full of stupid notions of about diving into the hordes of enemies on horseback for honor and glory. Which just gets them killed. But Brett is a Bard.)

      "And your knights, Vanjynk?" MacKinnie asked.
     "They drill well, they wheel to the trumpets, but they still do not like turning from the battle. Nor do I, but I see it must be done." Vanjynk lifted his cup and gulped the wine. "You fight strangely on your world, star man."
     "Lay off that talk," Stark muttered. "We have enough trouble with the Temple people without that."
     MacKinnie nodded. "Hal's right. But tell me, will the knights obey the trumpets?"
     "I believe so," Brett answered. "They have little wish to be killed by barbarians. But there is no fear of death in these men, only of dishonor."
     "Aye, so Brett made a song about foolish knights who abandoned their commander and were shamed forever," MacLean said. "Silly thing, but catchy. Seems to have helped."
     "If songs help, sing your lungs out," MacKinnie told them. "The key to this whole battle is getting the heavy cavalry to bear on the barbarians while they're bunched up. Nothing on this world can stand up to a charge from those armored ironheads, but as soon as they lose their momentum and scatter, the maris can pick them off with no trouble at all."

From KING DAVID'S SPACESHIP by Jerry Pournelle (1981)

      “Will she hear you?”
     “If she’s on this face of the Moon. If she was able to get out of the ship. If her suit radio wasn’t damaged. If she has it turned on. If she is alive. Since the ship is silent and no radar beacon has been spotted, it is unlikely that she or the pilot lived through it.”
     “She’s got to be found! Stand by, Space Station. Tycho Base, acknowledge.”
     Reply lagged about three seconds, Washington to Moon and back. “Lunar Base, Commanding General.”
     “General, put every man on the Moon out searching for Betsy!”
     Speed-of-light lag made the answer sound grudging. “Sir, do you know how big the Moon is?”
     “No matter! Betsy Barnes is there somewhere—so every man is to search until she is found. If she’s dead, your precious pilot would be better off dead, too!”
     “Sir, the Moon is almost fifteen million square miles. If I used every man I have, each would have over a thousand square miles to search. I gave Betsy my best pilot. I won’t listen to threats against him when he can’t answer back. Not from anyone, sir! I’m sick of being told what to do by people who don’t know Lunar conditions. My advice—my official advice, sir—is to let Meridian Station try. Maybe they can work a miracle.

     Elizabeth Barnes, “Blind Betsy,” child genius of the piano, had been making a USO tour of the Moon. She “wowed ‘em” at Tycho Base, then lifted by jeep rocket for Farside Hardbase, to entertain our lonely missilemen behind the Moon. She should have been there in an hour. Her pilot was a safety pilot; such ships shuttled unpiloted between Tycho and Farside daily.
     After lift-off her ship departed from its programming, was lost by Tycho’s radars. It was…somewhere.
     Not in space, else it would be radioing for help and its radar beacon would be seen by other ships, space stations, surface bases. It had crashed—or made emergency landing—somewhere on the vastness of Luna.

     “Meridian Space Station, Director speaking—” Lag was unnoticeable; radio bounce between Washington and the station only 22,300 miles up was only a quarter second. “We’ve patched Earthside stations to blanket the Moon with our call. Another broadcast blankets the far side from Station Newton at the three-body stable position. Ships from Tycho are orbiting the Moon’s rim—that band around the edge which is in radio shadow from us and from the Newton. If we hear—"
     “Yes, yes! How about radar search?”
     “Sir, a rocket on the surface looks to radar like a million other features the same size. Our one chance is to get them to answer…if they can. Ultrahigh-resolution radar might spot them in months—but suits worn in those little rockets carry only six hours’ air. We are praying they will hear and answer.”
     “When they answer, you’ll slap a radio direction finder on them. Eh?”
     “No, sir.”
     “In God’s name, why not?”
     “Sir, a direction finder is useless for this job. It would tell us only that the signal came from the Moon—which doesn’t help.”
     “Doctor, you’re saying that you might hear Betsy—and not know where she is?”
     “We’re as blind as she is. We hope that she will be able to lead us to her…if she hears us.”
     “With a laser. An intense, very tight beam of light. She’ll hear it—”
     “Hear a beam of light?”
     “Yes, sir. We are jury-rigging to scan like radar—that won’t show anything. But we are modulating it to give a carrier wave in radio frequency, then modulating that into audio frequency—and controlling that by a piano. If she hears us, we’ll tell her to listen while we scan the Moon and run the scale on the piano—”
     “All this while a little girl is dying?”
     “Mister President—shut up!”
     “Who was THAT?”
     “I’m Betsy’s father. They’ve patched me from Omaha. Please, Mr. President, keep quiet and let them work. I want my daughter back.”
     The President answered tightly, “Yes, Mr. Barnes. Go ahead, Director. Order anything you need.”

     In Station Meridian the Director wiped his face. “Getting anything?”
     “No. Boss, can’t something be done about that Rio Station? It’s sitting right on the frequency!”
     “We’ll drop a brick on them. Or a bomb. Joe, tell the President.”
     “I heard, Director. They’ll be silenced!”

     “Sh! Quiet! Betsy—do you hear me?” The operator looked intent, made an adjustment.
     From a speaker came a girl’s light, sweet voice: “—to hear somebody! Gee, I’m glad! Better come quick—the Major is hurt.”
     The Director jumped to the microphone. “Yes, Betsy, we’ll hurry. You’ve got to help us. Do you know where you are?”
     “Somewhere on the Moon, I guess. We bumped hard and I was going to kid him about it when the ship fell over. I got unstrapped and found Major Peters and he isn’t moving. Not dead—I don’t think so; his suit puffs out like mine and I hear something when I push my helmet against him. I just now managed to get the door open.” She added, “This can’t be Farside; it’s supposed to be night there. I’m in sunshine, I’m sure. This suit is pretty hot.”
     “Betsy, you must stay outside. You’ve got to be where you can see us.”
     She chuckled. “That’s a good one. I see with my ears.”
     “Yes. You’ll see us, with your ears. Listen, Betsy. We’re going to scan the Moon with a beam of light. You’ll hear it as a piano note. We’ve got the Moon split into the eighty-eight piano notes. When you hear one, yell, ‘Now!’ Then tell us what note you heard. Can you do that?”
     “Of course,” she said confidently, “if the piano is in tune.”
     “It is. All right, we’re starting—”
     “What note, Betsy?”
     “E flat the first octave above middle C.”
     “This note, Betsy?”
     “That’s what I said.”
     The Director called out, “Where’s that on the grid? In Mare Nubium? Tell the General!” He said to the microphone, “We’re finding you, Betsy honey! Now we scan just that part you’re on. We change setup. Want to talk to your Daddy meanwhile?”
     “Gosh! Could I?”
     “Yes indeed!”
     Twenty minutes later the Director cut in and heard:
     “—of course not, Daddy. Oh, a teensy bit scared when the ship fell. But people take care of me, always have.”
     “Yes, sir?”
     “Be ready to tell us again.”

     “Now!” She added, “That’s a bullfrog G, three octaves down.”
     “This note?”
     “That’s right.”
     “Get that on the grid and tell the General to get his ships up! That cuts it to a square ten miles on a side! Now, Betsy—we know almost where you are. We are going to focus still closer. Want to go inside and cool off?”
     “I’m not too hot. Just sweaty.”

     Forty minutes later the General’s voice rang out: “They’ve spotted the ship! They see her waving!”

From SEARCHLIGHT by Robert Heinlein (1962)

      This is the story of Rhysling, the Blind Singer of the Spaceways — but not the official version. You sang his words in school:
“I pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave me birth;
Let me rest my eyes on the fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.”
      Or perhaps you sang in French, or German. Or it might have been Esperanto, while Terra’s rainbow banner rippled over your head.
     The language does not matter — it was certainly an Earth tongue. No one has ever translated “Green Hills” into the lisping Venerian speech; no Martian ever croaked and whispered it in the dry corridors. This is ours. We of Earth have exported everything from Hollywood crawlies to synthetic radioactives, but this belongs solely to Terra, and to her sons and daughters wherever they may be.
     We have all heard many stories of Rhysling. You may even be one of the many who have sought degrees, or acclaim, by scholarly evaluations of his published works — Songs of the Spaceways, The Grand Canal and other Poems, High and Far, and “UP SHIP!”

     Nevertheless, although you have sung his songs and read his verses, in school and out your whole life, it is at least an even money bet — unless you are a spaceman yourself — that you have never even heard of most of Rhysling’s unpublished songs, such items as Since the Pusher Met My Cousin, That RedHeaded Venusburg Gal, Keep Your Pants On, Skipper, or A Space Suit Built for Two.
     Nor can we quote them in a family magazine.
     Rhysling’s reputation was protected by a careful literary executor and by the happy chance that he was never interviewed. Songs of the Spaceways appeared the week he died; when it became a best seller, the publicity stories about him were pieced together from what people remembered about him plus the highly colored handouts from his publishers.
     The resulting traditional picture of Rhysling is about as authentic as George Washington’s hatchet or King Alfred’s cakes.
     In truth you would not have wanted him in your parlor; he was not socially acceptable. He had a permanent case of sun itch, which he scratched continually, adding nothing to his negligible beauty.
     Van der Voort’s portrait of him for the Harriman Centennial mouth, sightless eyes concealed by black silk bandage. He was never solemn! His mouth was always open, singing, grinning, drinking, or eating. The bandage was any rag, usually dirty. After he lost his sight he became less and less neat about his person.

     “Noisy” Rhysling was a jetman, second class, with eyes as good as yours, when he signed on for a loop trip to the Jovian asteroids in the RS Goshawk. The crew signed releases for everything in those days; a Lloyd’s associate would have laughed in your face at the notion of insuring a spaceman. The Space Precautionary Act had never been heard of, and the Company was responsible only for wages, if and when. Half the ships that went further than Luna City never came back. Spacemen did not care; by preference they signed for shares, and any one of them would have bet you that he could jump from the 200th floor of Harriman Tower and ground safely, if you offered him three to two and allowed him rubber heels for the landing.
     Jetmen were the most carefree of the lot, and the meanest. Compared with them the masters, the radarmen, and the astrogators (there were no supers nor stewards in those days) were gentle vegetarians. Jetmen knew too much. The others trusted the skill of the captain to get them down safely; jetmen knew that skill was useless against the blind and fitful devils chained inside their rocket motors.
     The Goshawk was the first of Harriman’s ships to be converted from chemical fuel to atomic power-piles — or rather the first that did not blow up. Rhysling knew her well; she was an old tub that had plied the Luna City run, Supra-New York space station to Leyport and back, before she was converted for deep space. He had worked the Luna run in her and had been along on the first deep space trip, Drywater on Mars — and back, to everyone’s surprise.
     He should have made chief engineer by the time he signed for the Jovian loop trip, but, after the Drywater pioneer trip, he had been fired, blacklisted, and grounded at Luna City for having spent his time writing a chorus and several verses at a time when he should have been watching his gauges. The song was the infamous The Skipper is a Father to his Crew, with the uproariously unprintable final couplet.
     The blacklist did not bother him. He won an accordion from a Chinese barkeep in Luna City by cheating at onethumb and thereafter kept going by singing to the miners for drinks and tips until the rapid attrition in spacemen caused the Company agent there to give him another chance. He kept his nose clean on the Luna run for a year or two, got back into deep space, helped give Venusburg its original ripe reputation, strolled the banks of the Grand Canal when a second colony was established at the ancient Martian capital, and froze his toes and ears on the second trip to Titan.

     Things moved fast in those days. Once the power-pile drive was accepted the number of ships that put out from the LunaTerra system was limited only by the availability of crews. Jetmen were scarce; the shielding was cut to a minimum to save weight and few married men cared to risk possible exposure to radioactivity. Rhysling did not want to be a father, so jobs were always open to him during the golden days of the claiming boom. He crossed and recrossed the system, singing the doggerel that boiled up in his head and chording it out on his accordion.
     The master of the Goshawk knew him; Captain Hicks had been astrogator on Rhysling’s first trip in her. “Welcome home, Noisy,” Hicks had greeted him. “Are you sober, or shall I sign the book for you?”
     “You can’t get drunk on the bug juice they sell here, Skipper.” He signed and went below, lugging his accordion.
     Ten minutes later he was back. “Captain,” he stated darkly, “that number two jet ain’t fit. The cadmium dampers are warped.”
     “Why tell me? Tell the Chief.”
     “I did, but he says they will do. He’s wrong.”
     The captain gestured at the book. “Scratch out your name and scram. We raise ship in thirty minutes.”
     Rhysling looked at him, shrugged, and went below again.

