The Gods Who Live in the Gaps between Time and the World

Opening scene from Myst ('realMyst Masterpiece Edition')

[Image: opening scene from the classic computer game Myst, as rendered in the later so-called realMyst: Masterpiece Edition. (Click to enlarge.) For some wool-gathering about Myst, see the bottom of this post.]

From whiskey river:

Reality is greater than the sum of its parts, also a damn sight holier. And the lives of such stuff as dreams are made of may be rounded with a sleep but they are not tied neatly with a red bow. Truth doesn’t run on time like a commuter train, though time may run on truth. And the Scenes Gone By and the Scenes to Come flow blending together in the sea-green deep while Now spreads in circles on the surface.

(Ken Kesey [source])



I used to think the land
had something to say to us,
back when wildflowers
would come right up to your hand
as if they were tame.

Sooner or later, I thought,
the wind would begin to make sense
if I listened hard
and took notes religiously.
That was spring.

Now I’m not so sure:
the cloudless sky has a flat affect
and the fields plowed down after harvest
seem so expressionless,
keeping their own counsel.

This afternoon, nut tree leaves
blow across them
as if autumn had written us a long letter,
changed its mind,
and tore it into little scraps.

(Don Thompson [source])


I am here not only to evade for a while the clamor and filth and confusion of the cultural apparatus but also to confront, immediately and directly if it’s possible, the bare bones of existence, the elemental and fundamental, the bedrock which sustains us. I want to be able to look at and into a juniper tree, a piece of quartz, a vulture, a spider, and see it as it is in itself, devoid of all humanly ascribed qualities, anti-Kantian, even the categories of scientific description. To meet God or Medusa face to face, even if it means risking everything human in myself. I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with a non-human world and yet somehow survives still intact, individual, separate. Paradox and bedrock.

(Edward Abbey [source])

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At Root

[Video: launch trailer for the puzzle game Antichamber. I haven’t played it (yet), but the object
seems to be to keep moving forward — when the answer to the question, “Move forward
where?” changes constantly. The game’s designer says that it has an end… despite the appearance
(to me) of an edgeless, centerless geometry of edges and centers.*]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Isle of Mull, Scotland

Because by now we know everything is not so green elsewhere.

The cities tied their nooses around our necks,
we let them without even seeing.

Not even feeling our breath soften
as clumps of shed wool scattered across days.

Not even. This even-ing, balance beam of light on green,
the widely lifted land, resonance of moor
winding down to water, the full of it. Days of cows
and sheep bending their heads.

We walked where the ancient pier juts into the sea.
Stood on the rim of the pool, by the circle
of black boulders. No one saw we were there
and everyone who had ever been there
stood silently in air.

Where else do we ever have to go, and why?

(Naomi Shihab Nye [source])


The secret of the mountain is that the mountains simply exist, as I do myself: the mountains exist simply, which I do not. The mountains have no “meaning,” they are meaning; the mountains are. The sun is round. I ring with life, and the mountains ring, and when I can hear it, there is a ringing that we share. I understand all this, not in my mind but in my heart, knowing how meaningless it is to try to capture what cannot be expressed, knowing that mere words will remain when I read it all again, another day.

(Peter Matthiessen [source])


Someday, sometime, you will be sitting somewhere. A berm overlooking a pond in Vermont. The lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset. A seat on the subway. And something bad will have happened: You will have lost someone you loved, or failed at something at which you badly wanted to succeed.

And sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. You will look for some core to sustain you. And if you have been perfect all your life and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be.

I don’t want anyone I know to take that terrible chance. And the only way to avoid it is to listen to that small voice inside you that tells you to make mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian, to go another way. George Eliot wrote, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” It is never too early, either.

(Anna Quindlen [source])

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Midweek Music Break: The Bedquilt Ramblers, “(You’ve Got to Walk That) Lonesome Valley”

Still: Kentucky Route Zero

[Image: still from the game Kentucky Route Zero, Act 1: the Equus Oils service station]

Other than as a Kickstarter supporter from a couple of years ago, I’ve got no particular vested interest in the newly released computer game Kentucky Route Zero, Act 1 (of a planned five to be released over the next year). (Yes, all right — I’m also invested in it as someone who hopes to be a satisfied player very soon now: I’ve only just downloaded the game.) One interesting feature of the game is the makers’ commitment to music — particularly, atmospheric music, some traditional bluegrass and some original.