     It is a long climb to the Jovian planetoids; a Hawk-class clunker had to blast for three watches before going into free flight. Rhysling had the second watch. Damping was done by hand then, with a multiplying vernier and a danger gauge. When the gauge showed red, he tried to correct it — no luck.
     Jetmen don’t wait; that’s why they are jetmen. He slapped the emergency discover and fished at the hot stuff with the tongs. The lights went out, he went right ahead. A jetman has to know his power room the way your tongue knows the inside of your mouth.
     He sneaked a quick look over the top of the lead baffle when the lights went out. The blue radioactive glow did not help him any; he jerked his head back and went on fishing by touch.
     When he was done he called over the tube, “Number two jet out. And for crissake get me some light down here!”
     There was light — the emergency circuit — but not for him. The blue radioactive glow was the last thing his optic nerve ever responded to.

“As Time and Space come bending back to shape this starspecked scene,
The tranquil tears of tragic joy still spread their silver sheen;
Along the Grand Canal still soar the fragile Towers of Truth;
Their fairy grace defends this place of Beauty, calm and couth.

“Bone-tired the race that raised the Towers, forgotten are their lores,
Long gone the gods who shed the tears that lap these crystal shores.
Slow heats the time-worn heart of Mars beneath this icy sky;
The thin air whispers voicelessly that all who live must die —

“Yet still the lacy Spires of Truth sing Beauty’s madrigal
And she herself will ever dwell along the Grand Canal!”
     — from The Grand Canal, by permission of Lux Transcriptions, Ltd., London and Luna City

     On the swing back they set Rhysling down on Mars at Drywater; the boys passed the hat and the skipper kicked in a half month’s pay. That was all — finish — just another space bum who had not had the good fortune to finish it off when his luck ran out. He holed up with the prospectors and archeologists at How-Far? for a month or so, and could probably have stayed forever in exchange for his songs and his accordion playing. But spacemen die if they stay in one place; he hooked a crawler over to Drywater again and thence to Marsopolis.
     The capital was well into its boom; the processing plants lined the Grand Canal on both sides and roiled the ancient waters with the filth of the runoff. This was before the TriPlanet Treaty forbade disturbing cultural relics for commerce; half the slender, fairylike towers had been torn down, and others were disfigured to adapt them as pressurized buildings for Earthmen.
     Now Rhysling had never seen any of these changes and no one described them to him; when he “saw” Marsopolis again, he visualized it as it had been, before it was rationalized for trade. His memory was good. He stood on the riparian esplanade where the ancient great of Mars had taken their ease and saw its beauty spreading out before his blinded eyes — ice blue plain of water unmoved by tide, untouched by breeze, and reflecting serenely the sharp, bright stars of the Martian sky, and beyond the water the lacy buttresses and flying towers of an architecture too delicate for our rumbling, heavy planet.

     The result was Grand Canal.

     The subtle change in his orientation which enabled him to see beauty at Marsopolis where beauty was not now began to affect his whole life. All women became beautiful to him. He knew them by their voices and fitted their appearances to the sounds. It is a mean spirit indeed who will speak to a blind man other than in gentle friendliness; scolds who had given their husbands no peace sweetened their voices to Rhysling.
     It populated his world with beautiful women and gracious men. Dark Star Passing, Berenice’s Hair, Death Song of a Wood’s Colt, and his other love songs of the wanderers, the womenless men of space, were the direct result of the fact that his conceptions were unsullied by tawdry truths. It mellowed his approach, changed his doggerel to verse, and sometimes even to poetry.
     He had plenty of time to think now, time to get all the lovely words just so, and to worry a verse until it sang true in his head. The monotonous beat of Jet Song —
When the field is clear, the reports all seen,
When the lock sighs shut, when the lights wink green,
When the check-off’s done, when it’s time to pray,
When the Captain nods, when she blasts away —

Hear the jets!
Hear them snarl at your back
When you’re stretched on the rack;
Feel your ribs clamp your chest,
Feel your neck grind its rest.
Feel the pain in your ship,
Feel her strain in their grip.
Feel her rise! Feel her drive!
Straining steel, come alive,
On her jets!
     —came to him not while he himself was a jetman but later while he was hitch-hiking from Mars to Venus and sitting out a watch with an old shipmate.
     At Venusburg he sang his new songs and some of the old, in the bars. Someone would start a hat around for him; it would come back with a minstrel’s usual take doubled or tripled in recognition of the gallant spirit behind the bandaged eyes.
     It was an easy life. Any space port was his home and any ship his private carriage. No skipper cared to refuse to lift the extra mass of blind Rhysling and his squeeze box; he shuttled from Venusburg to Leyport to Drywater to New Shanghai, or back again, as the whim took him.
     He never went closer to Earth than Supra-New York Space Station. Even when signing the contract for Songs of the Spaceways he made his mark in a cabin-class liner somewhere between Luna City and Ganymede. Horowitz, the original publisher, was aboard for a second honeymoon and heard Rhysling sing at a ship’s party. Horowitz knew a good thing for the publishing trade when he heard it; the entire contents of Songs were sung directly into the tape in the communications room of that ship before he let Rhysling out of his sight. The next three volumes were squeezed out of Rhysling at Venusburg, where Horowitz had sent an agent to keep him liquored up until he had sung all he could remember.
     UP SHIP! is not certainly authentic Rhysling throughout. Much of it is Rhysling’s, no doubt, and Jet Song is unquestionably his, but most of the verses were collected after his death from people who had known him during his wanderings.

     The Green Hills of Earth grew through twenty years. The earliest form we know about was composed before Rhysling was blinded, during a drinking bout with some of the indentured men on Venus. The verses were concerned mostly with the things the labor clients intended to do back on Earth if and when they ever managed to pay their bounties and thereby be allowed to go home. Some of the stanzas were vulgar, some were not, but the chorus was recognizably that of Green Hills.

     We know exactly where the final form of Green Hills came from, and when.

     There was a ship in at Venus Ellis Isle which was scheduled for the direct jump from there to Great Lakes, Illinois. She was the old Falcon, youngest of the Hawk class and the first ship to apply the Harriman Trust’s new policy of extra-fare express service between Earth cities and any colony with scheduled stops.
     Rhysling decided to ride her back to Earth. Perhaps his own song had gotten under his skin — or perhaps he just hankered to see his native Ozark’s one more time.
     The Company no longer permitted deadheads: Rhysling knew this but it never occurred to him that the ruling might apply to him. He was getting old, for a spaceman, and just a little matter of fact about his privileges. Not senile — he simply knew that he was one of the landmarks in space, along with Halley’s Comet, the Rings, and Brewster’s Ridge. He walked in the crew’s port, went below, and made himself at home in the first empty acceleration couch.

     The Captain found him there while making a last minute tour of his ship. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.
     “Dragging it back to Earth, Captain.” Rhysling needed no eyes to see a skipper’s four stripes.
     “You can’t drag in this ship; you know the rules. Shake a leg and get out of here. We raise ship at once.” The Captain was young; he had come up after Rhysling’s active time, but Rhysling knew the type — five years at Harriman Hall with only cadet practice trips instead of solid, deep space experience. The two men did not touch in background nor spirit; space was changing.
     “Now, Captain, you wouldn’t begrudge an old man a trip home.”
     The officer hesitated — several of the crew had stopped to listen. “I can’t do it. ‘Space Precautionary Act, Clause Six: No one shall enter space save as a licensed member of a crew of a chartered vessel, or as a paying passenger of such a vessel under such regulations as may be issued pursuant to this act.’ Up you get and out you go.”
     Rhysling lolled back, his hands under his head. “If I’ve got to go, I’m damned if I’ll walk. Carry me.”
     The Captain bit his lip and said, “Master-at-Arms! Have this man removed.”
     The ship’s policeman fixed his eyes on the overhead struts. “Can’t rightly do it, Captain. I’ve sprained my shoulder.” The other crew members, present a moment before, had faded into the bulkhead paint.
     “Well, get a working party!”
     “Aye, aye, sir.” He, too, went away.
     Rhysling spoke again. “Now look, Skipper — let’s not have any hard feelings about this. You’ve got an out to carry me if you want to — the ‘Distressed Spaceman’ clause.”
     “‘Distressed Spaceman’, my eye! You’re no distressed spaceman; you’re a space-lawyer. I know who you are; you’ve been bumming around the system for years. Well, you won’t do it in my ship. That clause was intended to succor men who had missed their ships, not to let a man drag free all over space.”
     “Well, now, Captain, can you properly say I haven’t missed my ship? I’ve never been back home since my last trip as a signed-on crew member. The law says I can have a trip back.”
     “But that was years ago. You’ve used up your chance.”
     “Have I now? The clause doesn’t say a word about how soon a man has to take his trip back; it just says he’s got it coming to him. Go look it up. Skipper. If I’m wrong, I’ll not only walk out on my two legs, I’ll beg your humble pardon in front of your crew. Go on — look it up. Be a sport.”
     Rhysling could feel the man’s glare, but he turned and stomped out of the compartment. Rhysling knew that he had used his blindness to place the Captain in an impossible position, but this did not embarrass Rhysling — he rather enjoyed it.

     Ten minutes later the siren sounded, he heard the orders on the bull horn for UpStations. When the soft sighing of the locks and the slight pressure change in his ears let him know that take-off was imminent he got up and shuffled down to the power room, as he wanted to be near the jets when they blasted off. He needed no one to guide him in any ship of the Hawk class.
     Trouble started during the first watch. Rhysling had been lounging in the inspector’s chair, fiddling with the keys of his accordion and trying out a new version of Green Hills.
“Let me breathe unrationed air again
Where there’s no lack nor dearth”
     And “something, something, something ‘Earth’” — it would not come out right. He tried again.
“Let the sweet fresh breezes heal me
As they rove around the girth
Of our lovely mother planet,
Of the cool green hills of Earth.”
     That was better, he thought. “How do you like that, Archie?” he asked over the muted roar.
     “Pretty good. Give out with the whole thing.” Archie Macdougal, Chief Jetman, was an old friend, both spaceside and in bars; he had been an apprentice under Rhysling many years and millions of miles back.
     Rhysling obliged, then said, “You youngsters have got it soft. Everything automatic. When I was twisting her tail you had to stay awake.”
     “You still have to stay awake.” They fell to talking shop and Macdougal showed him the direct response damping rig which had replaced the manual vernier control which Rhysling had used. Rhysling felt out the controls and asked questions until he was familiar with the new installation. It was his conceit that he was still a jetman and that his present occupation as a troubadour was simply an expedient during one of the fusses with the company that any man could get into.
     “I see you still have the old hand damping plates installed,” he remarked, his agile fingers flitting over the equipment.
     “All except the links. I unshipped them because they obscure the dials.”
     “You ought to have them shipped. You might need them.”
     “Oh, I don’t know. I think—”