The action in KRZ, as it’s already becoming known, takes place in rural Kentucky. The protagonist is on a quest of sorts, which involves traveling about on the very mysterious Route Zero of the title. Along the way, he encounters a variety of characters (eventually including one Junebug, a country singer who just happens to be… a robot).

Today’s selection is one of the numbers on the soundtrack, by a group about whom I’ve been able to learn close to nothing, at least outside the context of any association with the game. (I suspect the group’s name may just function as an umbrella covering a house band recruited just for KRZ itself.) The Kickstarter project page, for what it’s worth, says only:

The music for the game will be performed and recorded by a local (Chicago) experimental folk group, and will consist of slow, spacey arrangements of bluegrass songs.

Aside from bluegrass, the game’s soundtrack seems to consist of electronic setting-the-mood tone poems. A couple of months after making its modest Kickstarter target,  Cardboard Computers told supporters in an April, 2011, status-report e-newsletter:

As the last icy hours of March creep away from the American Midwest, we’re warming our headphones with some weird, warbly digital audio files shared with us by Ben Babbitt. Ben is a Chicago-based musician working with us to create the music of Kentucky Route Zero. Along with singer Emily Cross and bassist Bob Buckstaff, Ben is recording six old bluegrass songs for the game as the Bedquilt Ramblers.

…As [protagonist] Conway and his companions explore, they’ll encounter the Bedquilt Ramblers performing in just about every area. The band functions as a checkpoint or a save point, to help map out the world and remember certain locations for fast travel later.

As for today’s song: the Second Hand Songs database of cover versions says that it’s traditional, recorded as far back as 1930 by the Carter Family. Wikisource sets the first recording at 1927, by David Miller. In any case, it’s been covered by many country, folk, and bluegrass artists. (In addition to those listed by Second Hand Songs and Wikisource, I know of versions by Joan Baez and the Kingston Trio, and it appeared on the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, as rendered by gospel group The Fairfield Four.) The Bedquilt Ramblers here claim a spot among their predecessors’ melancholy, almost fatalistic number:

[Below, click Play button to begin (You’ve Got to Walk That) Lonesome Valley. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 2:19 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

[Traditional lyrics, per Wikisource]

Even though the delivery is being stretched out over a year, and even though it’s taken the two-man operation which calls itself Cardboard Computers two years instead of the expected nine months, from the reviews I’ve read so far Kentucky Route Zero already has all the earmarks of a gaming classic. If you’re at all interested in mystery (as opposed to puzzle or conventional adventure) games, or for that matter in sound design, it might be worth the small initial investment — $7 just for Act 1, or $25 for the lot — to explore the game’s own lonesome valley. (Versions available for PC, Mac, and — huzzah! — Ubuntu/Linux computers.)

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What Doesn’t Change

[Video: “Every Day the Same Dream,” based on the Flash-based game of the same name]

From whiskey river:

I do not believe the meaning of life is a puzzle to be solved. Life is. Anything might happen. And I believe I may invest my life with meaning. The uncertainty is a blessing in disguise. If I were absolutely certain about all things, I would spend my life in anxious misery, fearful of losing my way. But since everything and anything are always possible, the miraculous is always nearby and wonders shall never, ever cease.

(Robert Fulghum)

… and:


The world
was whole because
it shattered. When it shattered,
then we knew what it was.

It never healed itself.
But in the deep fissures, smaller worlds appeared:
it was a good thing that human beings made them;
human beings know what they need,
better than any god.

On Huron Avenue they became
a block of stores; they became
Fishmonger, Formaggio. Whatever
they were or sold, they were
alike in their function: they were
visions of safety. Like
a resting place. The salespeople
were like parents; they appeared
to live there. On the whole,
kinder than parents.

feeding into a large river: I had
many lives. In the provisional world,
I stood where the fruit was,
flats of cherries, clementines,
under Hallie’s flowers.