     Rhysling never did find out what Macdougal thought for it was at that moment the trouble tore loose. Macdougal caught it square, a blast of radioactivity that burned him down where he stood.
     Rhysling sensed what had happened. Automatic reflexes of old habit came out. He slapped the discover and rang the alarm to the control room simultaneously. Then he remembered the unshipped links. He had to grope until he found them, while trying to keep as low as he could to get maximum benefit from the baffles. Nothing but the links bothered him as to location. The place was as light to him as any place could be; he knew every spot, every control, the way he knew the keys of his accordion.
     “Power room! Power room! What’s the alarm?”
     “Stay out!” Rhysling shouted. “The place is ‘hot.’” He could feel it on his face and in his bones, like desert sunshine.
     The links he got into place, after cursing someone, anyone, for having failed to rack the wrench he needed. Then he commenced trying to reduce the trouble by hand. It was a long job and ticklish. Presently he decided that the jet would have to be spilled, pile and all.
     First he reported. “Control!”
     “Control aye aye!”
     “Spilling jet three — emergency.”
     “Is this Macdougal?”
     “Macdougal is dead. This is Rhysling, on watch. Stand by to record.”
     There was no answer; dumbfounded the Skipper may have been, but he could not interfere in a power room emergency. He had the ship to consider, and the passengers and crew. The doors had to stay closed.
     The Captain must have been still more surprised at what Rhysling sent for record. It was:
We rot in the molds of Venus,
We retch at her tainted breath.
Foul are her flooded jungles,
Crawling with unclean death.”
     Rhysling went on cataloguing the Solar System as he worked, “—harsh bright soil of Luna—”,”—Saturn’s rainbow rings—”,”—the frozen night of Titan—”, all the while opening and spilling the jet and fishing it clean. He finished with an alternate chorus —
“We’ve tried each spinning space mote
And reckoned its true worth:
Take us back again to the homes of men
On the cool, green hills of Earth.”
     —then, almost absentmindedly remembered to tack on his revised first verse:
  “The arching sky is calling
Spacemen back to their trade.
All hands! Stand by! Free falling!
And the lights below us fade.
Out ride the sons of Terra,
Far drives the thundering jet,
Up leaps the race of Earthmen,
Out, far, and onward yet—”
     The ship was safe now and ready to limp home shy one jet.
     As for himself, Rhysling was not so sure. That “sunburn” seemed sharp, he thought. He was unable to see the bright, rosy fog in which he worked but he knew it was there. He went on with the business of flushing the air out through the outer valve, repeating it several times to permit the level of radioaction to drop to something a man might stand under suitable armor. While he did this he sent one more chorus, the last bit of authentic Rhysling that ever could be:
  “We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.”
from THE GREEN HILLS OF EARTH by Robert A. Heinlein (1947)

(ed note: our heros: Richard and Dorothy Seaton, Martin and Margaret Crain, have discovered that the entire galaxy in general and Terra in particular are threatened with conquest by the dread Fenachrone empire. They are traveling in their spaceship, the Skylark, to find the rumored people of Norlamin. Those people are benevolent and scientifically advanced. As they approach the rumored area; the Norlamin named Orlon discover them with long-range scanners, contact them, and give them directions to their planet. )

      ‘I’ll say I’m relieved! We ought to be able to take ’em, with the Norlaminians backing us. If they haven’t already got the stuff we need, they will know how to make it – even if that zone actually is impenetrable, I’ll bet they’ll be able to work out some solution. Relieved? That don’t half tell it, guy – I feel like I’d just pitched off the Old Man of the Sea who’s been riding on my neck! What say you girls get your fiddle and guitar and we’ll sing us a little song? I feel good – they had me worried – it’s the first time I’ve felt like singing since we cut that warship up.’

     Dorothy brought out her ‘fiddle’ – the magnificent Stradivarius, formerly Crane’s, which he had given her – Margaret her guitar, and they sang one rollicking number after another. Though by no means a Metropolitan Opera quartette, their voices were all better than mediocre, and they had sung together so much that they harmonized readily.
     ‘Why don’t you play us some real music, Dottie?’ asked Margaret, after a time. ‘You haven’t practiced for ages.’
     ‘Right. This quartette of ours ain’t so hot,’ agreed Seaton. ‘If we had any audience except Shiro, they’d probably be throwing eggs by this time.’
     ‘I haven’t felt like playing lately, but I do now,’ and Dorothy stood up and swept the bow over the strings. Doctor of music in violin, an accomplished musician, playing upon one of the finest instruments the world has ever known, she was lifted out of herself by relief from the dread of the Fenachrone invasion and that splendid violin expressed every subtle nuance of her thought.
     She played rhapsodies and paeans, and solos by the great masters. She played vivacious dances, then ‘Traumerei’ and ‘Liebestraum’. At last she swept into the immortal ‘Meditation’, and as the last note died away Seaton held out his arms. ‘You’re a blinding flash and a deafening report, Dottie Dimple, and I love you,’ he declared – and his eyes and his arms spoke volumes that his light utterance had left unsaid.

(ed note: At Norlamin, things are put into motion to deal with the Fenachrone. After dinner comes the relaxation period at Orlon's residence)

     When all had returned to the common room of the observatory and had seated themselves Orlon took out his miniature ray-projector, no larger than a fountain pen, and flashed it briefly upon one of the hundreds of button-like lenses upon the wall. Instantly each chair converted itself into a form-fitting divan, inviting complete repose.
     ‘I believe that you of Earth would perhaps enjoy some of our music during this, the period of relaxation and repose – it is so different from your own,’ Orlon remarked, as he again manipulated his tiny force-tube.

     Every light was extinguished and there was felt a profoundly deep vibration – a note so low as to be palpable rather than audible: and simultaneously the utter darkness was relieved by a tinge of red so dark as to be barely perceptible, while a peculiar somber fragrance pervaded the atmosphere. The music rapidly ran the gamut to the limit of audibility and, in the same tempo, the lights traversed the visible spectrum and disappeared. Then came a crashing chord and a vivid flare of blended light; ushering in an indescribable symphony of sound and color, accompanied by a slower succession of shifting, blending colors.
     The quality of tone was now that of a gigantic orchestra, now that of a full brass band, now that of a single unknown instrument – as though the composer had had at his command every overtone capable of being produced by any possible instrument, and with them had woven a veritable tapestry of melody upon an incredibly complex loom of sound. As went the harmony, so accompanied the play of light. Neither music nor illumination came from any apparent source; they simply pervaded the entire room. When the music was fast – and certain passages were of a rapidity impossible for any human fingers to attain – the lights flashed in vivid, tiny pencils, intersecting each other in sharply-drawn, brilliant figures which changed with dizzying speed: when the tempo was slow the beams were soft and broad, blending into each other to form sinuous, indefinite, writhing patterns whose very vagueness was infinitely soothing.

     ‘What do you think of it, Mrs Seaton?’ Orlon asked, when the symphony was ended.
     ‘Marvelous!’ breathed Dorothy, awed. ‘I never imagined anything like it. I can’t begin to tell you how much I like it. I never dreamed of such absolute perfection of execution, and the way the lighting accompanies the theme is just too perfectly wonderful for words! It was wonderfully, incredibly brilliant.’
     ‘Brilliant – yes. Perfectly executed – yes. But I notice that you say nothing of depth of feeling or of emotional appeal.’ Dorothy blushed uncomfortably and started to say something, but Orlon silenced her and continued: ‘You need not apologize. I had a reason for speaking as I did, for in you I recognize a real musician, and our music is indeed entirely soulless. That is the result of our ancient civilization. We are so old that our music is purely intellectual, entirely mechanical, instead of emotional. It is perfect, but, like most of our other arts, it is almost completely without feeling.’

     ‘But your statues are wonderful!’
     ‘As I told you, those statues were made myriads of years ago. At that time we also had real music, but, unlike statuary, music at that time could not be preserved for posterity. That is another thing you have given us. Attend!’
     At one end of the room, as upon a three-dimensional screen, the four Terrestrials saw themselves seated in the control room of the Skylark. They saw and heard Margaret take up her guitar and strike four sonorous chords in ‘A’. Then, as if they had been there in person, they heard themselves sing ‘The Bull-Frog’ and all the other songs they had sung, far off in space. They heard Margaret suggest that Dorothy play some ‘real music’, and heard Seaton’s comments upon the quartette.
     ‘In that, youngster, you were entirely wrong,’ said Orlon, stopping the reproduction for a moment. ‘The entire planet was listening to you very attentively – we were enjoying it as no music has been enjoyed for thousands of years.’
     ‘The whole planet!’ gasped Margaret. ‘Were you broadcasting it? How could you?’
     ‘Easy,’ grinned Seaton. ‘They can do practically anything.’

     ‘When you have time, in some period of labor, we would appreciate it very much if you four would sing for us again, would give us more of your vast store of youthful music, for we can now preserve it exactly as it is sung. But much as we enjoyed the quartette, Mrs Seaton, it was your work upon the violin that took us by storm. Beginning with tomorrow, my companion intends to have you spend as many periods as you will, playing for our records. We shall now have your music’
     ‘If you like it so well, wouldn’t you rather I’d play you something I hadn’t played before?’
     ‘That is labor. We could not …’
     ‘Piffle!’ Dorothy interrupted. ‘Don’t you see that I could really play right now, to somebody who really enjoys music; whereas if I tried to play in front of a recorder I’d be perfectly mechanical?’
     ‘’At-a-girl, Dot! I’ll get your fiddle.’
     ‘Keep your seat, son,’ instructed Orlon, as the case containing the Stradivarius appeared before Dorothy, borne by a pencil of force. ‘While that temperament is incomprehensible to one of us, it is undoubtedly true that the artistic mind does operate in that manner. We listen.’

     Dorothy swept into ‘The Melody in F’, and as the poignantly beautiful strains poured forth from that wonderful violin she knew that she had her audience with her. Though so intellectual that they themselves were incapable of producing music of real depth of feeling, they could understand and could enjoy such music with an appreciation impossible to a people of lesser mental attainments; and their profound enjoyment of her playing, burned into her mind by the telepathic, almost hypnotic power of the Norlaminian mentality, raised her to heights she had never before attained. Playing as one inspired she went through one tremendous solo after another – holding her listeners spellbound, urged on by their intense feeling to carry them further and ever further into the realm of pure emotional harmony. The bell which ordinarily signaled the end of the period of relaxation did not sound; for the first time in thousands of years the planet of Norlamin deserted its rigid schedule of life – to listen to one Earthwoman, pouring out her very soul upon her incomparable violin.
     The final note of ‘Memories’ died away in a diminuendo wail, and the musician almost collapsed into Seaton’s arms. The profound silence, more impressive far than any possible applause, was broken by Dorothy.

     ‘There – I’m all right now, Dick. I was about out of control for a minute. I wish they could have had that on a recorder – I’ll never be able to play like that again if I live to be a thousand years old.’
     ‘It is on record, daughter. Every note and every inflection is preserved, precisely as you played it,’ Orlon assured her. ‘That is our only excuse for allowing you to continue as you did, almost to the point of exhaustion. While we cannot really understand an artistic mind of the peculiar type to which yours belongs, yet we realized that each time you play you are doing something no one, not even yourself, can ever do again in precisely the same subtle fashion. Therefore we allowed, in fact encouraged, you to go on as long as that creative impulse should endure – not merely for our own pleasure in hearing it, great though that pleasure was; but in the hope that our workers in music could, by a careful analysis of your product, determine quantitatively the exact vibrations or overtones which make the difference between emotional and intellectual music.’

From SKYLARK THREE by E. E. "Doc" Smith (1930)

The great polar explorer Roald Amundsen credited expedition cook Adolf Henrik Lindstrøm as having “rendered greater and more valuable services to the Norwegian polar expedition than any other man.” He was citing not only Lindstrøm’s vaunted prowess as a chef, but his keen sense of humor, with which he regularly defused conflicts among the isolated crew members.

Lindstrøm’s joviality is seen by behavioral scientists as an essential component of a small group that must live in closed quarters over an extended period of time, such as a four- to six-member expedition to Mars. As Noshir Contractor of Northwestern University put it, “the human body is the one object on a spacecraft over which engineers have no control.” Contractor, a professor of behavioral science, was speaking at this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C. Although we have learned a lot from the space program about such hazards to astronauts as radiation and gravity fields, Contractor said, “It is only in the past decade or so that we have begun to write the manual … for the social impacts that accompany humans who are going into space.”With increasing time in isolation, crews exhibited a decline in their ability to think together and solve problems.

A trip to Mars would last almost three years. It would take 259 days to get there, and the crew would have to stay on the Red Planet for an Earth-year to be in proper position to return home, another nine-month journey. That crew might comprise several nationalities and cultures and other demographic variations. Due to the distance, communications with Earth could be delayed up to 22 minutes each way, requiring the crew to be essentially autonomous in case a problem arose. Could they get along with each other and resolve crises without the nearly instantaneous backup that mission control has provided for astronauts on the International Space Station and even the moon?

The Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) project is a human Petri dish, located at NASA’s Johnson Space Center near Houston, Texas, and designed to study interactions among several humans in a small space over extended periods of time. At the AAAS meeting, Leslie DeChurch, a professor of communication studies at Northwestern University, described HERA isolation experiments in which nine four-person crews spent 30 to 45 days living under conditions that simulated part of a journey to Mars. They were tested with four behaviors related to collective intelligence: making decisions, executing tasks, negotiating and resolving conflicts, and generating new ideas and solutions to problems. All of the groups showed improvement in behavioral areas of collective performance, but with increasing time in isolation, they exhibited a decline in their ability to think together, combine expertise, and solve problems creatively. There are typically periods of peak crew intelligence and periods of “problematic” crew intelligence. DeChurch correlated the latter partly to the increasing communications delay as the simulations moved farther from Earth.

Jeffrey Johnson, a professor of anthropology at the University of Florida, related his observations among small groups, especially fishermen who were isolated for long periods in the Alaskan Arctic. During a prolonged strike that kept the men largely confined to their bunkhouses, he observed one of them emerge as what he called the “court jester.” Nicknamed by the others as Captain Sadsack, he alleviated tension and maintained cohesion between two groups of Italian-American fisherman from different geographic areas. Sadsack willingly accepted being the butt of jokes and pranks in which both groups participated. He never complained and was well liked by all, Johnson said.

Johnson followed up those observations with studies of groups at various research facilities in Antarctica and found that in the most effective of them, members of the crew adopted informal roles that contributed to group cohesion. “The clown was the most central figure” in one South Pole Station group, Johnson told me. “The clown bridged social relations between the scientists and the trades crew—the plumbers, electricians, and mechanics. His bridging role was fostered by his humor and fun-loving nature.”

Johnson added that less effective groups lacked a clown figure or others in informal leadership roles. He also found, in other experiments, that the importance of these informal roles in group cohesion scaled down to much smaller groups, even to the size of a Mars mission.

At HERA, scientists are improving their skill at analyzing interactions among the test subjects, and using their data to predict how participants would behave in larger and longer missions. If, in the 1970s, Contractor said, Skylab’s mission control had the behavioral insights that scientists now have, it could have predicted the unprecedented work stoppage by the crew of Skylab-4. The crew, which had developed decreasing internal cohesion as compared with the previous missions, shut down communications with Houston for a weekend and relaxed. It was—so far—the only “strike” by astronauts in the history of space exploration.

A similar facility to HERA is HI-SEAS—Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, on the high slopes of Mauna Loa. HI-SEAS experimental groups tend to be larger, up to six persons, and stay in place longer, eight to 12 months, as compared with HERA groups, according to Steve Kozlowski, a professor of organizational psychology at Michigan State University. The HI-SEAS subjects are studied in real time and each person wears an electronic badge that monitors interactions among the group members. Among the findings so far, Kozlowski said, is that cohesion is high at the start of a simulated mission, but after four to seven months, one or more persons will begin to “desynchronize” from the rest of the team. Others do so later. By the end of the mission, cohesion is “all over the place,” he said. This has occurred in every HI-SEAS mission longer than six months, and would be a serious concern in a Mars mission, which will be up to six times longer.

Tom Williams, a research scientist at NASA who leads a team focused on human factors and behavioral performance, said the space agency was working to identify the many risks to crew health and performance during a Mars mission. So far NASA has isolated 32 separate risks. “It doesn’t mean we think team dysfunction is going to cause a mission to fail, but we think we better need to understand that, to make sure that we can adopt preventive strategies.”

Group dynamics were scarcely an issue back in the days of Mercury and Gemini. As Contractor said, “Many of the mental and physical characteristics that Tom Wolfe referred to in The Right Stuff are not going to be valid today, when much greater emphasis has to be placed on crew members working together cohesively, rather than being celebrated for their rugged individualism.”

Harvey Leifert is a science writer based in Bethesda, Maryland.

From WHY WE NEED COURT JESTERS IN SPACE by Harvey Leifert (2019)



      Cornwell whispered, “A cache of Singing Bells; an accumulated cache of Singing Bells. Unpolished, but such beauties, Mr. Pevton. The man was a lunar grubstaker who had a method for locating the Bells in the crater sides. I don’t know his method; he never told me that. But he has gathered dozens, hidden them on the moon, and come to Earth to arrange the disposing of them.”
     “He died, I suppose?”
     “Yes. A most shocking accident, Mr. Peyton. A fall from a height. Very sad. Of course, his activities on the moon were quite illegal. The Dominion is very strict about unauthorized Bell-mining. So perhaps it was a judgment upon him after all … In any case, I have his map.”

     “Singing Bells,’’ put in the extraterrologist (Dr. Urth) in great excitement. “Don’t tell me this murder of yours involves Singing Bells!”
     “What if it does?” demanded (Inspector) Davenport, blankly.
     “I have one. A University expedition uncovered it and presented it to me in return for … Come, Inspector, I must show it to you.”
     For a moment he looked about, puzzled, then remembering, he pushed aside a chart showing the evolutionary scheme of development of the marine invertebrates that were the highest life-forms on Arcturus V and said, “Here it is. It’s flawed. I’m afraid.”

     The Bell hung suspended from a slender wire, soldered delicately onto it. That it was flawed was obvious. It had a constriction line running halfway about it that made it seem like two small globes, firmly but imperfectly squashed together. Despite that, it had been lovingly polished to a dull luster, softly gray, velvety smooth, and faintly pockmarked in a way that laboratories, in their futile efforts to prepare synthetic Bells, had found impossible to duplicate.
     Dr. Urth said, “I experimented a good deal before I found a decent stroker. A flawed Bell is temperamental. But bone works. I have one here,” and he held up something that looked like a short thick spoon made of a gray-white substance, “which I had made out of the femur of an ox … Listen.”
     With surprising delicacy, his pudgy fingers maneuvered the Bell, feeling for one best spot. He adjusted it, steadying it daintily. Then, letting the Bell swing free, he brought down the thick end of the bone spoon and stroked the Bell softly.
     It was as though a million harps had sounded a mile away. It swelled and faded and returned. It came from no particular direction. It sounded inside the head, incredibly sweet and pathetic and tremulous all at once.
     It died away lingeringly and both men were silent for a full minute.

     Dr. Urth said, “Not bad, eh?” and with a flick of his hand set the Bell to swinging on its wire.
     Davenport stirred restlessly, “Careful! Don’t break it.” The fragility of a good Singing Bell was proverbial.
     Dr. Urth said, “Geologists say the Bells are only pressure-hardened pumice, enclosing a vacuum in which small beads of rock rattle freely. That’s what they say. But if that’s all it is, why can’t we reproduce one? Now a flawless Bell would make this one sound like a child’s harmonica.”
     “Exactly,” said Davenport, “and there aren’t a dozen people on Earth who own a flawless one, and there are a hundred people and institutions who would buy one at any price, no questions asked. A supply of Bells would be worth murder.”

     “Ah, but inspect it,” said Dr. Urth, and with a quick motion of his hand, he tossed it through six feet of air to Peyton.
     Davenport cried out and half-rose from his chair. Peyton brought up his arms with an effort, but so quickly that they managed to catch the Bell.
     Peyton said, “You damned fool. Don’t throw it around that way.”
     “You respect Singing Bells, do you?”
     “Too much to break one. That’s no crime, at least.” Peyton stroked the Bell gently, then lifted it to his ear and shook it slowly, listening to the soft clicks of the Lunoliths, those small pumice particles, as they rattled in vacuum.
     Then, holding the Bell up by the length of steel wire still attached to it, he ran a thumb nail over its surface with an expert, curving motion. It twanged! The note was very mellow, very flute-like, holding with a slight vibrato that faded lingeringly and conjured up pictures of a summer twilight.
     For a short moment, all three men were lost in the sound.

From THE SINGING BELL by Isaac Asimov (1955)

I mulled over things I had heard Mr. Dubois — Colonel Dubois — say, as well as his extraordinary letter, while we went swinging back toward camp. Then I stopped thinking because the band dropped back near our position in column and we sang for a while, a French group — "Marseillaise," of course, and "Madelon" and "Sons of Toil and Danger," and then "Legion Étrangère" and "Mademoiselle from Armentières."

It's nice to have the band play; it picks you right up when your tail is dragging the prairie. We hadn't had anything but canned music at first and that only for parade and calls. But the powers-that-be had found out early who could play and who couldn't; instruments were provided and a regimental band was organized, all our own — even the director and the drum major were boots.

It didn't mean they got out of anything. Oh no! It just meant they were allowed and encouraged to do it on their own time, practicing evenings and Sundays and such — and that they got to strut and countermarch and show off at parade instead of being in ranks with their platoons. ...

...The band suffered a lot of attrition but somehow they always kept it going. The camp owned four sets of pipes and some Scottish uniforms, donated by Lochiel of Cameron whose son had been killed there in training — and one of us boots turned out to be a piper; he had learned it in the Scottish Boy Scouts. Pretty soon we had four pipers, maybe not good but loud. Pipes seem very odd when you first hear them, and a tyro practicing can set your teeth on edge — it sounds and looks as if he had a cat under his arm, its tail in his mouth, and biting it.

But they grow on you. The first time our pipers kicked their heels out in front of the band, skirling away at "Alamein Dead," my hair stood up so straight it lifted my cap. It gets you — makes tears.

We couldn't take a parade band out on route march, of course, because no special allowances were made for the band. Tubas and bass drums had to stay behind because a boy in the band had to carry full kit, same as everybody, and could only manage an instrument small enough to add to his load. But the M. I. has band instruments which I don't believe anybody else has, such as a little box hardly bigger than a harmonica, an electronic gadget which does an amazing job of faking a big horn and is played the same way. Comes band call when you are headed for the horizon, each bandsman sheds his kit without stopping, his squadmates split it up, and he trots to the column position of the color company and starts blasting.

It helps.

The band drifted aft, almost out of earshot, and we stopped singing because your own singing drowns out the beat when it's too far away.

From STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein (1959)

      A genial voice rang out suddenly. It seemed to come from the crystal centerpiece on the table. From the direction in which other diners turned their attention, it obviously came from the crystal centerpiece on every table.
     It said, "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Green Room. Have you eaten well? For your added pleasure, the management is proud to present the magnetonic rhythms of Tobe Tobias and his—"
     As the voice spoke, the lights went out and the remainder of its words were drowned in a rising sigh of wonder that came from the assembled guests, most of whom were fresh from Earth. The aquarium globe in the ceiling was suddenly a luminous emerald green and the sea-ribbon glow was sharply brilliant. The globe assumed a faceted appearance so that, as it turned, drifting shadows circled the room in a soft, almost hypnotic fashion. The sound of music, drawn almost entirely from the weird, husky sound boxes of a variety of magnetonic instruments, grew louder. The notes were produced by rods of various shapes being moved in skillful patterns through the magnetic field that surrounded each instrument.
     Men and women were rising to dance. There was the rustle of much motion and the sibilance of laughing whispers.

From LUCKY STARR AND THE OCEANS OF VENUS by Paul French (Isaac Asimov)(1954)

The ondes Martenot or ondes musicales ("musical waves") is an early electronic musical instrument. It is played with a keyboard or by moving a ring along a wire, creating "wavering" sounds similar to a theremin. A player of the ondes martenot is called an ondist.

The ondes Martenot was invented in 1928 by the French inventor Maurice Martenot. Martenot was inspired by the accidental overlaps of tones between military radio oscillators, and wanted to create an instrument with the expressiveness of the cello.

The instrument is used in more than 100 classical compositions. The French composer Olivier Messiaen used it in pieces such as his 1949 symphony Turangalîla-Symphonie, and his sister-in-law Jeanne Loriod was a celebrated player of the instrument. It appears in numerous film and television soundtracks, particularly science fiction and horror films. Jonny Greenwood of the English rock band Radiohead is credited with bringing the ondes to a larger modern audience. It has also been used by pop artists such as Daft Punk and Damon Albarn.