I had many lives. Feeding
into a river, the river
feeding into a great ocean. If the self
becomes invisible has it disappeared?

I thrived. I lived
not completely alone, alone
but not completely, strangers
surging around me.

That’s what the sea is:
we exist in secret.

I had lives before this, stems
of a spray of flowers: they became
one thing, held by a ribbon at the center, a ribbon
visible under the hand. Above the hand,
the branching future, stems
ending in flowers. And the gripped fist —
that would be the self in the present.

(Louise Glück)


You normally have to be bashed about a bit by life to see the point of daffodils, sunsets and uneventful nice days.

(Alain de Botton)

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Waking Up to the Unreal

[Image: promotional still from The Troll Hunter, a 2010 “mockumentary” from
Norway about — well, perhaps you can guess.]

From whiskey river:

Fairy tales were maps formed of blood and hair and bones; they were the knots of the sub-conscious unwound. Every word in every tale was real and as true as apples and stones. They all led to the story inside the story.

(Alice Hoffman [source])


Sky Burial

This is the way they dispose of the dead
in Tibet. Letting nothing go to waste.
The loose bodies, with their blood still,
are lifted to high roofs, offered to the sky.
In this way everything becomes a temple
and bells ring to catch the carrion birds
in flight. Glorious bells! Unsettling circlers!
They alight like balding mathematicians,
like ancient men huddled over maps.

Their steepled wings flap now and again
like a preacher searching a hymnal;
their beaks could be penning red sermons
as the umbral body is unsewn, consumed—
concealed through all avenues of heaven,
borne again aloft in a scream of grace
echoing down the mausoleum of dark.

(Michael Titus [source])

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From The Atlantic:

In a much-anticipated press event this morning, J.K. Rowling announced the launch of Pottermore, a new website meant to bring all-things-Harry Potter to the Web. It was revealed in a leaked memo yesterday that a central focus of the site would be an online gaming experience developed by the company Adam & Eve that will include real-world prizes such as magic wands secretly scattered throughout Britain and the United States. But the launch revealed that the site will be much more than that, though it does appear to include some gaming elements.

And here’s the woman herself:

More about JKR’s reasons for setting up Pottermore, and the interesting (to me!) discussion about which e-book format they’ll use, are at The Atlantic‘s site as well as elsewhere.

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Do Not Distract the Artist

Single-minded in pursuit of your ideals, are you? Think you’re putting a lot of time into your writing, your painting, your kids, your life? You call yourself dedicated?


Or so I thought when I saw the video below. The maker claims to have spent 1500 hours on this not-quite-four-minute project, an estimate which I see no reason to doubt. But think about that 1500 hours… all those minutes and hours of mapping out every frame, shifting the (many) Lego bricks a little in one direction or another, shooting a frame or two per position… over… and over… (Let alone the time spent at the outset, encasing the human being in Legos.)

Granted, this rymdreglage person may not have a steady job, or kids, or… or… or… Still: sheesh.

I think the video can probably be appreciated even by people who don’t know anything about the eight-bit console games (original Nintendo Entertainment System, etc.) to which this an homage. Some advice before playing it back, though: turn the volume down a bit, and bump it upwards only if you really want. The music stops just short of inducing seizures in small children and animals.

[Hat tip to Lifting Fog (slogan: “visibility is improving”), which I’d read even if I weren’t related to one of its co-authors.]

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It’s Gnawing at Me

[Click Play button to begin. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — row of little vertical bars.]

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Help me out with something here: What, exactly — even approximately — is the deal with mice? meaning, specifically, mice as humans? (I do recognize there are many deals with mice.) And of course when you extend the question to the rest of order Rodentia, well, the mystery deepens: rats, beavers, chipmunks, groundhogs… There’s no end (so it seems) to the number and variety of normally furry, four-legged, big-incisored, nose-twitching creatures wearing little suits and dresses and hats.

Sometimes, indeed, people even become rodents — and rodents, people — as here:

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