Sounds and technique

The ondes Martenot is unique among electronic musical instruments in its methods of control. The ondes Martenot can be played with a metal ring worn on the right index finger. Sliding the ring along a wire produces "theremin-like" tones, generated by oscillations in vacuum tubes, or transistors in the seventh model.

The third model of the instrument, unveiled in 1929, had a non-functioning simulacrum of a keyboard below the wire to indicate pitch. This model also had a "black fingerguard" on a wire which could be used instead of the ring. It was held between the right thumb and index finger, which was played standing at a distance from the instrument. When played in this way, the drawer is removed from the instrument and placed on a bench next to the player. Maurice Martenot's pedagogical manual for the ondes Martenot, written in 1931, offers instruction on both methods of playing.

Later versions added a real functioning keyboard; the keys produce vibrato when moved from side to side. This was introduced in the 1930s with the 84-key fourth version of the instrument. Subsequent versions had 72 keys. Combined with a switch that transposes the pitch by one octave, these instruments have a range from C1 to C8.

A drawer allows manipulation of volume and timbre by the left hand. Volume is controlled with a touch-sensitive glass "lozenge", called the "gradation key"; the further the lozenge is depressed, the louder the volume. In his preface to Jeanne Loriod's Technique de l'Onde Electronique Type Martenot., Olivier Messiaen explains that the "gradation key, struck by one or several fingers of the left hand, gives at the same time the sound, its intensity, and the attack itself. The intensity ranges from an almost inaudible pianissimo to the most terrible and painful fortissimo, passing through all intermediate gradations. The conceivable attacks are more numerous than those of the piano, violin, flute, horn or organ – they range from an absolute legato and glissando to the sounds of temple blocks and membranophones. Somewhere beyond the absolute legato exists an extraterrestrial, enchanted voice, and beneath the dry staccato attack may be found sound effects such as cracked bell, a crumbling pile of sand, or an aircraft motor." Early models could produce only a few waveforms. Later models can simultaneously generate sine, peak-limited triangle, square, pulse, and full-wave rectified sine waves, in addition to pink noise, all controlled by switches in the drawer. The square wave and full-wave rectified sine wave can be further adjusted by sliders in the drawer. On the Seventh model, a dial at the top of the drawer adjusts the balance between white noise and the other waveforms. A second dial adjusts the balance between the three speakers. A switch chooses between the keyboard and ribbon.

Further adjustments can be made using controls in the body of the instrument. These include several dials for tuning the pitch, a dial for adjusting the overall volume, a switch to transpose the pitch by one octave, and a switch to activate a filter.

The drawer of the Seventh model also includes six transposition buttons, which change the pitch by a specific interval. These are called -1/4 (lower by one quarter tone), +1/4 (raise by one quarter tone), +1/2 (raise by one semitone), +1 (raise by one whole tone), +3ce (raise by one major third), and +5te (raise by one major fifth. These can be combined to immediately raise the pitch by up to a minor ninth.

Martenot produced four speakers, called diffuseurs, for the instrument. The Métallique features a gong instead of a speaker cone, producing a metallic timbre. It was used by the first ondes Martenot quartets in 1932. Another, the Palme speaker, has a resonance chamber laced with strings tuned to all 12 semitones of an octave; when a note is played in tune, it resonates a particular string, producing chiming tones. It was first presented alongside the sixth version of the ondes Martenot in 1950.

According to the Guardian, the ondes Martenot "can be as soothing and moving as a string quartet, but nerve-jangling when gleefully abused". Greenwood described it as "a very accurate theremin that you have far more control of ... When it's played well, you can really emulate the voice." The New York Times described its sound as a "haunting wail".


In 2001, the New York Times described the ondes, along with other early electronic instruments such as the theremin, teleharmonium, trautonium, and orgatron, as part of a "futuristic electric music movement that never went remotely as far as its pioneers dreamed ... proponents of the new wired music delighted in making previously unimaginable noises". The French classical musician Thomas Bloch said: "The ondes martenot is probably the most musical of all electric instruments ... Martenot was not only interested in sounds. He wanted to use electricity to increase and control the expression, the musicality. Everything is made by the musician in real time, including the control of the vibrato, the intensity, and the attack. It is an important step in our electronic instrument lineage."

According to music journalist Alex Ross, fewer than 100 people have mastered the instrument. In 1997, Mark Singer wrote for The Wire that the ondes would likely remain obscure: ''The fact is that any instrument with no institutional grounding of second- and third-raters, no spectral army of amateurs, will wither and vanish: how can it not? Specialist virtuosos may arrive to tackle the one-off novelty ... but there's no meaningful level of entry at the ground floor, and, what's worse, no fallback possibility of rank careerism if things don't turn out.''

In 2009, the Guardian reported that the last ondes Martenot was manufactured in 1988, but that a new model was being manufactured. In 2011, Sound on Sound wrote that original ondes Martenot models were "all but impossible to obtain or afford, and unless you can stump up 12,000 Euros for one of Jean‑Loup Dierstein's new reproduction instruments, the dream of owning a real Ondes is likely to remain such". In 2012, the Canadian company Therevox began selling a synthesizer with an interface based on the ondes Martenot pitch ring and intensity key. In 2017, the Japanese company Asaden manufactured 100 Ondomo instruments, a portable version of the ondes Martenot.

The ondes Martenot's electronics are fragile, and it includes a powder which transfers electric currents, which Martenot would mix in different quantities according to musicians' specifications; the precise proportions are unknown. Attempts to construct new ondes Martenot models using Martenot's original specifications have been mixed.

From the Wikipedia entry for ONDES MARTENOT

(ed note: Barnum and Baily are Partners, that is, Barnum is a human being merged with Baily. The latter is a "symb", an intelligent plant creature who is symbiotically merged with Barnum's body. Anyway, such Partners live around Saturn's rings and are inspired to compose music. When they do, they travel to sell their composition to a producer. They have traveled to the firm of Ragtime and Tympani. The lady Tympani works with them to translate their composition into musical notation because B&B wouldn't know a treble cleff if it flew straight up their behind. During a break, Tympani shows them a prototype for a new musical instrument called a Synapticon. Just so you know Tympani does not have feet, she has extra hands called "peds.")

      “When you go back out,” she (Tympani) said, “Why don’t you give some thought to working in a synapticon part for your next work?”
     “What’s a synapticon?”
     She stared at him, not believing what she had heard. Then her expression changed to one of delight.
     “You really don’t know? Then you have something to learn.” And she bounced over to her desk, grabbed something with her peds, and hopped back to the synthesizer. It was a small black box with a strap and a wire with an input jack at one end. She turned her back to him and parted her hair at the base of her skull.
     “Will you plug me in?” she asked.
     Barnum saw the tiny gold socket buried in her hair, the kind that enabled one to interface directly with a computer. He inserted the plug into it and she strapped the box around her neck. It was severely funtional, and had an improvised, breadboarded look about it, scarred with tool marks and chipped paint. It gave the impression of having been tinkered’ with almost daily.
     “It’s still in the development process,” she said. “Myers—he’s the guy who invented it—has been playing with it, adding things. When we get it right we’ll market it as a necklace. The circuitry can be compacted quite a bit. The first one had a wire that connected it to the speaker, which hampered my style considerably. But this one has a transmitter. You’ll see what I mean. Come on, there isn’t room in here.”

     She led the way back to the outer office and turned on a big speaker against the wall.
     “What it does,” she said, standing in the middle of the room with her hands at her sides, “is translate body motion into music. It measures the tensions in the body nerve network, amplifies them, and…well, I’ll show you what I mean. This position is null; no sound is produced.” She was standing straight, but relaxed, peds together, hands at her sides, head slightly lowered.
     She brought her arm up in front of her, reaching with her hand, and the speaker behind her made a swooping sound up the scale, breaking into a chord as her fingers closed on the invisible tone in the air. She bent her knee forward and a soft bass note crept in, strengthening as she tensed the muscles in her thighs.
     She added more harmonics with her other hand, then abruptly cocked her body to one side, exploding the sound into a cascade of chords. Barnum sat up straight, the hairs on his arms and spine sitting up with him.
     Tympani couldn’t see him. She was lost in a world that existed slightly out of phase with the real one, a world where dance was music and her body was the instrument. Her eyeblinks became stacatto punctuating phrases and her breathing provided a solid rhythmic base for the nets of sound her arms and legs and fingers were weaving.
     The beauty of it to Barnum and Bailey was the perfect fitting together of movement to sound. He had thought it would be just a novelty: sweating to twist her body into shapes that were awkward and unnatural to reach the notes she was after. But it wasn’t like that. Each element shaped the other. Both the music and the dance were improvised as she went along and were subordinate to no rules but her own internal ones.
     When she finally came to rest, balancing on the tips of her peds and letting the sound die away to nothingness, Barnum was almost numb. And he was surprised to hear the sound of hands clapping. He realized it was his own hands, but he wasn’t clapping them. It was Bailey. Bailey had never taken over motor control.

     They had to have all the details. Bailey was overwhelmed by the new art form and grew so impatient with relaying questions through Barnum that he almost asked to take over Barnum’s vocal cords for a while.
     Tympani was surprised at the degree of enthusiasm. She was a strong proponent of the synapticon but had not met much success in her efforts to popularize it. It had its limitations, and was viewed as an interesting but passing fad.
     “What limitations?” Bailey asked, and Barnum vocalized.
     “Basically, it needs free-fall performance to be fully effective. There are residual tones that can’t be eliminated when you’re standing up in gravity, even on Janus. And I can’t stay in the air long enough here. You evidently didn’t notice it, but I was unable to introduce many variations under those conditions.”
     Barnum saw something at once.
     “Then I should have one installed. That way I can play it as I move through the Ring.”
     Tympani brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. She was covered in sweat from her performance, and her face was flushed. Barnum almost didn’t hear her reply, he was so intent on the harmony of motion in that simple movement. And the synapticon was turned off.
     “Maybe you should. But I’d wait if I were you.” Barnum was about to ask why but she went on quickly. “It isn’t an exact instrument yet, but we’re working on it, refining it every day. Part of the problems, you see, is that it takes special training to operate it so it produces more than white noise. I wasn’t strictly truthful with you when I told you how it works.”
     “How so?”
     “Well, I said it measures tensions in nerves and translates it. Where are most of the nerves in the body?
     Barnum saw it then. “In the brain.
     “Right. So mood is even more important in this than in most music. Have you ever worked with an alpha-wave device? By listening to a tone you can control certain functions of your brain. It takes practice. The brain provides the reservoir of tone for the synapticon, modulates the whole composition. If you aren’t in control of it, it comes out as noise.
     “How long have you been working with it?”
     “About three years.”

From GOTTA SING, GOTTA DANCE by John Varley (1976)

There is a hollow, holey cylinder running from hilt to point in my machete. When I blow across the mouthpiece in the handle, I make music with my blade. When all the holes are covered, the sound is sad, as rough as rough can be and be called smooth. When all the holes are open, the sound pipes about, bringing to the eye flakes of sun on water, crushed metal. There are twenty holes. And since I’ve been playing music I’ve been called all different kinds of fool-more times than Lobey, which is my name.

(ed note: apparently he plays it with his fingers and toes)

From THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION by Samuel R. Delany (1967)

Thoughtfully, he reached into a locker for a little hemispherical musical instrument. Absently, he touched its strings, bringing forth queer, shivering, haunting tones.

The instrument was a twenty-string Venusian guitar, two sets of strings each strung across each other on a metal hemisphere. Few Earthmen could play the complicated thing but Captain Future had a habit of plucking haunting tones from it when he was lost in thought.


A laser harp is an electronic musical user interface and laser lighting display. It projects several laser beams—and a musician plays these by blocking them to produce sounds-reminiscent of a harp. The laser harp has been popularized by Jean Michel Jarre, and has been a high profile feature of almost all his concerts since 1981. British electronic musician Little Boots has used a similar instrument in concerts. The British electro jazz band 1201-Alarm feature a laser harp as a main aspect of their live show.


Unframed style, also known as "Infinite Beam" laser harps

This style of laser harp is generally built using a single laser, splitting its beam into an array of beams in parallel or fan arrangement. Playing the actual sound is usually handled by connecting the laser harp to a synthesizer, sampler or computer.

This frameless design is more elaborate than the framed style, relying on reflecting the light back to a single photodiode. The fan of laser beams is actually a single beam scanned into a fan pattern. By matching the timing of the reflected beam, the instrument can determine which beam the player is blocking and sound the corresponding note. Alternative designs use multiple lasers. In these designs, each laser can be independently controlled (pulsed on and off) to simulate playback of prerecorded notes.

Several techniques generate more control data, such as a continuous range of values like those in typical MIDI controllers:

  • An infrared or ultrasonic rangefinder attached to the instrument that determines the position of the hand that blocks a beam
  • A laser-based rangefinder that determines the distance from the hand to the laser's starting or ending point (and possibly using this laser itself as the string)—or a variation of this that uses the intensity of the sensor signal itself
  • A camera that tracks position and motion of the laser dot on the hand, or length of the exposed beam if visible, then calculates a continuous value based upon a reference

The first of these is relatively inexpensive and straightforward to implement, and can use the same micro-controller that drives the lasers and reads the detectors.

The advantage of a dedicated sensor mechanism is that the instrument can be self-contained, as opposed to requiring a computer to control it with input from an ILDA interface and USB camera. The PC-based approach, however, offers more flexibility and can be constructed with mostly off-the-shelf hardware.

Unframed laser harps benefit from the use of higher-power lasers, as they facilitate easier detection by the sensor system. As the sensor is exposed to all ambient light, it can be swamped by stage lighting behind the artist if the sensitivity is too high. To avoid this, the system can use ambient light sensors to reject ambient light. The player may use white or light-coloured gloves to improve performance by scattering more light off the player's hands to provide the sensor with a higher signal-to-noise ratio with respect to ambient light. Furthermore, the gloves protect the player's skin from potentially hazardous laser radiation and give audiences a more visual impression of the instrument.

Bi-color and full color laser harps

In 2005 the first free full color ILDA laser harp Genesis controller idea and project was born on laserist board and the domain was registered. The last sensor designed rejects ambient light and can measure the hand height in the beams. It offers the possibility to play on the sound like the pitch, filters; these things were not really available before. Free software allows the musician to create patches, playlists, color presets like rainbow, visual effects, midi channel and virtual harp to test. The last functions added to this model are the automatic learning of the song by playing it on a keyboard and the beam vibration to simulate a real string dumped vibration (idea submitted by Francis Rimbert).

In 2008 Maurizio Carelli, an Italian software and electronic engineer, had the idea of a new portable red/green laser harp. This device features a configurable full octave with green beams for any diatonic note and red ones for any chromatic note for full Diatonic and Chromatic scale. In this way any musician can easily play a laser harp, fully polyphonic. This machine became the first portable bicolor laser harp, and it is still in production. In the second half of 2010, Carelli also designed an ILDA full color laser harp controller.

Unframed style, "Image recognition" laser harp

The image recognition laser harp is also an unframed design, but uses a high-speed USB camera connected to a laptop computer, instead of a photodiode to detect the reflected light from the hand breaking the beam. The digital picture is analyzed by the computer software to determine which beam is broken and send the appropriate MIDI signal back to the synthesizer, which is responsible for creating the sound. The computer also controls the laser projector via an ILDA USB laser controller.

Framed style

The framed style, which is often created to look like a harp with strings, uses an array of photodiodes or photoresistors inside the upper or lower part of the frame to detect blocking of the laser beams. The framed harp built by Geoffrey Rose in 1975/6 was an octagonal shape with a 5 X 5 matrix of laser beams. The lasers can be mounted on the 'neck' or upper side of the harp, shining down, or on the body, shining up. Typically, the lasers used are very low-powered 5 mW red or green lasers, which are considered safe for public interaction by the FDA. Any number of laser beams can be arranged in this type of laser harp, from as few as one or two, up to 32 or more, depending on the capacity of the MIDI controller(s) and software being used. This style of Laser Harp can be created in any size, from a lap sized harp to a room sized installation, or larger, like the installations seen at Burning Man. In this design, only an analog DC (on/off) trigger is created by the breaking of the beam (and the DC circuit made by the beam shining on the optic sensor), which is sufficient to trigger any number of events (musical or otherwise) as determined by the data analyzer/software in question. In the MIDI controller, this analog DC current interruption is converted to a digital signal, which is then used to trigger many possible events or actions. Some software comes equipped with full wave file editors and synthesizers, and can also trigger video and still imagery via projection units.

Typical framed style laser harp software functions

Play Modes:

  • Trigger Mode — In this mode, breaking a beam always triggers the event, sound (a sample, loop or MIDI note), image or video that that particular beam has been preset to trigger. Each beam will always trigger its own preset event when broken. e.g. If the beam number one is set to play a bass drum and beam two a snare drum; then one will always play a bass drum and two a snare.
  • Sequence Mode — In this mode, breaking any of the beams plays a preset melody or song one note at a time. Familiar tunes may be played by the breaking the beams in time with the song. Little or no musical ability is required to play a tune. Similarly, a sequence of images could be displayed or an image could be built up one part at a time.
  • Event Mode — When broken, a beam set to 'Event Mode' can change octaves, sounds, songs or programmed settings for any or all of the beams.

Switch Modes:

  • On-Off — A sound will play only while a beam remains broken. The sound stops when the beam is unbroken.
  • Play to end — Once triggered, a sound will play to the end regardless of when the beam is unbroken.
  • Toggle Mode — Breaking a beam the first time triggers a sound which plays to the end (or loops) until the beam is broken a second time.

All beams do not have to be set to the same Play or Switch Mode - each beam may be set up differently.

From the Wikipedia entry for LASER HARP

Musical Weapons

Some musical instruments can play music which kills.


      FROM behind the high seat Taras lifted a helmet bossed in gold and placed it on the king's head.
     A Helmet of Silence (i.e., functional equivalent of ear-plugs).
     The cheering faded, and was not.
     The king said hoarsely, "Then for the good of Moneb, I must disband the council,"
     Taras stepped forward. He looked directly at Simon, and his eyes smiled. "We had foreseen your traitorous counsels, John Keogh. And so we came prepared."

     He flung back his cloak. Beneath it, in the curve of his left arm, was something wrapped in silk.
     Simon instinctively stepped back.
     Taras ripped the silk away. And in his hands was a living creature no larger than a dove, a thing of silver and rose-pearl and delicate frills of shining membrane, and large, soft, gentle eyes.
     A dweller in the deep forests, a shy sweet bearer of destruction, an angel of madness and death.
     A Harper!

     A low moan rose among the councilors, and there was a shifting and a swaying of bodies poised for flight. Taras said, "Be still. There is time enough for running, when I give you leave."
     The councilors were still. The king was still, whitefaced upon his throne. But on the shadowy benches, Simon saw Keogh's son bent forward, yearning toward the man he thought to be his father, his face alight with a child's faith.

     Taras stroked the creature in his hands, his head bent low over it.
     The membranous frills began to lift and stir. The rose-pearl body pulsed, and there broke forth a ripple of music like the sound of a muted harp, infinitely sweet and distant.
     The eyes of the Harper glowed. It was happy, pleased to be released from the binding silk that had kept its membranes useless for the making of music. Taras continued to stroke it gently, and it responded with a quivering freshet of song, the liquid notes running and trilling upon the silent air.
     And two more of the helmeted men brought forth silvery, soft-eyed captives from under their cloaks, and they began to join their music together, timidly at first, and then more and more without hesitation, until the council hall was full of the strange wild harping and men stood still because they were too entranced now to move.

     Even Simon was not proof against that infinitely poignant tide of thrilling sound. He felt his body respond, every nerve quivering with a pleasure akin to pain.
     He had forgotten the effect of music on the human consciousness. For many years he had forgotten music. Now, suddenly, all those long-closed gates between mind and body were flung open by the soaring song of the Harpers. Clear, lovely, thoughtless, the very voice of life unfettered, the music filled Simon with an aching hunger for he knew not what. His mind wandered down vague pathways thronged with shadows, and his heart throbbed with a solemn joy that was close to tears.
     Caught in the sweet wild web of that harping, he stood motionless, dreaming, forgetful of fear and danger, of everything except that somewhere in that music was the whole secret of creation, and that he was poised on the very edge of understanding the subtle secret of that song.
     Song of a newborn universe joyously shouting its birth-cry, of young suns calling to each other in exultant strength, the thunderous chorus of star-voices and the humming bass of the racing, spinning worlds!
     Song of life, growing, burgeoning, bursting, on every world, complicated counterpoint of a million million species voicing the ecstasy of being in triumphant chorus!
     Something deep in Simon Wright's tranced mind warned him that he was being trapped by that hypnotic web of sound, that he was falling deeper, deeper, into the Harpers' grip. But he could not break the spell of that singing.
     Soaring singing of the leaf drinking the sun, of the bird on the wing, of the beast warm in its burrow, of the young, bright miracle of love, of birth, of living!

     And then the song changed. The beauty and joy faded from it, and into the sounds came a note of terror, growing, growing ...

     IT came to Simon then that Taras was speaking to the thing he held, and that the soft eyes of the Harper were afraid. The creature's simple mind was sensitive to telepathic impulses, and Taras was filling its mild emptiness with thoughts of danger and of pain, so that its membranes shrilled now to a different note.
     The other Harpers picked it up. Shivering, vibrating together and across each other's rhythms, the three small rose-pearl beings flooded the air with a shuddering sound that was the essence of all fear.
     Fear of a blind universe that lent its creatures life only to snatch it from them, of the agony and death that always and forever must rend the bright fabric of living! Fear of the somber depths of darkness and pain into which all life must finally descend, of the shadows that closed down so fast, so fast!

     That awful threnody of primal terror that shuddered from the Harpers struck icy fingers of dread across the heart. Simon recoiled from it, he could not bear it, he knew that if he heard it long he must go mad.
     Only dimly was he aware of the terror among the other councilors, the writhing of their faces, the movements of their hands. He tried to cry out but his voice was lost in the screaming of the Harpers, going ever higher and higher until it was torture to the body.
     And still Taras bent over the Harper, cruel-eyed, driving it to frenzy with the power of his mind. And still the Harpers screamed, and now the sound had risen and part of it had slipped over the threshold of hearing, and the super-sonic notes stabbed the brain like knives.

     A man bolted past Simon. Another followed, and another, and then more and more, clawing, trampling, falling, floundering in the madness of panic. And he himself must flee!
     He would not flee! Something held him from the flight his body craved – some inner core of thought hardened and strengthened by his long divorcement from the flesh (Simon Wright has spent the last twenty years being a disembodied brain in a robot body). It steadied him, made him fight back with iron resolution, to reality.

     His shaking hand drew out the little metal box. The switch clicked. Slowly, as the power of the thing built up, it threw out a high, shrill keening sound.
     "The one weapon against the Harpers!" Curt had said. "The only thing that can break sound is – sound!"
     The little repeller reached out its keening sonic vibrations and caught at the Harpers' terrible singing, like a claw.
     It clawed and twisted and broke that singing. It broke it, by its subtle sonic interference, into shrieking dissonances.
     Simon strode forward, toward the throne and toward Taras. And now into the eyes of Taras had come a deadly doubt.

     The Harpers, wild and frightened now, strove against the keening sound that broke their song into hideous discord. The shuddering sonic struggle raged, much of it far above the level of hearing, and Simon felt his body plucked and shaken by terrible vibrations.
     He staggered, but he went on. The faces of Taras and the others were contorted by pain. The king had fainted on his throne.
     Storm of shattered harmonies, of splintered sound, shrieked like the very voice of madness around the throne. Simon, his mind darkening, knew that he could endure no more ...

     And suddenly it was over. Beaten, exhausted, the Harpers stilled the wild vibration of their membranes. Utterly silent, they remained motionless in the hands of their captors, their soft eyes glazed with hopeless terror.
     Simon laughed. He swayed a little on his feet and said to Taras,
     "My weapon is stronger than yours!"
     Taras dropped the Harper. It crawled away and hid itself beneath the throne. Taras whispered,
     "Then we must have it from you, Earthman!"
     He sprang toward Simon. On his heels came the others, mad with the bitter fury of defeat when they had been so sure of victory.
     Simon snatched out the audio-disc and raised it to his lips, pressing its button and crying out the one word, "Hurry!"
     He felt that it was too late. But not until now, not until this moment when fear conquered the force of tradition, could Curt and Otho have entered this forbidden place without provoking the very outbreak that must be prevented.

From THE HARPERS OF TITAN by Edmond Hamilton (1950)
     Campbell remembered the spaceship flashing toward Lhi. He told them about it. "Could be Tredrick, coming to supervise our defeat in person." Defeat! It was because he was a little tight, of course, but he didn't think anyone could defeat him this night. He laughed.
     Something rippled out of the indigo night to answer his laughter. Something so infinitely sweet and soft that it made him want to cry, and then shocked him with the deep and iron power in it. Campbell looked back over his shoulder. He thought: "Me, hell. These are the guys who'll do it, if it's done."
     Stella was behind him. Beyond her was a thin, small man with four arms. He wore no clothing but his own white fur and his head was crowned with feathery antennae. Even in the blue night the antennae and the man's eyes burned living scarlet.
     He came from Callisto and he carried in his four hands a thing vaguely like a harp, only the strings were double banked. It was the harp that had spoken. Campbell hoped it would never speak against him.
     They emerged in a very deep, very dark cellar. It was utterly still. Campbell felt a little sad. He could remember when Martian Mak's was the busiest thieves' market in Lhi, and a man could hear the fighting even here. He smiled bitterly and led the way upstairs.
     Presently they looked down on the main gate, the main square, and the slave pens of Lhi. The surrounding streets were empty, the buildings mostly dark. The Coalition had certainly cleaned up when it took over the town. It was horribly depressing.
     Campbell pointed. "Reception committee. Tredrick radioed, anyway. One'll get you twenty he followed it up in person."
     The gate was floodlighted over a wide area and there were a lot of tough-looking men with heavy-duty needle guns. In this day of anaesthetic charges you could do a lot of effective shooting without doing permanent damage. There were more lights and more men by the slave pens.
     Campbell's dark face was cruel. "Okay," he said. "Let's go."
     Down the stone steps to the entrance. Stella's quick breathing in the hot darkness, the rhythmic clink of the bosses on Marah's kilt. Campbell saw the eyes of the Callistan harper, glowing red and angry. He realized he was sweating. He had forgotten his burns.
     Stella opened the heavy steel-sheathed door. Quietly, slowly. The Baraki whispered, "Put me down."
     Marah set him gently on the stone floor. He folded in upon himself, tentacles around white, rubbery flesh. His single eye burned with a cold phosphorescence. He whispered, "Now."
     The Callistan harper went to the door. Reflected light painted him briefly, white fur and scarlet crest and outlandish harp, and the glowing, angry eyes. He vanished. Out of nowhere the harp began to sing.
     Through the partly opened door Campbell had a clear view of the square and the gate. In all that glare of light on empty stone nothing moved. And yet the music rippled out. The guards. Campbell could see the startled glitter of their eyeballs in the light. There was nothing to shoot at. The harping was part of the night, as all-enveloping and intangible.
          Campbell shivered. A pulse beat like a trip-hammer under his jaw. Stella's voice came to him, a faint breath out of the darkness. "The Baraki is shielding him with thought. A wall of force that turns the light." The edge of the faint light touched her cheek, the blackness of her hair. Marah crouched beyond her, motionless. His hook glinted dully, curved and cruel.
     They were getting only the feeble backwash of the harping. The Callistan was aiming his music outward. Campbell felt it sweep and tremble, blend with the hot slow wind and the indigo sky. It was some trick of vibrations, some diabolical thrusting of notes against the brain like fingers, to press and control. Something about the double-banked strings thrumming against each other under the cunning of four skilled hands. But it was like witchcraft.
     "The Harp of Dagda," whispered Stella Moore, and the Irish music in her voice was older than time. The Scot in Campbell answered it.
     Somewhere outside a man cursed, thickly, like one drugged with sleep and afraid of it. A gun went off with a sharp slapping sound. Some of the guards had fallen down.
     The harp sang louder, throbbing along the grey stones. It was the slow wind, the heat, the deep blue night. It was sleep.
     The floodlights blazed on empty stone, and the guards slept.
     The Baraki sighed and shivered and closed his eye. Campbell saw the Callistan harper standing in the middle of the square, his scarlet crest erect, striking the last thrumming note.
     Campbell straightened, catching his breath in a ragged sob. Marah picked up the Baraki. He was limp, like a tired child. Stella's eyes were glistening and strange. Campbell went out ahead of them.
     It was a long way across the square, in the silence and the glaring lights. Campbell thought the harp was a nice weapon. It didn't attract attention because everyone who heard it slept.

From CITADEL OF LOST SHIPS by Leigh Brackett (1943)

(ed note: the Visi-Sonor plays images as well as music, but the idea is the same)

     She (Bayta) opened her eyes, and (her husband) Toran’s, which were upon her, showed open relief. He said, fiercely, “This banditry will be answered by the emperor. Release us.”
     It dawned upon Bayta that her wrists and ankles were fastened to wall and floor by a tight attraction field.
     Thick Voice approached Toran. He was paunchy, his lower eyelids puffed darkly, and his hair was thinning out. There was a gay feather in his peaked hat, and the edging of his doublet was embroidered with silvery metal-foam.
     He sneered with a heavy amusement. “The emperor? The poor, mad emperor?”
     “I have his pass. No subject may hinder our freedom.”
     “But I am no subject, space-garbage. I am the regent and crown prince and am to be addressed as such. As for my poor silly father, it amuses him to see visitors occasionally. And we humor him. It tickles his mock-Imperial fancy. But, of course, it has no other meaning.”
     And then he was before Bayta, and she looked up at him contemptuously. He leaned close and his breath was overpoweringly minted.
     He said, “Her eyes suit well, Commason—she is even prettier with them open. I think she’ll do. It will be an exotic dish for a jaded taste, eh?”
     There was a futile surge upwards on Toran’s part, which the crown prince ignored and Bayta felt the iciness travel outward to the skin. Ebling Mis was still out, head lolling weakly upon his chest, but, with a sensation of surprise, Bayta noted that Magnifico’s eyes were open, sharply open, as though awake for many minutes. Those large brown eyes swiveled toward Bayta and stared at her out of a doughy face.
     He whimpered, and nodded with his head towards the crown prince, “That one has my Visi-Sonor.”
     The crown prince turned sharply toward the new voice, “This is yours, monster?” He swung the instrument from his shoulder where it had hung, suspended by its green strap, unnoticed by Bayta.
     He fingered it clumsily, tried to sound a chord and got nothing for his pains, “Can you play it, monster?”
     Magnifico nodded once.
     Toran said suddenly, “You’ve rifled a ship of the Foundation. If the emperor will not avenge, the Foundation will.”
     It was the other, Commason, who answered slowly, “What Foundation? Or is the Mule no longer the Mule?”
     There was no answer to that. The prince’s grin showed large uneven teeth. The clown’s binding field was broken and he was nudged ungently to his feet. The Visi-Sonor was thrust into his hand.
     “Play for us, monster,” said the prince. “Play us a serenade of love and beauty for our foreign lady here. Tell her that my father’s country prison is no palace, but that I can take her to one where she can swim in rose water—and know what a prince’s love is. Sing of a prince’s love, monster.”
     He placed one thick thigh upon a marble table and swung a leg idly, while his fatuous smiling stare swept Bayta into a silent rage. Toran’s sinews strained against the field, in painful, perspiring effort. Ebling Mis stirred and moaned.
     Magnifico gasped, “My fingers are of useless stiffness—”
     “Play, monster!” roared the prince. The lights dimmed at a gesture to Commason and in the dimness he crossed his arms and waited.

     Magnifico drew his fingers in rapid, rhythmic jumps from end to end of the multikeyed instrument—and a sharp, gliding rainbow of light jumped across the room. A low, soft tone sounded—throbbing, tearful. It lifted in sad laughter, and underneath it there sounded a dull tolling.
     The darkness seemed to intensify and grow thick. Music reached Bayta through the muffled folds of invisible blankets. Gleaming light reached her from the depths as though a single candle glowed at the bottom of a pit.
     Automatically, her eyes strained. The light brightened, but remained blurred. It moved fuzzily, in confused color, and the music was suddenly brassy, evil—flourishing in high crescendo. The light flickered quickly, in swift motion to the wicked rhythm. Something writhed within the light. Something with poisonous metallic scales writhed and yawned. And the music writhed and yawned with it.
     Bayta struggled with a strange emotion and then caught herself in a mental gasp. Almost, it reminded her of the time in the Time Vault, of those last days on Haven. It was that horrible, cloying, clinging spiderweb of honor and despair. She shrunk beneath it oppressed.
     The music dinned upon her, laughing horribly, and the writhing terror at the wrong end of the telescope in the small circle of light was lost as she turned feverishly away. Her forehead was wet and cold.
     The music died. It must have lasted fifteen minutes, and a vast pleasure at its absence flooded Bayta. Light glared, and Magnifico’s face was close to hers, sweaty, wild-eyed, lugubrious.
     “My lady,” he gasped, “how fare you?”
     “Well enough,” she whispered, “but why did you play like that?”
     She became aware of the others in the room. Toran and Mis were limp and helpless against the wall, but her eyes skimmed over them. There was the prince, lying strangely still at the foot of the table. There was Commason, moaning wildly through an open, drooling mouth.
     Commason flinched, and yelled mindlessly, as Magnifico took a step toward him.
     Magnifico turned, and with a leap, turned the others loose.
     Toran lunged upwards and with eager, taut fists seized the landowner by the neck, “You come with us. We’ll want you—to make sure we get to our ship.”

     Two hours later, in the ship’s kitchen, Bayta served a walloping homemade pie, and Magnifico celebrated the return to space by attacking it with a magnificent disregard of table manners.
     “Good, Magnifico?”
     “Yes, my lady?”
     “What was it you played back there?”
     The clown writhed, “I … I’d rather not say. I learned it once, and the Visi-Sonor is of an effect upon the nervous system most profound. Surely, it was an evil thing, and not for your sweet innocence, my lady.”
     “Oh, now, come, Magnifico. I’m not as innocent as that. Don’t flatter so. Did I see anything like what they saw?”
     “I hope not. I played it for them only. If you saw, it was but the rim of it—from afar.”
     “And that was enough. Do you know you knocked the prince out?”
     Magnifico spoke grimly through a large, muffling piece of pie. “I killed him, my lady.”
     “What?” She swallowed, painfully.
     “He was dead when I stopped, or I would have continued. I cared not for Commason. His greatest threat was death or torture. But, my lady, this prince looked upon you wickedly, and—” he choked in a mixture of indignation and embarrassment.
     Bayta felt strange thoughts come and repressed them sternly. “Magnifico, you’ve got a gallant soul.”
     “Oh, my lady.” He bent a red nose into his pie, but somehow did not eat.

From FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE by Isaac Asimov (1952)

(ed note: the Sensory-Syrynx plays images as well as music, but the idea is the same)

     ...Prince stood. "Now, I'm going to kill you." He stepped over Sebastian's feet as the stud's heels gouged the carpet. "Does that answer your question?"
     It came up from somewhere deep below Lorq's gut, moored among yesterdays. (The drug) Bliss made his awareness of its shape and outline precise and luminous. Something inside him shook. From the hammock of his pelvis it clawed into his belly, vaulted his chest and wove wildly, erupted from his face; Lorq bellowed. In the sharp peripheral awareness of the drug, he saw the Mouse's syrynx where it had been left on the stage. He snatched it up --
     "No, Captain!"
     -- as Prince lunged. Lorq ducked with the instrument against his chest. He twisted the intensity knob.
     The edge of Prince's hand shattered the doorjamb (where a moment before the Mouse had leaned). Splinters split four and five feet up the shaft.
     "Captain, that's my ...!"
     The Mouse leaped, and Lorq struck him with his flat hand. The Mouse staggered backward and fell in the sand-pool.
     Lorq dodged sideways and whirled to face the door as Prince, still smiling, stepped away.
     Then Lorq struck the tuning haft.
     A flash.
     It was reflection from Prince's vest; the beam was tight. Prince flung his hand up to his eyes. Then he shook his head, blinking.
     Lorq struck the syrynx again.
     Prince clutched his eyes, stepped back, and screeched.
     Lorq's fingers tore at the sound-projection strings. Though the beam was directional, the echo roared about the room, drowning the scream. Lorq's head jarred under the sound. But he beat the sounding board again. And again. With each sweep of his hand, Prince reeled back. He tripped on Sebastian's feet, but did not fall. And again. Lorq's own head ached. That part of his mind still aloof from the rage thought: his middle ear must have ruptured. ... Then the rage climbed higher in his brain. There was no part of him separate from it.
     And again.
     Prince's arms flailed about his head. His ungloved hand struck one of the suspended shelves. The statuette fell.
     Furious, Lorq smashed at the olfactory plate.
     An acrid stench burned his own nostrils, seared the roof of his nasal cavity so that his eyes teared.
     Prince screamed, staggered; his gloved fist hit the plate glass. It cracked from floor to ceiling.

     ..."Oh, come on, Mouse. See, I've stopped babbling. Don't be glum. What are you so down about?"
     "My syrynx ..."
     "So you got a scratch on it. But you've been over it a dozen times and you said it won't hurt the way it plays."
     "Not the instrument." The Mouse's forehead wrinkled. "What the captain did with ..." He shook his head at the memory.
     "And not even that." The Mouse sat up.
     "What then?"
     Again the Mouse shook his head. "When I ran out through the cracked glass to get it ..."
     Katin nodded.
     "The heat was incredible out there. Three steps and I didn't think I was going to make it. Then I saw where Captain had dropped it, halfway down the slope. So I squinched my eyes and kept going. I thought my foot would burn off, and I must have got halfway there hopping. Anyway, when I got it, I picked it up, and ... I saw them."
     "Prince and Ruby?"
     "She was trying to drag him back up the rocks. She stopped when she saw me. And I was scared." He looked up from his hands. His fingers were clenched; nails cut the dark palms. "I turned the syrynx on her, light, sound, and smell all at once, hard. Captain doesn't know how to make a syrynx do what he wants. I do. She was blind, Katin. And I probably busted both her eardrums. The laser was on such a tight beam her hair caught fire, then her dress -- "
     "Oh, Mouse ..."
     "I was scared, Katin!

From NOVA by Samuel R. Delany (1968)

Music Based Civilization


(ed note: The following events happen to the Third Men, the third human species. They arose about forty million years after our species became extinct.)

Industrialism, however, was never more than a digression, a lengthy and disastrous irrelevance in the life of this species. There were other digressions. There were for instance cultures, enduring sometimes for several thousand years, which were predominantly musical. This could never have occurred among the First Men; but, as was said, the third species was peculiarly developed in hearing, and in emotional sensitivity to sound and rhythm. Consequently, just as the First Men at their height were led into the wilderness by an irrational obsession with mechanical contrivances, just as the Third Men themselves were many times undone by their own interest in biological control, so, now and again, it was their musical gift that hypnotized them. Of these predominantly musical cultures the most remarkable was one in which music and religion combined to form a tyranny no less rigid than that of religion and science in the remote past. It is worth while to dwell on one of these episodes for a few moments.

The Third Men were very subject to a craving for personal immortality. Their lives were brief, their love of life intense. It seemed to them a tragic flaw in the nature of existence that the melody of the individual life must either fade into a dreary senility or be cut short, never to be repeated. Now music had a special significance for this race. So intense was their experience of it, that they were ready to regard it as in some manner the underlying reality of all things. In leisure hours, snatched from a toilful and often tragic life, groups of peasants would seek to conjure about them by song or pipe or viol a universe more beautiful, more real, than that of daily labour. Concentrating their sensitive hearing upon the inexhaustible diversity of tone and rhythm, they would seem to themselves to be possessed by the living presence of music, and to be transported thereby into a lovelier world. No wonder they believed that every melody was a spirit, leading a life of its own within the universe of music. No wonder they imagined that a symphony or chorus was itself a single spirit inhering in all its members. No wonder it seemed to them that when men and women listened to great music, the barriers of their individuality were broken down, so that they became one soul through communion with the music.

The prophet was born in a highland village where the native faith in music was intense, though quite unformulated. In time he learnt to raise his peasant audiences to the most extravagant joy and the most delicious sorrow. Then at last he began to think, and to expound his thoughts with the authority of a great bard. Easily he persuaded men that music was the reality, and all else illusion, that the living spirit of the universe was pure music, and that each individual animal and man, though he had a body that must die and vanish for ever, had also a soul that was music and eternal. A melody, he said, is the most fleeting of things. It happens and ceases. The great silence devours it, and seemingly annihilates it. Passage is essential to its being. Yet though for a melody, to halt is to die a violent death, all music, the prophet affirmed, has also eternal life. After silence it may occur again, with all its freshness and aliveness. Time cannot age it; for its home is in a country outside time. And that country, thus the young musician earnestly preached, is also the home land of every man and woman, nay of every living thing that has any gift of music. Those who seek immortality, must strive to waken their tranced souls into melody and harmony. And according to their degree of musical originality and proficiency will be their standing in the eternal life.

The doctrine, and the impassioned melodies of the prophet, spread like fire. Instrumental and vocal music sounded from every pasture and corn plot. The government tried to suppress it, partly because it was thought to interfere with agricultural productivity, largely because its passionate significance reverberated even in the hearts of courtly ladies, and threatened to undo the refinement of centuries. Nay, the social order itself began to crumble. For many began openly to declare that what mattered was not aristocratic birth, nor even proficiency in the time-honoured musical forms (so much prized by the leisured), but the gift of spontaneous emotional expression in rhythm and harmony. Persecution strengthened the new faith with a glorious company of martyrs who, it was affirmed, sang triumphantly even in the flames.

One day the sacred monarch himself, hitherto a prisoner within the conventions, declared half sincerely, half by policy, that he was converted to his people's faith. Bureaucracy gave place to an enlightened dictatorship, the monarch assumed the title of Supreme Melody, and the whole social order was re-fashioned, more to the taste of the peasants. The subtle prince, backed by the crusading zeal of his people, and favoured by the rapid spontaneous spread of the faith in all lands, conquered the whole world, and founded the Universal Church of Harmony. The prophet himself, meanwhile, dismayed by his own too facile success, had retired into the mountains to perfect his art under the influence of their great quiet, or the music of wind, thunder and waterfall. Presently, however, the silence of the fells was shattered by the blare of military bands and ecclesiastical choirs, which the emperor had sent to salute him and conduct him to the metropolis. He was secured, though not without a scrimmage, and lodged in the High Temple of Music. There he was kept a prisoner, dubbed God's Big Noise, and used by the world-government as an oracle needing interpretation. In a few years the official music of the temple, and of deputations from all over the world, drove him into raving madness; in which state he was the more useful to the authorities.

Thus was founded the Holy Empire of Music, which gave order and purpose to the species for a thousand years. The sayings of the prophet, interpreted by a series of able rulers, became the foundation of a great system of law which gradually supplanted all local codes by virtue of its divine authority. Its root was madness; but its final expression was intricate common sense, decorated with harmless and precious flowers of folly. Throughout, the individual was wisely, but tacitly, regarded as a biological organism having definite needs or rights and definite social obligations; but the language in which this principle was expressed and elaborated was a jargon based on the fiction that every human being was a melody, demanding completion within a greater musical theme of society.

Toward the close of this millennium of order a schism occurred among the devout. A new and fervent sect declared that the true spirit of the musical religion had been stifled by ecclesiasticism. The founder of the religion had preached salvation by individual musical experience, by an intensely emotional communion with the Divine Music. But little by little, so it was said, the church had lost sight of this central truth, and had substituted a barren interest in the objective forms and principles of melody and counterpoint. Salvation, in the official view, was not to be had by subjective experience, but by keeping the rules of an obscure musical technique. And what was this technique? Instead of making the social order a practical expression of the divine law of music, churchmen and statesmen had misinterpreted these divine laws to suit mere social convenience, until the true spirit of music had been lost. Meanwhile on the other side a counter-revival took place. The self-centred and soul-saving mood of the rebels was ridiculed. Men were urged to care rather for the divine and exquisitely ordered forms of music itself than for their own emotion.

It was amongst the rebel peoples that the biological interest of the race, hitherto subordinate, came into its own. Mating, at least among the more devout sort of women, began to be influenced by the desire to have children who should be of outstanding musical brilliance and sensitivity. Biological sciences were rudimentary, but the general principle of selective breeding was known. Within a century this policy of breeding for music, or breeding "soul," developed from a private idiosyncrasy into a racial obsession. It was so far successful that after a while a new type became common, and thrived upon the approbation and devotion of ordinary persons. These new beings were indeed extravagantly sensitive to music, so much so that the song of a sky-lark caused them serious torture by its banality, and in response to any human music of the kind which they approved, they invariably fell into a trance. Under the stimulus of music which was not to their taste they were apt to run amok and murder the performers.

We need not pause to trace the stages by which an infatuated race gradually submitted itself to the whims of these creatures of human folly, until for a brief period they became the tyrannical ruling caste of a musical theocracy. Nor need we observe how they reduced society to chaos; and how at length an age of confusion and murder brought mankind once more to its senses, but also into so bitter a disillusionment that the effort to re-orientate the whole direction of its endeavour lacked determination. Civilization fell to pieces and was not rebuilt till after the race had lain fallow for some thousands of years.

So ended perhaps the most pathetic of racial delusions. Born of a genuine and potent aesthetic experience, it retained a certain crazy nobility even to the end.

From LAST AND FIRST MEN by Olaf Stapeldon (1930)

Within the humming, echoing cave of theArgo, it was becoming more and more difficult to believe that any other world existed, particularly during the long weeks while the great hull was riding the Standing Wave, a universe in itself. But regularly there came through that closed universe the undeniable, uniformly shaped pips of the Hegemony's detection beams, reminding the Argo's crew that though they could see nothing of the galaxy while they were in transit, the Heart Stars were watching them constantly.

Then the Argo burst once again out of its self-made, invisible cocoon, and beneath it rolled a world of green hills and cloud-dappled blue skies so like the Earth that Jack felt an acute pang of homesickness. Surely this planet, so calm, so pastoral, so domesticated, could not present any unpleasant surprises. That just wouldn't be fair.

But it did. Earth-like the planet was, geophysically, but its people had never heard of the Earth and had no intention of living like Earthmen. The life that they lived in the gigantic stone temples they had built upon pylons in the middle of the sea was centred in music, which in turn was based upon the ceaseless rolling of the broad combers of the waves. They vaguely understood that the gig was something like the small, high-pooped, lateen-sailed carracks with their dragon's-head forecastles in which they cruised their ocean, but they looked with horror out of their frog-like eyes upon the star travellers, and were obviously happy to be rid of them. They did not fit anywhere into the completely ritualized life of this culture, where even the smallest act or gesture was ceremonial as well as functional and had its appropriate five-note melody. The last thing Jack and Sandbag heard as they quitted that world was a cacophonous skirling of pipes and horns, at once both mournful and aggressive, as though the people were hoping to blow them off the face of the planet.

Yet the world from which these constant chants and pipings arose was immensely wealthy, and immensely powerful. It was the first Heart Star planet that they had seen that was impressive enough, despite its peculiarities, to seem to merit full membership in a union as all-embracing as the Hegemony of Malis.

'All the same,' Sandbag said, 'if I ever get to be Earth's ambassador to that crew, the first thing I'm going to do is turn off my hearing aid.'

From MISSION TO THE HEART STARS by James Blish (1965)


This section has been moved here

Atomic Rockets notices


This week's featured addition is DEUTERIUM MICROBOMB PROPULSION

This week's featured addition is BDM EXPLORATION CARRIER

Atomic Rockets

Support Atomic Rockets

Support Atomic Rockets on Patreon